BROOKSVILLE — Music and movement turn on the 3- to 5-year-old set. And at Mr. Armadillo's Backyard, which offers a stimulating day of organized activities in a spacious indoor studio, youngsters have so much fun they don't even realize they're building brain power and establishing a base for life skills learning.
Brenda Parish — owner, teacher and leader of the educational play studio — utilizes the German-developed Kindermusik curriculum, for which she has earned certification. It is specific to children from birth to 7 years.
Some 15 to 20 youngsters bound into the facility every weekday, from 9 a.m. to noon, to make joyful music and scamper about like wind-up toys. The youngest participant is still at fast crawl.
For the first hour, play is free range. Kids dig into the music box and extract maracas, a toy piano, xylophone, castanets, a tambourine and jingling bells. When one toy is discarded, another child picks it up, or trades.
"Sharing is a huge thing at this age," Parish said. "That's the first step in socialization."
Cognition takes place, a child recognizing the sound that each musical instrument emits and how to produce it: by fingering keys, plying drumsticks, punching buttons. Cognizance has been proven to help with math skills later on, Parish noted.
After the kids acquaint themselves — not the same ones attend every day — Parish takes the floor with planned play. She commands their attention. That's part of the curriculum she calls "active focused listening, which stirs observation."
And there's the physical side, with cross-coordination moves orchestrated. While a 3-year-old hardly can be held down, his or her energy can be channeled, at which Parish excels, herself a bundle of energy at age 35.
When Parish announced, "Ladybug drums," the youngsters squealed in delight. Each received a small drum, emblazoned with a ladybug, hung on a strap around the neck, and two miniature drumsticks.
"I want to hear tapping," Parish said.
She hardly needed to encourage. Kids like to make noise.
"Can you get louder?"
Clatter, clatter, clatter.
"Try soft tapping, slowly, 1-2-3-4."
Then, taped music was added and a parade commanded. Marching to the instructions of "1-2, 1-2," the kids likely didn't realize they were learning to count.
The parade ended, and the children were directed to deposit their drums in a big net bag. The subliminal message: Put your things away.
"Are we ready to dust?" Parish inquired with a smile most home keepers don't share for such a chore. The kids yelled, "Yeah." She distributed pieces of fabric netting, mentioning each color as she handed them out. The background music flowed with a tune of "Dust, dust, dust."
As the kids approached the clean, cushioned walls, Parish added: "Dust up high; now dust down low." They reveled in the activity.
The leader kneeled on the multicolored, spongy floor. "Scrub, scrub, scrub," she encouraged. "Scrub a green square; scrub a blue square." The kids took on the job with enthusiasm.
Not only were they learning to help at home, but their colors as well.
For the next structured activity, Parish told her brood, "Let's go into the kitchen."
That was a makeshift center circle in the studio.
"Let's pretend to be toast."
Kids hunkered down.
"Wait. It's going to get hot. Wait until it pops. Wait, wait, wait."
Little did the children realize it was a rest period. Finally, "It's going to pop," she predicted. "Pop up!" And the children jumped.
Mr. Armadillo's Backyard, portrayed in wall artwork with an armadillo centerpiece, offers more than morning playtime, which caters, Parish said, to "people who are looking for reliable kids to play with."
Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles participate from the sidelines.
Mother Kimberly Johns of Spring Hill helped her daughter, Georgia, 3, negotiate the slide during free play while keeping an eye on 9-month-old son Kaleb, crawling the floor on knees.
Carrie Hopkins of Spring Hill steadied a xylophone on her knees when 2-year-old daughter Elizabeth proceeded to bounce notes for her mother.
"It's a hands-on place for children and their caregivers," said Parish, who launched the venue two years ago. "Sometimes the park isn't the answer. In the studio they can run; parents can feel it's a haven."
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.