Profile: AA educator Gari Stein believes “play, laughter, song and dance” are key components of learning


Gari Stein—the founder and director of Music for Little Folks (MLF)—integrates play, laughter, song and dance to help support and educate children and their parents alike.

“MLF is a community music school for children birth-5 and the grown-ups who love them, based in the richness of traditional folk music,” says Stein. “I run groups in my private studio, at the Ann Arbor YMCA, at preschools, and homes throughout Washtenaw County. Family concerts and school programs are designed for children up to 8-years-old.”

Stein also runs professional development trainings throughout the Midwest, which she finds rewarding and a tremendous learning experience.

“Creating the Ann Arbor Symphony-sponsored KinderConcerts circa 2005, designed specifically for children 2-6 years-old and their extended families, has been the icing on the cake,” she says.

Stein has been with MLF since 1993, and believes it has many positive effects.

“Music is powerful and impacts people in every way possible,” explained Stein. “All children are born with the potential to be musical. Music impacts all developmental domains. Everything about musical experiences is positive and it is the only activity that stimulates both sides of the brain at the same time.”

Stein believes that music can be a caregiver’s best friend, a tool readily available for everyday routines and to help out in challenging situations and through transitions. There are important socialization components to music as well.

“Music nurtures relationships, emotional well-being and social competence while providing a sense of community, bringing everyone together,” described Stein. “Play groups are formed and lifelong friendships are established. And it’s not just for the little ones. Music is a natural stress buster. Adults are more efficient and productive with music in their lives. Music stays with us throughout our life span, regardless of the state of our health.”

Stein is an educator and has a degree in psychology with an infant mental-health focus and a dance minor.

“I have been singing and dancing with young children and their families for five decades,” stated Stein. “I have the great fortune to have studied with many experts in infant mental health and early childhood music.”

Stein calls herself a persistent advocate for freedom of choice and child-initiated play.

“In our hurry-up, visually-oriented, dot-com world, the media would have us believe that smarter, faster is better,” described Stein. “What’s the hurry? Childhood should be a journey, not a race. Children need time to think, to create; time to just be. In my classes, I encourage caregivers to accept the children where they are at developmentally, as well as where they are not. I ask them to leave their expectations at the door, stand back—enjoy the children and let the children explore in their own way, in their own time frame.”

Stein also explained that some caregivers tend to pull extroverts in and push introverts out rather than allowing them to just be.

“Continual praise is counterproductive, can increase dependence and make children feel less secure,” explained Stein. “Children’s needs have not changed in over 100 years. They need to feel loved, know trust and safety, be read and sung to, have process art and opportunities to problem-solve, feel good about themselves and relate to their peers. Music provides all of this and more.”

Stein also has general advice for some caregivers.

“The most loving of parents may inadvertently not always understand what it means to be respectful of children,” stated Stein. “Think of the Golden Rule. Would we want to be tapped on our heads, be made to share our cell phones, tickled and laughed at, when trying to be serious? These types of behaviors may be subtle, but I hope readers will stop and think about how they relate to these precious little ones. Children want to see their loved ones’ faces, not their cell phones. I remind my families to turn off their electronics and turn to their children. Love them, hug them, hold them close.”

The Golden Rule is largely known as: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Stein recommends savoring life, for both children’s and parents’ sake.

“Childhood goes by in a whoosh. Don’t let it pass by while you are busy doing other things,” advised Stein. “Babies do not come into the world saying, ‘I want to learn my ABCs, 123s, colors and shapes.’ Forget about it! Research tells us that early academics do not serve children well. Look for truly child-initiated, play-based programs. Let the children play! My motto is, when all else fails, try singing and dancing. It really works!”

Stein concluded by sharing a bit of her own philosophy.

She likes to quote the following proverb: “The body heals with play. The mind heals with laughter, and the spirit heals with joy.”

“Go forth and be playful and joyful,” recommended Stein, in her own words.



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