Teaching Tots with Song, Dance and Puppets

Education and Outreach


Teaching artist Melissa Richardson clapped her hands on her knees and sang as the class of 4-year-olds before her watched eagerly.

“What do actors do? Actors use their body, and actors use their voice,” she chanted in the classroom of the Hill and Dale Child Development Center in Las Vegas. “Can you use your voice to make a cow sound?”

She further led the preschoolers in stretching into pretend trees, and using different vocal pitches to portray characters in “The Three Bears.”

While the children might not have realized it, they were learning to tell a story with acting.

This not only kept them engaged, but helped them retain information by experiencing it in an active and creative way.

“(Retention) is the goal,” Richardson emphasized after finishing with the students.

This classroom adventure served as a key example of The Smith Center’s Southern Nevada Wolf Trap (SNWT) Early Learning Through the Arts program.

Training Teachers to Use the Arts

Under the SNWT program, The Smith Center’s professional teaching artists partner with preschool educators for seven-week, in-classroom residencies, during which the educators learn to incorporate music, theater and movement into teaching all curricula.

With the program provided at no cost to schools, more than 1,000 local early childhood educators have participated.

“Applying arts-based teaching strategies can have so many benefits,” said Candy Schneider, vice president of Education and Outreach at The Smith Center. “Teachers who have participated in the SNWT program have found these methods help with student engagement, retention, communication skills and more.”

Expanding to New Classrooms

Now The Smith Center’s SNWT program is expanding, thanks to a $100,000 grant from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation.

This will fund professional development for 75 Southern Nevada teachers, through 50 SNWT in-classroom residencies. Roughly 1,500 students from low-income households will participate.

This marks the first-ever grant the Hearst Foundation has awarded to a performing arts program in Nevada.

“The impact of this support from such a prestigious group will be felt throughout our entire community, as it provides educational resources vital to our students’ lifelong success,” Martin said. “We are elated that our Education and Outreach programs are attracting national attention, and we are deeply grateful to the Hearst Foundation for its incredible generosity.”

Making An Impact

The Smith Center offers the program as an affiliate of the national Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, which recently sent Richardson, a Wolf Trap master teaching artist, to Las Vegas to train new SNWT teaching artists.

For teaching artists who have participated since The Smith Center launched SNWT in 2008, they have already witnessed its powerful impact.

“What we do is so applicable for everything,” said Kate St-Pierre, SNWT teaching artist.

While working in classroom residences, St-Pierre focuses on building lessons around singing and storytelling.

With many classes comprised largely of English-as-a-Second-Language students, she has found these tools work well with developing their language skills.

“They’ll start saying the story back to me in English, and it’s one of those mind-blowing moments for their teachers,” she said. “The kids want to be a part of it, and they jump right in.”

Learn More

Click here to learn more about The Smith Center’s Education and Outreach efforts.