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Exploring their world

by: Vern Uyetake, Student Madeline Champion waves a streamer during the “Rainbow Around Me” class on Tuesday.

The real fun began the second 'Teacher Jen' distributed brightly colored streamers and cued a Hindi-inspired song.

The group of toddlers in her West Linn studio space squealed and giggled on Tuesday as the strips of colorful fabric dipped and rose at the flick of their wrist, turning the room into a visual dreamland.

And for the parents who accompany their kids to 'Kindermusik' classes at The Dancing Easel, watching their tots explore and learn the hands-on way beats watching reruns of 'Barney.'

'Since I'm home alone with him all the time, activities are critical,' said Adam Goodman, referring to his 21-month-old son, Noah. 'We'd go stir crazy sitting in the house.'

He opts instead to bring his son to a place where he can let loose and move to the beat of his own drumming.

Capener, a mother of three, opened 'The Dancing Easel' with business partner Cindy Boune last year and recently joined forces with the Lake Oswego Parks and Recreation Department to offer the studio's 'Kindermusik' classes through the city's summer program.

An international company based in North Carolina, 'Kindermusik' emphasizes musical learning and the stimulation of a child's overall development through vocal play, object exploration and creative movement.

'We're non-performance based,' Capener explained. 'We let the children be children without worrying about the outcome.'

Each class has an assigned schedule created by 'Kindermusik' teaching professionals that include singing and listening activities that aim to inspire kids to use their imagination and learn social skills. Parents are required to attend if their child is under 3 years old, and take-home materials allow parents to extend the learning process at home.

'You can see he likes being here,' Goodman said as Noah scampered around the room. At the end of a class, 'he's completely spent. We live two minutes away and he will not make it home,' Goodman said with a laugh.

Capener, a certified primary schoolteacher, adds arts and crafts to the classes with easy projects that break up the wide array of singing, reading and dancing.

'Parents can get so busy, it's nice for them to have some time to focus on their child,' Capener said. 'Parents often enjoy it themselves as much as the kids ... It's especially nice to see dads get silly with their kids.'

In August, she will offer a 'Sign and Sing' class that teaches toddlers sign language skills.

Five-week summer courses range from 'playtime' with educational toys to singing rhyming songs to dancing and painting with hands and sponges.

'We take a unique approach that helps them get something out of this (environment), regardless of where they are in the space,' Capener said. 'Parents could be worried that their child wasn't paying attention, and then days later, their kid starts singing one of the songs we sang in class and they're really surprised.'

Heather Boyer, a West Linn resident, sees the classes as an opportunity to bond with her 2-year-old daughter, Anna, and let Anna bond with other toddlers at the same time.

'It's a chance for socialization, to learn how to take turns sharing ... It's important for her to learn from kids her own age,' said Boyer, who sings 'Kindermusik' with her daughter every day and night.

As a first grade school teacher, Boyer notices first-hand the learning curve between children who attend some form of 'school' before kindergarten, and those who don't.

Kids who attend preschool, for example, seem to understand how to socially interact with others by sharing, taking turns and following directions, she added.

'Research shows it helps with literacy and academic learning later on,' Boyer said. 'The more exposure the kids have to that, the better.'

'The Dancing Easel' is located at 21572 Willamette Drive in West Linn. For information on the classes offered through the Lake Oswego Parks and Recreation Department, visit www.lakeoswegoparks.org or call 503-675-2549. You can contact 'The Dancing Easel' directly at 503-723-0603 or at www.thedancingeasel.com.