Like most everybody else, Stacia Garriott had heard plenty about the wonders music can work for a baby’s brain. Even before her son, Griffin Kass, was born, she decided she wanted him to be able to keep a beat and carry a tune.
So when Griffin was 6 months, she enrolled him in Wiggleworms, a music and dance class for kids ages 6 months to 3 years at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Griffin could get musical instruction, and Garriott could get out of the house.
Now 2, Griffin’s been in and out of Wiggleworms since 2003. “It’s giving him an introduction to music,” says Garriott. “And as a parent, that’s what you want to do.”
Believing that young children can recognize, enjoy and respond to music and words, the Old Town School launched Wiggleworms in 1985. This month, the Old Town School celebrates the program’s 20th anniversary with a concert at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 14, featuring current and former instructors.
For 45 minutes every week, half a dozen parents and their squirming youngsters come together to sing favorites such as “Wheels on the Bus” and “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Teachers bring out puppets, parachutes and musical instruments. Parents bounce their children in time to the music. Infants work out the beat with rattles.
“When they’re very, very young is when children’s ears are most open they’ll ever be in their lives,” says Kathleen Lahiff, the former director of children’s programs at Old Town who spearheaded Wiggleworms. “Their brains are absorbing and processing. You’d think, ‘What can a 6-month-old do?’ But they come into class and the second time they’re there, they’re recognizing songs. They stop fussing when the class starts. They’re responding, they’re bouncing. They’re doing it.”
Two decades later, some 2,000 kids are enrolled in eight-week Wiggleworms sessions. Every day, classes kick off at the top of nearly every hour at both Chicago locations. Facilities in Evanston, Highland Park and Hinsdale have as many as four classes a day five days a week. You can also take Wiggleworms classes in French or Spanish.
“It seems like everyone in Chicago knows about Wiggleworms,” Garriott says. “You kind of grow with the program.”
Many Wiggleworms alums return to music. Lezlee Crawford credits Wiggleworms with sparking a musical interest in her twin daughters, Abbie and Vivien Wise. Now 13, they play piano and guitar.
“It’s a great atmosphere,” Crawford says. “It always made them feel really at home—and me, too.”
The same seemed true of the six moms and nannies singing and playing with their toddlers at a Wiggleworms class last month. After it was over, parents lingered to chat. “We’re staying longer and longer,” says Lucie Gouin, whose 11-month-old Mimi started Wiggleworms in January. “We’re starting to make friends here.”
To join the anniversary celebration, which will be in the Old Town School’s auditorium, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., call (773) 728-6000 or visit www.oldtownschool.org. Tickets are $12. Lydialyle Gibson