New Musical Times for St Louis Students

'Educate, Empower, Uplift' is the motto for the Lift For Life Academy (LFLA) a charter school located in St Louis, MO, and their newly installed outdoor musical instruments are helping students achieve all three of these goals.

The 'LFLA' provides educational services to students from grades six to twelve and is run independently from public school districts. It is a school of exploration where they teach with love and respect while building a strong community. Very proud of their students, the 'LFLA' considers itself more of a family than just a school.

Marshall Cohen, LFLA Executive Director and Co-founder explains why he decided to invest in a musical outdoor area and outlines the benefits they are experiencing.

I wanted the outdoor musical instruments to serve as reinvestment in exposing our younger students to music while adding new energy to the playground. Based in a relatively low-income area, many of our students are not exposed to musical instruments at home, and therefore giving them a chance to play on real instruments during recess and lesson-times would benefit not only their musical skills but also impact their social, linguistic, and behavioral development.

Being exposed to music from a young age has been proven to encourage interaction and teamwork, improve memory, self-confidence, and empathy and support the development of communication skills. The basics of playing musical instruments help to build dexterity and motor skills amongst the students and are also a wonderful way to express who they are and what they are feeling. It was clear that outdoor musical instruments have the power to transform the culture of any playground and in turn, the wider school and we wanted to benefit from them at the 'LFLA'.

After finding few options for reliable outdoor instruments, I started considering that I might have to build my own. I wanted colorful life-sized outdoor musical instruments that would be robust enough to stand the year-round climate and enthusiastic use from our students! Furthermore, I wanted the instruments to be inclusive so that any student, regardless of their physical or musical skills would be able to be rewarded with lovely sounds.

Thankfully, I found the harmonized and robust musical instruments that I wanted through Percussion Play. When it came to deciding which outdoor musical instruments to go with, I prioritized instruments that could get the most students involved and were colorful, and nature-themed, to add a fresh new look to the school.

We now have a totally engaging creative outdoor space having selected two diatonic Rainbow Cavatinas, a Rainbow Trio Ensemble with bongos, metallophone, and chimes, and finally a ‘major’ bunch of Harmony Bells. The diverse range of instruments works to bring both musical harmony and accessibility to the outdoors. Being easy to play prevents any minimal musical understanding between the students from getting in the way of finding harmony in any combination of instruments being played. The Percussion Play instruments are geared towards everyone.

These outdoor instruments serve as a step in the direction of putting an emphasis on exposing students to music at a young age. Our students have been able to interact with each other through the instruments, playing them in unison to form a greater sound. This experience heightens their understanding of audio and shows how music can bring them all together and add a further sense of community within the academy.

This new experience and sense of community among the students has shown to be a success within the rest of the faculty. One teacher said, “a first-grader ran full speed and hugged me to say thanks and ‘this is so awesome!’”. Words of appreciation and playful banter on who’s turn it is to play with an instrument have grown to be a common occurrence on the playground.

More recently, I have been working with our music teacher to better incorporate the outdoor musical instruments into the curriculum. Whether it would be more class time allocated to playing with the instruments or performing a concert for the parents in the playground, these installations will certainly have a greater presence in our Academy.

Our biggest problem now is bringing in the kids from recess! Nonetheless, melodies will continue to be heard outside of the walls of Lift for Life Academy and our kids will have the opportunity to experience both greater community and success through music. The new additions have been a big hit for the children who have long needed to stay home given the pandemic.

Great playground equipment. Vibrant colors, sturdy, and I mean sturdy, instruments, and of course, the sounds are excellent.

Thanks for bringing sunshine to the playground!