Raising the Curtain on Music Education: Carolyn Sloan's Journey in Creating Interactive Learning Experiences - SE2EP8 -Carolyn Sloan

Raising the Curtain on Music Education: Carolyn Sloan's Journey in Creating Interactive Learning Experiences - SE2EP8 -Carolyn Sloan

Welcome to Parenting in the Digital Age, where we explore the challenges and opportunities of raising kids in a world filled with technology. Today, we are thrilled to have the multi-talented Carolyn Sloan with us.

An award-winning author, composer, educator, and entrepreneur, Carolyn has dedicated her life to creating interactive music experiences for children. Her songs have been performed in theatres, concert halls, and schools across the US, as well as far abroad as Moscow and Switzerland.

With her best-selling children's books, Welcome to the Symphony and Welcome to Jazz, she has introduced countless young minds to the world of music.

Now, with her latest project, TeachMe TV, Carolyn aims to bring her passion for education and music to even more children around the world. Join us as we dive into her inspiring journey and learn about her dedication to empowering children through education and the arts.



This Episode is brought to you by Skill Samurai – Coding & STEM Academy www.skillsamurai.com.au

Speaker 1 (00:08):

Welcome to the Parenting in the Digital Age podcast. Many parents are concerned that their child might be falling behind. Others are just looking for ways to help their children thrive, not just in the classroom, but socially and well into their future careers. Each episode we explore the challenges facing parents in the modern world, from behavior, education, and nutrition to device and gaming addiction. We interview a range of leaders in the area of childhood development to help you successfully navigate parenting in the digital age. Here is your host, Jamie Buttigieg.

Speaker 2 (00:44):

Hello parents. And welcome to The Parenting in the Digital Age, where we explore the challenges and opportunities of raising kids in a world filled with technology. Today we are thrilled to have the multi-talented Carolyn Sloan join us, an award-winning author, composer, educator, and entrepreneur. Carolyn has dedicated her life to creating interactive music experiences for children. Her songs have been performed in theaters, concert halls, and schools across the US as well as far abroad as Moscow and Switzerland, with her bestselling children's books. Welcome to the Symphony and welcome to Jazz. She's introduced countless young minds to the world of music now with her latest project called Teach Me tv. Carolyn aims to bring her passion for education and music to even more children around the world. So join us as we dive into her inspiring journey and learn more about her dedication to empowering children through education and the arts. Carolyn, welcome to the show. Please share with our listeners what you do and what you are passionate about.

Speaker 3 (01:46):

Thank you for having me, Jamie. I really appreciate it. It's wonderful to be able to speak with you and your listeners. Um, as you were saying, I am passionate about education and about helping young, our youngest people on the planet to develop the skills, strategies, and talents that they will need to become lifelong learners and succeed both in school and in their lives. So I do this with a number of different ways. Um, uh, as you said, as an author, I write children's books. I wanna inspire kids to learn about music, to love music mainly as a way also to express themselves. I'm very passionate about having kids develop another voice, right? Their voice, their unique voice, um, a way to express themselves in the world, a way to feel heard, a way to feel seen. Um, also with education. Um, I was a teacher for a long time and I saw kids in the classroom really kind of get lost. Um, and during the pandemic, we noticed when kids were out of school, out of school, it was really, um, difficult for them and they fell behind. Um, I don't know, um, in the United States we're really kind of suffering, uh, with kids being like 35% below where they need to be in math, 25% below where they need to be in, in reading. And so I feel really passionately about giving kids the skills that they can access anywhere at any time, which is what gave me the idea to start teaching tv.

Speaker 2 (03:30):

Yeah, that's wonderful. And, and music can play such a powerful role in, uh, helping kids develop, uh, educationally and socially. Um, go, I wanna go back a little step, but, you know, were you a teacher first, a musician first, where did your passion as an educator come from? Just talk me through that, uh, bit of back history. Sure.

Speaker 3 (03:46):

Well, you know, I started as a musician, really, um, early on as a child. So, you know, we all start with piano lessons right when we're little. And, um, but it stuck with me and I loved music. And, um, I'm very fortunate because I grew up in New York City and there's a school in New York City called the School of Performing Arts, and a lot of people know that as the Fame School. Um, and, uh, that's where I went to high school. And I really, um, developed even more of a, a love for music and the performing arts. I started as a musician. I was a kid performer at the age of 15 and 16. Recorded an album with a group and we went on the road. And, um, then I went to, um, school, um, at New York University, um, graduated and then continued to write music for advertising television, um, for the theater.

Speaker 3 (04:42):

Uh, and then, uh, it became really clear to me that I enjoyed teaching because I had some students and I wanted to have a family, so it was really important for me to have more regular hours. I don't know if, uh, you know, what a performing life is like, but you, it's very far from having any kind of regular hours. So I was like, Hmm. And my husband is an actor, a Broadway actor, so I was like, you know, the two of us can't be out of the house at the same time. So, um, I really was, um, interested in teaching. So I started teaching and I loved it and taught for the next two decades, really. Um, had my son. And then I, I just started bringing together my passion for education and media, you know, and all different kinds of media, books and music, um, and delivering kind of, if you will, learning materials through different forms of media. And that's kind of how it, it developed.

Speaker 2 (05:41):

That's, that's inspiring. So let's talk about books for a minute, cuz there's, uh, a lot of different things that you do here and, uh, we'll touch on all of that before we end today's podcast. But what inspired you to create the interactive children's music books?

Speaker 3 (05:54):

Um, you know, it's interesting. I, when I was teaching, um, I had a project I used to do with fourth graders, and they had to become an expert on an orchestral instrument. And I noticed that a lot of my students had never been to see or hear a symphony orchestra. And I thought, how is that possible? We live in New York City, it's not like there's a, a shortage of cultural activities here. So I said, you know, the thing to do maybe is to put a concert in a book. Let's see if we can do that. And, um, so I started thinking, you know, we have wonderful technology. And and this was back in 2012, I guess, when I first had this idea of 2010. And, um, I shopped that idea around for a little while. And finally in 2012, um, Workman Publishing, um, bought, uh, that idea.

Speaker 3 (06:47):

And we published Welcome to the Symphony, and it came out in 2015. And that's how I started, because I saw a need, there was a real need, like, you know, whether it was because parents didn't think their children would like the symphony or they didn't have the means or whatever the reason was, I said, well, let's make it more accessible. Um, and, uh, so we use a sound panel on the side of the books to kind of, um, exemplify or make concrete the concepts that we talk about in the book. And so if I'm talking about a melody or I'm talking about the French horn, you get to hear the melody played on the French horn so that it's very concrete and very immediate. Right. So that's how that came about.

Speaker 2 (07:30):

Fantastic. And so how do you think introducing children to say classical and or jazz can impact their development and creativity?

Speaker 3 (07:39):

Oh, in so many ways, Jamie. Um, first music is just a wonderful thing for us. Um, it, it kind of stimulates the brain in ways that, um, literally can create neural pathways where there were none before. So, um, especially when you're actively involved in music and playing music, um, you know, there are these little pathways in the brain and all these connections and music has been proven to actually create more of these connections in the brain. But music is just, as I was saying before, just a wonderful thing for self-expression, and it brings such joy. Let's just remember that music is a joyful thing no matter what kind of music you li like to listen to. It's capable of changing your mood, it's capable of calming you down, it's capable of just getting you focused, right? So there's just so many beautiful things about music.

Speaker 2 (08:34):

Yeah. And the world can't have too much joy, right? Like it's, uh, uh, it's like something that we all deserve and you can never have too much of it. So, uh, thanks for your contribution there. Uh, you've got another book, uh, called Finding Your Voice and you explore this idea that everyone can sing if they're courageous enough. And that has quite a powerful, um, uh, meaning, uh, there. And, and I, I think an important lesson for kids. Talk us a bit through that.

Speaker 3 (08:57):

Yes. Um, finding your voice started out really as a, um, a voice training book. Cause I had a large, um, vocal studio, uh, years ago, um, where I was teaching both children and adults. And, um, you know, I had said to someone kind of like offhandedly, uh, on the la that, um, you know, when I'm 80 years old, someday I'm gonna write a book about how singing is a lot like living and that the principles that govern living a good life are really the same as learning how to sing. And I just kind of said that to somebody offhandedly. And then the next thing I knew, someone was calling me about, well, do you wanna write a book about this now? Because we really like the idea? And I was like, wait, wait, how did this happen? But, um, so finding your voice is all about, um, being a warrior, a scientist, a detective, and a spiritual master.

Speaker 3 (09:55):

It's about combining all these different qualities, um, to find this strength and balance in yourself, to be able to express yourself to ex to voice your truth. Um, and while I didn't necessarily, and I don't necessarily use those terms when I teach young children, but I encourage those qualities as I do, because let's face it, you know, a lot of people, we don't, some people will only sing in the shower, right? It takes a lot of courage to express to yourself and let yourself go like that. And really, you can't hold back when you sing. You can only sing the truth. So that's kind of what I mean also by a spiritual master. Like, you have to let it go, excuse me, and just be who you are. And that's kind of scary for a lot of people. Um,

Speaker 2 (10:47):

It, it can be very intimidating.

Speaker 3 (10:51):


Speaker 2 (10:52):

So a, as an advocate for lifelong learning, you're a teacher, you're a, uh, an educator and a musician. How, what practical tips could you give to, to parents for, you know, encouraging them to learn together? How can families and children all learn together?

Speaker 3 (11:08):

Oh, I think it's the best thing when, when parents and kids can learn together, and there's so many opportunities, honestly, just walking down the street, looking at a tree and talking about what you see, or looking up at the sky. I mean, I'm sure as parents, we've all had that experience where your kid says, you know, wh why do the clouds look like that? Or, you know, why, why does it get dark when it rains? Or why, why, why, right? There are all these questions. So, um, the best thing to do is to model that, that same kind of curiosity. And to, and sometimes if you don't know to say, you know, I don't know, let's look that up. You know, let, let's find the answer to that together, you know? Um, and of course, that's kind of how I, uh, created Teach Me TV is that it's online interactive activities, everything ranging from like word searches to math, video games, to that kind of thing, to investigating the water cycle.

Speaker 3 (12:09):

Like what is the water cycle? You know, all different kinds of things to investigate with your children. Um, I think when you model curiosity and you show excitement, um, and, and this kind of insatiable wanting to know, um, your kids are gonna follow and, and they're gonna get excited about learning too. So anything from looking something up to let's draw a picture what of what we saw, or, you know, let's go out into the yard and look under rocks and see how many worms we find, you know, or are there any worms in our soil? Or how do we make compost? Like how we're gonna make this soil better? Or what do you, do you have any ideas for, you know, that's how we're gonna save water. Or, you know, there's a million things we can do with our kids, um, depending upon their age, and when they get older, we can ask them for their suggestions. I think that's what we forgot. Forget that kids have their own innate wisdom, and it's really important to kind of treat them that way, even when they're three and four years old, to realize that they have this wonderful innate intelligence and creativity, and we can learn from them.

Speaker 2 (13:23):

And sometimes kids can ask the best questions, right? I mean, they're, they're, they're why questioning, uh, sometimes one of the most powerful questions if we treat them a little bit more seriously is parents.

Speaker 3 (13:32):

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Speaker 2 (13:35):

And so, Carolyn, oh, go ahead.

Speaker 3 (13:37):

No, all as I was gonna say is that if we don't know, you know, I know that a lot of parents feel a lot of pressure to always have the answer, but as you were saying, kids ask the greatest questions. And so sometimes it's okay to not have the answer and to try to search it or find it with them. Yeah.

Speaker 2 (13:55):

Yeah. And, and that teaches them that whole honesty and integrity and authenticity. You know, it is okay not to know. Um, so you, you started to touch on Teach Me tv, uh, which is your new online learning platform for kids. So just tell us a little bit more about that. Like, what inspired you to create it and, um, uh, yeah. Uh, you know, how can parents access that?

Speaker 3 (14:16):

Sure. Um, well, you know, as the digital age is upon us and has been for quite some time, I feel that, um, and I've noticed parents, I, a lot of them are very, um, wary of screens. And I think, um, to that point, I would be too, there's a lot of stuff that we don't want our kids to see or encounter, and I, that makes a lot of sense. But being that screens are kind of in inevitability at this point in, I really wanted to create something that was quote unquote good for kids online, because kids wanna be on their devices, and this is a way for them to be on their devices, have fun on their devices, but to be safe, to be doing something to grow their minds. And also stuff that you can do with your children online. It can be a family activity.

Speaker 3 (15:14):

Um, all of our activities can also be like, you can, you know, mirror them on a big screen TV if you want, and like, watch a video that way together. They're all short. You can do a craft project together, watching a video and following the video along. So, um, I was watching parents with kids in restaurants, you know, when my son was very little. I used to bring a coloring book. I would bring some trucks or little cards for him to play with while we go out to eat in a restaurant. But now I feel like parents put videos or they bring iPads, right? So if you're going to do that, I feel like let's not waste the time and let's grow our kids' minds. And there's plenty of fun. It's not all like, you know, math and that kind of stuff, but it's fun stuff that they can do too. I just thought it's, we really need to have like good, fun educational stuff online for kids ages five to 12, because they, they tend to get lost in that middle age range because you have great activities a lot of the time from zero to four for kids, but then five to 12 they end up like in the wrong places on the internet, which I was help trying to help parents to avoid that <laugh>.

Speaker 2 (16:26):

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Particularly down that YouTube rabbit hole. And, uh, yeah, YouTube exactly can be extremely powerful. But, uh, I often walk in on my own kids and, you know, the stuff they're watching is, is the furthest thing from education. And, uh, uh, you know, it's difficult for parents. I I totally get it. Totally get it. Um, so how do you, uh, envision, envision the future of music education? So, like, you know, you're talking about the rise of digital platforms, like Teach Me tv. How do you think it's gonna shift over the coming years, or will it shift over the coming years?

Speaker 3 (16:58):

Um, well, I think we're already there, honestly, I feel the shift has happened and we'll, and now with new technologies like Chat, g p T, um, it's, it's only going to be exponentially faster. So I think that we have to also, um, look at digital education as something that can help our kids, um, become better critical thinkers and more creative thinkers. And I think this is where we need to go in education, because I think, um, with every new, um, advancement in technology, it seems to me that we humans are not gonna be responsible for kind of the mundane tasks anymore. So things like, you know, even computer programming and coding, elementary coding is not gonna be done by a human. It's gonna be done by a machine. And I, I, not to alarm anyone, but I really think we need to develop creativity, collaborative thinkers, creative thinkers. And I think this is, it's, it, the, the paradigm has already shifted. So I think we have to be very mindful about what we're putting in front of our kids and how we're educating them and, and use every resource we can to, um, bring them into the 21st century to make sure that the citizens that are gonna be running the world in 10 or 20 years time are going to have that really great 21st century education.

Speaker 2 (18:37):

Yeah, yeah. Well said. I cannot, you know, playing around with, uh, you know, AI tools myself, you know, I can see this, you know, wonderful application, and I'm sure someone's already developing it, but we are teachers in the classroom. Were educators in any classroom have, uh, almost an AI buddy or an AI assistant, you know, that, uh, they have conversations with in the middle of class. While students can engage the AI in the middle of class that can augment and enhance those lessons, or, you know, take them in completely different directions. It's just, it, it is such an exciting time for, uh, technology. So, but you're right, it's, it's about getting kids on the right side of that technology, and you are doing that with Teach Me tv. Uh, we do that in our own classrooms, teaching kids, you know, programming STEM mathematics, getting them on that healthy side and the respectful side and helping them become, uh, the creators.

Speaker 2 (19:25):

And, and really we want them to understand what the technology is, rather than just sit by and become this passive consumer of technology. Um, and, and it's, it is designed to do that. It is designed to, um, uh, you know, be behaviorally addictive in our kids. Let's, let's make that mistake. Social media platforms and YouTube, they're all, you know, um, uh, designed to see how long we can keep that consumer's eyeballs, uh, you know, stuck to our product. So, you know, it's a challenging time for educators. It's a challenging time for parents, but, uh, by the same token, it is absolutely an exciting time. Um, okay, here's an interesting one. So what, what are some of the challenges you've faced while creating engaging educational content for kids? You know, like, it, it couldn't have been easy. You have an idea for a book or something that's, you know, got some tech in it and you've been quite innovative. What, like, there, there are probably, you know, not just parents listening, but probably people who are listening who have their own ideas for cool products or books. So share with them some of the challenges you might have faced along your journey in getting there.

Speaker 3 (20:27):

Huh. Well, there are many, many <laugh>, um, in terms, I'll, I'll start with books first. I first, I wanna just encourage anyone and everyone, if you have a creative idea for something, just go for it. Just do it. Um, because, um, if you've thought of it and you feel that it would be useful and you feel like, um, other parents or other children could use it, um, you're probably right and you're just figure out a way to do it. Um, with the book, I had the idea and, um, pitched it to a number of different people. And honestly at the time, people, um, kind of laughed at me and said, oh, that's funny. Putting sound in a book. You wanna use that old technology of MP3s, why don't you just do an e-book? And I was very clear on why I didn't wanna do an e-book because I wanted kids to be able to hold a book, to feel the pages, to turn the pages, but I also wanted the immediacy of them being able to hear the music inside the book without, um, like a cd like a long time ago.

Speaker 3 (21:38):

Remember, CDs <laugh>, right? But there's no CD technology right? Anymore. Like, new computers are not made with CD drives. And I didn't want moms or dads to have to walk around with all this stuff. When my son was little, we used to walk around with so many different things. It's like, it, it was cumbersome. So, um, the challenge was to convince, um, publishers, uh, the value of this particular, um, series of books and that it was worthwhile, um, to have the music in the book, not just with a cd. Like, I didn't want an extra thing. I was like, no, CDs get lost. The sound has to be in the book. Um, and quite honestly, if two years, it took me to find the right publisher, um, of going in and having meetings with people, and, and a lot of people kind of thought it was silly and didn't want to take it on.

Speaker 3 (22:34):

And then luckily Workman Publishing was fabulous, and they were like, yeah, I like this idea. And they did it. And truthfully, in the first two months of the book coming out, the whole, the first printing was, was sold. And the, they had to order another one. So obviously, you know, we had hit on something, but it took a long time. It was very challenging to convince somebody of the value of your vision. I think it's always really difficult in the, if you're really innovating and something is new and they don't, under people don't understand what you're talking about. And the challenge is trying to make it real enough for that other person or those to, to, for them to be able to see your vision too. Um, and I think that's a big challenge. The other challenge is just, you know, when when you're making things and you're creating things, it takes a lot of courage to kind of see your vision through to the end.

Speaker 3 (23:35):

And the first version of what you do may not necessarily be the best. So you have to just kind of be very, um, persistent and you have to be tenacious to kind of keep going, to try to refine and reiterate and, um, make that vision of what you have in your head, you know, real, and it, and it, sometimes it takes a, a long time, you know? Yeah. Um, teach Me TV is relatively new, um, but we've been working super hard for, um, two and a half years now, and we're just really kind of getting started. So, um, I just would encourage everybody out there to act on their creative ideas. It's a much more exciting and beautiful place to live on the planet when people are really acting on their creativity.

Speaker 2 (24:24):

You're right. And you said something really, um, powerful in there. Uh, we've been working on this for two and a half years, and we're only getting started. A lot of entrepreneurs coming into an idea, whether they're authors or, you know, starting a business of some other sort, uh, you know, aren't prepared for or don't realize the time it takes to get anything off the ground, uh, and the finance and capital of course. But, uh, you know, you've gotta have this unwavering belief in yourself. You've gotta have this unwavering belief in your product and, uh, you know, just to, uh, get through it. But it does, it does take some time. And I commend you for that because, uh, you are now impacting, uh, many, many kids and families around the world through your, um, uh, through your books and through your platform. So can you share any, um, upcoming projects or goals or any cool things with our listeners, uh, as you continue to empower children through music?

Speaker 3 (25:15):

Sure. Um, I have a new book coming out. It's part of the, the third book in the series of the welcome two series. It's welcome to the opera and the, um, it's, we use the Magic flute, sorry, excuse me, the Magic Flute, Mozart's Magic Flute as the opera that we discuss in the book. And it's, the illustrations are fabulous, um, by Kaylee Carls. And, um, we have the music panel on the side, and all of the singers are all these young and upcoming opera singers, which I'm sure you'll hear much about as they get into their careers. But that comes out in October, October 10th, and I'm really looking forward to that. We're doing a, um, a tour here in the United States. I don't think they're gonna send me abroad, but, um, I hope, I know that the book is sold abroad, and you certainly can buy it online, like in through Amazon.

Speaker 3 (26:12):

Um, and then, um, teach Me TV is an ongoing project and we are always having new series. So now we, we are doing a series called Kids Teaching Kids, and they're short videos of kids sharing their passions with other kids. And so we have kids as young as six, sharing their passions for like, um, making their own doll clothes or, um, science experiments that they love to do. Um, we have kids, um, who love martial arts, and then they teach other kids moves in martial arts. And then we have, um, fun science with Sank. We have all different kinds of subjects and share, uh, kids sharing their passions cuz you know, peer-to-peer learning is also very powerful. So we try to show kids doing great things. And, um, now we're starting a math series where kids can watch other kids solve math problems. So you may have a problem, say it's an order of operations problem, but you'll have like two kids solving the same problem, but two different ways. We wanna try to show children and students and parents that problems can be solved in multiple ways. There's not one right way necessarily to solve a problem, and that we should always experiment with different ways to solve problems. And that's part of this creativity mission that I am on, that, you know, we, we all have this wonderful, unique way of thinking and, and we should celebrate that,

Speaker 2 (27:48):

That is so impactful. Kids teaching kids one of the best skills, I think any parent or any educator can incorporate into their routine. You know, we, we see in our classrooms, you know, kids helping other kids with coding problems or, you know, maths problems. And to me, that's more powerful than, you know, learning the coding itself, right? It's more powerful than the curriculum in my view. You know, teaching these kids to, uh, help others, lead others work in teams, collaborate, man, they're powerful skills. So, uh, well done on that idea. That's, uh, really impactful. Thank you. Um, and, uh, so a fun question we like to ask all of our guests as we wind up the podcast is if you could go back in time, uh, before we, before we go back in time, you're welcome to series. I wanna see, welcome to the Memphis Blues. I wanna see some blues in there, right? Yes. So just, uh, there, there you go. You can, uh, uh, write one of those down the track. Anyway, I get off track. Uh, let's, let's get back in your time machine. Go back to your 10 year old self. What is one piece of advice that Carolyn would give young Carolyn?

Speaker 3 (28:51):

That's a tough one, but I think the first thing that comes to mind is to believe in, in her, to believe in one self, to believe in yourself. Just trust yourself, believe in yourself, and know that you can follow that little voice inside of you that that tells you, yes, you can, you can. Um, because too often we give other people a lot of power, um, and there is that quiet voice inside all of us that really is our truth. And I think sometimes it's hard for us to listen to it, um, or trust it or follow it. And I think I would really kind of, um, encourage young Carolyn to trust that quiet voice,

Speaker 2 (29:44):

Indeed. Back yourself in power. Uh, uh, powerful words. Indeed. Where can listeners find you online? Find your books. Teach me tv. How can we get in contact with your, uh, ecosystem of awesomeness?

Speaker 3 (29:55):

Sure. Um, teach Me TV is online. It's www.teachmetv.co. And um, you can find us. Just Google us, teach me tv. Um, I am on Instagram, um, at Teach Me tv, um, at c Sloan author, um, or Carolyn Sloan author on Instagram. I'm on, uh, Twitter as C Sloan author, and also at Carolyn Sloan Teach Me tv. Um, so it's not hard to find me.

Speaker 2 (30:31):

Good, Carolyn, we'll put some of those links in the show notes below. Uh, thanks for your time, your generosity, your impact. Uh, we really love hearing, uh, some of the cool things that you're doing, and, uh, hope we cross paths again soon.

Speaker 3 (30:45):

Well, thank you. It was wonderful to talk to you, Jamie. Thank you for having me.

Speaker 2 (30:49):

Thanks again. Bye for now.

Speaker 4 (30:51):


Speaker 1 (30:54):

If you enjoyed the show, please connect with Jamie on LinkedIn or Instagram. You'll find links in the podcast description. Parenting in the Digital Age is sponsored by Skill Samurai Coding and STEM Academy for Kids Skills, samurai offers afterschool coding classes and holiday programs to help kids thrive academically and socially while preparing them for the careers of the future. Visit Skill samurai.com.au.