The advent of all-day kindergarten in the Payson Unified School District four years ago put miniature violins in the tiny hands of 66 kindergarten students over the course of three years.
When Wendy Waggoner, a kindergarten teacher at Julia Randall Elementary School, first wrote the grant for an all-day kindergarten she wanted a cultural aspect and sought advice from district music teacher Ilene Gonzales.
"(Strings) teach music, coordination, rhythm and motor skills," Gonzales said Thursday after an impromptu session with some of her junior strings students.
Practice makes perfect
"You should play it. It's fun 'cause you get to move the bow," said a bright-eyed Hannah Eaton. At 6 years old, Hannah has a year of violin experience under her belt. "You practice almost every day," she said.
"Even on Sunday, I practice," chimed in 6-year-old Sean Ford. "It is easy to play, but you don't want to break (the violin)," Ford, a graduate of last year's kindergarten strings program, cautioned.
It was the 1996-1997 school year that Gonzales first rented 22 violins and began to work with her youngest students. The following year, Kay Wilson who was teaching first grade at the time, said that the combination of music and the all-day class let her complete a full year's work in just the first semester, said Gonzales.
"It gives them self-discipline and the ability to reason things out," she said. Each class strives to hold at least one performance.
This year, the district expanded its all-day kindergarten program to all three of its elementary schools, giving 66 kindergarten students the chance to learn how to play the violin this year.
Eight-year-old Dakota Wholly is in third grade and is entering his fourth year of violin lessons. He encourages all kindergartners to take the class.
"(Strings) can teach the kids to play really good," Wholly said. "Mrs. Gonzales is a really good teacher."
He said his favorite song is "Barn Dance" because he gets to play really fast.
And when he talked about playing with the fiddlers who visited the schools last week in preparation for the Arizona State Championship Old-time Fiddlers' Contest in Payson last weekend, his face lit up.
"It was cool," he said. "We played 'Mary had A Little Lamb."
Another 6-year-old stings player, Amanda Ammann, said she's planning to play the violin for a very long time.
"I'm going to play at the high school," she said. "I will play forever, even when I'm a hundred years old."