For 27 years, Charlotte Diamond has made a living out of using props, music and rhythmic movements to teach kids how to remember things.
Schools all over the Western hemisphere have adopted Diamond's playful songs for their classrooms to build pathways into young brains that make the learning process fun, not a chore.
Barb Kelly remembers the joy Diamond brought to school as her music teacher 40 years ago at New Westminster secondary school, long before she became famous as a children's entertainer. As she proved to Kelly, Diamond's own mind has been shaped by her memory-teaching techniques.
"She remembered where I sat in class and that I used to get everybody giggling -- that's a long time ago, obviously I made a bad impression," laughed Kelly, now a Grade 2 teacher at Foothills elementary school.
"She's so inspirational, imagine having her for a grandma. I do a lot of her songs in my class that my kids love and I tell them 'the lady who wrote this was my teacher.' She's my claim to fame. The kids love her songs because they're catchy and they love the repeating and the echo songs. We can change all the lyrics and use her songs to remember things."
Diamond, the guest speaker Friday morning at the Great Beginnings early childhood education seminar at Lac des Bois elementary school, was a teacher for 15 years in the Vancouver school system until she become a full-time entertainer in 1985.
"Most of all, I want (kids) to be inspired to sing, it's your natural musical instrument that's with you all the time," said Diamond. "What singing does is it goes into the right brain, and that's your longterm memory. Rhythm, rhyme and repetition leads to remembering and that's what songs are, a way to remember."
Fluent in French and Spanish, Diamond is in high demand as a keynote speaker in conferences all over North America. She also performs kids' shows in Canada, the U.S., Puerto Rico and Mexico and will be in concert at Vanier Hall Saturday at 4 p.m.
On Friday, with her son Matt on guitar, Diamond sang some of her greatest hits -- I'm a Pizza, The Hug Bug, Leave the World a Little Better and Octopus (Slippery Fish) -- from a career that spans 13 albums, encouraging the teachers to get off their feet and move to the music.
Music is her way to engage kids and and drag them away from the electronic toys that now dominate their lives, often at the expense of creativity and innovation. She wants parents to allow their kids to do activities that stimulate imaginations, like draping blankets over chairs to build forts out of the living room furniture.
"I think we have lost touch with play," she said. "We need to go back to playing physically with things around the house. It's important to have computer skills, but if you don't have that other side you get caught up in your own world and you're not connected with the rest of the world. In order to be able to take risks and do things that are innovative, you have to be outside and open up your eyes."
Encouraging the physical side of play in school without putting up too many boundaries, especially for young students, is high on the priority list of School District 57's early education department. Diamond's visit reinforced the idea that letting kids be kids in the playground teaches life experiences that makes well-rounded students and better-prepared adults.
"We go to soccer, gymnastics or hockey and there's a lot of structure in our play," said Sandra Huggett, SD 57's early-literacy resource teacher. "Our lives are so rushed, and we need to give our kids opportunities and experiences for our kids where you use your imagination and your body and you problem-solve and you create. It takes time for that play to develop."