For more than a decade and a half, Sara Wheeler ’91 has worked with children of all ages. As a mother of two, Wheeler has sought to create music that fits the developmental needs of infants and toddlers. In 2005 she launched Baby Wiggle, which was later renamed Little Groove. “I’ve always loved working with kids,” she says. “Before I graduated from high school, I had my own classroom with developmentally delayed children, which inspired me to want to learn how to teach not only typical children but atypical children too.” Little Groove music classes help infants through preschoolers learn and interact through sound, sight, and touch in a live-music setting.
A piano principal at Berklee, Wheeler moved to Japan after graduation, taught English courses, and recorded her first folk CD, and toured in Japan, Thailand, India, Nepal, and Hong Kong. “I was playing a lot of acoustic music, and people over there were very receptive to the sound,” she reports. After returning to the States, she taught at the Cambridge Montessori School. There, she was inspired by friends, illustrator Michael Emberley, and children’s author Robie Harris. “They just seemed to love what they were doing,” Wheeler says. “I thought that I’d love to start writing some kids’ songs. When I had my own child, it was like a light bulb went on in my head and I got it. I could finally write for that age group.” After the launch of her company, Wheeler released her first children’s CDs, Building Blocks, in 2008 and A Big Hello in 2010.
In her classes, Wheeler’s students play percussion instruments and interact with puppets and one another, creating an enjoyable learning environment. “Every song has a developmental activity that goes along with it,” Wheeler says. “In a maraca song, we’re listening and stopping when the music stops; [in] a body parts song, we’re finding our ears and our hands. Every song has a purpose. Music is a way that children can express themselves before they’re verbal. Beating a drum, making sounds, and moving to the music helps them learn through music.” During our interview, Wheeler was kind enough to play the song “Starlight” from one of her CDs. “One thing we do is give the children flashlights, and then we turn off all the lights and we pretend that the flashlights are stars in the sky and everybody looks up to find their little light.”
Little Groove classes are offered five days a week at locations throughout Boston and Cambridge, including the Boston Center for the Arts and the Children’s Museum. Wheeler has been especially gratified by her work at Boston’s Children’s Hospital. “The kids at the hospital are amazing,” Wheeler says. “For those born prematurely, music can make such a difference in their lives when they’re introduced to it very early.”
—Michael Gaskins is Berklee’s director of Alumni Affairs