The play’s the thing.

The literal play — the lighthearted, silly, exuberant enjoyment of youngsters, as Jim Gill sees it.

That’s why the veteran musician takes his banjo and his sidekick accordion player across the country to schools, libraries, you name it. He will bring his act to Columbus on Nov. 3 to 4 for three different performances of some of his original, whimsical tunes.

His free performance will be at 7 p.m. Friday at First United Methodist Church’s Fridays at First series at 618 Eighth St. in Columbus.

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“Kids certainly don’t need much help playing,” Gill said, speaking by phone from his Chicago-area home in Oak Park, Illinois. “That kind of comes naturally.

“But when adults get involved in the play, kids can learn so much more. You sometimes can see the grownups starting to cue the kids during a song so that they’re guessing the right rhymes — or just helping kids learn to manipulate their fingers (during a lighthearted movement). The great thing about all this is that adults get a chance to learn about the kids.”

Gill most recently has been promoting what he calls his Nationwide Campaign For Play. It involves using simple musical games to polish basic skills — all while having a great time, of course. And also while facilitating bonding between a parent or grandparent and a youngster.

His song, “One From the Left” is a fanciful tune of finger dancing and dexterity. “Vote For Jim Gill” is a comic way of teaching body parts with Gill as a pretend-political candidate.

In interviews and presentations, he regularly emphasizes that he is more an educator than a concert performer.

“When you take the time (as a parent) to look into a kid’s eyes, and you toss them in the air and you spin them around, that puts everything that’s important into perspective,” Gill said. “And there are so many lasting memories made from that.”

And here is why his mission that outwardly looks so funny and silly with children is so important.

“Play is the context where young children develop and express abilities across all domains of development – physical, cognitive, communicative and social/emotional,” he said.

Behind the music, he is a child development specialist, having completed his graduate studies in child development at the Erikson Institute of Chicago with a special emphasis on the study of play. That included a stint as a 20-year-old working with children with special needs.

“I kind of got hooked on all this (music and games),” he said. “It really never was meant to be a career.”

In his own world of children, he raised two daughters. He laughed when asked if he was a good teacher with them.

“Well, they survived me,” Gill said, adding that he “followed their lead” on interacting with them. “And they survived the banjo.”

One daughter who regularly shared her games and imagination about dinosaurs is now an archeologist.

“All those interactions are so crucial,” he said, referring to a child’s early years. “I know it’s sometimes hard for families to find the time. My hope always is that parents and kids can take some of that (event excitement) home and then continue the same kind of play later.

“That’s often when you realize — ahhhhhh, that’s why I am a parent.”

Sue Ellen Brown, director of Learning Tree Preschool at First United Methodist Church in Columbus, has seen Gill work with both youngsters and adults at other events.

“He’s very energetic with everyone there,” Brown said. “He has you up on your feet, and you are just drawn in.”

Gill’s speaking-and-musical session with early childhood specialists Nov. 4 locally is titled “A Joyous Way to Learn.” If you watch Gill’s online clips of just a few of his tunes with people smiling and laughing all around, you’ll wonder if he knows of any other way at all to teach.

“Music is a natural way of getting kids and parents interacting,” he said. “And best of all, it’s free.”

Ode to joy

Who: Singer and author Jim Gill, who leads play-oriented, interactive musical gatherings with children and relatives and also conferences with early childhood professionals.

When: Three gatherings:

  • At 10 a.m. Friday at First Presbyterian Church Preschool along with First United Methodist’s Learning Tree Preschool and First Christian Church Preschool for these ministries’ staff.
  • At 7 p.m. Friday at First United Methodist’s Fridays at First series, 618 Eighth St. in Columbus. Free and open to all. Information: 812-372-2851 or fumccolumbus.org.
  • At 9:15 a.m. Nov. 4 at the Columbus Area Chapter of the Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children 2017 Fall Conference at the Columbus Learning Center, 4555 Central Ave. Gill will be the keynote speaker on the topic “A Joyous Way to Learn,” addressing early childhood professionals. Cost is $15.

Information: jimgill.com.

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.