Nancy Stewart, who has been bringing people in the Mercer Island community together through music for 35 years, was announced and honored as the 2015 Citizen of the Year.
From “Animal Crackers” to free guitar lessons, and now her “Sing with our Kids” pilot project, Stewart is “known for enthusiastic appearances at all manner of Island festivals and events, in the library, the local bookstore and city’s community center,” according to a city press release.
The council began recognizing outstanding efforts of citizens in 1990, and has continued this tradition for more than 20 years. Honorees are individuals or entities whose achievements may have gone unrecognized in some settings, but who have improved Island life through a broad base of community service, fundraising or other means.
Sing With Our Kids began as a pilot project on Mercer Island in 2012, in which Stewart created, tested and documented singing events that foster early learning and literacy, while connecting children to their communities. She organizes several singing events throughout the year, including fireside sing-alongs, scavenger hunts, holiday caroling, community singing in Island parks and flash mobs with King County librarians. She has performed at Mercer Island Preschool Association’s Circus, the police department’s National Night Out, Summer Celebration events and countless times for story times at Island Books and Mercer Island library.
Her website, www.singwithourkids.com, provides free resources for early learning through community singing. Her goal is create a national model that any school, library, family or community can use — free of cost.
Singing with a child builds their memory, sense of rhythm, spatial reasoning and vocabulary. Most people never forget the songs they learn as kids, like the alphabet, Stewart said.
“Simply put, music powers the young brain,” Stewart said. “Singing with a child connects neural pathways and increases the ability to retain information. In other words, it builds memory. Music builds a strong sense of rhythm, which leads to a better ability to understand and produce language. Singing develops spatial reasoning, which allows children to recognize patterns, and later helps in problem-solving. Songs are rich in vocabulary and by nature build phonological awareness.”
After launching her career at the age of 15, and spending a decade touring and performing at clubs nationwide with well-known stars like Lily Tomlin and Burl Ives, Stewart decided to turn her musical talents to children and created her Animal Crackers program. She has promoted the connection between singing and learning for kids ever since, including training teachers how to incorporate music into their lessons.