How To Make Learning Fun

How To Make Learning Super Fun To Engage Young Children

Episode 196 – Keeping up with the energy of young children during the COVID-19 pandemic can challenging for parents. In this episode, we interview Shawn Brown, creator of the Super Fun Show and owner of Role Model Productions about his fun-loving attitude towards working with young children and how he translates that in his performances and professional development. He shares his philosophy on working with high-energy children and some advice on how to work with them. 

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Episode Transcript

Shawn BROWN:

I’m able to connect with them because I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that in your classroom you have a Shawn Brown. If you don’t handle us with emotional support and behavior management, we’re going to make you quit! You’re going to go to lunch and you’re not coming back.

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: 

Shawn, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!

BROWN:

Thank you, Ron. It’s a pleasure to be here!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

It’s a pleasure having you, Shawn! We’re living in a bit of a different time now, but actually I think we can learn a lot from you and what you’re doing. Folks, we are delighted to have on the show today Shawn Brown. He’s a consultant and entertainer. And let’s start off learning more about you, Shawn, and how you got to doing what you’re doing. And tell us what that is!

BROWN:

Well, how I get started is a little odd because I wasn’t looking to get into early-childhood [education]. My frame of mind was, as a businessperson, “Well, I can’t really make a living in working with children,” although I love them. When I was growing up I played the piano for the children’s choir.

I was the neighborhood kind of like babysitter – if you were going to the grocery store for a couple hours, you knew I was the guy that could watch your kids. “And I’ll let you know, I’m not changing any diapers. You need to check that before for you go. And if you don’t, there’s going to be something in there when you get back. I don’t do diapers anyhow, I’m 12 years old!”

But I learned early on that I had this gift of working with children. And fast-forward after the military, while I was in the military I still found myself… I was in Alaska playing the piano for the children’s choir because it was an opportunity that presented itself. Every family reunion, I always organized the things for the kids.

And so I’d say in 2001, I was in the process of actually promoting a record. I had a decent hit record back in 1985. It was my impersonation of the late, great John Wayne rapping. And it was called “The Rappin’ Duke”, pilgrim, da-haw da-haw da-haw! That was something that actually opened up the entertainment industry for me.

But I was you would call a “one-hit wonder”. So, as a one-hit wonder you’re the last to know but you find out when the phone stops ringing. And so I was actually… in 2000, I was promoting another John Wayne rap record. And it went nowhere. And my sister asked me, who was living in Atlanta at the time, “Why don’t you come stay with us and just check Atlanta out?” And I did that.

And within four to five weeks I stumbled into an opportunity to work with school-agers. And they needed somebody to put some programing together for them. And it was kind of like my first gig. And I put together a little program for them around theatre. It was called “Drama for the Young and the Restless.” And I put a little program together for them and then found out that I could use my songwriting abilities and I started writing songs.

And it went well. And I’m, like, “Wait a minute, this is just one location. I could try this somewhere else.” And then I tried it somewhere else. Then I ran into a chain called Discovery Point, and the owner liked the program so much [that] he told all of the other centers about me and the business was up-and-running. And from there it morphed into where we are now. But I was not looking to get into early-childhood at all.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Cool story! And I think it also goes to show you how important making your early customers happy is. You found Discovery Point and then they shared it with everybody else. And correct me if I’m wrong, the program or what it is you’re doing, it’s called the Super Fun Show, right?

BROWN:

That is correct. The Super Fun Show is actually… that was the beginning. After I worked with the school-agers for “Drama for the Young and Restless”, one of the owners of Discovery Point asked me, would I do something for her preschoolers? And at that point the reason why she asked was because whenever I go through the facility to go to the back to work with the school-agers, for some reason the school-agers are always in the back with the door closed. And it’s like, “Don’t go back there, you don’t want go back there!”

And so I would walk through the cafeteria. And because I love kids, I would go in there and I would get them all stirred up. There were two- or three-year-olds having snacks, I’d get them all stirred up. And then I’d leave because I don’t know what else to do because now they’re stirred up. And she says, “Why don’t you put a program,” –– I’m serious, Ron, it’s the truth – she says, “Why don’t you put a program together for them?” I said, “Because they don’t have attention spans.” She says, “Well, I’ll pay you out of my pocket.” I said, “I’ll give it a try.”

And that’s when, seriously, the Super Fun Show started. And I realized that teachers were my best resource because they told me how to put the program together and to frame it. So, the Super Fun Show for many years has been the program with me working with kids.

And then I found out about professional development. Once I got into professional development, we started leaning from Super Fun Show to Role Model Productions or Role Model Professional Development.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Cool, very cool. It’s also interesting to hear how you were able to leverage your talents as an entertainer but then also work with the teachers on the programing aspect of what you’re doing to get the expertise from both sides, which was quite smart.

So, let’s start just learning a little bit more about the Super Fun Show. And then let’s move over to the Role Model Professional Development piece because that also sounds quite interesting. So, with the Super Fun Show, what does when your programs look like? How does it work? Like, if I’m running in early-childhood education program, how would I work with you, for example?

BROWN:

Number one would be resources, which is our children’s music. There’s one song in particular that would let any of your listeners know, if they’ve heard of me before, it would be one song entitled, “Shake It Like a Duck”. And that song has over 4 million views on YouTube. And that song was used for large and small-scale motor skill development following one, two, three step directions and basically wearing the child down. But the resources.

And then we have another product that that they could find. There’s our “Transition” feed [of songs] and anywhere from “Good Morning”, to, “My Mom is Going to Pick Me Up”. And all the transitions in between are there which help guide a teacher through the day using transition songs and using it to increase productivity to remove any unnecessary waiting around. And that increases productivity. And it can also be part of your instructional learning format, if you use music correctly.

So, as a musician, I make sure that the resources that are available help a teacher. And the teachers actually help lead to the music, too, as far as the content and what and when and how they needed it. And so the Super Fun Show website would give you access to that, it would point you to iTunes or you could physically order CD’s.

Or you could use the website to contact us and fill out a contact form that says, “Hey, we’re doing a 20-year anniversary for our preschool and we want to do something big. We want to do a parent-child rally.” So, I will come out and perform for the kiddos and leave a little information for the parents.

And then that’s where my wife comes in, also, as a therapist – she’s a licensed marriage and family therapist. And so we kind of work like the dynamic duo. And she’s actually able to use her skill set to actually give parents more information on dealing with their children. And sometimes you might have children on the spectrum and new parents are trying to figure out what to do. Well, as a therapist, she kind of just lays things out; she’s an author.

And we also have a parenting curriculum. So, through the Super Fun Show, if your needs aren’t met there for the entertainment portion, then we would guide you to Role Model Professional Development. I hope that explains it. It’s new to me.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, absolutely! The one the one thing I wanted to touch on with you in the current context that we’re living in with coronavirus, COVID-19, is that it sounds like you do quite a bit of your work in person in childcare or early-childhood education programs, but also you have quite a bit of experience in the digital world. You mentioned one of your songs having 4 million views. How have you adapted or leveraged the internet and a more digital remote experience in a time when more and more of us are locked down and working from home and our childcare centers are closed?

BROWN:

That’s the interesting question. I’m a believer in, “What you say is what you get.” And before, on my website I talked about streaming programs and different avenues for parents and children. And at that time, it was a concept and an idea. Well, now it has forced me to take what I have written and actually happen.

With COVID-19, or [coronavirus], it has forced me to become a better me. It has forced me to rethink how I do business because our business is 99% face-to-face in person. We’re in classrooms providing professional development. We’re over at arenas, doing keynote speaking. We just canceled the National Head Start conference. It was supposed to be there actually today, now. Today would have been the last day.

And I was going to fly from there to Virginia and do another session. And they moved their conference to online. And they actually – I had a conversation with them yesterday – they want me to provide comedic relief or some entertainment after their sessions. They’re going to have, like, three blocks and then they want ten minutes of entertainment. And so it actually kind of played right into my skill set.

And it’s making me go back to my roots, which is working with the young kids in the classrooms. So, now the Super Fun Show, where I used to come in with music, puppetry and storytelling all around themes, now I will be able to do that from home [using] Facebook Live. I’ve got the green screen studio set up here, the recording studio here, and I’m able to do the same thing. I’m buying all this equipment so I can do live productions.

I’ve always wanted a television show. Well, now here it is. It’s in my lap. All the technology is there, the switching from Camera One to Camera Two, to be able to pull up a song and play a video. I’m so excited. [The coronavirus] has really made my day. I’m not going to take these lemons and make lemonade – I’m making Arnold Palmer’s. It is on!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, I love your attitude, in terms of making the best of the situation we’re in and thinking optimistically. Sounds like you’ve really accelerated a lot of the things that you’ve been thinking about, given the situation we’re in. And I also really like how you brought up this point about comedic relief. Now, more than ever – I was having a conversation with someone about this the other day – we need that, right? Some people are really stressed out right now, yeah. It’s so important.

BROWN:

Oh, yeah. You’ve got to be able to laugh. My biggest issue with [the coronavirus] is, as someone with allergies and pollen is all in the air, I have to stifle my sneezes because I don’t want to freak anybody out. I’m in the grocery store and I sneeze. I let out a sneeze and people actually were on the end of the aisles, peaking their head around the corner to see where it came from to make sure they don’t go that direction. I’m, like, “Oh, my god. Really?”

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yup, we’re living in a different world now!

BROWN:

My head is full of pollen! Oh, my God. So, you know, it is what it is.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

And what about on the personal front? So, you have an almost three-year-old or three-year-old at home. How are you dealing with that? Because you’re trying to do some of these things on the Super Fun Show and Role Model Professional Development at home while also being a parent.

BROWN:

Yeah, well, I have a lock on my basement door.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

That helps!

BROWN:

She knows the phrase, “Daddy is going to work.” And that’s downstairs – when I go downstairs, I’m going to work. And then usually after every two or three hours, I go give the wife a break and I know she appreciates it. She’ll say, “I just need 30 minutes. Just give me 30 minutes.” Whatever she asks me for, I multiply by two or three, if I can, just to give her a break because she’s focused and she’s trying to work, too. She’s working on her third book and she wants to be able to get in to write on that. She does some consulting over the phone.

As a parent, it actually helps me shape my material, so to speak. It helps me shape my content because now I’m coming to you from someone who knows, as opposed to someone who’s been told or something that I’ve studied with children and behavior and behavior management and emotional support. Now it’s different; now it’s real to me. And now I have to apply what I’ve been teaching. Now I don’t feel like I hypocrite. I almost felt like a hypocrite, training people who are working with kids and I have no children.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, that resonates with me. Yeah, I certainly, having my own children at home and doing the podcast episodes and with our software, HiMama,, it’s really authentic because you’re living and breathing it.

BROWN:

Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

You know, I understand you used to be quite the teacher-terrorizer yourself back in the day. So, has being at home more with your family given you any additional appreciation for early-childhood educators out there and all the terrorizers – including likely my own son – that they have to deal with every single day?

BROWN:

Yeah for me I believe I’m successful because when I do the presentations, whether it be a keynote at a conference or professional development in a classroom setting, I’m able to connect with them because I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that in your classroom you have a Shawn Brown.

And a Shawn Brown is the type of child that will make you rethink early-childhood [education]. Shawn Brown is the child that will make you drink; Shawn Brown will send you to the happy hour unhappy and you will leave there unhappy. There’s nothing… Shawn Brown is to be dealt with on his level. And your expertise and your training and your knowledge, if  you know how to reach Shawn Brown, the rest of the classroom is easy. But if you ignore Shawn Brown, you have empowered him. He comes alive!

And if it’s not a Shawn, you can have a Shawn-ette; if you don’t have a Shawn-ette you can have a Shawn-cito, Shing-shing, Shala-ala-boo-boo. “We are talking about all races, creeds and colors. And if you don’t handle us with the emotional support and behavior management, what we’re going to make you quit. You’re going go to lunch and you’re not coming back.”

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, totally. I’ve certainly gotten more of an appreciation for just how challenging it is and how important routines are, actually. Your point about saying, “Okay, dad’s on work time now for two or three hours,” and then she knows. And then you come back and you help out and support, which totally makes sense. I’m trying to find that balance myself right now.

BROWN:

Yeah, it’s not easy. But she knows when she comes down here. She calls it the Super Fun Show because the studio’s all lit up. And she just likes to come down here and have a look at YouTube, Blippi airplane cartoons. There is a balance. And actually, for me, I need a break. Even though I love my space I want to go see that little girl.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Of course.

BROWN:

I want to go play with her. I want to hold her; I want to kiss her; I want to go play with my child and spend some time. As a matter of fact, “I want to pick your brain. I want to see what you’re thinking about, you little two-year-old! What are you thinking about?”

SPREEUWENBERG: 

And that’s part of the silver lining in this, too, is I know I’ve gotten to spend more time with my two little boys. And even though there’s a lot of challenges of working from home with them here, there’s also been a lot of joy through that, too.

BROWN:

Oh, yeah. No doubt; no doubt. Love the stuff.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

And so, Shawn, before we wrap up, I did want to just spend a couple minutes talking about Role Model Professional Development. That sounds really cool. Tell us a little bit more about what you’re doing there.

BROWN:

Well, with Role Model Professional Development, it is more or less and extension of the Super Fun Show. We found out when we started working more and more with some of the school districts that the name “Super Fun Show” didn’t resonate as someone who provides professional development. And a lot of times your email servers would pick up the words “super fun” and you’d be restricted.

And although because of my background in comedy, theater and music, I can’t help but present in a fun and engaging way. But I didn’t want it to be advertised as though we’re selling fun. Fun as a bonus to the professional development.

And so after me and my wife talked it over, we decided to move more toward a business name with something that leads you to understand right away what it is you’re going to get when you deal with us. So, Role Model Professional Development now is a website that directs you to exactly what we do. And there’s a blog there and there’s just timely information that talks about our parenting app.

Role Model Professional Development is a separate entity and we now exclusively use Role Model Professional Development for working with any type of training that we do with teachers. We separate that from Super Fun Show. Super Fun Show is for parent-child rallies, childrens concerts, streaming programs, things like that for kids. Super Fun, we’re to keep that for the kids. And Role Model Professional Development, that’s for all those awesome teachers out there who molded me and shaped me and made me what I am today in early-childhood. That’s what Role Model Professional Development is.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Cool, cool. And I love that you’re devoting yourself to supporting something that has impacted you in your life in terms of supporting early-childhood education. So, I’m sure all of our listeners appreciate that.

We’re running out of time, Shawn. Before we wrap up, I guess we’d like to learn more about where people can go to find out more about the Super Fun Show [and] Role Model Professional Development. Before we do that, what’s your advice to the early-childhood educators out there? Childcare programs are closed, a lot of them, or enrollment’s really low and just providing services to children whose families are working in emergency or critical services. And it’s challenging out there right now. Any tips based on what you’re doing and what you’re seeing as a parent?

BROWN:

First and foremost, I would say keep a positive outlook. It’s beyond your control, what’s going on right now. But what is in your control is how you think and what you do about this. If your client base is your livelihood then by all means, as you go through this, you should be in contact with them as much as possible, providing some type of service to them while they’re at home, whether it be streaming, having your teachers to stream the daily lesson plans with the kids.

Because you have your preschoolers who are now at home. And after while Daniel Tiger and Nature Cat and all these different cartoons, they’re not going to do the job. They need a structured curriculum. And if you’ve been dealing or been giving them a curriculum, I would find a way to continue to do that and get the resources to the parents because when this is all over and the parents are ready to come back, they going to be, like, “Oh, I can’t wait to get back. You supported us while we were going through this. We were all going through it and we went through it together. Hey, let’s turn this thing around and let’s move forward.”

So, I would say remain positive and don’t believe the hype. The numbers are skewed. Don’t believe the hype. Is it serious? Yes, it is. It’s very serious. But if you look at [the year] 1918, the first pandemic that I remember [the influenza pandemic], 50 to 100 million people lost their lives. And in 1958, another pandemic, I think was the swine flu [H2N2 virus], it was 1.1 million people. And we’re talking in the in the world.

So, now we’re dealing with this pandemic. You can see as a country, as the world, we are better equipped to deal and handle these situations. So the numbers that we’re looking at now, they don’t even compare because we have adapted and we have this social distancing thing and these things work. These things work.

So, you just have to trust but just don’t get caught up in watching the news every day and looking at that ticker tape that shows, “This many affected, this many dead, this many affected.” Those numbers aren’t right because they don’t know how many infected. And so it would actually prove to be a lower death rate. So, just look at it five minutes a day. That’s all you need, five minutes.

Move on, move on. Concentrate on your business; concentrate on your kids; concentrate on your family’s healing, any wounds between siblings; husbands and wives need to get closer together. Children – parents at home, your children. If you don’t have the relationship you desire with them, now’s the time to nurture it. It’s time to… this is a healing time; it’s a healing time.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

I’m glad I asked because it’s a great response in all the points that you made. Shawn, last question: If our listeners want to learn more about what you’re up to, where can they go to get more information?

BROWN:

First and foremost, I’d say Super Fun Show, then Role Model Professional Development. And then on social media, Facebook: the Super Fun Show. On Instagram and Twitter, @TheSuperFunShow. And then iTunes.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

I think all your social stuff is on those sites, too, right? www.TheSuperFunShow.com and www.RoleModelProfessionalDevelopment.com.

BROWN:

Then be on the lookout for the live show. The live show will be broadcasting sometime in April and you’ll be able to find it through Role Model Professional Development.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Awesome, awesome. Shawn, some really positive messages here and I love what you’re doing. Keep up the great work. Thank you so much for joining us on the Preschool Podcast today. It’s been wonderful having you as a guest!

BROWN:

Well, thank you, Ron. Thank you for being who you are. And this was an excellent opportunity for me. And I’m glad to be able to have a chance just to talk to your listeners. This has been a great experience for me. Thank you so much!

Carmen Choi

Carmen is the Marketing Coordinator and Preschool Podcast Manager on the HiMama team. She's been working with childcare business owners and consultants for 3 years. She is passionate making connections that empower the ECE Community through knowledge-sharing to support better outcomes for children, their families, and society!

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