Pacha's Pajamas: A Hip-Hop Eco-Musical That Just Might Change The World
“Horses Don’t See Colors?” His face screwed up with question. A few days ago a student of mine found my teacher plans to use the Pacha’s Pajamas soundtrack for our after-school Performing Arts program. He continued reading, “Butterfly Life, Nature Superhero, act out the story!” What did this mean? His enthusiasm inspired him to read aloud in an enticing tone to get everyone in the room’s attention. The rest of my class gathered around him to see for themselves. It was a class I was going to teach that included hip hop dance, music, bears, talking mushrooms, and children superheroes….
I began to learn about Pacha’s Pajamas this summer. I teach the afternoon arts program at a private school in Northern California, The GATE Academy, a school that helps students form questions, research, analyze, and synthesize information, and then communicate their findings, thoughts, and ideas publicly. As a teacher here, I am kept on my toes… needing to find creative and engaging ways to bring the curriculum alive — make it interactive, holistic, and relevant to children’s lives.
My students have been learning about the dance moves and the origin of the hip-hop culture —how it speaks for a community, the youth, and can be used as an art form for social engagement. I saw this as an opportunity. I thought maybe I could find a way to expand upon their inspired engagement with hip hop to teach other subjects — might that be possible?
Now enters Pacha’s Pajamas into my life. The creators of this project spent 10 years interacting with a live audience of kids to see what inspired and captured the attention of our youth, and in my opinion they got it right. Pacha’s Pajamas gave me a way to use the Hip Hop/Pop culture to engage with kids about something very relevant to their future — the importance of preserving and having a relationship to the natural world. Now it seems obvious… to use what kids love in order to teach them what they need to know, but this time I got to witness the affect first hand.
These kids enthusiastically, whole-heartedly dance and sing (rap) to Pacha’s theme song, and one of their other favorites, “Butterfly Life.” Imagine a classroom of five and six year olds flailing their arms in the air, shaking their hips, spinning and popping in rhythmic abandon. The vibrancy of the characters and the mystery storyline of Pacha’s magical pajamas creatively engages my students to believe they have a responsibly for and are empowered to protect the natural world.
But the magic does not stop in the classroom, they take it home. I have reports that “Horses Don’t See Colors,” are sung to mothers, fathers, neighbors, friends, and siblings. I see this as one of Pacha’s Pajamas unique offerings, a way to teach the message of “appreciating planet earth,” to all ages. It is good, by design, that the song’s both deep and simple, and can appeal to those of many ages. For I feel students and families need to hear this message over and over again… and they will!!
As students involve their bodies, voices, and minds, Pacha’s Pajamas reaches their hearts and expands possibilities! The broad platform that this musical delivers allows me to bring in and work with other aspects of our curriculum. Through a program with NASA, the students are observing the sky at times that the NASA satellite is overhead and monitoring the data to gain information so we can better understand how to support the health of planet Earth. This is Pacha’s intention too. So, for teachers, parents, aunties, and uncles who want to support the development of creativity and hope in our young people… this project is hip AND informative. I am certain that, if you listen, we will soon be hearing you sing, as I do — “PACHA’S PAJAMAS COME TO LIFE, IT’S A STORY WHERE WE ALL UNITE!” I bet you dance, too. Wonder what affect we can have on the world?
Katrina Hammer is a Teacher at the GATE Academy in Marin County, California.