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Palm Beach Post

"HURRICANE CD IS MUSIC FOR KIDS FEARS"

By Don Jordan Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Saturday, August 05, 2006 WEST PALM BEACH 

Tom Dalton turns from the circle of anxious preschoolers seated on the floor and clicks a button on the CD player — the show has begun. The kids at Clark Forest Hill Montessori School call out the song before the singing even begins. Dalton has visited before. "I wonder what a hurricane sounds like," Dalton sings as the music starts, echoing his voice coming from the CD player and the voices of the children around him. He strums his guitar while the youngsters hold a variety of simple instruments — tambourines, maracas, drums — that they shake and pound when the song prompts them to make the sound of waves, wind and coconuts flying by in a storm.

Before long, the small schoolroom is enveloped in a thunderous noise of singing and laughter that would make most people reach for the storm shutters. And while the 3- and 4-year-olds are all smiles, Dalton has not come to the school just to entertain. The music therapist and mental health counselor released Hurricane Songs for Kids last month. The nine-track CD is meant to help children cope with the emotional troubles of a hurricane. With songs such as My Little Flashlight, Sometimes I Get So Scared and What a Hurricane Sounds Like, Dalton, sings about everything from preparing a hurricane kit to having a post-storm party with neighbors.

The idea is that when children understand a hurricane and know what to expect, they will be more relaxed and confident when a storm hits, he said. "I wanted to give (parents) a tool," Dalton said Thursday. He hopes youngsters who listen to the CD will take a proactive approach to dealing with a hurricane. "It's important for kids to be part of that process, not just waiting in the background." The CD was born from experiences in both his personal and professional life. As a counselor, Dalton has worked with families traumatized by hurricanes. As father of 7-year-old Deanna, he remembers the fear she had as hurricanes battered the area in recent years.

Dalton hopes families will listen to the CD together. "It's a needed thing for parents to talk to their kids about this," he said. "(Children) don't have a lot of resources to know what to do." Dalton is trying to change that this summer by spreading his music and message through workshops at preschools and summer camps.

He is on vacation from his job at Indian Ridge School, a special-education school in suburban West Palm Beach that serves students who have mental illnesses. Principal Sherri Kelty said Dalton recently gave her a copy of Hurricane Songs for Kids, and she was very impressed. "He is just extremely talented," Kelty said. Bee Clark, director and lead teacher at Clark Forest Hill Montessori, said the school often plays Dalton's CD, and students are receptive. They should be. They provided the background vocals on the recording, credited as the Clark Montessori Children's Choir. A pair of Lake Worth youths also contribute raps on two songs.

"It's good for children because they are so freaked out by the hurricanes," Clark said, adding that she remembers being frightened of the sounds of a hurricane as a young girl. At the end of Thursday's performance, with the lights off, Dalton asks the youngsters to lie down and close their eyes. He turns on Hurricane Lullaby, a soft, guitar-picked tune, and the kids pretend to sleep. Dalton watches over them, clutching his guitar and singing along. The children keep quiet until one makes an exaggerated snoring noise and the room erupts in giggles. "This opens up the communication," Dalton said later. "That way, when a hurricane comes, the kids will say, 'Hey, I know about that.' "

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