Like many new parents, Jay Sand found himself missing certain aspects of his previously child-free life — especially the ability to pick up at a moment’s notice and travel abroad for months at a time.
Instead of indulging in bouts of nostalgia for the not-so-olden days, Sand, 41, not only figured out a way to keep exploring foreign countries and cultures — he also turned it into a now-thriving business.
The Harrisburg native is the founder of All Around This World, an education program that combines all his loves — music, travel and children — by teaching classes that focus on the music and culture of more than 100 different countries for children ages 4 months to 5 years old. The program began in 2009 and has grown from the first classes held in Sand’s West Philadelphia living room to encompass licensees in 10 cities around the United States (with another three scheduled to open soon).
Each 11-week session, which is grounded in the precepts of the seminal music educator Edwin Gordon, a legendary advocate for music development in infants and toddlers, consists of 45-minute classes that journey through a different part of the world. The most recent session, which concluded last week, concentrated on Latin America; the next one will focus on Africa.
For Sand, it’s a long way from becoming a Bar Mitzvah at Harrisburg’s Beth El Temple, where he was the son of the synagogue’s president, to teaching toddlers about West African djembe drumming. But Sand says that his stable childhood — he went to the same private school and synagogue from kindergarten through 12th grade — was a crucial factor in his embrace of other cultures.
“I definitely had an education that was pointing toward acceptance of others,” he recalls, adding that his father “always did a lot of work with multicultural groups” as part of his grant writing and fundraising work.
“Mine is a very traditional story,” he says, with Hebrew school, plays at the JCC, and BBYO, the B’nai Brith youth movement where he found himself pegged as song leader and where he met his future wife, Lauren. “Learning in a traditional way was really important and formative in my life, and it’s how I cut my teeth for teaching music.”
After 18 years in Harrisburg, Sand says, “I was interested in finding out what was elsewhere.”
That desire to be elsewhere led him to travel through Europe while an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, and culminated in repeated stays among Jewish communities in African countries such as South Africa, Ghana, Zimbabwe and Uganda. While he initially went to these communities as an aspiring journalist, he found that he enjoyed talking to audiences in the United States about the different cultures and playing their music more than he did writing about it.
Sand’s transition from traveler to teacher was finalized by two events: the birth of Molly, the oldest of his three daughters, in 2004, and his introduction to the world of parent-child music education by his brother in 2005. “My brother was working with a group that produced parent-child music programs,” Sand remembers. “Molly and I would go once a week — we really needed it” as a way to get out of the house and vary their weekly schedule.
That appreciation for the change of routine as much as the enrichment potential is common among the parents who attend All Around This World. Michael Dolich has been taking his 3-year-old son, Max, to Sand’s West Philadelphia classes since Max was less than a year old.
“When you have a baby at home, you can get kind of bored — there’s not much to do with them,” Dolich explains. “I really enjoyed having that hour there. Max loved the music and dancing around. He started walking while we took the classes, and it was really great to watch the other kids develop and grow at the same time.”
Dolich also appreciates the benefits of being in an environment that provides stimulation for the parents as well as the children, noting that it provides an opportunity to talk with other adults as well as set up play dates with friends formed during class time. Since Max’s baby brother, Eli, was born earlier this year, Dolich says that they haven’t attended as regularly — “it gets challenging to do it when you have multiple kids,” he says. Based on his experience with Max, he plans to bring Eli to the classes as soon as he can work out the logistics. “It has had a lasting impact on Max — he is really into singing, dancing and music,” Dolich enthuses. “It has been great to expose him to that at such a young age. He really loves to listen to and sing the song that would open and end each class.”
That is music to Sand’s ears. He says the song that Dolich is talking about, “We Are Happy,” was written by the Ugandan rabbi, Gershon Sizonu, and his brother, J.J. Keki, and is traditionally sung as a welcome to visitors in the country — yet another example of how the strands of Sand’s life have come together with All Around This World.
Even as his educational concepts continue to gain new followers, Sand is already hoping to travel again, this time with his family. “I tried to replace the urge to travel through my music. Now that I know more about the world and music, there are so many places I want to go! When my daughters get old enough, I will definitely be hauling them somewhere.”