Moms, grandmas bond with keiki in toddler hula class

My 4-year-old daughter is merrily singing  as we leave the toddler hula class at the Hale Pulelehua dance studio in Kaneohe: “Aloha kakahiaka means good morning to you!”

As a former teacher, I know the value of new learning opportunities and cultural experiences for toddlers, so I was thrilled to sit in on this hula class for children under 5 with my daughter and my 6-month-old son.

I know what you’re thinking, how do you teach hula to babies?

I was skeptical, too. Now I’m impressed. Kids in the class are exposed to Hawaii music and instruments, and learn quite a few songs along the way.

What to expect

As my children and I entered the studio, we were greeted with a hug and kiss on the cheek by all of the staff. We sat and waited for other parents to arrive as my son tapped happily on a tiny ipu one of the instructors gave him and my daughter excitedly put on a pink pa‘u skirt.

As other moms arrived, we sat in a circle around our two instructors with babies in our laps and sang the good morning, afternoon and evening song in Hawaiian. I instantly felt ashamed that I had forgotten the words I learned in elementary school.

toddler hula 4Later, we did simple hula movements and tapped hand-sized cowry shells that my son first attempted to drool all over. Then, the children were allowed to pick a favorite stuffed animal and sang the Hawaiian words for various body parts on the toy and used the same toy to point out their own body parts, for example, “opu” for stomach and “maka” for eye. A little girl next to me was more enthralled with pointing to my son’s eyes then following the kumu.

Though it’s hard to reign in such young students, I could really see how the children were thoroughly enjoying themselves — and learning along the way.

Everyone seemed to be enjoying the music and bonding with mom or grandma. I’ve attended a large music and movement class for kids before, but that didn’t have the added perk of teaching Hawaiian words and hula movements.

The importance of teaching hula to the very young

The Hale Pulelehua studio opened in 2009, and is a place to hold classes — not a halau.

The Hula Preservation Society built the studio as a resource for the community. Pulelehua was the name of Nona Beamer’s home in Puna and it means “butterfly,” an appropriate image for someone who believed in the transforming power of dancing hula and the importance of preserving it for future generations.

The toddler class is taught by kumu Malia and kumu Maile, who take turns instructing the classes year-round.

Kumu Malia started teaching baby hula when her youngest was 1 1/2. She noticed that her daughter loved coming to hula with her, but couldn’t make it through the whole class. So she created the shorter class, and originally taught it with her mom.

Malia also teaches a baby hula class at the Still & Moving Center in Kakaako.

Kumu Maile told me that hula is usually taught by halau in Hawaii, but it wasn’t always that way. “Hula was traditionally learned through families so it makes sense to teach the youngest in the family to appreciate the art,” she said.

Maile added she enjoys watching children — and parents — learn and grow in her classes.

With toddlers, she said, “it’s all about family bonding, moving to the music, learning some language and coordination.” If a child leaves the class with a love of music, Maile feels that her mission was accomplished.

The benefits of a toddler hula class

Beamer dedicated her life to teaching children and cultivating and perpetuating our Hawaiian culture. Maile said she’s honoring Aunty Nona’s legacy through the Hula Preservation Society.

“It’s important to teach your kids, and Malia wrote a lot of the original songs that were used in the class today,” Maile said. “I’ve enjoyed seeing even the most shy, reserved children learn just from watching their parents move and sing.”

She added, “It’s just great to bring families together in this way to bond and enjoy Hawaiian music, language and hula.”

If you go … 

The 25-minute toddler hula class is held every Tuesday from 9:30 a.m. to 9:55 a.m. And at $7 per class for drop-ins, it’s also a bargain.

Children must be accompanied by an adult.

For more information on this and other hula classes, check out Hale Pulelehua’s website.

In the weeks since I attended toddler hula class, I’ve started to teach my daughter a dance I learned when I took hula many years ago. I’m also on the lookout for a tiny ipu for my son. Drop me a line if you see one. He really liked banging on that thing.


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  • There are instructions on making your own ipu around (I tried to post a link, but WordPress told me my comment couldn’t be posted). You could check around for local gourd farms and contact them about getting a small one and making it yourself.



  • In my family, cooking was a cross-generational bonding thing. My aunt learned to bake wonderful pies from her father’s mother (known as Daddy Mama). One summer my aunt taught my sister how to bake pies. I learned it from my sister. Baking pies from scratch the old way (no measuring cups needed!) is a great connection for me back to Daddy Mama, who died a little while after I was born.


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