MUSIC TO THEIR EARS
The benefits of early musical education have parents – and kids – singing its praises
Story by Sarah Gonzales
If you’ve ever given a toddler a wooden spoon and a couple of pots to bang on you know that children seem to be born with an innate desire to create music. Nurturing these instincts is a smart move. Studies have repeatedly shown that an early musical education has lifelong benefits. Infants, toddlers and children learn confidence, bond with parents and have plain old fun while learning to sing, dance and use instruments.
Singing, learning, bonding
Music teacher Kamryn Brooks, of The Music Canvas in Anchorage, says parent-child music classes help children learn to communicate, show leadership and express themselves. Studies also show a correlation between early exposure to music and the development of math and language processing skills. But music classes aren’t just about skill building, they’re about bonding, too. “There’s a bond that is formed between the parent and the child that you can’t get when you’re just listening to the radio or watching TV together,” Brooks says.
A Music Together class begins with the parents and children singing the “Hello Song,” and continues with more singing and movement. “We take leads from the children, if they are doing something with their hands, we incorporate that and we reflect it back,” says Brooks. A typical class might include movement activities, a circle dance or a train song where parents and kids follow each other around the room. Parents wave scarves and bounce rubber balls to help their children identify song beats. “We use them to get the idea that adult role modeling is so important. The adults will model the big beats and children will watch them modeling this movement,” she says.
Jaime Jones, an Anchorage mother of three, has been taking her children to Brooks’ Music Together classes since infancy. Her 16-month-old son Eamonn can already keep a beat. “I notice he’ll tap his fingers to the music,” she says. Finnegan, her 4-year-old, had a speech delay when he was younger but began to develop language skills after she took him to music classes, learning to sing the words he was having trouble speaking. “I would hear him singing in the backseat of the car; he’d say, ‘I sang that one all by myself!’” Jones says. “So it’s a lot of good self-esteem.”
Trena Whisnant, music educator and owner of Kindermusik in Anchorage, says that music can teach about “exploring the joy of group learning and practicing social skills such as turn taking and cooperation.” She also credits music for aiding with early childhood development. “Music stimulates the brain, forging neural pathways in all domains of learning: cognitive, emotional, social and physical,” she says.
Kindermusik offers classes tailored to each developmental stage. Village class is for newborns through 18-month-olds. In it parents learn the words to the nursery rhymes and lullabies they’ve been humming since baby was born. “I educate why each song enhances your baby’s daily rituals,” Whisnant says. In Our Time classes, for 18-month to 3-year-olds, “we start with easily imitative words and motions then gradually introduce new games and songs that help a toddler learn to control her body, speak her mind, and guide her on that all-important search for independence,” she says.
Jones says that one of her favorite things about music class is that her kids “don’t know they’re learning, they’re just having fun and being kids.”
There may be plenty of developmental reasons to nurture children in music but parents find that ultimately it’s all about raising happy, healthy kids. As the famous violin teacher Shinichi Suzuki once said: “If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance, they get a beautiful heart.”