It can be an overwhelming task to be a parent. Whether at home or juggling an out-of-the-home-job, parenting isn’t easy. So when you are trying to be the best parent and educator for your child/ren, it is easy to get lost in the daunting task that is education. Especially when you know little to nothing of the subject to begin with.
Unfortunately, this tends to be the case with music education. Although music education still has a place in the public school setting and is growing in the homeschool sector, this does little for those who aren’t in school yet. So kudos to those of you reading this, because music education should be started much earlier besides – like right now – no matter what age your child is! Bonus: It is much simpler than you think.
While perusing through Facebook the other day I saw a wonderful meme: It showed a picture of a music college professor getting upset at his classroom exclaiming, “Come on guys, it’s not rocket science!” – below it, a science professor, “Come on guys, it’s not music theory!” How true. Nevertheless, we are not teaching our children advanced music theory, we are focusing our children on the foundations: steady beat, and pitches (aka singing).
Many people are surprised when they hear infants can learn music. Absolutely! The brain of an infant is growing at a phenomenal rate, taking in and processing information only next to that of a toddler. During this time, we can already help their growing brains to identify elements of music; specifically feeling a steady beat, and generally identifying music.
The most crucial thing for infants (as far as music education is concerned) is also the easiest. Awesome, right? Play music. Have you ever heard of the Mozart Effect? The term was huge in the early 2000s, and researchers were fascinated by what they couldn’t find. The story: A case study found a link between playing Classical and Baroque Era music to unborn babies and infants who then showed expansive brain growth compared to those who were not exposed to the music. (We are talking huge brain growing activity here.) The unborn babies and infants who were exposed went on to do tremendously well in school and were reported to use Classical and Baroque Era music for a calming effect and leisure. The (dare I say) problem? They couldn’t ‘see’ it to prove it was music causing the brain growth. The conclusion: It must have been the music causing the results because it was a controlled study; thus, music effects the innermost sections of the brain so the technology we have available could not identify it (we can’t put a probe in the center of the brain just yet). Since then, the study has been replicated once, so far showing the same results, but otherwise has virtually been abandoned simply because we do not have the technology. A scientific leg to stand on? Maybe not… yet. However, we do know that playing music to an unborn baby or infant does not hurt, and so far the results are swaying.
Okay, but feeling the beat? Yes. And take it quite literally too! While your little one is laying on the floor doing back time, take their feet and move them together with the beat of the music. In the education field we have the term “major motor movement”; this term describes using the larger body muscles to enhance awareness to the brain, to solidify a task one is culturing. However, it should be stressed: move with the beat. You may move the legs or arms alternately or together, but with beat. Your little one is tired of the floor or is doing tummy time? Gently tapping or patting the back of your infant while listening to music will create those little dendrites (brain connective tissue/cells!) as well!
You have heard about the benefits of reading to your child? It helps with steady beat identification too! The rhythmic patterns found in young children books, rhymes, and songs help. Songs. Yes, singing to your child will help later down the road, too! Honestly, the nature of the world is full of steady beat exercises; burping, rocking in a swing or chair, walking, bouncing… it isn’t a coincidence our ears prefer steady sounds like music and rhymes.
This is usually the time parents start to explore music education for their child, and there is nothing wrong with that! So if this is you, give yourself a pat on the back because you made it here and you are trying to enhance your child’s life with music! If you began earlier – wonderful!
First thing is first: Have you done the ‘Infant’ exercises discussed above with your toddler or preschooler? It is all still relevant to their learning. Playing music is still the easiest and most crucial thing you as a parent can do; and practicing steady beat – with a few minor alterations.
Chances are your toddler or preschooler is not a fan of laying on the floor while you try to move their feet or arms to the beat – they are a little more… shall we say, mobile now. So we are going to mix it up: Have them ‘stomp’ or ‘march’ around the house, or pat their hands on their lap while sitting on the floor with you. Lead by example. This will be a little difficult at first – especially if you notice your child is not patting or stomping to the beat. If this is your child – do not stress! Do not give up! Instead of modeling for your child, take your hand and pat the beat on their back. Usually this solves the issues straight away, if not, continue and it will come. Perfect practice makes perfect!
Movement to music is a favorite among the toddler and preschool age. If you have already started school, this is a great ‘brain break’; if your child needs an outlet for emotions, movement to music may be your answer. Accomplished in two forms, this has nothing to do with steady beat – this has everything to do with being creative and working the right side of the brain. Here is where you can foster their creativity and let them loose! The first, dancing. Again – so simple! Turn on the music and see what those little feet and hips do! Dancing is a great way to show one’s expression and interpretation of music, but it also works on coordination for those little bodies. Don’t be surprised if at first your child has very stiff motions, soon they will become fluid. If you have some streamers, even better. Some music educators (and physical therapists) believe streamers help children visualize a fluid movement, therefore promoting connective actions. Honestly, there will never be a day when dance parties are never a hit.
The second form of movement: Drawing to music. As odd as it may sound, this form of expression is once again all about listening to music and interpreting what they hear. When approaching this form of movement, keep your directions simple, “Draw what you hear.” Do not be surprised if this takes a little adjusting to; For those children who have a Type A personality, this will be especially difficult (and especially good). It will get easier and more fun. Remember there is no right or wrong way. Critiques, if that is even the right word, should only entail something like, “This is interesting! What can you tell me about it?” Although this form is easier understood with older toddlers and preschoolers, toddlers as young as two can have fun with it because they are drawing and listening to music. It is true the younger the child, the more they may not make the connection between what they hear and what they draw, but remember this: studies say children understand far more than what we give them credit for, and they are listening to music – the best thing for them.
Most toddlers and preschoolers are using their vocal chords now… in significant amounts. Encouraging singing is a phenomenal way to begin pitch identification. However, there is a huge gap in knowing this fact and executing it. It seems parents prefer not to sing to or with their child, presumably because they themselves think they cannot sing. Not true. First of all, you are actually singing, so by definition you are singing; secondly, you will get better the more you do it; third, you are not supposed to be a professional, you are a parent; and lastly, you are the parent, your child will idolize your singing no matter what you think. Point: Singing with your child is a must. Leading by example (remember they idolize you) will foster that little notion in their brain it is okay to do so. So many times I see students come to me who are uncomfortable singing (or dancing) to music because it is so unnatural to them – because it was not fostered at home. As a music educator to a parent, I say this: please do this, it is so meaningful to them (that you are doing it with them and educational), and so helpful to us as music educators. As a parent who does not like her voice to another parent, I say this: it is so easy, and so fun.
Music education for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers can be so simple. All it takes is a little fostering, some courage, and a will to have fun with your child. Whatever you do, do not stress it. Go out there and have fun with your child!
Mallory Dekker is a South Dakota native, who graduated from Black Hills State University with an undergraduate degree in Music Education. After teaching for a few years in the school district setting, she went back to school and earned her Masters of Music Education degree from Boston University, with an emphasis on music education curriculum. Mallory is currently the Executive Director at Batchelder’s Studios of the Arts in Rapid City, South Dakota, where she also teaches the band contracts, private lessons, and spends her free time doing something else she loves – making music with her two daughters Evelynn, age 2, and Elinor, 3 months, and husband Chris!
Get to know her by watching her Teacher Spotlight: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcJBPMuH5Bw