People often look at me with a quizzical, almost skeptical, look on their faces when I say that teaching music to infants, toddlers and preschoolers is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Even music teachers look at me with that sideways grin that says, “what you do can’t possibly be serious”. “What”, I am often asked, “could a one-, two-, or even three-year-old child possibly learn?”
That is an excellent question if we equate music lessons with learning to play an instrument, as is most often the case. Many of us don’t even think about signing our children up for music lessons until they are at the age to learn to play the piano, violin, guitar or band instrument, but there is so much more to a music education than just learning to produce a beautiful sound on an instrument. A well-designed Early Childhood Music Education will build a foundation that will allow a child to excel at formal music lessons, but also has far-reaching benefits in overall development.
There are so many reasons why I find the time spent as an Early Childhood Music Educator so rewarding. It’s not only that I get to spend my mornings in a room full of children and adults with smiling faces, and that I get to set aside the notion that I’m a responsible adult for a few minutes and just sing, dance and play! I know that through musical play, I am making a positive contribution to a child’s development.
In a well-designed Early Childhood Music program, a teacher will work on the foundation skills that will allow a child to flourish in instrumental or vocal lessons, and will help develop a greater understanding of music that can lead to a life-long pleasure in musical activities. Although it may seem like we are just marching and twirling, quacking and banging, there is a complex curriculum underlying those activities. The most important thing we can help develop in a child, is the ability to keep a steady beat. We want the children to feel it in their bodies and to be able to put it in their hands or feet. Pattern recognition is also important. Music is all about patterns, and we want to develop the listening skills to find them, but also the ability to repeat them (both rhythmic and melodic). Another important thing that we can do as music educators, or even as parents, is to help a child build a large vocabulary of musical styles and types. In North America, children’s music tends to be almost exclusively in 4/4 time and in a Major key. The world of music is so much richer than that, and the opportunity to share it with children is a wonderful experience. It never ceases to surprise me when a toddler squeals in delight at a type of music that I have never brought into class before. An Early Childhood Music program provides an opportunity to expose children to beautiful music from around the world, from all different time periods, with different instrumentation, styles, time signatures or tempi.
In addition to the musical foundation that we are helping to foster, there are a great number of other benefits to music programs for preschoolers. Listening to music, and musical movement activities are wonderful play experiences for children. These activities can help them make connections between the world of movement and sound, with the inner world of feelings and observation. They can aid in physical fitness, balance, coordination and movement abilities as well as help develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Musical play activities can help children develop language skills such as patterns, rhythm and rhyme, differences in sound, and critical listening. They can help children understand the concept of opposites such as high/low, fast/slow, in/out, stop/go. Participation in musical activities can aid in memory development, and expand imaginative and creative skills. A creative musical environment can also build a child’s confidence and self-esteem.
As a music teacher, I am more than delighted when I find a beginner student who has come through a wonderful Early Childhood Music program. A child who can keep a steady beat, sing on pitch, recognize musical patterns, relate to all different types of music, and confidently derive pleasure in making music is a joy to teach. As a parent, I found that having a wide variety of musical activities to share with my own children could bring a spark of joy to otherwise tedious parts of our day. Standing in line, waiting for transit, walking to the store or the park, all of these activities are more enjoyable if you have a game to play or a song to sing. Playing musically with our children is not only good for their development, it can also enrich the experience of being a parent!
By: Chris Marti – Chris is an executive board member of the Early Childhood Music Association of Ontario. For over 10 successful years, she has been the owner of Do Re Mi for Kids in Mississauga which prides itself in providing a safe, cheerful and encouraging learning environment for children of all ages. If you are looking for music lessons in Mississauga, you can visit her website or call 905 608 9636 for additional information.