Parenting Magazine Article on Music Education for United Parenting Publications, Inc.

Wrote an article encouraging parents to seek out music enrichment for their children. The article was reprinted in several major US markets.

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Text of the original article appears below (Copyright 2001 United Parenting Publications, Inc.):

Enriching Children Through Music

Music enrichment has academic - and fun - benefits

Hilary Field has been taking her daughter Emma to an infant music class since Emma was 7 months old. "When Emma hears music, she moves, and sings un-self-consciously. I wanted to nurture her unabashed enthusiasm through music," says Field. "Plus, it was a fun activity that we could do with other parents and children."

It's no secret that infants and toddlers respond naturally to music. In fact, it's human nature for parents to use a sinsong voice when talking to their children, and to rock them rhythmically while singing a lullaby.

What parents may not realize is that the benefits of music extend beyond the simple joys of playing or soothing. According to experts, music can have a profound effect on your child's development - especially if you participate in age-appropriate musical activities with your child.

Music encourages development

"Music is one of the most powerful stimulations you can give to your child," says Joyce Jordan-DeCarbo, Ph.D., chair of music education at the University of Miami and past president of the Early Childhood Music and Movement Association. "Musical experiences stimulate the brain and strengthen neural connections. If these connections are not properly strengthened by age 3, they are eventually lost."

Listening to melody and rhythm also helps children focus. "This docus transfers to speech development and helps anchor language in a child's brain," Jordan-DeCarbo explains. Later on, this ocused listening helps children with concentration and social skills. For example, children with well-directed musical experiences are more apt to listen to an adult's directions or absorb what their peers are saying in a social situation.

Musical experiences also contribute to integration of the senses. "The quality of a child's sensory experience lays the foundation for future cognitive ability, including academic success," Jordan-DeCarbo emphasizes.

Experts note that there is no magical age to begin providing musical enrichment, but that children benefit more substantively the earlier they start. Many parents use music as a way of bonding with their infant. These parents are more likely to seek out continuing musical education for their children. Overall, research shows that a child's aptitude for music stabilizes at approximately age 9.

Get involved with your child

Regardless of age, active participation in your child's musical enrichment is crucial. "Parents are every child's first and best teacher," says John J. Mahlmann, Ph.D., executive director of MENC: the National Associate for Music Education (formerly known as the Music Education National Conference). "With infants and young children, you can sing while holding them, move rhythmically to music and encourage musical inventiveness when they start to hum," Mahlmann suggests.

Simply listening to a CD or switching on the radio does not engage an infant or child in the music-making process as actively as parents' participation. Instead, the songs become background noise, which is easily tuned out.

Finding a music class

One way to make music a regular part of your child's developmental experience is to join a music-enrichment class. Most reputable classes use a music curriculum based on current early-childhood research and developmental stages. Parents attend with their children and benefit by finding musical ideas to try at home.

Infant and toddler music instructor Ted Rosenberger emphasizes the job of making music in his classes - not the potential for heightened brain development. "Infants and toddlers bring their own learning readiness to the music. It's my job to provide fun musical experiences," Rosenberger says. Infants benefit from the word repetition found in songs, and internalize musical knowledge as their parents hold them and dance with them to the beat.

As the infants turn into toddlers, Rosenberger's classes become more interactive. "I illustrate concepts such as high/low or fast/slow through music. I also introduce instruments such as drums or xylophones, to let the children invent music." This approach, he belives, leads to a much deeper and more natural learning process.

Activities in music-enrichment classes might include learning songs and rhymes, moving to the beat, listening to a wide variety of music, reading books rhythmically, playing with objects in a musical way, or experimenting with instruments.

Watch your child's cues to make sure the class is working for him. If your child is not appropriately attentive to the musical activities, or if the class does not seem fun, try a different one.

Keep older kids involved in music

Once children reach school age, they can benefit from their school's music education curriculum. In some schools, music programs have been cut back because of the emphasis on math and science. However, there is a growing awareness of the importance of music and arts education, which is helping many music programs regain lost ground. "Every child should have music as an integral part of their education," says Mahlmann.

Many parents also introduce an instrument to their child during this time. Talk to your school's music instructor to find the best options for your child. "Parent participation continues to be vitally important," says Mike Blakeslee, MENC's associate executive director. Encourage your children to set aside a regular time to practice the instrument. Listen to what your child plays and offer positive feedback. "When kids are really trying, you can always find something to compliment," Blakeslee adds.

Set the stage for art appreciation

What's the best benefit to your child from all this musical enrichment? The more children know about something, the more likey they are to appreciate and value it - including music. "If you provide a foundation in music for your children, it is more likely that they will choose it and other pleasurable things as they grow," Jordan-DeBarbo points out.

Making music a part of family life

  • Improvise songs about routine events such as brushing teeth, bathing, eating or getting ready for bed.
  • Make musical instruments out of everyday items and play them with your child. Put rice in a plastic jar for a shaker. Build a drum set out of tin cans. Use the carpet as a washboard.
  • Hold your child's hand and dance to a variety of musical styles, such as operat, jazz, big band or world music.
  • Enroll yourself and your child in a music enrichment class. Possible resources include Gymboree (www.gymboree.com), Kindermusic (www.kindermusik.com), Music Together (www.musictogether.com), and Musikgarten (www.musikgarten.org). Check community centers and this directory for other possibilities.
  • List to live music in kid-friendly places, such as festivals, lunch concerts, bookstores, band practice sessions or churches. These musical interludes are often free.
  • Look at Web resources for musical ideas. For example, the National Association for Music Education site (www.menc.com) offers simple music lesson plans and strategies to try with your child. Family Fun (www.familyfun.com) offers musical activities to try at home.
  • For school-age children, contact your local music teacher's association to locate musical instructore, or talk to your child's school music-program teacher.


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