Cultivating a love of music in our children when they are young is important for so many reasons. It not only lays the foundation for learning how to play instruments, but also can create a soothing environment and influence brain activity.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a study showing that engaging in activities such as singing lullabies to premature infants comforts them and in many cases positively affects their growth.
When my son was younger, we were lucky to find Beth Frook, the director of Little Hands. Beth not only is an accomplished musician and singer, but as a teacher she has a wonderful way with children–and their parents!–that makes even the most timid want to jump up and sing.
While families are running around in so many different directions these days, good old playtime gets lost in the shuffle. It’s only appropriate that “Miss Beth” is the subject of my first interview. I hope I’m able to capture what I love about her, share it with you, and give you some tips for instilling a love of music in your kids as well. Check out our interview:
Q: What was your goal in starting Little Hands? How is your program unique? What do you love the most about it?
A: My initial goal was to have work that was flexible and allowed me to be with my own children as much as possible. Little Hands music and movement program is unique in that it gives children a place to joyfully be, and encourages creative music-making designed to inspire families at all levels, from infants through early elementary years. Little Hands was developed to bring out the song in every child.
Our classes in the Greater DC area are taught by caring professional music educators who have all contributed to our recordings, and NEW curriculum! I love most being with children and parents and seeing the connection in their eyes when we hold hands and dance, or do a magical finger play poem!
Q: Your love of music and teaching is contagious. Can you give us some tips on fostering this enthusiasm in our children? What are some steps parents can take to introduce music to their children at home?
A: The first step to introduce music to children at home is to make music! You don’t have to be an opera singer or top level violinist to hum a lullaby or dance in the kitchen while doing dishes! Children love to imitate their parents, so making music yourself is a great model.
Don’t be afraid to be a little silly!
With an infant, sing-songy speech or vocalizations like “Oooooo’s” and “Aaaaaaaaah’s” are a good start. With a toddler, simple rhythmic rhymes and tapping patterns on pots to make a “band” are good beginnings. For your preschooler, pretend play in musical ways captivates them. (“Let’s BE rain drops on the ground with our feet. What sounds would we make?” pitter-patter/tip toe, drip drop/march, splish-splash/stomp slower)
Another step is to expose your child to a great variety of music. Our classes this session open with a French tune from Louisiana, we dance to an Ella Fitzgerald song and rock to an ancient Praetorius chant. There’s always room for a classic children’s song and a classical piece as well! The advantage of a varied diet in music is to balance a child’s diet of sound, just as you do their food diet.
Q: What are some specific ways in which music is helpful for children? For example, I’ve long heard that engaging in music at a young age can develop the parts of the brain related to working out math problems….
A: There are so many positive benefits of music that I wouldn’t have space here to list. A few that come to mind are that music and movement experiences lead to building a mathematical foundation, the ability to read emotions, and discriminatory listening skills, which lead to abilities in phonics and reading fluency, self-control, or self-regulation.
The brain is an amazing part of us. Scientists are just scratching the surface on how learning happens, and there have been many recent studies and breakthroughs on the connections between music, movement and brain activity. In short, the pathways in the brain that help you make rhythm, move your body in patterned beats within a certain space and time, and find the underlying subdivisions of rhythm in music, are helpful in paving roads to understanding math concepts like fractions and other spatial reasoning skills. The arts in general connect us to each other and give us ways to express ourselves. Without them, we are mechanical and can become dispassionate. Music helps us all recognize beauty; it increases sensitivity; and it allows us to move our bodies in patterned ways that organize us individually and as groups, and help us make sense of ourselves and the world around us.
For children, music is engaging as a tool to attract attention, as well as a tool for calming and soothing. In movement and music activities, children find and practice body awareness, language skill, and expression.
Q: How do you cater your teaching style to different age groups?
A: Children have different basic needs at each developmental stage. Each child is also unique, so catering teaching to those is an ongoing task to master.
Our Infant level works on music exposure, feeling the rhythm through the movement of the caregiver, and building the caregivers ability to share music with baby. On the Toddler level, our classes focus on music exposure as well as allowing the toddlers to explore a variety of safe instruments and movements. We use huge drums, shakers, xylophones, movement with hoola hoops and a parachute and more! We also often include a story with musical language.
Finally, for our Young Musicians program, we expose the children to one base instrument from different musical families. We use the glockenspiel (a metal-barred instrument) to teach beginning notation. We do the recorder one semester (to provide Wind Instrument exposure) and the dulcimer (three-string guitar) one semester (String Instrument exposure). We also do musical games and act out musical stories.
Beth Frook, the director of Little Hands, has been awarded “Maestro” status by Kindermusik International, has Level I Orff Schulwerk certification, and is a member of the Nat’l. Assoc. for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). In addition to having vocal and piano training, Beth has been active on national and local boards of several early childhood music associations. Please visit her website to find out more about her program.
Does your child love singing and playing instruments? How did you introduce them to music? We’d love to hear about it. Also, if you have any follow-up questions for Beth, please leave them in the comments!
Xylophone vector image by ConstantinosZ/www.shutterstock.com.
All other images provided by and reproduced with the permission of Little Hands.