Most of my earliest childhood memories involve my mother singing to me–singing in the bath tub, singing at bedtime, singing in the car, singing songs with the goofy games we would play–and while she would be the first to assure you that she doesn’t take much pride in her singing voice, to me it was the most beautiful sound I knew.
Fast forward to 2.5 years ago when my first child was born. Despite having earned a masters degree in music and working as a music teacher for the previous decade, I drew a blank when it came time to hush my restless baby with lullabies or entertain him with clever children’s rhymes. And at the same time, I really began to observe with amazement as this young infant reacted to music when it was present. I realized there must be something to all of this babies and music stuff I had always sort of brushed off.
This interest led me to discover Music Together®, an international, research-based early childhood music and movement program for ages birth through five with a parent and caregiver. Translation: “mommy and me”-style music class based on the research of how young children learn best.
Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying our Music Together classes as a parent, teacher, and center director. There are so many programs out there for young kids, and whatever method you choose to expose your children to music is ultimately going to reap benefits throughout their lives, but Music Together has a special place in my heart.
Here are five reasons we love it:
1.) We expect children to be children.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but sitting still and listening attentively isn’t always high on the skill set for the under five crowd. I have a very (ugh, very) active 2.5 year old, and if I were to pay for a class where he was expected to sit still the entire time, I might as well just light my wallet on fire.
Music Together teaches that even very young children have their own unique learning styles. Some ARE ready to sit and listen or jump in and participate. Others need time to quietly observe, to process the skills they are learning and experiment with them later. Some absolutely HAVE to move. And you know what? That’s okay. You’ll find all types in a Music Together class because we know that as long as children are immersed in the musical environment we are creating, they can’t help but absorb it!
2.) I can actually stand to listen to the music.
We all have those CDs. You know, the ones our kids looooovvveee. The ones we try to hide on the bottom of the stack because you’d rather chew aluminum foil than have to listen to it again. Those.
But our Music Together CDs actually get used… without my kids having to beg for it. I won’t admit the number of times I’ve been caught singing along in the car by myself, but let’s just say, I’ve found that I don’t mind spending time with this music. And I’ve been amazed at how the music has become a part of our life OUTSIDE of class. Now I actually know lullabies my kids love. We kill time at the doctors office with silly rhymes and songs we’ve learned in class. We make up words to our favorite tunes during bathtime. We LOVE this music, and it’s become a part of our family.
Not only that, but the music is designed to expose children to a wide range of voices, instruments, tonalities, meters, and cultures. Whereas your typical children’s CD is pretty vanilla, Music Together’s music offers 31-derful flavors. Aside from just making class more interesting, it’s really an intentional effort to develop your child’s musical vocabulary. Which brings me to number 3…
3.) Learning disguised as fun.
Observe a class, and what will you see? Parents singing, sometimes beautifully, sometimes off-key. Children allowed to learn in their own style, whether sitting quietly, eagerly participating, or moving around the room. You’ll see families singing and dancing together, instruments being used (sometimes correctly), lots of smiling faces, and of course the occasional toddler fit or meltdown. These classes are real people, real families, making music together. And while the kiddos cheer when the instruments come out and boogie to their favorite tunes, actual learning is taking place (amazing, I know!).
Our whole class philosophy and procedure is based on what research tells us about how kids learn and acquire musical aptitude. Is the teacher just leading the class in some silly egg shaking routines? Or is she helping young brains understand the difference between the macro- and microbeat of music? Did we just sing a song that sounded a little different? Or did we learn about asymmetric meter? Did we sing “goodbye” to the instruments for fun? Or to reinforce the tonic and dominant notes of the key?
If all of that sounds like Greek to you, don’t worry! Young children learn best through experience rather than direct instruction. Our classes are designed to guide children (and their grownups) through a wide variety of musical experiences that will broaden and deepen their understanding through play-based learning to help kids develop a strong musical foundation.
4.) Mom therapy.
Confession: Music Together class isn’t just for the kids. I’ve made some great mom friends as we’ve gone through the program. It’s always nice to spend time with other moms (and dads and grandparents and nannies) who are muddling through the same tiny human adventures as me, and I look forward to seeing these faces each week.
And it’s not just that. Something about sitting and singing together, relaxing a little as we dance around, and getting a few moments to shake my tambourine is surprisingly refreshing. And it’s not just my imagination. It’s science. Group singing has been repeatedly proven to relieve stress and improve health. You don’t even have to be “good” at it to enjoy the benefits!
5.) A lifelong gift.
Ultimately, I don’t expect my child to be playing at Carnegie Hall any time soon (though you never know). But I DO know that he’s going to live in a musical world, one in which I hope he will participate confidently. I want him to be able to stand and proudly sing the National Anthem at a baseball game. I want him to be able to dance at his wedding. I want him to sing lullabies to my grandbabies. I want our special songs to come to his mind down the road and bring back memories of the fun and love we are sharing during his little days. I want to unlock the door that will allow him to make music a part of his life to whatever degree he chooses to pursue it.
The research tells us that if we want our children to be musical, WE need to be musical: to sing WITH them, to expose them to music and dancing and instruments WITH us, to make music…together, and Music Together classes are one tool to help equip you to make music-making a part of your family culture.
If you’d like to learn more about our classes, you can visit Jubilee Music (Bentonville) or Making Music by Carol (Fayetteville) or visit the Music Together class locator to find a location near you. Whatever you do, I hope you will find your own way to make music part of your family.