Sunday, June 17, 2018

Using Music to Soothe Young Children- Part II

Hi there- and happy father's day (video of a father soothing a baby with music)! Today I'm going to conclude my talk about using music to soothe young children. Most of what I will share today is the result of asking preschool teachers (through Facebook teacher's groups) what music they use during nap time. Their answers were interesting to me because most of the studies that I've seen on the effects of music on young children are done on babies in controlled hospital environments. Many also focus on the beneficial effects of the mother's voice. Preschoolers are older, may not nap anymore at home, and are away from their home environment and access to familiar voices- they are arguably more difficult to settle than babies at times. However, any preschool teacher will tell you that a quiet rest time is necessary- usually from around 1-3pm each day. It speaks to the genuine power of music to soothe- even if it's recorded, not sung live or by the parents- that it is universally used for nap time by preschool teachers. 

Soothing music creates the quiet rest environment so necessary for these youngsters, and many of the preschool teachers that responded to my query swear by certain recordings. They use the same ones year after year because they observe the beneficial effect the music has on helping their students nap. They wear out CDs- purchase new ones- or search for it online- because it's so essential to their nap time. After having having been present at many a nap time over the years, I can understand why a teacher would appreciate such a useful tool, and want to use it time and again. Remember preschoolers are experiencing so much by way of cognitive and social development- having some time to rest and recharge during the day can help those young minds cope and make it to the end of the day as happy campers. 

When sharing their nap time music, most teachers also commented on their own experience with the music as well. Was it something they could tolerate listening to over and over again? Some teachers shared that they had a few different types of music they played for variety- but that they all had a similar effect. A teacher with many, many years of experience shared that in lieu of her usual lullaby recordings, she was playing the relaxing instrumental music she had found that was on her favorite TV show instead (When Calls the Heart- the instrumental version of Christina Perri's A Thousand Years), and was happy with the results. With so many options, albums and ways to listen online, as you'll see below, whatever your musical tastes, finding something that will work for both you and child or children is easier than ever. 

Teacher Recommended Albums-

Teacher Recommended Online Streaming (YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, IHeart Radio, Online Radio)*- 
Search for these artists or types of music- Preschool Nap Time, Lullaby, Delta Wave, Meditation or Spa, Disney Lullaby, Disney Instrumental, Native American Flute, Enya, Piano Guys, Gregorian Chant, Relaxing Music for Deep Sleep, Coral Reef Aquarium Collection, Mindful Kids, Quiet Guitar, Violin or Harp, Brahms's Lullaby for Babies, Caribbean Steel Drums, Jack Johnson (lullabies), George Winston (piano), John Tesh (piano), Marconi Union, Ludovico Einaudi

Before I go, I wanted to give you a list of some other links to check out. These are artists and projects I recommend learning more about if you are interested in soothing music for children and families, including music in Spanish! Tune in next week for my article on early learning adventures to do during the summer!

*I recommend finding something that doesn't have ads (they can startle).

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Using Music to Soothe Young Children- Part I


To prepare for my article this week, I asked other parents, teachers, and musicians- what is the best music to soothe children ages 6 and under? I got a terrific response with a lot of input, so for today's article, I'll talk a bit about why music has the power to soothe, give a few examples, and next week I'll go more into the great variety of options you have to play or sing to children. So- why does music have the power to calm children down? Scientists are still making theories about how lullabies evolved- here is some of what science has shown us:*
  • Babies know and respond to their mother's voice, even before they are born.
  • Lullabies can lower heart rate, increase blood oxygen and sucking response, and release pain-coping endorphins for the baby, particularly if sung by the mother.
  • Recorded, soothing music can have a similar effect, but live music has been shown to be more effective, even if it isn't sung by the mother.
Before we go any further- what is a lullaby? A lullaby is defined as a soothing song or a piece of music that is usually played for children. The articles to which I refer you will tell you most lullabies are in 6/8 meter, which is not necessarily the case, but they are songs to which you can rock your baby, if not every 3 beats, then every 2 beats. They are songs that replicate the rhythm of both mom's heartbeat, and of being rocked while mom walked with baby in the womb. A heartbeat at rest is around 60 beats per minute, the same as one per second, and that is also around the speed that the baby can be rocked to a lullaby. Lullabies have been argued to be one of the earliest forms of both music and language, and are at their most primal form sung by a single voice- that of the mother being the most prevalent throughout human development.

Lullabies also reflect a daily rhythm- they are part of a routine for daily care which includes (hopefully) a nap time, and promotes learning a regular, daily bedtime. A lullaby taken out of context may not have the same effect that it would have at the time of day that the body is becoming accustomed to calming down. However, soothing music can be introduced at other times of day as well- early childhood teachers routinely do this to promote smooth transitioning to different activities throughout the day.

Traditional lullabies also give us a glimpse at what it has been like to be a mother over the ages. The words to traditional lullabies can be pretty tragic, and more reflective of the mother coping with sadness and strain taking care of one or many children in a world of peril. The best lullabies can help soothe both the adult caregiver and the baby- a win win for the promotion of our species for sure. 

For examples, I'll start with my own lullaby story, which is so simple but a good example of what both music and consistency can do. I sang, from birth to about age six, to my son, "All the Pretty Little Horses," (a modified version, without the part about butterflies and bees), at nap time and bedtime, every day. I found the lullaby in a book I had been given, and I just really liked the melody. Always the same- I kept singing it, over and over, until he went to sleep. When he was very young, I would sing it to him in a rocking chair or a swing as he rocked. When he was older, he would lie in bed and I would sit by him and sing. It was the final part of a bedtime routine, dinner, bath, reading, song. I would sing, and he would always go to sleep- no matter how crazy our day had been, (believe me we had some doozies), or how sick he might have felt, it might've taken a little longer on some days- but it always worked.

Parents who responded to my original inquiry had similar reports of finding something that worked well- but slightly different stories about how they found the songs. Some reported singing a lullaby they remembered parents singing to them. Some introduced lullabies later that were the result of the child's preference after having seen children's television shows, and some made up their own lullabies. And speaking of the totally made up ones- I had several musician/teacher/parents share their original, soothing music with me. You can link to find out more about their work below.** (I also included a link to my original songs that are more on the soothing side).

Lullabies and soothing music are some of the oldest types of music and communication known to us. We are wired for this type of music to speak to us- to tell us everything will be ok. That's a message we all need, young and old alike! To incorporate more soothing music into your daily routine, I suggest picking three selections to try and sticking with the one that seems like it works the best. If you don't sing normally, try singing (or even humming) with a recording first until you get the hang of the song. You can do it! More on the plethora of soothing music choices next week!

*

**
Patricia Shih, Lovabyes: Gentle Songs for Gentle Children (Amazon link)
Gari Stein, Little-folks-music.com Gari suggests a simple verse to the tune of "Go Tell Aunt Rhody." 
Hush little (children) (3)
It's time to go to sleep.
The (chickens) are sleeping
They do not make a peep. (These words can be substituted).
Jean Young, teacher- Jean suggests an easy and soothing song she wrote:
It's time for bed, it's time for sleep.
It's time for (bunnies) and breathing deep.
Mmm, mm, mm, mm, mm, mm, mm
(wiggling nose as you hum)
So close your eyes and go to sleep. (You can change animals and movements).
Liz Hannan, teacher- Liz suggests using simple, mi, re, do, melody patterns, sung or played on a Wuyou drum, Harmony Grisman's "Breathing Peace," and Betsy Rose's "I Am Breathing."
Brook Packard, www.sleepytimeclub.com Brook suggests playing a pentatonic flute.
Kari Kovick, www.heartofthechildmusic.com Kari recommends, "It's You I Like," and "Calm Down."
Alison Cromie, www.alisoncromie.com Alison recommends, "Hush Now My Baby."
Dorothy Cresswell, DorothyCresswell.org Dorothy recommends "Morning Winds," "Aria: A Lullaby," "Mary Manatee,""Swift River Paddling Song," "Dreams, Dreams," and "Home is Where the Heart Is."
Stuart Stotts, Stuartstotts.com Stuart recommends, "Sing Through the Storm."
Pam Donkin, PamDonkin.com Pam recommends the "Water Cycle Song," "Planting the Seeds of Love," and "Say Goodnight."
Scott Kepnes, (Facebook Page) Scott suggests relaxing guitar or drumming.
Margot Bevington Lullaby & Swinging



Sunday, June 3, 2018

Fussiness in Early Learning

As we have been discussing, early learning is an important part of any child's development, but there will be moments, days, (even longer periods of time) when it seems as if your child is too fussy, crabby, or (or insert other descriptive here), to be learning anything. As I write this article today, my now nine year old is busy more or less entertaining himself. My days of dealing with a young child (6 and under) at home have been over for a while. And while part of my daily teaching duties continues to be the supervision of young children, I have at least had a good breather at home in this area.

I'm letting you in on these details for a couple of reasons- to let you know that my experience in this area is more as a parent and teacher and less as a medical expert- (if you have concerns about fussiness for your own child, pediatricians are an excellent resource*)- and to let you know that you and your child will survive this period of development. (Reread those last ten words as much as needed- believe me, I've been there**). All this being said, here are a few tips for both preventing fussiness and dealing with it as it happens.

1. Make sure all basic needs are met- Every trained teacher knows about Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It's basically a model to show that basic needs like food, water, general health, love, should be met first before less essential needs, like the need to be stimulated intellectually for instance. So if your young child is fussing, check to make sure all those basic needs are met, and you'll most likely get to the bottom of it.
2. Establish a predictable routine- One of the major needs described by Maslow is safety. We all need to feel safe, and a predictable routine can help provide a sense of safety for young ones. Try to establish a daily pattern that is similar every day- wake up times, meal times, nap times, bed times, even screen and play times. As a music person, I suggest using songs to let children know what it will be time for next as well. For early learning, the best time of day for young ones is the morning, so try to schedule classes or playgroups for that time if possible.
3. Try one of these methods of soothing/behavior incentives- The younger a child is, the more you'll want to soothe (swaddle, hold, rock, sing), and the older a child is, the more you'll want to give them a chance to practice deciding how they want to behave (using their developing cortex, which allows for this function). So read through this list knowing that some will work better for the 0-2 age group and some for the 3-6 age group.
Swaddling- If I could recommend one thing above all others to soothe a baby, it would be swaddling. This is when you very snuggly wrap your baby with either a blanket or a swaddling wrap. You can even wrap the baby close to yourself and practice baby wearing with something like a Moby wrap, which leads me to the next suggestion.
Attachment parenting- The idea with attachment parenting is that the closer your very young one is to you, the happier they will be, and the better able they will be to self soothe later on. Carrying your baby also gives them the sensation of rocking, or being in the womb.
Rocking/swinging- Being rocked or being in a swing sometimes has a magical effect on young children. It can calm them down or put them to sleep. If your baby responds really well to a swing, invest in one that has a higher weight limit. Just remember to follow safety guidelines and time limits.
Sing/play music- This is where you get to be creative and find music that will soothe your baby. I strongly suggest singing, as this will calm you as well and can happen regardless of whether you are near a music player or not, but if you have a particular recorded song you find that works to soothe your child- play it. I could talk much more about specific music to calm your child- but I won't here- just think calming or lullaby- or even happy or upbeat, whatever works for your child.
Behavior incentives- Let your child choose how to proceed from fussiness. Help them with the logic- "If you can calm down, we can stay and play a little longer. If you can't calm down, we'll have to leave." You can reward your children for good behavior- "If you listen well at storytime, we can go out for ice cream afterwards." Just try not to go from the bad behavior straight to the reward- "If you can calm down, we can go out for ice cream afterwards." (If you do that, your child will misbehave more often. Why? Because they get ice cream.)
4. Aurally, respond to fussiness, but disengage with tantrums- Talking, even singing or playing music for young children helps usher children through momentary difficulties. However, if your child is experiencing a tantrum- uncontrollable crying fits that start at 12 months- soothing a child aurally is often unhelpful. Tantrums are the result of a developing brain being on overload. Disengaging with a tantrum lets your child know that it's not a good way to get attention at least. Let your child know they are having a tantrum, and they need space to let it pass away from other people because it is unpleasant. Take them to a quiet place, be present until it passes, try not to pass further judgement on the matter, or worse yet- let other people pass judgement- then move on- try a change of scene perhaps.
5. Try a change of scene- Going for a drive or walk- or better yet, a drive to a peaceful place, then a walk, was really effective with my son. Driving for a bit often resulted in a short nap, then the walk afterwards, often out on a trail in California's East Bay, was pleasant for both of us!

You'll hear this a lot- "Every child is different," and it's true! What works to soothe or motivate one child may not work for another one. Trial and error may be necessary until you find something that works. In addition, please always remember to take care of yourself as well! Give yourself a "time out-" make time to recharge and be ready to cope through the next day. Always remember, you have the advantage- a mature, reasoning, fully developed brain, one that can help usher your young one to be a reasonable adult later on. It will happen! Listed below are some books by medical experts that have helped me in how to deal with my son's more fussy moments- check them out! And because I didn't get a chance to talk much this time about music that will calm young children, that will be the subject of next week's article- stay tuned!

*
Happiest Baby on the Block, Harvey Karp, M.D. (Bantam, Updated Edition, 2015)
Happiest Toddler on the Block, Harvey Karp, M.D. (Bantam, Revised Edition, 2008)
Touchpoints, Baby to Three, T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. (De Capo Lifelong Books, Revised Edition, 2006)
Touchpoints, Three to Six, T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. (De Capo Lifelong Books, Revised Edition, 2002)

**





Sunday, May 27, 2018

Play and Early Learning- Part II

As promised, today I recommend some ways to provide rich and varied play experiences for your child. And just to be super clear- this early learning blog is meant for those kiddos under six. And today's article is about play experiences outside of a daycare facility or school. We're talking sandboxes, tot lots, the library children's section- and even some classes. Of course there are classes for you and your young one! For instance, I often see parents in my drop in music classes with their babies. I remember myself as a first time parent with a child their age, and I'm so happy I could offer an destination for play accessible for these parents.

To be sure, having a plan for how your day will go when you are a first time parent is helpful, but not always easily attained. I found myself wanting to connect with other parents, but I wasn't always sure how. I felt like I needed to prioritize nap times, access to sustenance, and travel methods (stroller, wrap, etc.), often over coordinating with a class time or meeting with another parent. However, I found that when I was successful in scheduling in some time to socialize for both myself and my son, our day was much happier and better overall- even if it meant not totally sticking with our usual schedule.

Here's how to get started scheduling some beneficial play experiences for your little one!

1. Get connected online- Join your local parent's Facebook or Meetup group. Look for websites that list or recommend classes in your area. If there isn't one available, consider starting one! My son and I had access to the BerkeleyParentsNetwork.org (BPN), which is an invaluable resource for parents to communicate and share information. I started my own playgroup through an announcement on BPN, and the people I met that way are some of the best friends I've ever made. Other online resources I have seen that seem particularly helpful are HilltownFamilies.org and MacaroniKid.com. Both list opportunities for parents to take their kids out and about.

2. Join a playgroup- The playgroup I started on BPN was so beneficial to both the parents and the kids! We set up times to meet at playgrounds, library storytimes, indoor play areas, and at each other's homes. The children learned so much from each other, and it was an opportunity to talk with other adults. This was by far the best thing I did for me and my young son!

3. The playground is your friend- Opportunities to gain gross motor skills and socialize abound on the playground. Get to know your local playgrounds, and consider them your second home in nice weather!


4. Learn what your local library has to offer- Ask at the check out counter if you can have a schedule of the children's librarian's offerings. You may be surprised how much your local library has to offer- not only as a place for your child to listen to, look at, and acquire language, but as a destination to socialize. There are also often toys, puzzles, and opportunities to color in the children's section.

5. Learn about your local children's museums- These are elaborate play spaces created just for young children. In Berkeley there was Habitot, and that is the museum I took my son most often. There are themed exhibits, and hands on and kid-sized everything. Your little ones will LOVE these places.

6. Get out into nature- Find out about nature centers in your area. Not only can you go for a peaceful walk in the woods and enjoy a playground away from the city, there are often indoor centers with areas designed for young children to play. Often these centers offer classes for preschool age children, so be sure to check that out as well.

7. Include the arts in your child's play- Even if it's as simple as turning on some music at home and listening during play, including music in your day is a great way to help you and your child get energized, play, or relax. Music is an excellent way to help even adults regulate mood, and as a music teacher/performer, I of course recommend finding a class to attend or an event with live music for you and your young child. You can find dance and visual art opportunities for your young child as well.

8. Play can be incorporated anywhere, anytime- Stuck in the car? Put on some music, break out the toys- your child now has a play experience. Bringing your child to yet another trip to the grocery store? When they are small enough to sit in the front part of the cart, you and your child surely have some time to chat, play peek-a-boo, etc. Grocers also LOVE to play with and talk to kids.

Wherever you are, there are many opportunities for your child to play. We know play is a valuable opportunity for your child to develop, and we know how to get started incorporating play in our busy schedules- now what to do when your child doesn't want to cooperate? Yes- no matter what we may wish for our children, they may get fussy and have different plans for us! That will be the subject of my next article. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Play and Early Learning- Part I

Today we talk about the importance of play based discovery in early learning! Observe a young child at play, and it is almost palpable the amount of energy and inner workings behind it. A young child's brain is busy developing and myelinating- this is the process where neural pathways are strengthened with a myelin sheath to promote faster travel of neural impulses. When children play, they are learning from their environment in a way that promotes myelination. So, whatever children are exposed to repeatedly, through play or otherwise, the brain responds by building a neural pathway for quick response to that stimulus.

So- why is that important- and how can play help with this brain development? Play can especially help with the development of the cortex- that's the part of the brain that is the least developed at birth. That's also the part of the brain that helps us do things like process sensory information and language, and decide things. It's the part of the brain that helps us control our impulses. When children are at play, the cortex has a chance to myelinate- or "wire up"- pathways, within the cortex and to other important parts of the brain, that will enable them first to perform these important functions- then be able to do them more quickly and easily.

Here's how- give children the chance to play on a playground, for example, and they have many choices to make. Will they swing, climb, slide? How high will they climb, and how do they need to balance to do that safely? Will they do these things with other children at the playground? Will they share the equipment? Will they be sensitive to the other children's space and desire to use the equipment as well? Will they play pretend- pretend the play equipment is a ship for example- and ponder any problems that may occur- pirates, sharks, or crocodiles, for instance?

As a parent who was a teacher first and observed many children at play- I have to admit, sometimes when I observed children struggling to make good decisions to keep themselves or others safe on the playground, to "use their words" instead of violence to express themselves, to control the impulse to keep something to themselves rather than share it, I thought to myself, "When I have my own child, they won't be this difficult." The truth is- ALL children go through this important brain development. And yes they will make what we perceive as mistakes along the way. That's how they learn!

Here's how you can help with your child's brain development through play:
1) Provide play experiences with other children- the more chances they have to play the better!
2) Provide feedback for your child to help promote good decision making- When your child is in need of assistance- with making a safe choice, using their words, sharing- help them out. Just remember, patience and practice. That's what your child needs to develop- however frustrating their behavior can sometimes seem as a young child. Also, be mindful of what your child is capable of figuring out without assistance. Sometimes doing something "all by themselves" is what a child needs to take ownership of their new skill.
3) Play with your child- channel your inner child and rediscover the world with them anew! Have fun!

Here's some other articles you can read about play and brain development:
Scientists Say Child's Play Helps Build A Better Brain
Childhood Stimulation Key to Brain Development, Study Finds
The Cognitive Benefits of Play: Effects on the Learning Brain

Since we focused on mostly the science behind the the importance of play in early learning this time, next time I'll make some recommendations for providing varied and rich opportunities for your child to play- stay tuned!




Sunday, May 13, 2018

Finding Early Learning Media You and Your Child Enjoy

Thanks everyone who's stuck with me for my second article! As promised the topic of today's article is the palatability of children's media- that includes music, visual media, etc. And by palatability I mean is it something we find to our taste or not. Sometimes adults are surprised when they enjoy something that is meant for children. Some perhaps cringe at media meant for children that they do not enjoy. Some adults love to embrace their inner child. Most adults have at least a bit of nostalgia from time to time about the media they loved when they were children.

Wherever you are on this spectrum of palatability, spending time enjoying media with your preschooler is a valuable way to bond, and a great way to introduce them to the arts! Finding something that everyone can enjoy can be difficult- but certainly not impossible! There are so many options nowadays! What I will present are just a handful, and from my own experience, but chances are something similar to what I suggest is available near you (if it's a place or a live event) or just a google away (if it's digital media).

Visual Art- MOCHA- in Oakland, CA- The Museum of Children's Art, (MOCHA), was a place I often took my preschooler. The open art sessions included a playdough table, painting station, a cut and paste table, a sticker table, a block building station- complete with examples and helpers available. Moms chatted, or helped, or made their own art, while children enjoyed hands on art activities. This was a very mellow place perfect for a low key playdate, and often included interesting art exhibits to peruse. It was a perfect introduction to a stroller trip to any art museum. Mocha.org

Books- Google your child's name- My friend gave me several children's books with my child's name in it as a shower gift, and I highly recommend trying that to see what you find. You might be surprised! Hearing their own name in the book increases engagement, and you can be proud that you chose such a clever name for them in the first place. Plus you get a random array of illustration styles to ponder.

Live Music- Your local library or preschool music class- This subject is dear to me because I now have two children's albums of my own, but when my son was a preschooler, I was finding live music opportunities for him without any children's music industry knowledge at all. I started by attending storytimes- and I will give a shout out to the lovely librarians at the Piedmont library in Oakland, CA! Sometimes libraries also invite musicians to perform- something that will be happening a bunch this summer because of the "Libraries Rock" summer reading theme. When my son was 4, we got to see Charlie Hope at the library. This was so awesome because I discovered her music on YouTube when I google searched for a children's song about trains. My son loved trains, and to be honest, I was looking for an alternative to Thomas. Preschool music classes are available at other places besides libraries- there are chains like Gymboree (I tried this)- but I would highly recommend an independent teacher- google who is in your area!

TV Shows- YouTube, and PBS.org- Yes I am skirting recommending any one TV show and recommending YouTube, and the PBS website instead. Why? Because--- wait for it--- you can find something for "You." --- I would suggest starting by googling what you remember enjoying when you were young. Watching a classic Sesame Street or Mr. Roger's clip on YouTube can be a short diversion, and something enjoyed by both of you. Gems from our childhood such as Free to Be You and Me and Schoolhouse Rock can also be found on YouTube. You can also google what your preschooler is interested in and find shows to interest them. For example, dinosaurs+ trains= "Dinosaur Train." You can also find children's performers on YouTube- Miss Nina has a popular show, and, as I mentioned before, lots of children's music is on YouTube. Childrenmusic.org and SongforTeaching.com feature recent YouTubes from artists. PBS also has great educational shows, and while some character and muppet singing voices might not appeal to everyone, you can find good humor and even your favorite adult entertainer on Sesame Street. Don't want to watch the whole Sesame Street and would rather skip to the part you enjoy? Google it and watch that part on YouTube- or at PBS.org.

Movies- Pixar- Be forewarned, I am recommending Pixar in part because my son is an "Up" production baby. However, I was a fan well before my son was even a twinkle in my eye. While we aren't affiliated with the studio anymore, I did get a chance to experience the studio in Emeryville, and see the immense and extremely well thought out care that goes into the movies. I will wager that there is at least one Pixar movie palatable to you and your family.

Music- Children's Radio Shows- There are several children's radio shows you can listen to online. DJs do a great job representing a variety of musical tastes, so you are likely to find something you like on the show. You can then learn more about that particular artist- buy their stuff, see them live. Don't hear anything you like? Contact the DJ and make a suggestion. You could also try something like Pandora for Children's Music, but I think children's shows with DJs are better at keeping up with new releases and represent more independent artists than what you might find there. For live radio I would suggest Sirius XM's "Kid's Place Live" or WXPN's "Kid's Corner." For listening online, there are more available than this, but here are five shows to start with-
Saturday Morning Cereal Bowl- sign up for PodBean and get them all in the app on your phone. https://saturdaycerealbowl.podbean.com/ 
Imagination Parade- http://wfdu.fdu.edu/imagine.html 
Radio Active Kids- https://www.ashevillefm.org/show/radio-active-kids 
Musical Merry-Go-Roundhttps://musicalmerrygoround.wordpress.com/
Hilltown Family Variety Show- HilltownFamilies.org

When you encounter new media with your preschooler, or even share something you remember from your childhood, you are engaging with them in important discovery that will help shape their future tastes. When you find something everyone enjoys, this process can be fun and an important diversion every once in a while. For my next article, I'll be talking a bit about play based discovery in general for preschool aged children- why it's so important, and ways you can help and take part. BTW- Happy Mother's Day for all moms reading this on the day it was posted:)

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Why Write New Music for Preschool Aged Children?

Hi there- you found my early learning blog! You may know me as a teacher, or as a children's singer/songwriter- or as a fellow parent. I've been teaching and making music for a while now and realize parents may want to know more about what motivates my efforts. So the topic of my blog today is- why write new music for preschool age children?

There are plenty of good old standards for preschool students song-wise- "Old MacDonald," "Wheels on the Bus," and "Twinkle, Twinkle," to name a few. When I perform for families with preschool age children, I often include these old standards. Teachers and parents request them. Adults sing along, and that creates a really nice communal, sing-along experience for families. So why not just stop there and call it a day for the preschool crowd?

To rely on tradition and time tested songs is valuable in early learning, believe me- you want to be practical in what you do and incorporate music that people know and will work well for your class or performance. However, when you have the chance to work regularly with young children and their teachers and families, you have the opportunity to teach new songs- ones that are creative, inspiring, educational, fun, and reflective of the here and now.

I've had the opportunity to work every school day with the same young children, and know they are capable of learning new songs quickly. They are excellent at copying me, and when I add movements, hand motions or sign language, the process is often faster. The result is young singers raising their voices in a confident sing along of a new song, maybe one of mine! Indulgent teachers and parents are happy to participate as well.

Young children can also participate in music that is not in a sing along style. I often model dancing, active, playful listening, and incorporate visuals to engage in the story behind the song. This widens what can be practical and educational for students beyond the traditional sing along song. Skillful performers can engage young audiences with a combination of new music and visual or kinesthetic artistry on the spot, and no one need have prior knowledge of the music at all.

There are many choices for excellent new children's music, sing along or otherwise, but when it's your song and you are sharing it, your heart and creative spark is in it, and that is passed on to listeners. Children get to observe and participate in new art being made- sparking their own developing imaginations as future innovators. They mimic you and naturally try their own hands at doing exactly what you are doing for them.

This creative modeling is a valuable gift children's singer songwriters give to young children. It is well known, but cannot be said often enough: Children in their first six years of life experience more cognitive and social development than at any other period in their lives. It makes sense, then, that this would be the time to model creativity, as well as empathy, two crucial skills needed to be successful future adults in well functioning communities.

As for the palatability of new children's music- whether or not a parent or teacher (not just the child) would enjoy the song- that's up to the individual, as is all art, really. Children's singer songwriters have essentially two spectrums they could choose to serve, the young, developing mind, and the mature one with established tastes. That will be the subject of my next blog entry- so stay tuned!