Fun Family Musical Activities for Summer Days

While the stay-at-home orders for most states are beginning to expire, and staged reopening of places of business are giving us a small respite from being homebound, nearly all schools across the United States remain closed for the remainder of the school year. That, coupled with the beginning of summer break, challenges parents with having to manage anxious children at home. As children’s music teachers and parents alike have known forever, music sooths and relaxes stressed out kids. We have touched in past posts about how many children’s music studio owners are providing virtual music classes online, these classes and additional activities associated with them can only take up some many hours in a day or week. Music professionals and children’s teachers will agree that just about any activity that exposes children to music is a good thing. Here are a few fun ideas for families to do at home that will expand children’s musical exposure:

  • Make a guitar out of a cereal box – Cereal is a staple food for many households with children. Whether its Lucky Charms, Rice Crispies, or Captain Crunch, many lids love to eat it all day long. Those empty boxes can be used for a fun arts and crafts activity that also teaches about music. Building a simple guitar out of a cereal box have many benefits, from tactile activity to learning to repurpose materials. No matter how good it ends up sounding, guitars can teach children about rhythm and scales.
  • Musical spoon activities – Many of us imagine an old man from Appalachia on his front porch slapping a pair of spoons between his knee and hand, but the playing of spoons has actually been around since before written history. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all played spoons and a variation of them called rattle bones or rhythm bones. While this form of concussion idiophone can be hard to master, all it takes is an old spoon and other kitchen objects to explore a variety of musical sounds. Rubbing the spoon against an old can, kitchen grater, hitting a pot, etc, provides many different sounds. Children will have fun composing arrangements of the various sounds, and possibly even writing lyrics. Just keep in mind that this is not an activity that should be encouraged while you are on a conference call working from home!
  • Draw what you hear – This activity combines several forms of art with creativity. Start with a blank sheet of paper and pencils, markers, or crayons. Select a piece of music, whether it’s a Classical instrumental or a Rock song with lyrics, ask your child to draw what they are hearing. If they are having trouble, give them some ideas or demonstrate. For example, if the music is a slow Blues song, they may use long loping lines in a darker, melancholy color. For a faster, livelier genre such as Calypso, they may choose to draw shorter, sharper angles in brighter colors. Some children may decide to draw what it literally being sung about in the lyrics. There is no right or wrong way for them to draw what they think or feel when listening to the music.
  • Fortune Teller or “Chatter Box” Game – If you are of a certain age, you may remember the folding paper game that allows you to make selections while manipulating the origami. Children will love folding and decorating the paper, and the resulting activity can be applied to a limitless amount of musical games. Write different genres of music inside the flaps, and play examples as each of them are selected. Another idea is to put common words on each flap and write a song together that includes all of the words selected after a number of rounds. Ask older children to think of their own musical game that utilizes the “chatter box.”  
  • Freeze dance – A variation of musical chairs, this one is fun and simple while burning off some energy at the same time. Play a song on an audio player and ask everyone begin to dance however they feel. When they least expect it, hit pause or yell freeze and see what funny positions everyone winds up in. Like musical chairs, you can eliminate anyone who is still moving when the music freezes, and/or see how long each can hold their positions. Let members of the family take turns in selecting the music and hitting the pause button. Add some toys, children’s instruments, or ordinary household items as props to add even more variety.      

Children’s music studio owners and teachers will tell parents that in addition to a more formal music education, just about any other exposure to music or musical activities will expand musical growth. At a time when parents are looking for fun activities for children at home, these simple suggestions can educate, entertain, and exercise at the very same time.    

Planning for Re-opening of Your Children’s Music Studio

As governors across the country monitor their states criteria for re-opening businesses and other organizations, children’s music studio owners should be developing a plan for how and when they will resume their in-person classes in a safe and responsible manner. Many childhood music classes have not ceased with the shutdown of their physical studios, and have taken advantage of technology to hold virtual classes online. Even though online classes do provide a continuation of curriculum for students, home activities for parents, and continued revenue for the business, many teachers are understandably looking forward to when they can see their parents and students in person again. Here are some thoughts and ideas on what to consider looking forward:

  • Remember who ultimately decides when your business reopens – While politicians can announce or declare the economy reopen, they cannot force a music studio to reopen if the owner does not feel that it is a good choice for their staff or customers. But ultimately, its neither politicians nor business owners who decide when the economy is reopen. It is the decision of the consumer. If the population does not feel that it is safe to patronize businesses, then as living in a free market society, they will “decide with their pocketbooks.” Parents are particularly careful when it comes to their children’s well-being, and you can bet that they will not take unnecessary risk.
  • Communication and a good plan is the key – Children’s music studio owners understand that communication with parents is the key to running a successful curriculum and business. As parents start to become more comfortable with the overall safety outlook, they will next want to see what a studio is specifically doing  to keep their children safe. A written plan shared with parents about intentions of how and when to reopen for in-person classes nurtures that important customer relationship and reinforces trust. This written plan may include conducting only outdoor classes for a period of time, social distancing procedures, and/or processes for keeping studio and instruments clean.
  • Have a contingency plan in place – No one wants Covid-19 to have a resurgence in our communities, but in the event that does happen, it’s important that you have a plan in place for your music studio to quickly and efficiently deal with it. Contingency plans  help to put consumers, business owners, and employees’ minds at ease so that a situation does not quickly go into crisis management mode. Finally, remember that a good contingency plan can be applied to a wide variety of unexpected situations, so write it so that it can be quickly applied to almost any unexpected situation. As some studio owners have already shown, continuing business through virtual classes may be part of that plan.

While not advocating when or exactly how children’s music studio owners should reopen their particular business, these tools and techniques are provided to help determine the best and safest way to help keep your business open through unprecedented times. By understanding the official guidelines, understanding and communicating with your customers, and finally contingency planning makes the next unexpected crisis a bit easier to manage. 

Tips for Conducting a Virtual Music Class to Children

For many teachers across the country and the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has required that they embrace technology in a way like never before. Whether they were already tech-savvy or tech averse, teaching virtually has become a necessary reality for educators. This is no exception for many children’s music teachers and music studio owners. While many of the hurdles are the same for all teachers, virtual children’s music instruction poses its own set of challenges to studio owners. Here are a few tips to help you and your students/parents get the most out of your virtual music class:

  • Explore your virtual learning technology – There are various ways to produce a virtual learning class, and which one you select is more up to your taste and comfort level than one “best” solution. The two most popular formats are live or pre-recorded. Live technologies offer teachers a more interactive solution with their students and or parents, while pre-recorded allows more production options for those who want a more polished output. Virtual live classes can also be recorded for future use. Keep in mind that there are hundreds of software and app solutions available out there for virtual teaching, both paid and free. A search on Google will give you a myriad of choices, so think about what is going to be easiest and best fits your needs. More importantly, however, is to keep in mind what technology your students will have available to participate. If you already have a children’s music curriculum, then you may not need the features offered by many of the available solutions. If you have already been teaching children’s music in a classroom setting, then all you may need is a digital camera and a way to serve your videos such as YouTube.
  • Don’t worry about being perfect, just jump in! Once you have chosen a technology to serve your virtual classes, start teaching! Everyone understands that this is a challenge for teachers, so don’t be afraid to dive in and learn alongside your parents and kids. You know that one of the best ways to learn is by doing, and you will find that each and every class will be better than the last as you absorb both the technology and how to leverage it to mimic your desired classroom environment. Keep in mind while it’s never going to be perfect, video and audio quality are important for a music class. However, most newer smart phones, tablets, and laptops have decent video and audio output.
  • With younger children, keep in mind that its music AND movement – In many virtual classes, all that you will see is a “talking head” and perhaps some screen shots of notes and diagrams.In children’s music classes, movement is very important. Therefore, be sure that your screen frame shows your entire body so that you can demonstrate the movements while you teach. Imagine that your audience is in a live class with you, and what you do and would like for them to see and hear. Usually this requires that the camera is set back far enough to show your entire body in the screen, with enough space on all sides to allow room for movement.
  • Encourage and interact with your entire audience – Whether you areperforming a live virtual class or recording a video, be sure to address the camera just as it was your students. Offer encouragement before, after, and during your activities. Imagine you are in your live, in-person class, complete with asking questions and call and response activities, leaving time after each for your audience to respond at home. Lastly, if parents are involved in the class, don’t forget to provide helpful instruction and encouragement to them as well.

While pivoting from a live classroom environment to a virtual online environment may be scary, keep in mind that great teaching skills will serve you well online. Everything you already know will still be with you in a virtual world, so have confidence that you can do this! Lots of children’s music teachers and studio owners who were not previously offering online classes are now doing so. Watch how they have overcome the technical challenges and apply that knowledge to your own production. Remember that they were once as apprehensive as you may be now, so you will become ever more comfortable as you go along.

Utilizing Downtime to Nurture your Children’s Music Studio

As many businesses across the world have temporarily (and in unfortunate cases permanently), shuttered their doors amid the coronavirus crisis, there are some signs of light at the end of the tunnel for states begin lifting stay at home orders. However, for non-critical children’s services such as children’s music programs, the wait is likely to be longer. Even when all businesses are given the nod to re-open under guidelines, we can bet that parents will remain apprehensive to take any risks with communal programs. There are things that children’s music studio owners and teachers can be doing now to take advantage of the downtime and prepare for the uncertain future.

Strengthen Your Technology and Teach Virtually – Whether for good or bad, no one disputes that education in the United States will never be the same. Through baptism of fire, educators from all areas are having to embrace technology and provide an online representation of their former curriculum. This is no exception for music teachers, and while there are arguments to be made about what is lost through virtual music teaching, there is simply no other current alternative. Now is a good opportunity to explore the various technology available for providing virtual services. We have seen some amazing “at-home” concerts produced by amateur and professional musicians alike, many even playing together while in separate cities. As these become more commonplace, parents will grow ever more comfortable with the format of virtual teaching for their children. Proving this option may smooth the transition to a time when they are comfortable with in person group settings again.

Keep Communicating with Parents – It is extremely important to keep in contact with your parents and students during this time. An old business adage tells us that it costs at least five times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. Make good use of your client email list, providing weekly updates to parents. Be sure to think of something of value to deliver each and every time you reach out. Parents are desperate for something to keep their children calm and entertained during this time. If you are not offering virtual classes, provide some resources for them to remain musical! As we all know, music has many psychological benefits for stress and anxiety and they are sure to appreciate the help. If you don’t have a complete email list, consider a short phone call to the parents and children to see how they are doing and provide some much-needed encouragement. Teachers are leaders, and good leaders provide encouragement in times of trouble. Finally, make sure your communication is confident and forward thinking, ensuring that the value that your studio provides is continuing and will be there once this is over.

Plan Well for the Next Phase – In the highly acclaimed managerial book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the first two identified habits are being proactive and beginning with the end in mind. Together, these combine into one trait that all effective managers possess – goal setting. During this downtime and downturn, it is important to look ahead and have a goal in mind for when the smoke finally clears. Then, work your way backwards understanding and setting tasks in order to reach those goals. If you have already set goals for 2020, this is the time to revise those goals and adjust to the “new normal”. Follow the SMART goals guidelines, and be sure to include marketing as part of your new goal setting. Share with parents your goals for their children’s musical growth, which provides an opportunity to promote class materials and enrollment for the next class, whether it is virtual or in person in the future.

Smart business owners and teachers understand that agility, communication, positivity and goal setting are all imperative for long-term success. Children’s music studio owners are both teachers and businesspeople, and as such, are looked to for leadership from their customers and students. By taking advantage of this unfortunate downturn in our economy, savvy business people will come out of it stronger and better prepared for the eventual recovery, whatever that may look like.

Spring Reminds Children of Music

The Covid-19 epidemic, and subsequent stay at home orders, are testing our resolve and family dynamics. However, there is a place where almost anyone can find refuge from the monotony by simply stepping outside. Just on the heels of Easter, yesterday was National Gardening Day, marking a beautiful time when we are reminded of the gifts of Spring. During this trying time, many parents can attest to restless children complaining of boredom or being glued to a game screen, zombielike in their glazed stare. As Spring weather warms the earth, and nature starts to raise it head from Winter, there are many things that can both keep children busy as well as remind them of the music of nature:

  • Time for planting! If you have a garden each year, it’s time to start working the soil in preparation for Spring planting in the Northern Hemisphere. Waiting anxiously for the last frost, many gardeners and farmers across the world are preparing the ground and growing seedlings in anticipation. Gardening is a great way to teach children about the harmony of nature. Whether you have a green thumb or are just a beginner, plant something with your child to teach them how the soil, sun, and rain work together to help things grow. While working soil, whether it’s in a garden, raised bed, or flower box, children learn how just as in music, a blend of different parts can combine into something greater.  Starting seedlings inside demonstrates how nurturing can allow things to grow. For younger children, something as simple as grass seed planted in eggshells can be a fun indoor activity. Ask them to paint faces on the eggs, and see their joy as their egg people grow green hair! Even our urban neighbors can think of creative ways to plant a beautiful, fragrant, and tasty herb garden in a window box or flower pot.
  • Music to the ears – Spring is a time when many things are happening in nature at once, a beautiful symphony of sights, sounds, and smells. It is a great time to teach children to sit still and listen. Find a place in your backyard, garden, or nearby woods, ask a child to sit down and close their eyes, and simply listen. Their surroundings will seem to erupt in sounds. In the Spring, birdsong fills the air as all varieties and color of our winged vocalists call for mates to find nesting places. Together, try to identify the distinct songs that each species in your area produces. Ask children to listen for the breeze as it rustles through the newly sprouting leaves on the trees, or the gurgle and babble of a nearby creek. While indoors, listening to a rain shower can teach calm and even how seemingly scary thunderstorms bring important life-giving rain to nature.  All the while, this is a great opportunity to discuss just as music is made of different components, nature works together in harmony to create and sustain life.

 At a time when society is asked to practice social distancing, the outdoors provides a great open space for parents to enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of Spring with their children. Whether sitting still and simply listening, singing about the wonders of Spring, or finding an early childhood music program that embraces nature, the outdoors presents a great opportunity to connect our kids with nature.

A Family that Sings Together is Stronger

While social distancing would seem like a means by which we will all have more time to ourselves, anyone with family members at home knows this cannot be farther from the truth. Parents who are lucky enough to be able to work from home, and those who are unfortunately temporarily out of work are now exposed to live-at-home family members for longer periods of time. This poses a challenge for many, as they seek new ways to spend the time and entertain children. One great thing to do that does not require a bit of practice, technology, or materials is to sing. Singing together as a family is a great way to pass the time and has been shown to provide a great deal of benefits for each and every family member.

  • Singing helps to soothe the soul – Just about any mother can tell you that singing to a restless baby can soothe and calm them. In fact, a new study shows that singing calms babies for longer periods of time than talking. In this new reality of social distancing, when anxieties can run high, singing reminds even older children and adults of happy times.
  • Singing to children helps them to become better learners – Children’s music teachers have always known what studies have proven. Singing to and with children better prepares them for learning in school. The patterns and repetitiveness of songs helps prepare them to be ready to read. Singing with children at home also teaches them to share, take turns and speak up when they are eventually in a social learning environment.
  • The old Family Sing- Along – Whether its Campfire Songs, Christmas Carols or Car Trip sing-alongs, families (and tribes) have always sang together through time. The benefits of this are numerous, including learning about your family history through traditional songs, learning how to harmonize with a group, or even how to get over performance anxiety. And who knows, someone might just realize they have a love for singing!
  • From traditional to pop, there’s something for everyone – There’s a reason why many traditional songs stand the test of time. They are easy for everyone to remember and sing. Good examples are Christmas Carols or favorite children’s songs. Just about anyone in the family will remember the most popular traditional songs, and there are also plenty of modern songs that most everyone knows.  

With sports practice, music lessons, PTA meetings and the like, many modern families’ lives seemed like ships that passed in the night. However, the need for social distancing has shut down many of the things that kept us running all the time. As families rediscover what it means to be around each other much of the day, they will look for ways to pass the time and reconnect. Singing together, whether it’s just while cleaning house or having a sing-along session in the family room, can become a way to help alleviate the tension and strain of this strange new world, while at the same time celebrating what it means to be family.

Promoting Health and Hygiene in Your Children’s Music Studio

Recent events have given everyone pause about going to public areas where there is unnecessary exposure to others. According to the Center of Disease Control, nearly 22 million school days are lost each year due to colds alone, and 38 million school days are lost due as a result of the flu. While there is no sure-fire prevention method for keeping a classroom from being susceptible to a contagious illness, there are some steps that children’s music studio owners can take to make their classroom more healthy and resistant to germs. Listening to and taking the direction of health care professionals is always the best course of action for teachers and studio owners, but there are some things you can do to make your classroom safer and more resilient:

  • Keep sharing of instruments in class to a minimum – Music classes are often full of fun instruments such as rattles, jingles, and rhythm sticks. To help prevent the spreading of germs, have enough instruments on hand so that everyone in your class has their own. That way, you can clean them after each class to use in the next one. Be sure to use appropriate cleaning methods for sanitation depending on the instruments’ material(s) construction.
  • Wipe down surfaces during as well as after – Teachers will tell you that they are always going behind children and wiping down after classes. Take the opportunity to allow the children to help while teaching them to wipe down instruments and surfaces. A work song is a great way to make this a fun activity with music. However, because children are still learning how to clean things thoroughly, be sure to go back after them at the end of each class for a deeper cleaning and sanitizing.  
  • Share your policies and procedures with parents – Parents are concerned about their child catching a cold, the flu, or worse in a classroom setting. Clearly lay out and communicate your hygiene and cleaning policy and procedures to give parents some peace of mind. Post it in your studio, email it to all your parents, and include it in your welcome packet for any class. This will help to assure them that you are taking precautions.

These are some things you can do in your children’s music studio to help prevent the spread of germs and illness. Keep in mind that there is no sure-fire way to prevent infection completely, but taking these precautions can reduce the chances. Most of all, listen to the experts and your parents to gauge the best course of action for keeping your studio safe.

Virtual Music Classes: One Parent’s (and Music Teacher’s) Cautionary Tale, Part 2

This is the second part of a two-part account from a children’s music instructor and mother concerning the comparison of virtual to in-person children’s music classes. It continues our discussions with children’s music professionals on important industry topics.

Rebecca Simonfalvi Cauthron is a certified Musikgarten teacher providing instruction at East Dallas Children’s Music. She has been teaching the Musikgarten curriculum for twenty-two years, becoming trained and certified in every level of instruction in the program. As a result, Rebecca has been honored with the coveted Musikgarten Achievement Award. She has a Bachelor’s in Flute Performance from the University of Texas and a Masters in the Art of Teaching with a focus in Early Childhood Music and Flute from Texas Woman’s University. She is adjunct flute professor at Mountain View College and has taught flute for 25 years. She is also the mother of a two-year-old son. 

Below is a summary of my experience with my son for a virtual music class.

I had just instructed the same class a few days prior to this class.  I knew the lesson plans and was able to gather my make-shift materials ahead of time, which included sticks, recordings for sounds of the workshop, and a box for “Jack in theBox;” so many of these little details the parent would not think of and it would be a lot of work for the teacher to make sure that the parent was prepared for success:  It would be essential for the parent to make sure all materials were accessible before class began.  The listening samples would need to be cued up on a device that would not interfere with the streaming of the class.  Providing the lesson plans would be helpful to the parent so they would be sure to know the songs well enough to sing along, because the distant voices of the class would not be heard clearly enough simply as a result of poor audio streaming. I also cleared a corner of my house in order to provide an area that was large enough to move around, but would contain little-to-no distractions.

To stream the class, the teacher and I decided to place the phone up high and out of view so as to not distract the children in the classroom with a screen.  We used Facetime.  I muted my end, because of the slight delay.  Class began.  He rarely observed the class on the screen; we used it as a guide for interaction between us. My son was included in the Hello Song, rocking and bouncing went well, and he echoed the patterns given to another child who ran up to sing into the “microphone.”  While the other children took their turns and a transition occurred to get ready for the next song, he began to move about the room.

I felt a great urge to keep him in my lap in front of the screen, but I allowed him to do his work!

He did a few laps around the room and when it was time to do the workshop, he became extremely engaged.  Then it was time for focused listening for the workshop.  We could faintly hear the sounds, but more so what was missing was not being with his friends against his spot on the wall with his little hand on the knee of the teacher. He gains great comfort from this. 

There is a distinct and irreplaceable human element to what we do.

“Jack in the Box” went well, as he had been playing that game with a box we had at the house all week long.  A new song was introduced and he was less inclined to participate.  He distracted himself with something and moved around, but I knew he was still listening. Many times throughout the class, he left the area.  A home has so many distractions which would not be found in the classroom. He also hit the screen with a stick and pretended to type on the keyboard, which could have turned off the whole class and they would have never known, because I would not want to call back and distract the class further.  Regardless, he participated with every song.  For the final circle song, his Dad came in and we did it together, which was sweet.  Just a few days ago, many months after this one music class, he pretended to have music class with me in the area of the house that I had created for that one virtual class. 

One of the most important values missed out on in virtual classes are the guiding moments of affirmation and education we spontaneously give to parents based on the behavior of their child in class. At home, there were a few times that I was able to redirect my son, but I fear that many parents would resort to punishment, bribery, etc. that they wouldn’t necessarily have to resort to in a live class which might set-up behaviors, tensions, or cues that would be brought back to class that were unnecessarily developed due to the home environment.

I felt a great disconnect that I had to compensate for; it was strange.

He was engaged, but he wasn’t. We were doing it together, but not with the class. He heard the teacher, but it wasn’t really her correct timbre. We weren’t in the circle to see the other children’s faces. He observes so much of what is going on when he is in the class. During transition times, we did the song again, as I felt he lacked direction because he couldn’t go get the sticks from the basket while manipulating the crowd of children; go to the listening corner; or hear some of the conversations that were going on between the teacher and some of the other toddlers.

Sometimes it was just commotion and noise, even though what was happening was beautiful organized wonder.

We missed out on the love, the hugs, the smiles. The music and activities were fun and engaging and I am so glad we did this, but I would not recommend it to families. I had to act as co-teacher to get this to work, although we are all co-teachers when we, as moms, take our children home and engage with them in musical activities. That is what we strive to make of our parents!

My final thought: Eye-contact with the individual child on their level is one of the most important human elements that cannot be replicated through an on-line class experience along with exploring the boundaries of the music room environment, the feeling of space being taken up by other children and parents, and the warm gentle hug initiated by the toddler on the teacher’s legs to offer their gratitude and love.  If there is a forced quarantine, value your class enough to delay your classes, offer a voucher for the summer, send your parents a weekly video guide with your ideas for singing and playing with their child at home, how to make your own instruments, other non-musical activities they could do with their child to help ease the cabin-fever, and so much more.  You will be the most wonderful gem in your families’ lives by making the effort to engage with them to continue your instruction in the most positive manner. 

Editor’s Note: As often is the case, adoption of technology for technology’s sake seems to present more difficulties than advantages in our society. While virtual attendance to events is often a good idea in certain situations, physical social interaction with both instructor and peers cannot be overemphasized when teaching children’s music. As our lives become more and more influenced and molded by technology, our hopes are that virtual music lessons continue to be more the exception than the rule.

Virtual Music Classes: One Parent’s (and Music Teacher’s) Cautionary Tale, Part 1

We are continuing our series highlighting the knowledge and advice of children’s music industry professionals and participants. Below is an actual account provided by a children’s music studio teacher, but also the parent of a two year old child. This is part 1 of a 2 part series.

Rebecca Simonfalvi Cauthron is a certified Musikgarten teacher providing instruction at East Dallas Children’s Music. She has been teaching the Musikgarten curriculum for twenty-two years, becoming trained and certified in every level of instruction in the program. As a result, Rebecca has been honored with the coveted Musikgarten Achievement Award. She has a Bachelor’s in Flute Performance from the University of Texas and a Masters in the Art of Teaching with a focus in Early Childhood Music and Flute from Texas Woman’s University. She is adjunct flute professor at Mountain View College and has taught flute for 25 years. She is also the mother of a two-year-old son.  

My family was quarantined for a week with HFM, but I wanted my son to have the experience of attending his music class, so we tried a virtual approach.  It didn’t fail, but I had to work very hard to make it engaging, fun, productive, and positive for my two year old.  So many things happened that required my twenty years of knowledge and study in the early childhood field, that I strongly believe that parents without that background could end up unintentionally negatively affecting their child’s experience upon their return to music class, especially after several weeks in a row. 

Is it better than nothing for one week or even a few weeks?

The parents would be better off watching the class and then engaging their child with the activities spread throughout the week to “keep them up-to-pace” with the class.  A virtual music class is not a replacement temporarily or permanently for the what the original intention of Musikgarten was founded upon.  We are not just educating the child in music, we are growing a child with roots cemented in engagement, comfort, love, the bravery of separation, the joy in the return, and surrounding them with feeling of the tambour of a room full of voices singing together.  You cannot feel all of that through a screen; those feelings create our musical experiences that engage, nurture, and grow the child. 

Social connectivity is the essence of musical bonding; without it, we lose the togetherness, which is too often overlooked for the sake of learning.  The idealism of a parent’s virtual experience is a fanciful rendering of an adult who might remember how Mr. Roger’s captured their heart every week as they learned and felt they were a part of his community. Expectations viewed through this idealistic filter will have negative effects on the outcome of a virtual music class. 

The reality is that early childhood music teachers are engaging, effective, and revered by the children because we value eye contact, personalized directional singing, visiting different parts of the room with our friends, moving away from the grown-up to put away instruments or hug the helper doll, etc. 

Without the teacher and other students present in the room, the virtual music experience becomes a time for the parent to be distracted by one idea:  To keep the child actively participating while looking at a class on a screen. 

Speaking from experience, it is stressful and not nearly as engaging for the young child as it is for the adult.  A parent might argue that their child watches hour long movies with no problem, surely a thirty minute class that they have experienced would be appealing and easy; but it is not and here is why: 

You can’t have a camera in the corner of your class and have it feel immersive.  Scene changes, jump cuts, etc. provide a narrative by cutting to only scenes that matter to aid the story. Most people don’t understand how much work goes into composing an engaging and meaningful scene. You can’t edit a live feed.  The only way a virtual class can work is if it composed to be a virtual class, meaning playing to the camera as if it were the child and having every movement planned with appropriate camera angles, cuts, and viewpoint changes. The audio feed should also be considered, as many times audio from live streaming are not able to isolate the sounds that are important to replicating a face-to-face experience.  If you have one locale for the microphone, but your voice is coming from many different parts of the room and music is being played from a speaker elsewhere, there are dynamic inconsistencies that are exacerbated by the noise cancelling feature on many devices as well as the reality that most recordings are done with multiple microphones that amplify each individual source and then are edited together to give an accurate representation of a live environment.  (Thank you David Cauthron, CTO, sound and lighting engineer for your expertise!)

The reason why Mr. Rogers was so effective at enchanting the child for an hour with a nowadays relatively slow program pace, was not only the camera and audio detailing, but:

Key to the success of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, was Roger’s iron insistence upon meeting the highest standards without qualification. Former producer Margaret Whitmer observes, “Our show wasn’t a director’s dream.  Fred had a lot of rules about showing the whole body, not just hands.  When actors or puppets were reading something, Fred wanted the kids to see the words, even if viewers literally couldn’t read them. The camera moves left to right, because you read left to right.  All those little tiny details were really important to Fred.”

-The Good Neighbor, The Life and Works of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King (2018)

Most teachers are not equipped with the technology, equipment, personnel, and know-how to create what we imagine in our heads and want our virtual class to be.  Many of us have extremely high standards for the “production” of our live classroom which, for all of the reasons listed above, is impossible to replicate on a stream.

Editor’s Note: With the internet and Wi-fi devices so prevalent in today’s society, it seems logical that many programs that were conducted in person would be just as effective being provided online. But as the experience above explains, this is not always the case with virtual music classes. Childhood music curriculum is often based on social connectivity and personal interaction, both with the teacher as well as other students. Even with the best technology and the most attentive and well prepared parent, physical group interaction simply makes the in-person music class much more immersive. Whether it is eye contact and facial expressions, the resonance of singing with others, or the fun of collaborative movement, the physical children’s music classroom experience is extremely hard to replicate online.

Stay tuned for the next installment to hear a step by step recap of the experience!

Industry Interview – Jeff Spickard, President – Musikgarten: Online Tools for Children’s Music Studio Teachers

In this blog, we try to provide children’s music studio owners and teachers with valuable information that can help you become more successful in your business. As part of our 2020 blogging topics, we will be conducting interviews with several professionals in the children’s music industry, from leaders to teachers. Our first interview is with Jeff Spickard, president of Musikgarten, a leading early childhood music curriculum provider. We will cover how the company has enhanced the way it communicates and delivers its products to early childhood music teachers all across the globe.

Q. For those who don’t already know about Musikgarten, can you briefly describe your organization?

That is a bit of an open ended question and like most companies there are many facets to our organization. The cliff notes version is Musikgarten is the best of early childhood music education, offering teachers the best training and materials possible to help them use music to teach the whole child. To quote our philosophy, we believe:

That all children are musical,
music meets the needs of children,
music benefits the whole child,
music must be introduced early and involve the family,
and that adults should observe and follow the child.

We use the best quality resources and follow a carefully sequenced approach to music literacy.

Q. Musikgarten has been providing children’s music curriculum to teachers across the globe for over twenty five years. Technology has drastically changed over that time. How has Musikgarten adapted to the changes in technology?   

That’s an interesting question because unlike some of our competitors, Musikgarten still provides our teachers with printed materials such as teachers guides and class activity cards for our curriculum. While this may seem old-fashioned to outside observers, we find that even our youngest teachers appreciate the ability to hold physical materials in their hands. Plus these are materials they can keep for a lifetime, no matter where their journey takes them. Where we do embrace technology to better serve our teachers is providing a digital music download, along with hard copy discs, training via real time webinars, and teacher support via videos, recorded coaching sessions and live webinar coaching sessions. We still believe that in-person ways are best in relaying information, but we also understand the convenience and cost effectiveness of relaying information digitally.  

Q. What is this most recent project that Musikgarten has launched that we are going to talk about today?

We just recently launched a new website.

Q. Why did you feel the need to create a new web presence for Musikgarten at this time?

For a couple of reasons. For one thing we felt like we needed to update the look of the site to function better with today’s browsers and mobile devices. In a way, it’s a rebranding of our web presence. As web based technologies such as screen sizes and resolutions change, it becomes necessary for organizations to make changes like this every 4-6 years. So it was just time for a change.

Secondly, we also wanted to move the website to, or have it built to better serve our teachers and parents with new functionality and delivery methods.  Now we have a site that gives us a great foundation to continue to build onto. This will give us a lot of flexibility to serve our teachers. The old site had really outlived this idea and any addition to it would be “clunky’ both for the user and for the company to keep up to date akin to slapping a band-aid on it.

Q. Who all is the new website intended to serve?

It really has three areas that serve those with different needs – Potential parents who are interested in giving their child the wonderful benefits of early music, potential teachers who want to take training, use the materials, and offer classes, and our existing Licensed Musikgarten teachers by giving them a robust log in section with help materials, great online ordering system, and hopefully items that make it a little easier to run their business and develop as teachers.

Q. How does the web site serve those different customers and/or markets at the same time?

For parents it gives them the basic info they need about Musikgarten’s philosophy and classes to lead them to make a decision to find a class in their area all in a colorful, inviting way.

In the same way, it gives the potential teacher all the basic information they need about Musikgarten’s philosophy to lead them to take the next step in information gathering at no cost – our in-person webinar, Meet Musikgarten. This session allows them to listen to and ask questions from an actual teacher trainer who is also an experienced teacher and business owner. And while we have had webinar training prior to this website launch, it makes the registration process much more streamlined and user friendly.

For our current Licensed Musikgarten teachers we are able to offer them a special login section. This allows them to take advantage of the many perks of being a Musikgarten Licensee and place orders safely while calculating all their license discounts.

Q. What’s new on the new site that was not on your old site?

Of course there is new photography and images, but one of the biggest additions is an e-commerce ordering/cart system for the public and a customized version in the teacher log in area that has Licensee pricing, items only Licensees can purchase, and calculates all Licensee discounts.

Q. Why did you decide to make these upgrades or additions to the new site?

We did this in the teacher area for better convenience and service to the customer. But we have also added more business building items, from photography to memes and recorded coaching sessions on getting your business started or social media, plus items to help advance them as teachers like class videos from Dr. Lorna Heyge and our teacher trainers, and coaching sessions that focus on teaching topics.

Sales to the public are something we have always conducted. We have always had a list price on our materials for sales at conventions, training workshops, general inquiries and even physically mailing price lists to our entire mailing list. Incorporating these resources into the website is simply a more convenient, and incidentally less costly, way of delivery to our customers.

Q. How does the new site and its functionality help Musikgarten to better fulfill its overall mission and goals?

We believe in what we do and the materials we offer. We hope with the new site, fresh look, and more exposure, Musikgarten will remind parents and teachers of the importance of our philosophy of always putting the needs of the child first.

Early childhood music education conducted the Musikgarten way is fun and exciting, but also needed today. When music and movement are a natural, joyous part of childhood, kids benefit greatly in many areas of life.  Language development, self-expression, memory skills, concentration, social interaction, fine motor skills, listening, problem solving, teamwork, goal setting, and coordination are all impacted by early music and movement education.  On top of that, as a child learns to play music, other areas of development—creativity, family bonding, self-esteem, confidence, emotional development—are also positively impacted.

Parents and teachers, or rather adults in general, need to be reminded that children need and thrive under certain circumstances, circumstances that our current society may not be providing. Our classes provide this space for children and their families. So it’s a funny kind of balance we are managing in our organization, while we are trying to responsibly provide the most up to date technology to our parents and teachers, at the same time we are reminding them of the importance to “un-plug” from the world of interruptions, listen to the music and just be with your child.

Q. What would you advise a newcomer to the site to do in order to get a good idea of what Musikgarten has to offer? Is that different for different types of site visitors?

I always like to start with who an organization is first, so I really recommend the About Us section of the site and specifically the Our Philosophy and Benefits of Music and Movement pages.

From there it depends on the type of visitor. If you are a parent, I really recommend the Find a Class page. See if someone in your area teaches and then join a class. I have two kids, 6 years old and 8 years old. They have taken Musikgarten classes since birth and I can personally testify to the benefits of Musikgarten classes. Watching their musical progress is a joy, but seeing them grow emotionally and socially is just as powerful. They sing in tune and joyfully make music a part of their everyday, whether they are playing a game, dancing, or just being silly. On top of all of this, they love their family, they love being in nature, are open to learning, and have empathy for the people around them. These are things that will carry them forward no matter where their journey takes them.

If you are a teacher, go through the Become a Teacher section. We offer both in-person and webinar training to fit everyone’s schedule. Register for a Meet Musikgarten session or if you have more questions please use the Contact form or call us 800-216-6864.

We want to thank Jeff Spickard for this interview, and stay tuned for more insight from industry professionals on how to be more successful as a children’s music studio teacher and owner.