The Importance of Teaching Children to be Thankful

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to teach children the importance of being grateful. It’s not uncommon for children, let alone adults, to disregard the significance of the little things that go on in our daily lives. While holidays do stand out in the memories of children, they don’t often understand the reason that family and friends are getting together and sharing meals. Even this year, when the COVID pandemic puts limits on our Thanksgiving gatherings, caregivers should think about ways to teach children how to appreciate things present in their lives as well as significant events and others in the past.

Expressing gratitude can decrease stress and increase a feeling of belonging. There are many ways that parents and caregivers can model behavior and teach children to be thankful.

Ways to Teach Children Gratitude 

  • Model Thanks Every Day – Teaching gratitude starts with the role-models in children’s everyday lives, whether a parent, a sibling, or a music teacher. Saying thank you to others when they assist you, no matter how small the gesture, sets an impression that children will mimic.
  • Discuss your meaning of Thanksgiving – The historic accuracy of the original “Thanksgiving Story” has been the subject of much debate over the years, and parents can decide whether to speak about it with their children.  It is important to talk about what thanksgiving means for your family so that they may put into context what you are truly thankful for, while giving them a chance to talk about things that they love.
  • Talk About Where Food Comes From – For most of us, food is something for which we depend on others. A study found that 25% of primary school children did not know where butter or cheese came from. Talk with your children about where and how food is produced, and how grateful you are for having such easy access to food.
  • Show the Joy of Giving – As you talk to your child about being grateful for what you have, it’s a good time to talk also about those who may not be as fortunate. Giving back, whether it is participating in a local food drive or donating to a worthy cause, children better understand the value of what they should be thankful for, while also observing empathy.
  • Create New Memories for Thankfulness – Create situations and activities for your family to spend time together without the typical outside influences of screens and other distractions. The act of preparing the Thanksgiving meal can be a great opportunity for the family to work together and talk about gratitude.
  • Ritual, Ceremony, and Tradition – We have written about how children love ritual, ceremony, and consistency. Even before science, all of the major religions understood the importance of gratitude. Whether your gathering gives blessing or talks about gratitude over the Thanksgiving meal, it can become a teaching tradition that children will learn from and cherish.
  • Be Sincere About Being Thankful – Young children, even before they understand language, are picking up on facial expressions and gestures from their role models. Sincerity is not often thought of as a physical act, but children can pick up on when adults give their undivided attention to a gesture, make eye contact, and smile after thanks is given.

Studies have found that people who practice gratitude gain many benefits in both physical and psychological health. From a teaching perspective, kids who understand gratitude have better grades and are less likely to get depressed. So whether at home around the Thanksgiving table, or in a classroom setting such as a children’s music class, learning to show gratitude is important and beneficial to the long term health of the child.

The Role of Adults in Young Children’s Music Class

Exploring the natural development phases of The Nature of the Young Child, we have shown how the first phases of life are crucial in how a child discovers independence. Our final part of this series explores the child’s home environment, and in particular, the role of adults in influencing the physical and psychological well-being of children. This is not merely limited to the role of parents, but also other caregivers and influential adults such as teachers of children’s music programs.

When we refer to environment in how it influences the development of the young child, we are not just referring to people, but include also the places and objects surrounding the child. However, the role of the parent or caregiver is an important model for the child. As children are introduced to new environments, they look to the guidance of their familiar people for a comfort level that allows them to explore new interactions. This is why parent/caregiver participation is so important in an early childhood music class. These may be one of the first classroom experiences of the child’s life, and the attitude the caregiver shares in the experience will influence the child’s attitude toward education and participation with others.

Suggestions for Adults in Young Children’s Music Classes

  • Take Time to Listen to Toddlers – While their language may not be fully developed, modeling respect for what they have to say will show them that it should be done for others.
  • Acknowledge and Respect – Recognize a child’s individuality and efforts that are being made in a respectful manner.
  • Speak Clearly and in Full Sentences – Baby talk is not helpful for language development, so use complete sentences and enunciate clearly to help them develop expressive ideas of their experiences.
  • Encourage  Them to Participate, Then Let Them Make the Choice – Offer an activity and acknowledge the child, but if they do not respond, move on and let them feel free to sit and observe.
  • Be Courteous in Modeling – Children between the ages of 2.5 and 4 love learning the precise movements of adults, so model courtesy when greeting others, handling instruments, putting things away, and saying goodbye.
  • Keep Things Orderly and Clean  Keeping a musical environment clean, whether in the classroom or at home, makes a lasting impression.
  • Be Melodious in Movement and Sound – Being graceful and singing in a calming, pleasant demeanor enriches the musical experience for the child.
  • Children Love Ritual, Ceremony, and Consistency – Children need a predictable and comfortable structure from which to explore and experiment, but it’s important to relinquish control without abandoning the child during class.

Perhaps the most endearing quality of children is their never-ending sense of wonder and amazement. By observing and engaging the child while allowing them to discover things on their own, adults energize their curiosity and sensorimotor mode. In these moments of deep concentration and reflection is where we observe and nurture their wonder-filled discoveries and creativity.

Much of the content for this post was based on the introduction to Family Music for Babies and Family Music for Toddlers, an early childhood music curriculum developed by Musikgarten.

The Role of Music in Early Childhood Development

In this third installment of our series on The Nature of the Young Child, we continue to explore how children learn during the first phases of life, and how the first three years in particular are critical. Based on the pedagogical philosophy of acclaimed educator Maria  Montessori to “follow the child,” there are several experiences that influence sensory and motor development for neurological organization. Caregivers and children’s music teachers can see how music has a role to play in this vital stage of childhood development.

Children Learn Through Movement

Once they have learned to walk, toddlers spend much of their time exploring the world around them. Any parent can tell you that they are constantly on the move, learning to obtain control of their body movements. As a prerequisite to cognitive learning, sensorimotor integration is one of the earliest ways that babies and toddlers learn about their world.  From reaching and grasping to crawling and walking, children are explorers by nature. Through repetition and practice, the toddler begins to unconsciously strengthen body to mind neural connections. Kinesthetic awareness, an inner sense that operates below the conscious level, contributes information about how the body feels as it moves. Such awareness is invaluable to all learning, including music – through movements such as clapping, tapping, bouncing, or dancing.

Listening is the Most Important Sensory Channel for Learning

Formed in utero, the ear is functional at four months after conception, allowing the fetus to begin hearing their mother’s breathing, heartbeat, digestion, talking, and singing. The ear is an organ that never rests, and listening is important to almost all aspects of learning – physical, social, emotional, and intellectual. Music helps children to focus their attention on familiar sounds, whether it is a lullaby sung by a parent or a children’s music class, and helps to teach appropriate interaction with adults and peers.

Shaping Language is the Child’s Great Work

 At the earliest stages of life, children understand that speaking is what constitutes communication in their world. Sounds that come from the mouth such as cooing are very fascinating to babies, eliciting excited responses that begin a back and forth form of communication. In the beginning, tone and inflection are even more important than the words themselves, and infants will imitate and practice sounds as they become excited about their own vocalizations. Music offers a very strong source of pleasure for children, as it soothes, elicits attention, and stimulates response. The rhythm, repetition, and rhyming of music all contribute to a child’s language development as they are allowed to sing to themselves, make up words, and silly noises.

Children Have a Natural Tendency for Order 

As children experience the massive amount of information coming through their senses, they begin to sort, order, classify and categorize. Remarkable because it is not based on any previous experience, this process helps children to understand their environment and how to put persons and things in their accustomed place.  Maria Montessori understood this, and once order is established around the age of 3.5 years, change is better tolerated in the external environment. Music participation and education also helps establish a sense of order through repetition and routine of familiar songs and movements.

Independence and Initiative are the Embodiment of Learning

As children develop through movement and language, they are also beginning to move from total dependence on their caregiver towards a growing sense of self. Parents fully understand the “strong will” of a toddler, and at around 2 years of age, they love to participate in self-chosen tasks. Insisting on completing tasks alone, toddlers are showing a desire to free themselves from dependency. Music can provide a valuable tool for children to explore their independence. For example, playing different developmentally appropriate instruments presents cause and effect as they see what sounds they can make with them.

Repetition is Essential to Learning 

Children love to repeat enjoyable experiences, and this is an important aspect of both learning and teaching. While allowing them to enjoy the experience over and over, the repeated action boosts both cognitive as well as muscle memory. Often with deep concentration, children repeat tasks of their own choosing until they have mastered it and established control. It is then that they look for other ways to put the actions to work. Music is a wonderful tool for providing children with both a repetitive learning task, but also a means by which to take those tasks and add their own creativity.

In the first years of life, children use these mechanisms to understand their world and grow to free themselves of total dependence on others. Music, along with movement, can provide caregivers and early childhood music teachers with powerful tools to assist in this crucial stage of child development. In our next blog, we will explore the role of adults in the child’s environment, and how to encourage these mechanisms for both the physical and psychological well-being of the child.  

 Much of the content for this post was based on the introduction to Family Music for Babies and Family Music for Toddlers, an early childhood music curriculum developed by Musikgarten.

An Open Letter to Musikgarten Teachers

Down the river, O, down the river, O, down the river we go….

down the river, O, down the river, O,  down the Ohio….

When everything started to change this past March, I was teaching several children whose parents had paid for a full 45-week year of lessons. Like many teachers, I moved everything online, thinking it would be temporary. I recall setting up seven weeks of Zoom meetings for each class and every private student, and laughing with a co-worker that seven would be more than we would need.

The river is up and the channel is deep….

I was up for the challenge, operating in a sort of “emergency mode”, happy to apply what I knew about teaching online to my own studio, assuming it would be for a short time. The first few weeks were full of successes, and I participated in worldwide music education forums to address online teaching strategies and best practices during a pandemic. I was going full steam, with little let-down.

…the wind is steady and strong….

In May, we reached the end of the school year, and I noticed many of my colleagues “calling it a day” on their online teaching. Easy for them to say, I thought, but my families go until August 1! I kept moving forward- adapting, learning, changing my approach, talking to parents and making every connection I could online with the children. Parents were tired, children were at one moment frenzied, the next, glazed.

…O, won’t we have a jolly good time, as we go sailing along?

I shifted some of my thinking to create order and purpose for parents and their children. I held an online Parent Orientation. I trusted the Musikgarten curriculum, and kept purposefully applying the tried-and-true philosophies of music learning. And soon, the children started simply amazing me. They learned, they listened, they sang, and they danced! We laughed, improvised, and played games. Parents began smiling more, dancing more, participating more.  

After a particularly engaging and enjoyable class, I went for a walk, on a bit of a “high” from the joyful music-making that had just taken place in our Cycle of Seasons class. Suddenly, I realized that I don’t actually have a choice- I must keep teaching, even if it’s online for now. Why? Because the children don’t have a “Pause” button. Children are going to keep growing. Like the water in Down the River, the current continues to flow! I have to set aside my frustrations, my desires, my dislike of the “screen”, and my longings for in-person teaching, because …the children can’t wait. They can’t just “pause” and pick it up later. The current is flowing, and I don’t want to miss any of it, or rob them of the nurturing gift of music at this time or any time.

I reflected on all that happens in a normal Musikgarten class in just 8 to 10 weeks. As the passionate Musikgarten teacher that you are, I invite you to do the same. Think of the strides the children make in that time, all while they are developing and growing in every way. We always are aware that we teach the whole child- so picture the children going 8 to 10 weeks without the influence of music and movement. That is a dismal picture! We really cannot afford to short-change them. They need us.

It’s not about me as a teacher; it’s about what I can bring to these students as they continue to grow and develop. Sure, they may be able to physically wait for in-person, but at what cost? Developmentally, there is no waiting. They are growing – with us or without us. Let’s be with them to bring to them what they need as they sail along in their ever flowing and deep current.

Contributed by Amy Rucker: Musikgarten Teacher Trainer, teacher, and past President for the Early Childhood Music and Movement Association (ECMMA)

Understanding the Nature of the Young Child in Teaching Music

Maria Montessori, the acclaimed Italian physician and educator best known for the pedagogical philosophy that bears her name, once wrote “follow the child.” The statement is acknowledgement that children have their own particular pattern, of which careful observation is key to understanding in the classroom. Many childhood music programs approach and develop their curricula based on this philosophy. But the story, however, of each child begins even before the classroom – with the family in the home. At birth, babies are immediately exposed to a world of senses, each of which influences their process of self-construction. The environment in which they are submerged has a fundamental effect on the rest of the child’s life. Over the next several posts, we will explore how those early years are so formative, what influences that growth, and how the role of parents and caregivers is so important.

Phases of Childhood Development

Throughout time, psychologists and academics have sought to divide childhood development into phases, stages, or periods. Whether it is Piaget’s 4 stages of Cognitive Development, Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development, or Montessori’s Sensitive Periods of Development, each differs slightly from each other, either in behavioral approach or developmental milestones. But all of these agree that the most formative stages occur in the earliest part of life. While there is slight variation in the exact milestones, for discussion we can identify two major phases in childhood development:

Phase 1 – From birth to age three are years of intense activity and absorption.

Phase 2 – From age three to six years is a time to consolidate the gains from the first period

Whether cognitive or social, there is no more significant phase in human development than these early years, and even more influence is placed on the first three years of life.

A Child’s First Three Years are Critical

An incredibly complex stage of development takes place during the first three years of life, as a child becomes consciousness of being separate from others and builds competencies off of stimulating experiences. In the creative process from newborn to three-year-old, a series of transformations take the child from helpless infant to becoming a confident person in his or her own right. During this time they experience a growing sense of selfhood with an ability, through language as well as mobility, to communicate their individual needs and desires.

This formation is possible at a pre-conscious level because nature directs the development in the earliest stages of childhood. These are “critical” periods, where the developing child focuses on the necessary factors in their environment that direct the work of inner construction. The first three years of human life are so critical because it is a period in which intellectual growth rapidly occurs and cognitive functions are being established. Therefore, early experiences within an interesting and stimulating environment promote optimal development physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually and intellectually.

The Senses are the Child’s Window to the World

Even before they are born, babies have some senses in the womb. They can hear their mothers voice and music being played, they can also sense vibration when their mother rubs her belly, and often engage in self-touch as their skin gradually becomes more sensitive to stimulation. At birth, they begin to absorb their surroundings with enthusiasm during every waking moment. Through exploration and manipulation, sensory information (taste, smell, touch, vision, and hearing) is confirmed though movement. This sensorimotor exploration is a way for babies to learn without language and begin to develop the symbolic system that is the basis of concept formation and cognitive learning. In just three years, babies have organized what their senses have taught them in ways that encapsulate their own understanding.

The process by which infants and toddlers learn is based on an important and impressionable phase during the first three years of life. It is during this formative period that the child organizes information that has been gathered through their senses to begin to establish selfhood and identity. During this time and the next three years of life, several factors determine how the child will learn and grow physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually and intellectually. Continuing to explore the Nature of the Child, our next post will expand on the important factors that influence these critical formative years.

Much of the content for this post was based on the introduction to Family Music for Babies and Family Music for Toddlers, an early childhood music curriculum developed by Musikgarten.

The Philosophy of Early Childhood Music Education Programs

There has been a great deal of research and publication on the importance of music in early childhood development. Whether it is the educational, social, or emotional benefits that exposure and participation in music provides to children throughout their development from birth, there is an even deeper and more transcendent component that is not as easily measured. In the most basic terms, all of these musical benefits are greater than the sum of their parts, and have been ingrained in humanity since the earliest recorded times. This holistic, “whole child” approach is reflected in many of the persons and organizations dedicated to providing parents and families with early childhood music curricula. The philosophy of early childhood music can be seen enthusiastically in the core beliefs communicated by Musikgarten, and serve as a good example of the approach:

All Children are Musical

Closely tied to human expression, body movement is a natural outlet for children to express feelings. Children begin communicating effectively through body language long before they can with spoken language. Parents and adults get a glimpse into a toddler’s perceptions of the world as they observe body language and the child’s musical sounds. These observations illustrate that all children are innately musical from birth, with a biological ability to sing and move rhythmically. When children are exposed to an active music making environment, they learn to make music both freely and naturally.

Music Meets the Needs of Children

Psychological studies tell us that children learn more in a pleasant and non-threatening environment. Music-making is a naturally joyful experience for both children and adults. Furthermore, the combination of music along with movement creates an even more pleasing experience for children and provides important benefits for social development. This is not a new concept, by any means, as music has been a central part of family and community in the varied cultures across the globe. So as children engage and enjoy a musical environment, they are more open and interested to learn about the world around them.

Music Makes a Difference

When we as adults look back at some of the most memorable times in our lives, we hear music. Whether it was lullabies to ease us to sleep, the birthday song, top pop hits of our era, or even a commercial jingle, music has been a memorable part of our lives. But we also saw the funding and emphasis on music education dwindling over the years. The good news is that music is once again being recognized by parents, teachers, and researchers as a way to improve overall development while decreasing learning problems and enhancing brain function. Music touches not just the “whole child,” but also has a positive impact on family and the building of our community. 

Music Making Belongs in the Family

Providers of music curriculum for children understand that parents make the best teachers. In this digital age, with so many online and screen-based offerings, many well-meaning parents have placed too much faith in technology. Often the result is missing out on the joy of simply being with each other. However, parents and the public are becoming more aware of these consequences. As a result, early childhood education programs are making greater strides to provide more opportunities for parents to learn how to interact musically with children at home. These tools encourage and empower parents to reap the benefits of early childhood music from the earliest age.

Programs that encourage music and movement with the family and community can help deepen a child’s appreciation for music and the natural world around him/her, building a foundation for life-long music making. The goal of the most beneficial early childhood music programs is to provide an appropriate musical experience through a carefully sequenced approach towards music literacy, allowing a child to participate fully in musical experiences of all kinds. The first step in this holistic approach to “following the child” through their musical growth starts in the earliest stages of life at home, making joyful sounds and movement together.

Five Basic Steps for Marketing Early Childhood Music Programs

With so many things needing attention at once, it is all too easy for owners of children’s music studios to lose focus on basic marketing principles that will help them ensure the ongoing success of their business. We often unintentionally get bogged down in the day to day activities, where more long-term plans are placed by the wayside. As a refresher, these five very basic marketing steps should be periodically addressed in order to help operators of childhood music programs stay on track and prevent “missing the forest from the trees.”

Step 1 – Setting SMART Marketing Goals

Goal Setting is the first important and crucial step in the marketing strategy process. We have explored in the past how to develop SMART goals and achieve them, because if you don’t know where you want to be, how can you plan to get there? Traditionally, goal setting for businesses was recommended at one- and five-year intervals. However, depending on changes in your business environment (such as the Covid pandemic), you will want to review and adjust your goals as needed.

Step 2 – Determine or Realize Your Target Market

A target market is the particular group of consumers at which your children’s music program is aimed. For example, your overall target market may be families with young children. Market segmentation further divides the larger market into smaller, more defined categories, such as parents or grandparents of young children. Even further, you can divide them into demographic, geographic, psychographic, and behavioral segmentation. The more specific the segments, the better you can focus your marketing resources. If you don’t know where to start, a good place is your current customer base. What are their similarities in those four segment categories? Once you have determined your current customer, you can expand marketing efforts from there to similar audiences.

Step 3 – Developing a Marketing Message

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.” No matter how well you have identified your target market and segments, if you do not offer value to them through your music studio offerings, they will not enroll their child. Therefore, you must determine your value proposition or “pitch” in order to explain why they should enroll their child in your program. As a professional children’s music teacher, you are well aware of the numerous benefits that early childhood music education to children. The key is to create a concise statement or series of statements of this value called a Marketing Message. This is your “elevator speech” that should be consistent in all of your marketing and sales efforts and only slightly tweaked for different market segments.

Step 4 – The Competitive Positioning Statement

As with any business, it’s important to understand your competition. This may be indirect competitors that don’t offer the exact same product or service but yet compete for your target market’s resources. For example, children’s dance classes or sports programs that also enrich the lives of children may compete for your parent’s budget or time. It’s also important to know your direct competitors – other early childhood music programs. Think about how you can market or sell against both types of competitors, which is often summarized in a competitive positioning statement.  This is generally stated more in positive terms of the different benefits your business offers than negative terms such as “throwing shade” on your competitors. As with the marketing message, indirect and direct positioning statements will be slightly different.

Step 5 – The Marketing Mashup – How it All Comes Together

The final basic step in the marketing strategy process is to combine all the previous steps. In a nutshell, it is to present your unique value proposition to your target audience(s) in order to reach your marketing goals. A unique value proposition is how you combine your marketing message with your competitive positioning statement in order to differentiate your children’s music studio from its competition. Depending on the goals you have set and your marketing budget, you can determine the best way to reach your target audiences through the various marketing channels available. Remember that the more specific you are with your target market segments, the more efficient you will be with your marketing resources – whether in time or money.

While there are many other decisions to be made about implementing your marketing plan through sales and marketing channels, if you begin with these basic steps and refer back to them consistently, you will have a good marketing foundation for your early childhood music studio. Keep in mind, however, that marketing is both an inexact science as well as an iterative process. Fully expect that you will make mistakes along the way, but with a good marketing strategy, they will have less of a negative impact and make you that much smarter the next time around.

Virtual Children’s Music Classes – A Teachers Prospective – Dr. Joy Galliford

If you have not been following our blog series which explores different music teacher’s perspectives on teaching children’s music classes virtually, you can find them here. In this final installment of the four-part series, we interview Dr. Joy Galliford, Ph. D., Director of Development and Instructor for South Florida Music serving children in Miami and surrounding areas. Dr. Galliford, or as her students call her, “Dr. Joy” has over thirty-six years of experience in music education at every level. That experience, along with the addition of having won numerous awards and accolades in her field, Dr. Joy’s insight into how childhood music translates into a virtual environment is invaluable.

Let Musikgarten first thank you again for agreeing to share your knowledge with us. Tell us a little bit about your experience teaching the Musikgarten curriculum?

Dr. Joy: My journey began as a parent. Over thirty-one years ago, I attended children’s music classes with my daughter, Alaina. Then, my son, Nathaniel, began classes, and later participated in the Musikgarten Piano curriculum pilot with Dr. Mary Louise Wilson, his piano teacher. I am certified in each of Musikgarten curricular levels and teaching each one for over 25 years.

Please share with us how you came about offering Musikgarten classes online, and what influenced that decision?

Dr. Joy: South Florida Music is based in Miami. In March, it became evident that our public-school system would be closing due to the pandemic. While the exact date was unclear, we knew it was only a few weeks away. Knowing this, we aggressively began planning our transition to online classes. For us, it was extremely important that our children would have the opportunity to continue this new virtual journey with South Florida Music.

South Florida Music considers everyone involved in our program a family. This includes the children, parents and staff. We knew that it was critical for everyone’s mental well-being that music and the relationships formed remain strong and present. Because of this, providing an opportunity for the children to see, hear and enjoy music-making with their teachers as well as seeing the sheer joy of the experience in their home environment was paramount for us. Together, our staff shifted the in-person program to virtual within one weeks. It was truly an amazing task embraced and accomplished as a team for which I am grateful to have been a member.

Did you offer in-person Musikgarten classes before the pandemic? Did you have previous experience with an online video “production”?

Dr. Joy: Our program only offered in-person classes prior to the pandemic, but I had some previous experience with video production. However, online video production was a new task for me.

What would you say were the biggest challenges or hurdles around transitioning from an in-person children’s music class to an online format?

Dr. Joy: The challenges and hurdles in transiting our program to online classes were numerous. First, we had to determine how the weekly classes would be provided to satisfy our semester commitment for enrolled parents. Second, a decision had to be made regarding the technology and equipment needs to produce a quality product. Then, it took careful content planning so that the children and parents would be engaged during the lesson. Another challenge was keeping our staff present in the lessons so that our 280 plus enrolled children would be able to see “their teacher” and continue a level of connectivity. The final hurdle came in the area of production. The complexity and time intensive labor involved in recording videos; storing and organizing of the recorded clips; producing, reviewing and editing the lessons; organizing, planning and producing resource materials for the piano levels; plus planning occasional LIVE Zoom sessions to continue excitement and engagement was more than anyone could imagine.

What technical advice could you offer to someone who has never created or provided an online children’s music class?

Dr. Joy: My recommendation is to begin by watching others who are producing online music classes. Increasing your understanding of this product line, what is being offered in your area, what are parent expectations, and can or do you have the ability to accomplish an online music class is paramount. Taking this first step assumes that you already have knowledge of the curricular level that you are intending to produce. If you don’t, please stop and make sure that you increase your confidence and mastery level. Then, one must be realistic in understanding his/her personal limitations with technology coupled with maintaining a high-level of commitment, perseverance, and love for early childhood music education. All of these factors must be evident to contribute to your success story for our profession.

How do you think the interaction between teacher and parent/child differs for online classes vs. in-person? From your experience, what tips can you offer to make that interaction meaningful?

Dr. Joy: I thoroughly enjoy interactions during my classes with both children and parents. My class is a learning lab for all who are present, including me! Online classes have made this more challenging. I still consider myself the conductor of the “Interaction Symphony”, yet, I have had to be even more intentional in creating this experience from the onset. I have had to establish the form for my symphony to be created. This has required me taking the time to ask my parents the following questions:

  1. What device are you using to view the class?
  2. Is your sound loud enough to hear the music played and myself?
  3. Could you possibly create physical boundaries so that your child has a specific space during class?
  4. Do you have your instruments (i.e. shakers, sticks, scarves, etc.) ready to use?
  5. Could you please stay in this area with your child and be present so that your participation is the in-person model for them during the lesson?

These are just a few of the questions I ask to establish the form for my “Interaction Symphony”.  If parents do not believe that their child is engaged, they begin to ponder if or not their continuation is necessary and valuable. Therefore, it is my responsibility to make sure that they are ready for success by helping them to understand how to assist me in this journey. They have become the in-person interaction model instead of me. The symphony has increased to another level of complexity. I love helping them to learn how they can become an active participant in this “Interaction Symphony” virtually! They are a key player! What a pleasure to help them understand that together we are making an incredible impact in their child’s life!

 What things do you think are lost or gained from an in-person classroom setting to an online format?

Dr. Joy: A common topic for music educators has always been how to effectively compete with those offering other children’s programming. Understanding the research regarding the importance of music for brain development and mental well-being makes this crystal clear to our profession. During in-person classes, evidence was seen weekly. However, moving to an online format significantly decreases these moments not to mention the side conversations before or after class with parents or between parents reinforcing these impressionable moments. This is a loss.

Energy and inspiration is generated for me when I am with children! I just love being with people. Positive and fun conversations are quite enjoyable! Even sharing the troubling and sad moments add depth to our relationship and increase our trust in one another.  While I embrace the role of an educator and entertainer in this online platform, many may find this new reality uncomfortable for various reasons.

The hugs after an accomplished “ba-ba-ba” or “sol-mi-do” is priceless. This is just one of the pieces that I, personally, am missing greatly! If I feel this void, what are the children experiencing? From the beginning of our pandemic, this is one of the many thoughts that has weighed very heavy on my mind and heart. Whether in-person or online, I am extremely intentional in communicating how much I love my children, how proud I am of them for anything that is accomplished, and how thrilled I will be to celebrate with them in-person as soon as we are able. Any life experience can have losses or gains. We, the believers and advocators, must find a way to move forward and continue the making music with our children.

Do you feel like once it is safe to do so, that you will go back to in-person classes only, continue with online only, or a mixture of both? Why?

Dr. Joy: South Florida Music will definitely offer in-person classes when we believe all will be safe to do so. We will also offer a component of online programming as well. While we believe strongly in the value of in-person classes, we also know that this pandemic has shifted the paradigm of education delivery. For this reason, as well as the safety concerns raised by parents and staff, we will need to accommodate both.

We would like to thank Dr. Galliford, as well as the other participants, in this series. Their unique and experienced perspectives help Musikgarten to provide a supportive community of children’s music educators and business owners who are working towards the same goal of instilling the gift of music into young minds and hearts.

Dr. Joy Galliford, Ph. D., is the Director of Development and an Instructor for South Florida Music and the Executive Director for the Friends of South Florida Music Foundation. She received the prestigious 2010 Florida College Music Educator of the Year Award from the Florida Music Educators Association, and is a nominee for the 2019 Children’s Trust David Lawrence Jr. Champion for Children Award. To find out more about Dr. Galliford and her studio(s), click here.

Virtual Children’s Music Classes – A Teachers Prospective – Part 3

This is our second teacher spotlight in our blog series about virtual teaching early childhood music in the wake of Covid-19. Today, we interview Anthony Williams, Director of the Early Childhood Music School in Williamsburg, VA., and certified Musikgarten teacher.

Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little bit about your experience teaching the Musikgarten curriculum?

Anthony: Our program was established in 1989 by Cindy L. Freeman and we recently celebrated our 30th school year! This year will be my 4th year teaching Musikgarten classes. I have worked with all keyboard levels, Around the World, Cycle of Seasons, and the Family Music for Toddler series – Sing (Play, Clap, Dance) with Me. However, I would say I spend most of my time teaching the various keyboard levels.

Please share with us how you came about offering Musikgarten classes online, and what influenced that decision?

Anthony: Like many of us, our program was forced to stop in person classes – so the pivot to online classes was a must. Our school staff has leaned on a shared Google drive for years to help teachers find resources for lessons, well written home assignments, and much more. Since we had to pivot to an online platform we built from what we had, creating Google classrooms for each level and providing a shared folder for those enrolled in the class.

Did you offer in-person Musikgarten classes before the pandemic? Did you have previous experience with an online video “production”?

Anthony: Yes all classes were in-person pre-pandemic. I would not say I had any video “production” skills. However, I do have an extensive background in sound design and working with studio style recording. These programs have similar layouts and principles, but there was still a learning curve.

What would you say were the biggest challenges or hurdles around transitioning from an in-person children’s music class to an online format?

Anthony: Communication! Not that I wasn’t sending emails, calls, and text, but that the parents were getting slammed by their school systems being closed and doing things online. So many of our families were in survival mode that I would constantly hear back the words “Sorry it took me so long to get back with you.” I felt that the best thing was to say “I understand” and ask how we could help.

What technical advice could you offer to someone who has never created or provided an online children’s music class?

Anthony: Take advantage of what you can do instead of what you can’t! Not everything we do in class translates online. I found pre-recorded lessons in smaller clips and short skits to be family favorites. Don’t expect each student to sit in front of a screen the same amount of time they would participate in class. In fact, Musikgarten prides itself on limiting visual learning and focuses on other skills. So, if you have to use a video, use it with the intent to enable them to do something away from the screen.

How do you think the interaction between teacher and parent/child differs for online classes vs. in-person? From your experience, what tips can you offer to make that interaction meaningful?

Anthony: I have felt that there has been more time for parent “coaching.” I have tried to show how they can use this time of social distance to dive into the lessons with their own children more regularly. For the kids… the smaller the virtual meeting the better. This allows for more interaction between each student and myself, as well as the kids with each other.

 What things do you think are lost or gained from an in-person classroom setting to an online format?

Anthony: Dances, ensemble develop, and group singing are all difficult things to achieve online. However, making sure that a grown up is present for dances, providing opportunities to build virtual ensembles, and call and response singing between two people have been the substitutes we have used.

Do you feel like once it is safe to do so, that you will go back to in-person classes only, continue with online only, or a mixture of both? Why?

Anthony: I feel like we will keep components filmed teaching points as part of our resource material for parents. We found that some of our keyboard families that were struggling in class found this very helpful because the adults had a better idea of how they could help. Since our program runs several classes at once, it is not uncommon for a parent to be in a parent and me class with a younger sibling while older children are in Keyboard classes.

Musikgarten would like to thank Anthony again for sharing his experience and advice into how childhood music education teachers can continue offering inspiration and instruction to children when in-person teaching is not an option. Stay tuned for another insightful interview in our next blog post.

Anthony Williams is Director, and an early childhood music instructor at the Early Childhood Music School (ECMS) a weekday ministry of Williamsburg United Methodist Church. He holds a B.A. in Music from Randolph-Macon College and a Masters of Music in Composition from George Mason University. He currently is the director of the Children and Youth Music Program at Williamsburg United Methodist Church. To find out more about Anthony and ECMS, please visit here.

Virtual Children’s Music Classes – A Teachers Prospective – Part 2

In this second installment exploring the challenges and reflections on teaching a virtual early childhood music class, we continue our interview with Rebecca Cauthron of East Dallas Children’s Music. A certified Musikgarten teacher, Rebecca provides her experiences, tips, and ideas to help other teachers and parents of children’s music classes to navigate through social distancing while still maintaining a valuable connection between teacher, students, and parents. To find out more about Rebecca and the team at East Dallas Children’s Music, please see the end of this interview:

In today’s continuation of our interview, Rebecca covers specific technical issues and tips for teaching virtual children’s music classes, as well as reflection on how this online teaching format differs from in-person teaching:

As many of us know, keeping young children’s attention during an in-person classroom setting is hard enough. What technical advice could you offer to someone who has never created or provided an online children’s music class to make the experience better for the children, teacher, and parents?

Rebecca: First, the tips I offer to parents are:

  • Don’t face the camera towards a window. It backlights the image and all a teacher sees is shadows. Light coming from the front or above is best. It is important, still, for the teacher to see the student and the child does love to see themselves, too, but they quickly get over it!
  • A laptop at arm’s length is best for the child’s viewing. The parent can control the mute button and the child can have the teacher in view without being too far back to create a distraction. If using Zoom, have them put the “speaker view” on so the teacher is always big (mostly for children under four.)
  • The camera needs to be approachable for the child, so they can interact closely with the teacher. If needed, the parent can cover the keyboard with a piece of paper taped to the sides (A cloth or a blanket could overheat the computer.), and finally…
  • Placing the computer on a box, the floor, a step stool, or a short table is preferable for the young child.

For teachers, my advice is to first follow all of the recommendations above, and also

  • Make sure you are very well lit. A ring light or photography lights really help. The better the children can see you, the more effective you will be. Also, have your computer on full brightness, because it will illuminate your face in addition to the other lights. Make sure the room is very well lit. Close any drapes and black out as much outside light as possible, unless it is in front of you and the camera.
  • A webcam will give you the most ability to fine-tune the video appearance; it will also give you a wider viewpoint and the ability to move it around. Sit a little less than an arm’s length away from the camera. Don’t be concerned about your entire body being in the camera, because it is your face that is important.
  • When you are standing up and moving around, shifting your camera up to get your head and as much of your body as possible is fine. When everyone is moving, they are not really looking at you anyways (except for those toddlers who are fascinated by the movement they see on the screen).
  • Turn off your ceiling fan and put devices on do not disturb. The ceiling fan creates moving shadows, choppy sound, and a breeze on your hair.

Teaching children’s music encompasses and utilizes nearly all, if not all, of the senses. Delivering those over the internet can often be tricky. What technical tips can you offer about delivery that makes the online experience better?

Rebecca: First, sound and internet capabilities go hand-in-hand. This is in regard to both the giver and the receiver. A computer on wi-fi is best. Do not go through a phone’s LTE or 4G because it will not be stable, reliable, or fast enough. The student will have a better experience if they do the same, but the teacher definitely needs to be on a fast wi-fi connection. Make sure you are in range, and if it is weak, put a booster near your teaching area.

To assure connectivity, I like to run a speed test like www.speedtest.net. The experience is best with symmetrical upstream and downstream. Ping (measure latency/delay) and that will vary slightly from student to student, but it mostly tells you the time that it takes to go there and back, so-to-speak. This is reflected in the slight delay we experience and why we can’t sing together. When singing and keeping a steady beat, remember that they hear you in real time, just a second delayed, so just keep on singing and tapping. They will not be with you and they will end after you, but not on their end. When having them echo, audiate their response and continue. Don’t wait for them to finish. It is EXTREMLY helpful to have a practice class with a close friend(s) or relative(s) and have them record so you could hear and see what they are hearing. If you have been teaching virtually for a while and have not done this, you may be in for a shock!

Also keep in mind that for classes below age 4 and maybe some older classes, no matter how good you think you sound, if you do not have everyone else on mute, it will sound broken up to your class, even with high quality mics. There will always be a child louder than you or an unexpected loudness that will inevitably interrupt your stream! I still have to use the mute button with my younger classes, but for my older kids, I never have to use it, because my voice always cuts though as the prominent speaker in the room. In the least, I would recommend getting a microphone that can travel with you.

For an excellent example and demonstration of Rebecca’s sound system click here.

How do you manage playing music/recordings during the class?

Rebecca: I have a separate computer that feeds into a mixer so I can have my music set-up and ready to play without having to share my screen or type it on the computer that is acting as my camera. This is preferred, but highly unlikely that this is a possibility. I just happen to have a techy husband who was a sound engineer and did stage lighting! The second-best option is to simply share your screen and optimize it for listening to music. My least favorite option, but is still audible, play music directly from your computer. It is grizzly, tinny, and bumpy, but it is audible. Before you start class, you’ll want to always make sure your parents/students can hear the music. Ask them to give you a thumbs up if they can hear it. If they can’t, check the volume on your computer. Make sure it is turned up all the way.

What about a choice of video conferencing platform? The options out there can sometimes be overwhelming?

Rebecca: When using a video conferencing platform for the first time, become familiar with the platform and its safety features. Look at all of the features for sound and video and any advanced features. If you don’t understand what they are, google them. Watch how-to-video guides on how to use the platform and research pros and cons. A little bit of time taken to find all of the features can save you a great deal of time in the future. And the more you know about the platform, the more you can help your students’ parents with their questions.

It sounds like you have really set things up well for teaching music on an online environment. Now that you have a good bit of experience in virtual teaching, what things do you think are lost or gained from an in-person classroom setting to an online format?

Rebecca: The biggest fear and take-away that I had during our initial trial last year, which prompted my initial blog on virtual classes (Part 1 and Part 2), was that the child would develop behavioral patterns and resistances that otherwise would likely have been redirected and thwarted by the teacher.  I saw in my own son such different personalities in the class and at home. I maintain that if I were not a teacher myself, it would be challenging to be responsible for singing along with my child (learning the songs), redirecting my child, making sure all of the materials are ready to go, and being a joyful presence in the class. It is much easier as a parent to attend the class with the child and just be an active participant alongside them. It is much easier to model when you are in a room where everybody else is also modeling for their children; the children look around and see what the other children are doing which leads to learning decisions. I think that is the most important life changing aspect that is lost online on all levels is: Interactive, interpersonal learning decisions. I also think there is a lot less singing going on the other end of the screen. They know that they can hide behind their mute button!  Again, when all of the other children are singing, it is more fun, valuable, self-correcting and rewarding to sing along. The confidence goes way down when they are in a room by themselves (parents and students)

Also, it is much, much, much more difficult to teach keyboard online, although, I find that I am having the children use their words to figure things out. When I am teaching in-person, it is hard to be patient and let them discover for themselves; online makes it almost impossible for me to help them too much! I miss ensembles. I miss class resonator bar “Scoot, Scoot, Scoot” turns. I miss using the physical aspects of my teaching room with the children (go sit in this corner for this activity, put your paper under your name and crawl to the poster, etc.) I even miss the smell of their stinky little feet when they take off their shoes to come into the classroom. I miss their eyes looking up at mine, or not! I miss, most of all, the random conversations that pop-up during class. This can’t be replicated.

We understand that the virtual format of teaching has been a necessity for many more than a choice, and most teachers would much rather be face to face with their students. Keeping that in mind, are there any things you find you have gained during this conversion?

Rebecca: What is gained by online teaching is a focus and a more condensed direction towards a goal through each activity. I have to work much harder online to make the activity musically meaningful; I have been teaching for almost 25 years in an interactive classroom! You can’t just holler out, “Betty, how should we move next?”  Online, you almost have to take suggestions all at once and then remember them! I digressed to what is lost, but my point is that I have to work much harder to come up with new “tactics” in order to teach the goal, therefore, it is usually much more detailed, thought-out, and relevant. I obviously gain control of my classroom, because behavior is not really my issue anymore. There is a lot less interpersonal play between the children which is wonderful and sad all at the same time.

So, do you feel like once it is safe to do so, that you will go back to in-person classes only, continue with online only, or a mixture of both? Why?

Rebecca: We are without a doubt going back to in-person classes as it provides the essence of our program: Socially, emotionally, and cognitively making music together.  The bonding between the students, teachers, and parents form the strong foundation of musical development. From a parent’s perspective, in-person teaching is a shared goal of giving their child the gift of music and learning a little bit themselves along the way. In an in-person setting, teachers earn the students’ trust from an early age and the students realize that music, love, happiness, and the teacher give them the confidence to learn, grow, try new things, and challenge themselves. It is extremely difficult to form this kind of bond through a screen. If it is the only way for a while, so be it, but we will do so with our hopes for the future that we can make music physically together.

From the numerous quality instruments, multiple part ensemble building, being part of a common interest group, pitch matching while they are playing the resonator bars, running and playing together in real time, manipulating physical space while we are all rolling on the floor to the sweet eye contact made when they first enter the room and when they say their goodbyes, it makes a difference to be there. But the truth is, we don’t know what is going to happen even in the near future. We need to keep our options open and understand that virtual learning, I believe, is here for good. There may be options for hybrid studios; in-person classes, but if you are out of driving range for the class, then an online option would not exclude those who live in rural communities. I have always believed in equal access when it comes to music education. I often thought how wonderful and valuable it would be to teach flute to students in extremely rural communities with no access to private teachers. So, would I teach a Musikgarten class to students in communities that lack a Musikgarten program? What will this new age of teaching look like? That is for another blog.

Thank you again for participating in this interview. I am sure that many teachers and parents will find your experience and insights here extremely helpful as they navigate the difficult situation educators find ourselves in today.

Rebecca Cauthron is an early childhood music educator at East Dallas Children’s Music, a flute instructor for Duncanville, TX ISD, and an adjunct flute professor at Dallas College Mountain View Campus. East Dallas Children’s Music, established in 1989 and founded by Cathy Mathia, offers a full range of Musikgarten classes from Birth through age 9 and adults. Cathy and Rebecca are joined by Musikgarten certified teacher Jaycie Skidmore at East Dallas Children’s Music. For more information on East Dallas Children’s Music and its talented and dedicated staff, click hereClick here for a full studio bio.