Category Archives: music and movement

Key Issues in Early Childhood Education: Part 3

Content and Measurement of Success in Early Childhood Education

This final installment in our continuing series of key discussion topics that early childhood educators face in the classroom has touched on several traditional assumptions that educators often make. Debunking many of those academic myths, we have focused instead on successfully nurturing children through inspired music education. Most of these conclusions and deliberations are posed and explored in an article published in Early Childhood Connections by renowned neuroscience educator Dr. Dee Joy Coulter, Ed. D.  Our last blog topic considered the unnecessary urgency that some music educators place on curriculum and lesson plans.  This final post of the series will address the issue of content and measurement of success in early childhood music education.

The difference between children’s music instruction and education

In the academic world, there is much debate and passion about the difference between instruction and education. In these approaches, roles of teacher and student are reversed, where in instruction the place of the teacher is central whereas the student is central in education. These methods in academia are not mutually exclusive, however. Music instruction, for example, requires technical training such as the proper way to hold a violin or drum mallet. These skills establish an important foundation for future musicianship, creating both respect for the instruments, but also developing ergonomically sound movements and postures. Repetition of these, in turn, introduce children to a world of practice.  Children who have discovered the “practice effect” become much better equipped to deal with frustrations and failures in life without falling into a feeling of helplessness. Instructing these basic skills thus provides the music educator with a foundation of content that creates a fertile environment for children to inquire and explore musical concepts.

How do we measure the mastery of music instruction content?

There is a trend in education that puts emphasis on evaluation immediately after the lesson has been offered. Often referred to as summative evaluation, this is sometimes appropriate in the case that the lesson contained a range of facts or skills to be reinforced. However, the thinking of a child cannot be measured through a matter of facts or skills. So how and when should a children’s music teacher evaluate or measure success of musical thinking? It’s important for teachers to share ideas on these questions, but at the end of the day they must decide for themselves what they believe is worth teaching. Teachers often struggle with this concept, especially in early childhood education. Even early childhood education researchers continue to hunt for the most appropriate questions to ask in evaluating outcomes. Over time, educators should take time to understand what they really believe is worth teaching and learning in the early childhood music education field, and then continue to establish ways to measure these most important qualities.

General educators, and specifically children’s music teachers, are faced with several challenging issues that warrant continued exploration and discussion. Through this series of blog posts, we have endeavored to investigate some of those topics that we have found to appear time and time again. It is important for educators to contemplate and reflect on these issues as a way to reinvigorate and renew their commitment to teaching. As these important topics endure, so should the internal considerations and peer discussions by early childhood music educators. The gift of music to a child is something that warrants the devotion of those that are asked to inspire and educate.

This series of articles are based on the article DEFENDING the MAGIC: CURRENT ISSUES in EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION, which appeared in Early Childhood Connections and written by Dee Joy Coulter, Ed. D. For more information on Dr. Coulter and her insights into early childhood music education, visit https://embraceyourbrain.com/    

Key Issues in Early Childhood Education: Approaches to Children’s Music Curriculum and Lessons

Over the past several weeks, we have been delving into several key discussion topics or issues that early childhood educators face in the classroom. Much of this content is based on the observations and writings of neuroscience educator Dr. Dee Joy Coulter, Ed. D. The last installment explores how children’s music teachers can provide nourishment to children through soul, body, and mind, while feeding their developing and amazing frontal lobes. This next post will address the validity of two discussion issues related to children’s music curriculum and the role of lesson plans and content.

Discussion Topic One: The driving force behind music must be an elaborate curriculum with clear objectives and activities, for which content is the critical element.

Rudolf Steiner, Austrian scientist, thinker and founder of Waldorf Education, suggested in the early 1920s that parenting was quickly evolving from natural instinct to a more formal and conscious understanding. With all of the subsequent literature and available instruction available to parents today, it is plain to see that this prediction came to pass. This same evolution can be seen in the development of education, where carefully developed curricula with well-planned objectives and timelines of activities offer benefits to music educators and students alike.

However, it is important to understand that children are the critical element in the classroom, not the lesson plan. It is up to teachers to adapt and shift focus as needed based on each moment with students to provide the nourishment of mind, body, and spirit. Content and form represent only ten percent of the learning experience, whereas the “magic of the moment” represents ninety.

Discussion Issue Two: It is important to cover all the lesson plans in a timely manner or children will “fall behind.”

This is a longstanding conflict in the field of education – Do teachers educate or instruct? Do children unfold, or do they acquire knowledge? The root for the word educate is educare, and mean “to draw forth,” whereas the root word for instruct is instruere, meaning “to pile upon. While educating children, especially in music, there is a building process where we are adding knowledge and skills on top of one another. So, within reason we do tend to “pile upon them” rules and ways as they enculturate and prepare themselves to be new members of our culture.

However, if we are focused too completely on the time lines of learning particular content, children can quickly be overwhelmed. Staying attuned with what students are hungry for and offering them nutritionally sound material helps music teachers understand the next developmentally appropriate steps in the learning process. As early childhood music teachers, we want to leave children more inspired than exhausted.

As educators, we are often asked to place and emphasis on organization and metrics in the classroom. This is often done not for the purpose of the students or for education itself, but for outside stakeholders to have something to measure. We will tackle that discussion issue in our next and final installment. Many children’s music teachers already understand the lessons learned from the two issues discussed above. While well-designed curriculum and lesson plans have their benefits in children’s music education, teachers should stay attuned to the natural progression of each student and inspire them with nutritional offerings that feed mind, body, and spirit.

This series of articles are based on the article DEFENDING the MAGIC: CURRENT ISSUES in EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION, which appeared in Early Childhood Connections and written by Dee Joy Coulter, Ed. D. For more information on Dr. Coulter and her insights into early childhood music education, visit https://embraceyourbrain.com/   

Issues in Early Childhood Education:

Understanding Music Nourishment in Children

In our recent blog, we began a series to explore some key issues facing teachers of childhood music education. This installment will continue the series by first shining light on some false assumptions often made about how children’s music teachers can measure whether their students are getting musical nourishment from their class. These falsehoods include statements such as Music is about performing, and You can’t tell what a child is taking in, or You can only measure what the child produces or puts out. The observations and conclusions concerning these assumptions are based on an article by renowned neuroscience educator Dee Joy Coulter, Ed. D.

When considering nourishment for the human body, we do not need to measure food as it comes out to understand what went in. It seems silly then, that a child’s music nourishment can only be measured through performance. Dr. Coulter suggests that teaching music nourishes children in three ways: Their souls are nourished by the music itself, their bodies are nourished by the graceful movement, and their minds are nourished by the rhythm.

  1. Music feeds the soul of Children – It is important to choose the right kind of music to feed children’s souls. Music that lives in a culture has been loved for generations and makes one want to sing it over and over. Such music provides an opportunity to invite the soul to rise up and lift hearts, and music educators should embody those feelings when offering them to their students.
  • Music nourishes children’s bodies – Inviting children to move, but not just any movement, is important to nourishing their bodies. It is well known that rhythmic movement through music can help with anxiety and learning in children. When showing movement to children, music teachers should resist the urge to divide it into a series of frozen poses, which kills the graceful flow of the movement and creates a self-consciousness that may cause the child to lose their innocent wholeness.
  • Music feeds the minds of children – To nourish the minds of children, music educators need to offer rhythm, whether it’s through the steady beat of movement or syncopated beat of words. This pulse that gives life to the music is vital nourishment for a child’s brain, inspiring their hearts while stimulating growth of the frontal lobes.

The amazing gifts music offers children’s frontal lobes

We know that the frontal lobe in children’s brains is undergoing its main growth spurt between the ages of two and six, and does not surge again until almost 20 years of age. The frontal lobe thrives on rhythm and establishes a kind of “executive headquarters” for children who have been given a measure of rhythmicity, grace, and motor flow during that important growth period. The importance of this stage of nourishment is highlighted by just a few of the other amazing things the frontal lobe allows children to do:

  • Work with patterns and designs
  • Handle complexity and tap into higher order thinking skills
  • Plan ahead
  • Think about the consequences of actions before doing them
  • Developing “inner speech”
  • Develop impulse control
  • Have empathy for others
  • Maintain alertness
  • Sustain concentration
  • Develop a sense of initiative
  • Handle confusion and chaos without panicking
  • Work cooperatively in groups.

It’s easy to see how important development of the frontal cortex is during early childhood, and children’s music teachers can provide important nourishment to soul, body, and mind by lifting the hearts of children though modeling the love of music themselves.  

This series of articles are based on the article DEFENDING the MAGIC: CURRENT ISSUES in EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION, which appeared in Early Childhood Connections and written by Dee Joy Coulter, Ed. D. For more information on Dr. Coulter and her insights into early childhood music education, visit https://embraceyourbrain.com/    

How Early Childhood Music Classes Prepare Children to Learn Piano

Part 3 – Through SPIRIT and THE FAMILY

Many early childhood music programs take a very concentrated approach to teaching piano keyboard, focusing mainly on technique and notation. While these methods are competent in teaching piano skills, many do not take a holistic approach to teaching “the whole child” a true love of music and the instrument. The first two installments on How Early Childhood Music Classes Prepare Children to Learn Piano have focused on the Body and Mind. But taking educating the whole child a step further, more encompassing teaching programs also focus on the important aspects of SPIRIT and FAMILY.

How SPIRIT Influences Children’s Understanding of Piano Instruction

From the earliest ages across almost every culture, music has been practiced as an expression of the soul. Good music instructors understand this, and wish to cultivate a comfort level in their piano students so that they may better express their deepest musical thoughts.

Through music and other arts, children gain a sense of meaning and belonging as they experience beauty, joy, wonder, and order. Music has the power to influence a child’s inner world holistically by helping to bridge body, mind, and spirit in one place. Children gain joy and a sense of belonging when they sing and dance with peers and family. When adults join in the music making, a bond develops that extends this understanding to new dimensions and allows the musical spirit to thrive.

The most successful childhood music programs not only lay a solid foundation of basic skills and technique, but more importantly allows children’s love of music to deepen. Through singing and dancing and musical games, children have opportunities to laugh and play together. And as they repeat the same songs and games over and over again with both peers and adults, they grow to love them even more. Just as most of us enjoy singing familiar holiday carols and songs, children delight in repeating the songs they know. Teaching that sense of belonging in both peer and mixed age groups provides strong encouragement of further exploration on a musical instrument such as the piano keyboard.

FAMILY Support Encourages Children’s Success in Learning Piano

Parents and teachers alike understand that a supportive family is very important to children to succeed. Many young parents today who grew up with more passive electronic entertainment such as television and computer games often do not have a base of familiar childhood music that provides a greater sense of belonging to family and peer groups. Early childhood music programs that involve caregiver participation in class not only provide a means of belonging for the child, but for the adults as well. And as music is rekindled in their spirits, these adults can share and influence music in their children’s lives.

Families that share music, whether through singing and dancing together, going to concerts, or simply listening to music together reinforce the importance of music in children’s lives. When provided with such a supportive environment, they are further encouraged to explore creativity through musical stimulation. By participation in childhood music classes and helping with practice routines at home, parents reinforces the appreciation of the process, effort, and discipline needed to learn a musical instrument such as piano. Active family involvement in music making creates a foundation for successful learning in the future.

While technique, listening, and notation reading are extremely important in the process for learning any new musical instrument, other factors also influence how successful a child will be. Learning to love music and an instrument are inspired by a sense of belonging to the music in a holistic way. Nurturing the musical spirit and having a supportive family are highly important in how the child will apply technique to musical creativity on an instrument.

This commentary is based on the article The Well-Prepared Beginner: Prepared in Body, Mind, Spirit, and Family by Lorna Heyge, Ph. D. Dr. Heyge is a pioneer in childhood music instruction, as well as a piano teacher of many years.

How Early Childhood Music Classes Prepare Children to Learn Piano

Part 2 – Through THE MIND

Children’s piano instructors understand that a strong foundation in music from the earliest ages will help improve student’s progress and understanding of the keyboard later in childhood. We began by exploring how movement and the body influence this early instrumental preparation. As we continue to delve into how various areas of influence in early music education grooms children for the piano, or any musical instrument, we reveal how it prepares the MIND. 

Early Childhood Music Education Prepares the Mind for Piano Lessons

Is there a purpose to learning an instrument or reading music if a child has not first absorbed musical thoughts? For a very long time, expressive body movement was not linked to higher brain function in formal education. Until as recently as 1995, researchers and educators limited the health benefits of movement and exercise solely to the body rather than the brain. Now it is clear that movement is not separate from higher brain function or development, and that expressive movement combines body functioning with affective areas of the brain such as imagination. These neural connections can be seen in language, literacy, and dominance of ear.

  • Learning Musical Language through Songs and Singing – It is easy to understand that children would not be asked to speak a language they have not heard, nor read a language they cannot speak. It stands to reason that there should be no exception for listening to and “speaking the language of music” before learning an instrument. Asking a child to read and sing or play a song on an instrument before they have ever heard it would not give it meaning of familiarity and affinity. This could be one reason why so many young piano students learn to play only “notes” instead of expressing musical ideas. The large repertoire of songs children have sung with friends and family as well as in the early childhood education classroom equips them with a musical language that will eventually allow them to better learn and play an instrument such as piano.
  • Childhood Music Education Provides Foundation in Music Literacy – Through moving and singing children gain a multitude of experience with rhythmic patterns and steady beat, as well as tonal patterns and home tone. Just as a child learning to read looks for familiar patterns in words and sentences, so do they seek rhythmic and tonal patterns in music. This familiarity with musical motifs enable children to better express musical ideas, as their literacy brings harmony to mind and spirit. The ability to better grasp the patterns and language of a musical instrument is also influenced by dominance of ear.
Listening and Singing melodic patterns during a Musikgarten class.
Listening and Singing melodic patterns during a Musikgarten class.
  •  Listening Skills and Dominant of Ear in Learning Piano – Children who have participated in early music education have learned to be led musically by their ears. Piano teachers discover that they have better listening skills and aural preparation, allowing the eye to more easily recognize what the ear already knows. As one of the first senses to develop in the womb, the ear is dominant in early childhood as children learn language and familiar sounds. Discriminatory listening skills develop as they attune to important sounds in the environment, such as a mothers voice. Early childhood education programs promote these aural insights by teaching children to focus tentatively on a sound source while imitating sounds vocally. Understanding slight distinctions in sound is a vital foundation for all learning.

The ear, arguably the most vital sensory channel to most children’s learning, is the linchpin for Listening, speaking/singing, and balanced/coordinated movement. It is no wonder that early childhood music education is so vitally important in learning an instrument such as piano since music links the ear, the voice, and the body.

This commentary is based on the article The Well-Prepared Beginner: Prepared in Body, Mind, Spirit, and Family by Lorna Heyge, Ph. D. Dr. Heyge is a pioneer in childhood music instruction, as well as a piano teacher of many years.

Marketing for Summer Music Camps and Classes

With the summer quickly approaching and Covid guidelines continuing to relax for in-person instruction, parents returning to work are going to be looking for opportunities for their children while school is out. Although the official first day of Summer is not until June 20th, children’s music studio owners and teachers can get the jump on filling their summer camp and class rosters early with some simple, yet effective marketing approaches they can start on right away:   

Marketing for Summer Music Camp and Class Registration

  • The Low Hanging Fruit of Existing Customers – While the old adage that “it takes five times the expense to gain a new customer than to retain an old one” varies from business to business, the effort and expense that it requires to find a new customer is considerable compared to one you currently retain. The key to taking advantage of the “low hanging fruit” that current students and families present is through consistent and frequent communication.
  • Customer Communication is the Key – Because you have provided services to existing customers in the past, you most likely have their preferred method for being reached. Furthermore, because customers voluntarily purchased from you in the past, they have in effect granted you permission to contact them again. Often called permission marketing, this concept is valuable in how your communication is recognized. It is familiar, and therefore cuts through the bombardment of marketing messages we all receive on a daily basis. Whether its by email, snail mail, text, or phone call, your communication has a much better chance of reaching a customer who recognizes you. 
  • Categorize Your Audience to Customize Messaging – The more a marketing message or offer can be customized to its particular audience, the more likely that audience is going to respond. This is most easily applied to current customers. Your correspondence with them should have a much different, more familiar feel than if you were reaching out to new prospects. Using information that you know about that audience provides a more personalized message. For example, using the name of the music student or their last completed music class lets recipients feel special. A message to a new potential customer may be more about educating them on your music studio or the benefits of early childhood music education. The more you can categorize your target audience into segments, the more you can customize the message or offer.
Musikgarten Summer Marketing
  • Offer Incentives for Music Camp Registrations – With so much already on their plates, and so many program options for parents during the summer, offering an attractive incentive is often what gets them over the finish line to make the purchase. Early bird registration is a good way to increase response early in the process, even if you don’t want to discount your price. Simply using language to show urgency such as “availability is limited and on a first come, first serve basis’” or “registration is beginning to fill up,” increases action. FOMO, or fear of missing out, is a powerful motivation. Incentives can also be used to get new music students through tactics such as referral or buddy programs. Value provided to existing customers for referring a new student, whether it’s through discounted pricing or a free camp T-shirt, will help to gain new registrations. Children love to enjoy music camp along with a friend!  
  • Reach Out in Different Ways – If there was a single, silver bullet that marketers could use to get loads of new customers, the cat would have been out of the bag a long time ago. The key with most marketing campaigns is to “rinse and repeat.” This means presenting the offer to a target audience multiple times so that they recognize and/or remember it. Frequency, or number of times a marketing message is presented to the same audience, is important for retention of the message and offer. In addition to repeating a message through the same marketing channels, another good way to gain more frequency is through cross-marketing, where the same message is presented to the same audience, but through different ways. For example, you may post a referral program on social media, and also send it out through an email blast. In addition to providing more frequency, one method may be more effective in reaching a particular prospect than another.  

Summertime presents great opportunities for children’s music studios to provide kids with a highly enjoyable and entertaining activity while giving parents a much-deserved break. Savvy studio owners and teachers know to start early by offering opportunities to register. Current or past customers are the low hanging fruit to reach out to first, because they are already familiar with your business. Social circles of those audiences can then be expanded through targeted incentives through messaging frequency within the same and across different marketing channels.

Considering Resuming Childrens In-Person Music Classes?

March 20th marked the first day of Spring, as the sun officially crossed the equator. Figuratively, this has been a long winter for most of us. But with Covid vaccinations accelerating and the CDC releasing new guidelines for operating schools, there are more and more options for children’s music teachers to resume in-person classes. But, some music studio owners may not have the room to safely resume classes within CDC guidelines. However, with warmer weather approaching, there are some alternative places to consider for resuming classes which can also offer a good environment for teaching music:

Virtual Children’s Music Classes

It’s important to first mention that online classes are still an option. Many teachers have been successfully conducting virtual music classes throughout the pandemic, although it comes with its challenges. Although most teachers will agree this is not an ideal environment, some parents and studio owners will decide that they would prefer to wait a bit longer to return to the classroom.

Teach Children Music Outdoors

With warmer, sunnier days ahead, children’s music studio owners may choose to resume in-person classes outdoors as an alternative. As we know, nature teaches us about music in many ways, and in turn, music helps connect children with nature. Nature has inspired many great artist and composers over the years, and Spring is especially vigorous with new life and an orchestra for the senses. However, finding an outdoor space with enough room and quiet can be the tricky part. Here are some ideas for outdoor venues for conducting safe in-person music classes for children.

  • Parks and/or Public Spaces – Public parks and spaces are designed to accommodate many people while providing open space to all. Whether it’s a center city park that has a green lawn, or a covered picnic area in a municipal park, the open air and distance these provide can present a good opportunity for a fun and exciting return to music class. While most will allow, its always a good idea to check your local parks and recreation department to see if any permits are required.
  • Churches or Community Centers – Many local churches will have covered areas for outdoor worship, and are happy to grant permission to conduct a music class. You may even find an opportunity to offer faith-based children’s music classes to their congregation. While community centers are often operated by the same municipality as parks, some have independent management that administers schedules for picnic areas and other spaces. You can usually find out online, or by asking someone who is working at the facility.
  • Backyards – Some studios owners may have their own beautiful backyard space with plenty of room to conduct classes outdoors. Teachers also may consider reaching out to parents to see who would be willing to offer their yards or natural space. Or, it might be fun to rotate classes between different backyards, offering a new environment to explore for each class.

Teaching a Hybrid Children’s Music Class

One challenge for studio owners is that while they may have decided to once again conduct in-person classes, some parents who are engaged with online music classes will remain uncomfortable with the idea. There are many educators who are currently conducting in-person classes along with an online option, which poses its own set of challenges. It’s hard to provide the best advice on whether to offer this option or not, so communicating well with parents is key to understanding what is suitable in a specific situation.

As society continues to incrementally loosen its restrictions and Spring brings more opportunities for warm weather and outdoor music instruction, children’s music education teachers and studio owners have greater options for how to resume to in-person classes for their students. Working within recommended guidelines and close communication with parents is important to ensuring a smooth and safe transition back into the classroom.

The Listening and Movement Connection

Our series on how early childhood music programs influence Music Literacy at the Keyboard continues with the importance of body movement with music and listening. We have explored how singing a repertoire of familiar songs, as well as setting a good foundation of keyboard posture, are vital to instrumental education. Now the close relationship between music and movement complements these footings toward success in music literacy.

The Connection Between Music and Movement

Cultures all across the globe have used movement as the body’s expression of rhythm, which shapes the way we use and understand language. Children naturally desire and enjoy movement because it is exhilarating and energizing. A good foundation of understanding body manipulation helps them to play an instrument expressively.

Listening is vital to nearly all learning, not the least music education. And just as controlling body movement is more challenging for children today, so is learning to listen well. Developing a “listening ear” must compete with the increased amount of noise/sound and visual stimulation in a child’s environment.

Listening and movement are closely aligned through the ears two major functions. The first is vestibular, which controls balance, and thus nearly all movement. The second is the auditory, which directs hearing and voluntary listening. Therefore, it is vital to establish the important link between those two functions in early childhood music education.

Music and movement during a Musikgarten group music class.
Music and movement during a Musikgarten group music class.

How Movement Benefits Early Childhood Music Education

Rhythm and beat competency are emphasized in movement activities in early childhood music classes, particularly through tapping and drumming. Clapping, tapping one’s body, or using instruments such as rattles, sticks, bells or drums while singing helps to develop a child’s rhythm and beat. These, along with other group activities such as passing a beanbag in a song circle, brings children joy and social fulfillment. Drumming, in particular, has been a unique attraction for young and old alike in cultures all across the world. The tactile use of hands provides muscular memory while reinforcing the idea that the sound produced is directly related to the quality of the touch.

Dancing to recorded music as a group also provides a good opportunity for children to experience the flow of music while connecting to the larger community of their peers and teachers. In the most successful children’s music curriculum, teachers repeat these movement activities early and often so that the child in time feels free to express themselves through movement.

Early Listening Skills Make Children Better Musicians

Listening is defined as giving attention with the ear with the purpose of hearing. With the constant assault of noise and sound in our environment today, active listening is extremely important in order for children to concentrate. The very best training for listening employs the use of singing, chanting, and body movement to make the aforementioned connection between the auditory and balance/movement functions in the ear. Therefore, children’s music curriculum and teachers will continually engage in listening activities such as singing, reciting, and listening to music. The music teacher also instructs children to develop a listening posture that allows them to hear the music in their heads. This is particularly helpful at the piano, where body posture and hand position and technique are important for learning the keyboard. Through modeling and encouragement, the successful teacher is demonstrating attentive listening both through movement and posture.

Establishing and reinforcing the important connection between movement and listening helps prepare young children for playing any instrument. The union they feel between singing, drumming, and dancing will support the transfer of their understanding to piano. By introducing the keyboard as an extension of the body in this way, children learn to play the instrument musically – feeling the total experience of the instrument.

In our final installment of this series about Music Literacy at the Keyboard, we will see how all of these different foundational music teaching tools set children on the deliberate Pathway to Literacy

Much of the content for this post was based on the introduction to Music Makers: at the Keyboard, childhood music curriculum developed by Musikgarten.

Music Literacy and the Second Stage of Child Development

Merriam-Webster first defines literacy as simply “the ability to read and write,” but a second definition expands that to “knowledge that relates to a specified subject.” This is an important distinction, especially when considering childhood music literacy. In our next series of articles, we will explore how music literacy applies to the second stage of child development, specifically in playing the piano and instrument instruction. While most children’s music programs focus on music and movement in the first stages of development, many fall short of continuing the progress in the second stage of child development necessary to achieve music literacy.  

The Second Stage of Childhood Development

Developmental biologist Jean Piaget established the theory of phases of normal intellectual development from infancy through childhood. The second stage, which Paiget terms Concrete Operational, is where children’s thinking becomes less on themselves and more on their awareness of external events. Some experts argue that development is actually continuous, but Piaget did agree that the depending on the child, the age ranges could vary slightly. While Piaget defines the second stage of childhood development being from ages 7 to 11 years, our focus in this series of articles will focus on the 6 to 9-year-old child.

Ready to Face and Decipher New Challenges

From ages 6 to 9 years, the child has begun a new phase of development both physically and cognitively. They are eager to face fresh challenges and have a growing aptitude for the refined movement needed to play an instrument. Their sensory motor functions have been well-integrated over the last six years, and serve as a good foundation for abstract learning. They are starting to not be satisfied merely with knowing the name of an object, but having the desire to know the how and why of things. One result is that the child’s mind is now interested in symbols, patterns, and codes to explore. This in turn helps to develop an appetite for improvisation and cooperative learning with other children.

Children Love to be Part of a Group 

Beginning in the second stage of development, and sometimes earlier, children are self-aware and ready to become part of a group, especially with peers. A peer group setting becomes a place where the child can begin to learn rules, push limits, and test ideas. This important stage of identity has the benefit of teaching important social skills of how to work with others in teams.

Groups are considered very useful for learning things, as questions can be asked and addressed from different perspectives. This is why nearly all children’s education programs use group activities in the learning process. This is no different for childhood music programs. Children love being with and making music with others. The desire to contribute to the group requires deep concentration and absorption while teaching valuable lessons in cooperative learning.

Music Literacy through Children’s Group Keyboard Lessons

Learning the keyboard provides children with the cognitive challenges and group dynamic that they desire. Music literacy applied to piano playing is much more than reading and recognizing notation or finding the correct keys, but also gives meaning to those notes in a way that allows for composition and improvisation. It is a child’s desire to communicate that motivates them to further develop a deep relationship with the aural and written art of music. This aural approach to music literacy becomes the foundation which provides the child a delightful transition to the world of music notation and understanding. This aural-to-visual method of literacy allows children to understand and appreciate music in terms of its tonality, meter, and style, while further refining their ability to listen.

In our next installments, we will explore specifically how discovering the keyboard in a group setting can be very different from the mechanical drills and rote learning that traditional piano learning imposed.    

Much of the content for this post was based on the introduction to Music Makers: at the Keyboard, 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.