Category Archives: Musikgarten Teachers

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 – 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.

Balancing Digital Media for Children at Home

With summer in full swing, and the pandemic still influencing parents work arrangements and social activities, we find ourselves asking the familiar question “How much screen time at home is adequate for my child?” Children’s music studio owners and teachers often get this question from their parents with the added caveat, does virtual educational time count as screen time?

To better answer this question, lets first understand what “screen time” actually means. Medline Plus defines screen time as a term for sedentary activities performed in front of a screen, such as watching TV, working on a computer, or playing video games. Note that the operative word here is sedentary, meaning children are being inactive physically while sitting down. Keyboard, mouse, remote, or game controller use are not considered physical activity in this definition.

So then, how much screen time should be allowed to children per day? For years, The American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommended no screen time for children under the age of 2 years, and no more than two hours per day for children and teenagers. But recently, the AAP have adjusted their guidelines to acknowledge the role that technology plays in our daily lives, as well as the new reality of Covid-19. So rather than provide definitive recommendations on time children should be allowed on screens, the new guidelines emphasize the active role parents play in allowing screen time in moderation, and how to navigate the balance.

With the onslaught of Covid-19, parents are transitioning into work from home (and back again) while trying to figure out childcare responsibilities. Similarly, schools are trying to juggle social distancing and remote learning. As a result, a good portion of childrens education has transitioned to online and virtual delivery. Understanding this necessity and its additional challenges, the AAP and other health care organizations have offered parents some flexibility and more general guidelines for managing screen time for children at home:

  • Take an active role in what your child is doing on screens – Sit down with your child and review what they are currently doing online, using it as an opportunity to have discussions about what is acceptable in both the household and society as a whole. It’s also a good idea to supervise while your child is engaged in screen time, even if it is only an occasional glimpse over their shoulder.
  • Establish a healthy and balanced “Play Diet” for kids – Know and explain the difference between physical, social, creative, and unstructured play. A healthy play diet consists of a balance of these activities, and parents should learn how to expect, promote, and maintain it during long periods inside at home. Again, this requires attention and involvement from the parent, but once a balance is established, children will begin to manage it on their own.

Parents understand the negative risks that too much sedentary screen time can have on their children, including obesity, loss of social skills, irregular sleep patterns, and behavioral problems. With the transition of home life that so many families are experiencing through the Covid-19 crises, parents are taxed with how to deal with it responsibly in this new reality. While the official time limits for screen time have been loosened by health care professionals during this time, parents can follow a few guidelines to ensure that their children can continue to develop in a healthy and balanced environment.

Fun Family Musical Activities for Summer Days

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

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

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

Utilizing Downtime to Nurture your Children’s Music Studio

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

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

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

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

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

Promoting Health and Hygiene in Your Children’s Music Studio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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