Category Archives: Vitual Music Classes

An Open Letter to Musikgarten Teachers

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

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

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

The river is up and the channel is deep….

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

…the wind is steady and strong….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virtual Children’s Music Classes – A Teachers Prospective

This is part one of a two-part interview with Rebecca Cauthron, certified Musikgarten teacher at East Dallas Children’s Music. Rebecca shares her experiences and insight into translating in-person children’s music classes to a virtual environment as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. For more on Rebecca and East Dallas Children’s Music, please see the end of this interview:

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

Rebecca: I have been teaching Musikgarten classes since 1997 (23 years). We offer Musikgarten classes from birth to Year 3 Keyboard students. I have taught all classes through Keyboard Year 2. Whereas I am able to teach all levels, my specialties are Music Makers at Home and Music Makers Around the World.   

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

Rebecca: It was a forced decision due to Covid-19.

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

Rebecca: Initially, last year, we attempted a class by video with my son, because he was getting over being sick (contagious) and could not attend class, so we attended virtually. It was a huge learning curve for Cathy and me. After analyzing the outcome, we concluded that there would be some potentially detrimental behavioral, social, and musical issues that could result from courses being taught on-line. This was discussed in the context of being on-line and then returning to in-person classes and the resulting behavior of going back and forth. Fast forward six months later, Covid hit and we needed to continue classes through the spring, but our teaching location closed and everybody was quarantined. We wanted to continue to bring music into the lives of our families and give some normalcy to the children. Video production was a huge concern as we wanted to connect with the students as clearly as possible. We worked diligently together to find solutions to lighting, webcams, microphones, conferencing platforms, and PARENT COMMUNICATION/EDUCATION to try to create the easiest and most lifelike class possible.

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

Rebecca: I remember the day I went to our teaching location just before quarantining. I had one hour to grab everything I needed for the rest of my spring teaching. I packed my car with as much as I could fit and I now use my closet shelves as my instrument and materials storage facility. My shoes and sweaters were not happy about this! On a more serious note, the biggest challenges that I faced were creating instruments from objects that children could find at their house, and, more importantly, it was asking myself “what do I want to accomplish” with each piece of music, poem, and activity in the curriculum. After establishing the goal, I created an online experience for each activity that would be appropriate, meaningful (emotional), and valuable (cognitively) to each family and child.

The pacing is also a challenge, because you do not get the same feedback from students and so the class tends to feel as if it needs to go faster than it should. For pacing, “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” is my guide. I calm myself down to “Fred time;” Slower, well-thought out speaking with smooth transitions from one activity to the next. The computer screen is stimulating enough and there are so many distractions in their home space; it is so important to draw them into your world for the special time that you have with them each week.

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

Rebecca: Many parents are desperate right now to keep a sense of normalcy for their children and being home so much of the time gets long and lonesome. Because of this, they are very excited to get online and participate with their child or help their child participate in the music class. The biggest difference between in-person and online are the distractions: From the random dog walking through the room, to toys lying around, to couches that beg to be climbed on, they are all part of the home environment that the child is comfortable with and is used to not having much structure or restriction. I can imagine what is going on in the head of the child: Now, Ms. Rebecca is on a computer screen IN THEIR OWN HOUSE (how exciting!) personally speaking to them and they want to show you everything; or, they wonder and get distracted by a toy that they enjoy playing with; or, they hear their little brother playing outside and they want to go, etc. At their own home, it can be distracting, and we have no control over that as a teacher except to instruct the parents to find a room/area in the house that can be set up for the child’s room to attend class each week. It needs to be the same place and clear of distractions:  No toys, pets, siblings, etc. just items for music class.

Another interaction problem:  Many teachers have said, jokingly…sort of…what a wonderful thing the mute key is. I, personally, find it to be a crushing blow to interpersonal relationship skills that are developed in my class and a huge wall. I look for suggestions at all times, but there is something so impersonal when I have to teach most of the class on mute. Although, from the parent’s perspective (I have a three-year-old in music classes right now!), when we are muted it puts the responsibility on us to be fully engaged with the child and the class, but it is also hard to step back and not talk over the teacher.  The teacher can make the interaction more meaningful by allowing students to talk to you at the beginning and end of class, even if that means listening to everyone one-on-one while everyone else is muted. During class, reference each student at least a few times: Look to see how Sally is tapping her sticks, notice the smile that Bob has when he is bouncing, etc. Verbalize all of this so the children feel connected throughout. When teaching older students, this is easier.

In our next blog post, we’ll pick back up as Rebecca continues to share her experience with teaching virtual children’s classes from a technical standpoint, as well as her thoughts on what is gained and/or lost from an in-person classroom structure vs. a virtual environment.

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

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.

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.

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!