Friday, April 30, 2010

Compare and Contrast

Describe this dog in one word.

What word did you use? Was it difficult to pick just one word? After all, this dog has many qualities. Now pick one word to describe each of these two dogs.

Easier this time? Big and small, right? When teaching your little ones make certain to teach in opposites. Big/small, high/low, fast/slow, hot/cold, you get the picture. When children can compare and contrast two objects or two ideas it makes it much easier for them to understand. If you show your child a picture of this first dog and tell them it is big, do they really understand? Probably not. But if you show the second picture and show that one is big and one is small their brain is able to make the comparison and the distinction between the two. We do this in Kindermusik all the time. We compare and contrast fast/slow, loud/soft, high/low and many other concepts to help your child learn. Kindermusik has been around for over 30 years, the original mommy and me class, and the amount of research they put into each lesson is astonishing. I love to see children grasp a concept and Kindermusik has done a brilliant job of making certain I get to do that often.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Basic Needs

As a Kindermusik educator I am reminded that the first five years of a child's life are when all the little brain connectors (synapses for all you smarty pants out there) develop and flourish. These connectors set up your learning ability for the rest of your life which makes these first five years awfully important. The more connections = the greater potential. So what do we do to encourage the synapses? We introduce things to our child. Each time we introduce something new we create connectors. And repetition solidifies these connections. We introduce music, art, books, languages, different ways of moving. We put our kids in great preschools and mommy and me classes and we play and read and sing with them at home. By doing this we are meeting their needs. But when I think of meeting the needs of children I can't help but to think of how different that concept is to each person. My concern is getting my kids to take a bath, not trying to find clean drinking water. My concern is getting my kids to eat their vegetables, not whether or not my kids will get a meal today. Choosing a preschool, not deciding if my child should walk the six miles to school or stay home and watch the sheep. Getting them to bed on time, not whether or not they will live through the night. I am a blessed person. So what do I do about it? Well first of all it reminds me to give to those less fortunate. Clean water, healthy food, safe home, loving family; these are the basic needs every child should have. Brain connections can not be made without these. Secondly, it reminds me to be grateful and to take advantage of all the wonderful opportunities I have. I have hundreds of books in the house, do I read to my children every day? Thousands of songs on my i-pod, do I play music and sing to them daily? Shame on me if I don't. I am responsible for giving my child the best I can. "To whom much is given, much is expected." I'd love to hear what you do for your child to build their synapses?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What's the Buzz, Ms B? My Introduction

Well, I've finally caved, given in to writing a blog. Hi, my name is Brenda, to my students it's Ms B, to three great kids it's Mom, and to my husband it's, well let's not get into that. Yet. I am a Kindermusik instructor and much of what I have to say on here will be related to that. I strongly believe that music is a vital part of one's development. I also strongly believe in some other things. I believe motherhood can be the most difficult and the most rewarding job out there. I believe everyone should have and use a passport. I believe that there is a God and that He loves everyone equally. I am sickened by racism, child abuse, and hypocrisy. I believe all children should have a family, a safe home, food and clean water. Occasionally I have thoughts and opinions related to my beliefs and right here is where you will be able to find them. I hope you enjoy my musings, or better yet I hope they make you think.

How Music Benefits Children

"It's our time to sing together. Sing Hello, Hello!" A group of bright-faced of toddlers sits mesmerized as their moms clap and sing the welcome song in their Kindermusik class. We all know that music can soothe the savage toddler. But according to Don Campbell, internationally known educator and author of The Mozart Effect for Children, music also enhances intelligence, coordination, emotional expression, creativity, and socialization skills.

There's no guarantee your child will be composing symphonies by age 6. But Campbell does call music, particularly Mozart, "a power bar for the brain," not a frill but a developmental necessity in early childhood.

Why Mozart?
"His music is not oversaturated with emotion or rhythm. He doesn't overexcite the mind," says Campbell. "It's very balanced, clear music that can be used for many different kinds of noninvasive activities, depending on the age of the child-everything from meal time to sleep time to creating a good study environment."

If the thought of listening to Mozart 24/7 doesn't thrill you, don't despair. Campbell says kids benefit from exposure to a wide variety of quality music: folk songs, international music, hymns, jazz, children's songs, even rock music as a form of "sonic caffeine" to re-energize a child. Think of music like food, he says. "There are things that are very delicious that we like but we can't eat all the time. We need a balance in the ear as well."

Music Enhances Intelligence
At birth, a child's brain is in an unfinished state. Music plays a critical role in the process of "wiring" a young child's brain. With older children, music can create a good study environment and help a child learn information more efficiently. In fact, high school students who sing or play an instrument scored up to 52 points higher on the SAT than those who do not.

By now, you're probably wondering What tapes do I need to buy? But it's not simply a matter of playing music in the background to make your kid smarter, cautions Campbell. In fact, he encourages active participation of caregivers, especially when children are young. In other words, warm up those vocal chords and start crooning!

With young children, singing, chanting and rhythmic play can increase your child's vocabulary. Campbell encourages parents to make up songs about everyday activities like diaper changes and baths, turning a boring chore into a fun "sound break." As a child gets older, encourage her to invent her own songs.

If you can't carry a tune in a basket, don't despair. "I think there are musical qualities in all of us," says Campbell. Darren Muise of Kindermusik agrees. "I always say to parents, 'If you don't think you're a good singer, sing louder!'"

Music Helps Motor Development and Coordination
In young children, music helps pattern the movement of the body. "The ear's primary function is coordination and balance within the body," says Campbell. "And when we pace things with a musical beat, we are more coordinated."

Unfortunately, with more children spending time in front of television or computer screens, motor skills may not keep up with cognitive development. In fact, many children today are unable to keep a steady beat. These kids are also less likely to be successful on sports teams, warns Campbell.

Campbell recommends bouncing, swaying, clapping, and dancing with your child from a very early age. "Make a habit of creating musical moments, moving joyfully to your own drumming and chants, and playing active games with your child whenever you catch him on his feet." Let him experiment with objects that make sound-rattles, drums, spoons that can be banged against pans. (Earplugs optional.)

Music Increases Emotional Awareness
Everyone has experienced the emotional surge triggered by a meaningful song. Music can give can give children a place for their emotions, says Campbell. When there is fear, music can be soothing. When there is tension, music can calm a child. And as a child learns to play an instrument, music becomes a powerful vehicle for self-expression.

Music Strengthens Social Skills
The key skill in interacting well with others is listening. By making your child aware of the relation between sound and emotion in music, he can begin to also discern others' emotional state from their speech, says Campbell.

All children can benefit from group musical experiences to increase confidence and self-esteem as well as enjoy a sense of community. Darren Muise of Kindermusik describes a shy toddler in his class who was uncomfortable interacting with peers. After a few classes, his confidence soared. "If you can imagine a 4-year-old who can get up and sing in front of other people, you're talking about a pretty self-confident child," says Muise.

Music Aids in Relaxation and Stress Reduction
Martha Roberts, who has been bringing her daughter Emma to Kindermusik classes from the age of 3 months, attests to music's ability to soothe her child. "She listens to music each night before she goes to sleep and before she naps. It really calms her down."

For babies, Campbell recommends a 10-minute musical "bath" twice a day. Put a movement of Mozart, Bach or Vivaldi on and hold your baby closely while listening. Your infant will relax and soon develop an "ear" for music.

In stressful situations, such as a hospital stay or school-related anxiety, music has been shown to decrease heart rate, breathing, and lower stress hormones. Stress obstructs learning, says Campbell. By playing 10 minutes of classical music, parents and teachers can help children clear their minds for productive learning and studying. Mozart even helps children with ADD and ADHD improve focus and control their mood.

Music Enhances Creativity
Music lends itself to many creative activities, says Campbell. Stimulate creative thought in young children by singing a familiar song and leaving out the last word of each line. Your child will delight in inventing a new ending. Twinkle, twinkle little... tomato?

With older children, select a favorite Mozart piece and discuss what pictures, colors, or stories the music brings to mind for each of you. Then play the selection again, encouraging your child to act out these images with his body.

Nurturing Your Budding Musician
Campbell recommends that all children learn a musical instrument. Learning an instrument or singing in a group has been linked in many studies with improved spatial coordination, creativity, math skills, and even ability to learn a foreign language.

"That instrument may not be the piano or violin for every child" says Campbell. "It may be experimentation with movement. It may be simple percussion instruments. It may be learning to sing." Up to age 5, Campbell recommends group music classes such as Kindermusik which take place all over the country. "The intent of this is not to make children symphony performers," says Campbell. "It is to train the ear, eye and hand to coordinate."

With music education waning in schools, Campbell hopes that the research and educational tools in his books and recordings will begin a quiet revolution so that future generations can enjoy not only the educational benefits but also the exhilaration that comes from listening to and creating music.

"Music is a wonderful mind weaver," says Campbell, "and we have many opportunities in the early years to help orchestrate and harmonize the brains of our children with quality experiences."

For information on Don Campbell's books and recordings:

What is Kindermusik?

Kindermusik is a community of families and educators passionately committed to bringing music to children's lives through developmentally appropriate curricula, CDs, books, instruments, and activities.

Kindermusik's philosophy is founded upon rigorous research and our fundamental beliefs:
A parent or loving caregiver is a child’s first and most important teacher.
All children are musical.
The home is the most important learning environment.
Music nurtures a child's cognitive, emotional, social, language, and physical development.
Children flourish in a child-centered environment where activities are developmentally appropriate. Educators value the learning process—not the performance—of music making.
Every child should experience the joy, fun, and learning that music brings to life.

With 30 years experience in developing early learning curricula and products, Kindermusik is the world’s most trusted name in music and movement classes for children newborn to seven. Kindermusik curricula are based upon the principles of early development applied to developmentally appropriate practice as defined by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Plus, the Kindermusik philosophy is rooted in the work of early childhood development experts like Piaget, Montessori, and Greenspan. Our full curricula offer your child seven years of musical learning that involves every aspect of your child’s growth and development: language, motor skills, social skills, cognitive development, emotional growth, and musicality. Throughout the Kindermusik experience, a trusted and trained Educator will guide you and your child through every musical and developmental milestone and help you understand what is happening all along the way. Each semester, a new set of At Home Materials brings the experience out of the classroom and into your every day routines and rituals.

The above paragraphs are taken directly from the Kindermusik website. To find out more visit their website at

Twelve Benefits of Music Education

1. Early musical training helps develop brain areas involved in language and reasoning. It is thought that brain development continues for many years after birth. Recent studies have clearly indicated that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain's circuits in specific ways. Linking familiar songs to new information can also help imprint information on young minds.

2. There is also a causal link between music and spatial intelligence (the ability to perceive the world accurately and to form mental pictures of things). This kind of intelligence, by which one can visualize various elements that should go together, is critical to the sort of thinking necessary for everything from solving advanced mathematics problems to being able to pack a book-bag with everything that will be needed for the day.

3. Students of the arts learn to think creatively and to solve problems by imagining various solutions, rejecting outdated rules and assumptions. Questions about the arts do not have only one right answer.

4. Recent studies show that students who study the arts are more successful on standardized tests such as the SAT. They also achieve higher grades in high school.

5. A study of the arts provides children with an internal glimpse of other cultures and teaches them to be empathetic towards the people of these cultures. This development of compassion and empathy, as opposed to development of greed and a "me first" attitude, provides a bridge across cultural chasms that leads to respect of other races at an early age.

6. Students of music learn craftsmanship as they study how details are put together painstakingly and what constitutes good, as opposed to mediocre, work. These standards, when applied to a student's own work, demand a new level of excellence and require students to stretch their inner resources.

7. In music, a mistake is a mistake; the instrument is in tune or not, the notes are well played or not, the entrance is made or not. It is only by much hard work that a successful performance is possible. Through music study, students learn the value of sustained effort to achieve excellence and the concrete rewards of hard work.

8. Music study enhances teamwork skills and discipline. In order for an orchestra to sound good, all players must work together harmoniously towards a single goal, the performance, and must commit to learning music, attending rehearsals, and practicing.

9. Music provides children with a means of self-expression. Now that there is relative security in the basics of existence, the challenge is to make life meaningful and to reach for a higher stage of development. Everyone needs to be in touch at some time in his life with his core, with what he is and what he feels. Self-esteem is a by-product of this self-expression.

10. Music study develops skills that are necessary in the workplace. It focuses on "doing," as opposed to observing, and teaches students how to perform, literally, anywhere in the world. Employers are looking for multi-dimensional workers with the sort of flexible and supple intellects that music education helps to create as described above. In the music classroom, students can also learn to better communicate and cooperate with one another.

11. Music performance teaches young people to conquer fear and to take risks. A little anxiety is a good thing, and something that will occur often in life. Dealing with it early and often makes it less of a problem later. Risk-taking is essential if a child is to fully develop his or her potential.

12. An arts education exposes children to the incomparable.

Carolyn Phillips is the author of the Twelve Benefits of Music Education. She is the Former Executive Director of the Norwalk Youth Symphony, CT.