Young humans love music and musical activities, so how does a savvy parent like you sort out the best options among all the choices out there? Finding the ideal music program can make all the difference in bringing joy into the daily life of your young student. As a certified early childhood music specialist, I want to help you develop your child’s love of music, self, and other humans.
So let's talk about WHY you want your very young child to start a music education. Note I said “very young” because we actually start being musical before we are born. But first – at the top of any parent's list is a desire for your child to develop social and emotional well-being.
Music is a natural fit for the latter because we can learn how to self-soothe, over time and repetition, through the physical acts of singing, dancing, and playing instruments. Given the right environment and support, a typical child will learn to do these things alongside of expected developmental milestones like crawling, walking, and running. In fact, infants are known to make singing noises before they learn to speak, and as they grow they learn to coo, babble, and amuse themselves in musical ways.
Self-soothing and communal joy happens in small and large groups of people, too. If you've ever been to a live concert or musical theater show, you know what it's like to experience collective sorrow, joy, and surprise. I'll never forget the theater audience around me all softly sobbing together when Fantine died in Les Miserables. At the end of her song, the lights dimmed and with the music fading out, we were collectively relieved to hear the next musical movement swell and chaperone us gently into the next part of the story.
Making music in a group provides a wonderful way to bond with your child, make new friends, and witness the children developing their first friendships. You can discover the joy of it in family-style music classes, and recreate those experiences at home with your budding musical family.
We also know music and movement to inspire and support our self-expression, and that builds confidence. At any age, when you are in a kind, safe environment of play and exploration, you are free to make uninhibited choices. In a playful, non-formal music class, your child can take all the time he needs to absorb, observe, recreate, refine, and repeat (aka practice) the creative processes of making music.
Take something as simple as striking a drum. Over time and repetition, your child will begin to notice if his striking pattern "matches" what is happening around him. Once he has refined it - and sometimes even before that - he becomes free to ... improvise! Our jazz friends will tell you that's where the fun really starts.
This freedom to improvise (experiment) with the music we are exposed to is a crucial step in developing our natural musical abilities. All too often, young children are asked to "perform" long before they are ready to share what they have learned. If pressured too soon, a child may lose the desire to create altogether, so it's very important to research any music program you think your child may enjoy. You don't want to accidentally squash the enthusiasm! Likewise, we don't want to put young children in a situation where they are judged or told how to feel about their "performance." I have known many adults who gave up music when they were young because someone said unkind things to them or about them.
When researching your options be careful to set appropriate expectations. Ask yourself:
- What do I hope my child will get out of this?
- What, if anything, do I want to take away from it?
- Are the activities and expectations developmentally appropriate for my child?
- Is it a curriculum-based learning experience, or is it a play date?
- Is it an active learning environment, or will my child be required to sit still and "upload" information the whole time?
- Will my child be free to experiment?
- Will my child be included and accepted?
- Will my child be expected to perform?
- Will my child be able to grow in this school as his needs change?
And, finally, the most important question of all: Is it fun for my child? Young children absolutely learn best through playful, immersive experiences that allow them to experiment. A brand new space with new faces in it might not be super-fun the first time you take your daughter there, so give her time to adapt. Take her to more than one class so she can get comfortable. It may take several weeks for a young child to thoroughly explore a new classroom. More time is (usually) needed for establishing friendships, too! Your toddler may want nothing more than to freely dance around alone, while your pre-K student shows more interest in jamming with her new friends and making up their own dance moves. In a class where you are expected to participate, do so with joy! Let your child know that you are there to have fun making Music Together®.
Not sure which school to try first? Many schools offer sample classes so you can experience them first with your child before making a commitment to the program. Valley Kids Music is a great place to start, and you can find a class today!
Whatever school you choose to start your child's music education, remember this: Music doesn't only educate us. It soothes us. It grounds us. It creates joy within us and others. It is a certain way of knowing with equal parts order and whimsy. Music brings us together, and deeply solidifies our unique place in the world as humans.
As your child’s musical competence grows, the music itself will become increasingly available to provide joy, comfort, expression, and so much more. This is the gift of music education.