Music = Essential

It’s easy to think of music as an “extra” when it comes to child development, learning, and education. After all, it’s not reading, writing, or ‘rithmetic. Nor is it STEM, or whatever buzzword acronym we are using in education these days. Except we, as music educators, and you, parents who prioritize musical learning, know better.

Musical education is brain education. Musical development is whole child development. It’s not extraneous. It’s not a perk for privileged kids. It should be for every child, in every home, and in every school. Music teaches language skills, mathematical skills, team building skills, social skills, motor skills, cognitive skills, and on and on.

Unfortunately we don’t live in a world where music education is widely understood or appreciated or it it wouldn’t be on the chopping block at so many under funded schools.

Consider this: we are more than a year into this pandemic. Many early childhood programs have shut down nationwide. Opportunities for your babies and children to safely socialize are few and far between. And yet young developing brains NEED stimulation and enrichment. As we’ve all been hunkered down at home for the last year there is an entire generation of children whose brains aren’t getting the development they need.

This is why Kindermusik is the PERFECT program to prioritize right now. Studies have proven that music is the only stimulus that lights up the ENTIRE brain. Our curriculum is carefully crafted to boost development in all domains: cognitive, language, social, emotional, and physical (both fine and gross motor). As we foster supportive environments to explore music in a rich sensory environment, your child’s brain and body development can make up for lost time and some of these developmental gaps.

Covid babies have become wary of others as they haven’t been properly socialized. Kindermusik classes can help with that.

Covid babies have had more screen time as their parents have been coping with unprecedented stress. Kindermusik classes get children and parents off their screens and engaged with each other and with the music.

Covid babies haven’t been able to climb on playgrounds and use those gross motor muscles. Kindermusik activities can help with that.

Covid babies may have been limited to one environment and have lacked the sensory stimulation that comes with novel environments, textures, toys, manipulatives, people, and sounds. Kindermusik helps with that.

Covid children have unprecedented levels of anxiety at earlier ages. Musical activities release dopamine and oxytocin and suppresses cortisol in the blood stream. Kindermusik can help with your child’s emotional well being as well.

We are so glad to have you here as part of our Song of Heart tribe. We know that by continuing to prioritize your child’s early musical education that it will be hugely beneficial to their physical, brain, and social development. Let’s make up for lost time and SING and PLAY and DANCE and MAKE MUSIC.

Who doesn’t want THAT for their little one?

Summer Evening Listening Walk

The school year has wound down. The pleasant days of summer are here. The weather has heated up and the Covid cases are low and we can emerge from our wintery cocoons. It is the perfect time for a special activity we like to call the Listening Walk. But first, an explanation about listening.

In our classes we nearly always include a focused listening activity. The children love this! It’s so fun to “get out our listening ears to listen, listen, listen” and rub our ears to ready for listening. This not only helps focus the children’s brains for listening, but rubbing the ears stimulates nerves that awaken the brain and send out “feel-good” endorphins. We could all use a little more of those happy brain chemicals, so rub rub rub those ears!

We set aside time every week for focused listening because we know how important it is for children to develop the skill of listening. We must help support that development. It aids in their cognitive development, their social and emotional development, and of course their musical development!

We take a simple sound and help your children prepare for listening, going through the physical steps of calming their body, focusing their mind, processing the sound, and then developing a socially and emotionally appropriate response to the sound.

One of the best parts of a focused listening activity is seeing their eyes light up as they try to figure out what the sound is. You can practically see the wheels in their brains turning!

A way to extend this activity is with the previously mentioned “listening walk”. This is particularly effective and fun with preschool aged children and older. You can of course go on a listening walk with your babies and toddlers as well, but it will require more modeling and labeling from the parents.

First, tell your child you’re going on a special walk. Not a normal walk. A listening walk. You’re going to be completely silent as you walk down the street and be detectives. You’re going to see if you can figure out what people, animals, and the environment in your neighborhood are doing simply by being still and listening.

Walk a few steps. Do you hear a lawnmower? Walk a few more steps. Do you hear some birds chirping? Maybe your hear the whirring of a hummingbird’s wings. Walk down the block some more. Do you hear the sound of your own feet hitting the sidewalk? What else can you hear? Do you hear splashing? Does it sound like people swimming in a backyard pool? Or perhaps it’s a dog walking through a puddle left behind by the sprinklers.

This is such a fun way to get your child to wake up their senses and explore the world around them. You’ll enjoy it too!

And just in case you miss storytime with Ms Maren, here’s a perfect story about going on a listening walk. Watch this video with your child and go out on a walk together. What did YOU hear on YOUR walk?

Congrats Grads!

It’s that time of year again! We are SO PROUD of our Kindermusik graduates. They have worked hard this year learning their instruments during a peculiar time. Some students learned online at home, others came to the classroom. It was very challenging learning with the hurdles they faced this year and they did amazing!

Last year we had a virtual graduation. We were so glad to be back in person for our graduation this year. It was distanced and different than in the past, but the one thing we’ve learned from this last year is to be flexible and adaptable.

We kicked things off with a Kindermusik Fiesta, including tacos, a sombrero dance, and a piñata.

Each graduate was able to share with the class and parents what their favorite part of Kindermusik was. It was wonderful to hear them each speak and they all looked so adorable in their purple mortar boards.

It is such an honor to be able to have been a part of your child’s early development. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for allowing us to foster a love and understanding of music in them. Now they are ready to SOAR in their future instrument studies. Come back and visit so we can watch them grow. We will miss you, Music Friends!

5 Ways to Stay Connected as Your Children Grow

A familiar scene: your toddler clings to you, unsure of this new Kindermusik classroom environment. Then they excitedly leave your arms to engage with the activities, only to return to you for reassurance. As you see your little one cling to you for security and then venture off to explore, only to return to you again, you will notice them learning to assert more and more independence. This is a good thing! But as we are all about CONNECTION here at Song of the Heart Studios, we know that a strong bond with your child is what will give them the confidence to spread their wings and soar.

Parenting guru and child development specialist and author Sarah Ockwell-Smith has so much wisdom for both new parents of young children and veteran parents of growing children who are claiming more independence. In a recent Instagram post she shares her top advice for staying connected to your child as they grow. Read her wise words:

The early years of parenting can feel stifling, your child’s intense need for you – day and night – can leave you desperate for some time away from them. Your worlds revolve around each other, closely tied in the same orbit, as if you and they were one being – extensions of each other. Their need and love for you so strong. As children get older, that orbit grows. The pull of the outside world ever increasing. Until one day, you realise you miss that tight knit connection and begin to mourn it, wondering if things will ever be the same again, but there are ways to keep a strong connection as your children grow.

Here are my top 5:

1. Accept the change in need for you. It may seem counterproductive, but the more you allow your child to break away from you now – by giving them freedom, the more likely they are to return to you in the future. Recognise you are their ‘safe base’, that they will always return to, but their job now is to explore the world away from you.

2. Always be there to support them. Waiting in the wings, unjudgementally, to listen and ‘hold’ them when they need it.

3. Rein in the punishments (especially exclusion based ones). If your children feel safe to express themselves and tell you about their mistakes, they are far more likely to be open with you as they grow. If they are raised with fear of retribution and exclusion, you will push them away.

4. Work on your own feelings. If your child’s growing independence leaves you feeling a hole, don’t expect them to fill it. Now is the time for you to rediscover who you are, learn new skills and develop new passions. Learn how to feel comfortable being ‘just you’ again.

5. Connect on their level – if they love video games, ask them to explain them to you and play together. If they love making Tik Tok dances, ask if they can teach you one.

And here at Song of the Heart Studios of course we recommend you maintaining an active role in their Kindermusik experience by helping your Little Music Maker engage with your at home materials, help them practice their Young Child instruments, and do our special sharing time activities. It not only enhances their (and your) musical experience but it also maintains and extends your special parent-child bond.

Why Toddler Music Lessons Aren’t the Best Idea

Stressing about whether or not toddler music lessons are worth it?

They’re not and here’s why…

Have you ever heard “my son started playing piano at age 2,” or “my daughter picked up her first guitar when she was 3!”

It’s true that early instrument exposure is important.

However, age-appropriate instrument exploration (like shakers and rhythm sticks), especially within a group setting, is a critical first step in 0-3 music education.

Plus, developmental milestones boosted through starter instruments are directly connected to whether a child will actually master (and stick with) an instrument like the piano or guitar later.

Here’s the logic behind this approach, how to pick the right starter instruments for your toddler, and why toddler music class is much more beneficial than toddler music lessons.

What’s Wrong with Toddler Music Lessons?

Think about toddlers and toys. Does s/he play with the same toy all day every day?

You probably rotate them in and out to help tune up different abilities and renew interest.

There’s a reason rotating learning tools (including instruments!) is important for our youngest learners. They lack the attention span needed to devote to just one activity.

So, even if your toddler took an interest in one instrument, the chances of her coming back to it over and over are slim.

Toddlers also need exposure to a variety of early instruments to help develop things like fine motor skills (grasping, pinching, pressing, etc.) and steady beat (think tapping on a hand drum).

These skills not only ramp up basic school readiness but help them excel at activities like music lessons when they’re older.

How Do I Know Which Instruments Are Best For My Toddler?

Toddlers need sturdy, safe, and easy-to-grasp early instruments.

Plus, early instrument exploration goes so much farther than learning about different sounds.

For example, making soft and loud sounds with an egg shaker is the perfect activity for boosting self-regulation (like calming down before a nap).

And simple, sheer scarves can really help toddlers imitate sound through movement, taking their imaginations to the next level.

The best part is, many of the instruments you might see in a toddler music class can be recreated with household items.

A box of rice is the perfect substitute for egg shakers and chunky wooden puzzle pieces are ideal sand blocks.

What’s The Benefit Of Group Music Classes For Toddlers?

When toddlers experience music and movement with others, they’re learning about important concepts in a fun, memorable environment, and gaining essential social-emotional skills they’ll carry throughout life.

That’s the big advantage over a lesson…at this age, the “group” is what makes the learning stick.

Studio Kindermusik classes also include a parent or caregiver.

Research shows that when trusted grownups are present, children feel the safety they need to create freely.

Plus, it supports an irreplaceable bonding experience that feeds into confidence, communication, and so much more.

So, should you be anti-music lessons? Absolutely not.

From dexterity to listening skills, exposure to age-appropriate instruments and fundamentals learned in a class setting will make all the difference when transitioning to the piano, guitar, or whatever single-instrument lesson your child desires when the time is right.

Help develop the foundations she needs to turn a love of music into a passion, and boost major cognitive skills along the way!

-Reposted from Kindermusik International

You Are Welcome Here

Here at Song of the Heart Studios it is our mission to be the place where hearts sing and children flourish. We hold values that guide everything we do as we bring an exemplary Kindermusik experience to you and your children. Those values are Joy, Connection, Growth, Heart, and Family. As we focus on our values, strive towards our mission, and deliver our curriculum, we hope that each and every one of you feels seen, valued, appreciated, and wanted.

Our world is a diverse place, but our society has never been fully inclusive of that diversity.  As our broader society is going through growing pains in trying to build a more inclusive culture, we are joining that journey. Song of the Heart Studios and our JOY Team are committed to welcoming the diversity of families that come to experience the gift of Kindermusik.

As we commit to being an inclusive studio and work towards that goal we hope that YOU and YOUR family will feel welcome here.

Come, come, whoever you are-

You are welcome here!

No matter your age, your size,

the color of your eyes,

your hair, your skin –

you are welcome here!

No matter how you came here,

if you came alone, or with others –

you are welcome here!

No matter whom you love,

how you speak,

or whatever your abilities –

you are welcome here!

Whether you come with laughter in your heart,

or tears in your eyes –

you are welcome here!

~Melanie Morel-Ensminger

 

How Imaginary Friends Help COVID-Era Kids

Does your child have imaginary friends? Wondering if it’s a positive or a negative phase? Let me tell you a story…

My mother grew up in a small southern US town in the 1940s, when polio was rampant. My grandparents, who were older and struggled to have a child, were naturally fearful of the disease and scared to lose her. So, Mom wasn’t allowed to play with other children very often.

Except for one.

Now in her mid-80s, Mom still speaks vividly about Sue—the imaginary friend who saved her from loneliness and helped her practice friendship skills. Sue helped my vivacious, extroverted mother thrive, even in her isolation.

Imaginary friends are more common than you think…especially in a pandemic.

Experts are weighing in on why they exist, if they’re a good thing, and if they’re a helpful developmental tool for little ones.

Why is there an uptick in imaginary friends?

Pretend playmates have always been around, in both uncertain and “normal” times. However, after nearly a year of COVID-induced social isolation, imaginary friends are reportedly popping up in more households than ever before.

Children who are entering the stages of cooperative play, and even older kids who are missing school, sports, and more, may naturally fill these developmental gaps by creating friends they can play with any time, anywhere.

Are imaginary friends healthy?

While it’s easy to wonder if imaginary friends indicate problems in children, early childhood experts disagree. In fact, children who have them (and approximately 65% under age 7 do!), might surprise you in how they interact with these made up buddies.

Maybe you notice them taking turns, showing empathy, or even disagreeing and compromising. These are all good things that may help keep your child on track with cognitive and social-emotional milestones.

How are imaginary friends helpful, especially now?

Not all children gravitate toward this type of behavior. But if you’re looking for a way to help yours combat loneliness (even children with siblings), consider encouraging them to create some playmates.

You could start by modeling conversations with their favorite teddy bear or inviting all of their stuffed animals to a dance party. Then, just see where their own imaginations take them.

By letting your children take the reins, you’re fostering neural connections, creativity, and so much more.

Perhaps most important, imaginary friendships offer plenty of safe practice in how to navigate social situations—the one area we know will be difficult for many children as we reenter a post-pandemic society.

What does music have to do with imaginary friends?

Music doesn’t have to be a part of the relationship, but it’s an easy and enjoyable shared experience. My mom, a lifelong musician, certainly remembers music as a big part of her memories with Sue.

So, put on a song, turn up the volume, and leave the room. Your child might soon be singing and dancing with a friend. Who knows…it might be a girl (or a boy) named Sue!

For a perfect song choice, check out “Best Friends.” Play it below or stream it directly from our app, which has a ton of other songs and themed playlists to choose from (available on the App Store or Google Play).

At Kindermusik, imaginary friends are welcome in both our virtual and in-person classes. Bring them along for some music and movement fun, and maybe get to know other children’s pretend besties while you’re there!

-Reposted from Kindermusik International; Written by Deanne Kells.

Rainbow Connection

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed our Rainbow Connection Week here at Song of the Heart Studios. Did you jump into your at home Parent Guides for the first time this past week? Or did you joyfully implement them for the nth time?

A lot of parents aren’t aware that Kindermusik can and should continue at home! Your in-class experience is only part of the fun. Sure, it’s the main feature. Our educators are positive and engaging and deliver the curriculum with joy and expertise. But all that brain growth and physical development and connection that is fostered within each of our Kindermusik classes is a launchpad for fun throughout your week.

We get it: parenting is exhausting. The last thing you want is another thing on your to-do list. Intentions to download your unit’s playlist on the app get forgotten in the daily business of parenting. That’s why we developed Rainbow Connection Week as a special invitation to engage with your home materials and we hope that it has brought you and your child an added measure of joy this week.

Not just for fun, when you utilize the home materials and engage with your child during the week you reinforce all the learning that takes place in the classroom. Remember, repetition is the GLUE for the brain. Children instinctively understand this, which is why they sing their favorite Kindermusik song or request their favorite bedtime book over and over and over again! Their need for repetition and reinforcement vastly outstrips our own.

Beyond the learning reinforcement, one of the most important features of the home materials is that it provides an opportunity for yet more CONNECTION between you and your child. You’ll have noticed that most of the activities are quite brief. It doesn’t take much time to remind your child through an engaging and playful activity that you are their safe place. Research has proven that connection promotes cooperation and decreases power struggles. Who doesn’t want that?

Process, Not Performance

Hopefully you saw that wonderful feedback we received from one of you Heartie parents this week. If not, here it is:


This comment brings focus to one of our core tenets as early childhood music educators: to focus on musical process, not performance.

Here’s why:

Focusing on performance invites criticism and correction. The focus becomes on doing it “right” rather than simply enjoying the process. There is a place for that, certainly, at higher levels of ability and development when skill and technique are being developed. But in early childhood, there is no place for that type of instruction. If the goal is to do it “right” then children who haven’t yet developed certain motor skills and cognitive processing skills can feel overwhelmed and will shut down.

The moment a child doesn’t feel safe their brain switches to a lower gear of emotional survival and all learning stops. Their sense of safety can be threatened simply by a teacher or parent trying to “help them succeed” or to “prevent them from failing” and giving well-intentioned but ultimately destructive feedback.

Children need a much more nurturing environment in order to learn. They need to be free to explore, free to express, free to move and experience the process in their bodies, rather than scrutinizing if they are doing things “correctly.”

We’ve all been to the dance recitals when the adorable 3 year olds come out in their frilly tutus and the crowd oohs and ahs. It’s adorable! We love those tiny dancers! But watch their faces as they try to perform. There’s always one stand out: the child who has a knack for charming and performing who was just born with stage presence. Then there’s the precise perfectionist child who has more advanced development and can perform “correctly”: the right move on the right beat in the right order. But the other ten children on the stage? Look at their faces. They’re usually just trying to keep up and sometimes are vaguely confused. And then there’s always the sweet little child who isn’t ready for such a feat and is afraid to go on stage and has to be pulled by the hand by her teacher. That child needs more feelings of safety and reassurance.

But where is the joy? Where is the connection? What are the children learning? Is this recital about providing a positive experience for the dancers? Or is it a performative reward for the parents?

This is why in Kindermusik our focus is on the whole development of the child and the connection between the child and parent. The focus is not on performance. We want your children to feel total safety and joy when they enter our studio. We want them to feel so safe that they are 100% free to learn through exploration in a rich sensory environment. We don’t want them focused on doing things “right” or following instructions to a T. Nor do we want your focus to be on getting them to follow the teacher’s instructions perfectly. We give them time to transition and grace to do things differently. It’s okay to just watch instead of participate. It’s okay to not be ready to give up their instrument on demand. The goal is to for your heart to sing and their eyes to shine.

And then, one day, when they’ve got the developmental skills to learn more, we teach them more. We introduce notes and beats. We teach them to read rhythms and hold mallets and play as an ensemble. The Kindermusik curriculum steps up perfectly in sync with your child’s development. And by the time they graduate the program they will be developmentally ready for formal instrument instruction. Kindermusik kids have a proven record of having a huge advantage in future musical studies over children who don’t experience our nurturing program.

So save the performance. There will be time for that later. For now, just focus on the process. And if that sounds too dry, then focus on the connection, the joy, the heart, and those shining eyes.

Kindermusik Promotes Optimal Brain Development

5 Ways to to Encourage Optimal Brain Development in Babies and Toddlers
– Sarah Ockwell Smith

1. Hug them lots! The best way to help to support your child’s development is to be responsive to their needs. When they cry, pick them up and try to avoid leaving them to cry alone. Babies and toddlers can’t self-settle. They need us to act as external regulators. Holding your baby in your arms helps to secrete hormones which grow the part of the brain responsible for emotion regulation. You can’t ever spoil a child with love or hold them too much!

2. Look after your own mental & physical health. To be responsive to your baby’s needs, you need to meet your own needs too. This means that looking after your physical and mental health is a key part of helping your baby to develop. We live in a society that is not especially supportive of new parents, having a baby or toddler is hard work at the best of times – during a global pandemic it’s even tougher. If you are struggling do chat with your family doctor, or get in touch with an organisation who can help (I’ve tagged some in this post).

3. Expose them to music. Music has a wonderful effect on the developing brain, it can help babies and toddlers to feel calmer and also helps with the development of language. You don’t need to have any musical skill or talent though, your child is not that discerning! Singing nursery rhymes (however off key), humming along to a radio station swaying with your baby or toddler in your arms, or making up your own tunes are just perfect.

4. Read to them. The more words a baby or toddler hears, the larger their vocabulary and their literacy skills will be as they grow. Reading is a lovely way for partners to bond, for instance taking the role of reading a bedtime story every night. Don’t worry if your baby or toddler never looks at the pages, doesn’t seem to pay attention, or would rather eat the book, your reading will still have an impact!

5. Play with them. Play is the primary tool of learning. You don’t need expensive developmental toys though, simple games of pat-a-cake or peek-a-boo are more than enough. Pull funny faces, blow raspberries and have fun!

***

What’s fascinating about this write up by parenting and child development expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith is how Kindermusik aids in all five of these suggestions.

Her first suggestion is to hug them lots. Intentional touch. Playful touch. We do that in every Kindermusik class from our I Love You Rituals to our cuddle times.

Her second suggestion is to look after your OWN mental and physical health. Kindermusik is meant to be enjoyable for the adult as well and if you engage with your child fully as their partner you will be given natural doses of Joy Juice, that wonderful cocktail of hormones and endorphins that make you feel good. Sometimes that’s just what a stressed out parent needs.

Her third suggestion is to expose them to music. Hello! We already know that music is the ONLY stimulus that lights up ALL areas of the brain simultaneously. It’s long been shown that early musical experiences promote optimal learning far into a child’s future.

The fourth suggestion is to read to your children. This is why we incorporate story time into every Kindermusik class and why Ms Maren gives us a weekly story time over Facebook live. Have you caught her most recent story?

The final suggestion is simply to play. Play with your children. Play is a child’s work. Play is how they learn. Simply being present and playful will give your child everything their brain needs to learn and to grow. Sometimes playfulness doesn’t come naturally to a parent. That’s where Kindermusik comes in! We’re here to support you in crafting playful experiences to share with your child as you partner together during our Kindermusik classes.

We hope that you can see how Kindermusik is the perfect tool to incorporate into your family’s lives and routine. It’s not just fun, it’s also developmentally beneficial. Those benefits will continue to flow over a lifetime. And it all starts here.