Improv at Kindermusik


Kindermusik mom and baby

Recently, on an episode of This American Life, they interviewed a woman named Karen Stobbe who gives workshops on employing the techniques she learned as an improv actor to take care of family members who have Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Karen’s mother has Alzheimer’s, but Karen’s husband, Mondy, has a special gift for using his improv talents in dealing with the challenges his mother-in-law’s illness presents. His warmth and humor have had such a profound impact on her life that she has inserted him into any remaining childhood memories she has—memories for which, of course, he could not have possibly been present.

It made me wonder, what exactly would happen if, instead of “No!” all the time with my kids (well, unless they wanted to put themselves in danger), what might happen if I used the improv technique they were highlighting: “YES! And?” The idea is that instead of shutting down my kids’ ideas, I respond with warmth and kindness, and maybe even added something to it.

My son was listening with me, and we’ve decided, as a secret from his dad and two sisters, that we would work on saying, “Yes! And?” more often. He reported yesterday to me that it is making a huge difference in the way he is listening to his sister, a relatively new reader, exclaim with excitement what page of a book she’s on.

“Oh yeah? And what’s happening in the story?” he asks.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one with this idea that saying, “Yes! And?” might have an impact on my parenting. There are several great TED talks and multiple short how-tos available on the Internet, none of which are about improving your comedy routine for the next, nationally televised comedy sketch show. Rather, they are about cultivating conversations, making your business better, and maybe even changing the world.

Here’s the best, shortest one I found, if you’re interested:

Coming to Kindermusik class can be a great big risk. We don’t know if our kids will enjoy it, if they’ll cause a scene (and not in some great Improv Everywhere way), if they’ll follow instructions or even learn something that particular day. Just daily parenting can be that risky, actually. Nevertheless, the whole of the Kindermusik experience can be one big, “Yes! And?”:

“Yes! You can pretend the egg shaker is an apple! And look how it got bigger when I plucked it from the tree for you!”


“Yes! That scarf is a great cape! Where should we fly? How about to visit Grandma?”

What adventures might you have in class the next time you come to our Kindermusik studio, with this little technique in mind?

Fair and Fun and Skipping Free

“And when we grow up, do you think we’ll see, that I’m still like you, and you’re still like me? I might be pretty, you might grow tall, but we don’t have to change at all.”

No, I didn’t have to play my record of Free to Be . . . You and Me on a gramophone, but I did wear grooves on the LP (I’m pretty sure my kids are unclear on the differences). And when I was in first grade, after I was already familiar with the album, I got to participate in our school production of the show. There are of course several parts that stand out for me, now some 35 years later. But the memory that makes for the best storytelling is that J.D. (the 6th grader on whom I had a crush) was in the same number as I was (well, along with a dozen other school kids). I’d like to think he played Christopher John to my Agatha Fry, but that would just be embellishing things. Nevertheless, as cell phones hadn’t yet been discovered (thus, nobody kept a camera with them at all times) and film was valued, the one and only picture with which I have to remember my first love comes from this stage production. Le sigh.

Have you noticed the posters around the studio?

Free_to_Be..._You_and_Me_(album_cover)I was so excited to see that Song of the Heart studio is doing a musical theater camp for one of its Summermuisk offerings! Hooray!  Yet another generation of children will learn to treasure Marlo Thomas’ gift as I do.   (Well, maybe only if there are cute boys in the play, too.)  It runs from July 27-August 8 (just right about the time that summer has lost its newness), and anyone from 6-12 can join–no audition necessary!  Register here: Free to Be. . . You and Me Musical Theater Camp

Like any other mom, when my kids were born I became eager to introduce them to the songs and stories of my own childhood. Free to Be. . . You and Me had been pushed aside for R.E.M. and the B-52’s in my teenage years, but it was one of my first CD acquisitions as a new mom. By then, Thomas had done a follow-up about families, too. So I got to give my kids a double dose of memories (love, love, love hearing Christopher Reeve narrate the story of Superman’s adoption).

But as a parent, listening to these songs and stories gave me a whole new love for what Ms. Thomas produced back in the early 70’s. If there is anything I want for my kids, it is that they be who they want to be. My journey as a mom has not been without its pitfalls. And my education as a parent certainly is far from complete. Nevertheless, I have learned to appreciate that it is our imperfections that make us beautiful. I have learned the most about this unconditional love by following my kids’ leads, and by loving myself as much as I love them. Everything about Free to Be. . . You and Me reinforces this message.

For instance:

“There are a lot of things, a lot of mommies, and a lot of daddies, and a lot of parents can do. . .”

 “It’s alright to cry. Crying takes the sad out of you.”


A person should wear what he wants to, and not just what other folks say. A person should do what she likes to, a person’s a person that way. (I found this especially helpful advice to bear in mind when my youngest wore the Dorothy costume every day to preschool for a month.)

“Of course you (are mixed up). Why should you be any different from anybody else? Most people spend their lives trying to get un-mixed up.”

“Glad to have a friend like you. And glad to just be me.”

Connection and Failure

As I’ve mentioned before, I teach Spanish at a local school. One of my biggest rules is that the students are only to speak Spanish, or, at least, we aim for Spanish 90% of the time. Unfortunately, this is one of the rules that my students violate most often, and I’m still working out why and how to prevent the violations. The other day I gave them an exercise, wherein they were to listen for specific phrases from a video. The point of the exercise, I explained, was not to get it right. The point was to practice listening. Nevertheless, I noticed many of them had a very difficult time sitting in the discomfort of not “getting the right answer,” turning to their neighbors for English answers, rather than persevering in Spanish.

Perseverance is one of the “soft-skills” that our kids need in order to become successful in life. Yes, it is important to know stuff. Whatever our chosen vocation, we have to have certain skills. But we also have to know how to keep going even when we make mistakes.

Watching my students, I recognized these emotions in myself.  (Or, I could get all psychobabbly and suggest that I was just projecting in the first place, and that my students were in fact experiencing something totally different!)  I struggle with just sitting in that discomfort of doubt.  In the last few years especially, I’ve had to really practice being kind to myself when I make mistakes, so that I’m more inclined to work through my setbacks and try again.

Researching this idea I discovered a video, made by one of the smartest 7-year olds I’ve ever seen.

I have two favorite parts of this video (well, aside from listening to him say the word “hypothesis”—charming). The first is that going into it, he thought he was going to fail 20 times. He built failure into the project. I don’t think I’ve ever started a project saying to myself, “I expect this won’t work 20 times. But on the 21st time I’ll get it right.” Which isn’t to say that I haven’t failed at a task more than 20 times before having a success. It’s that, instead, I’ve said to myself, “Ugh! I didn’t get it right, AGAIN!” When I recognize that most of my frustration in life comes from unmet expectations, I love that this kid expected failure—so much for me to learn from him!

My second favorite thing about the video is simply that it came across my radar in the first place. It has more than a million views. Which, admittedly, isn’t considered viral. But a million views is not nothing. Despite being an amateur/mom-filmed video of a simple Rube Goldberg machine, numerous people have considered it worth viewing. Sure, it may just be a bunch of kids watching to see another kid build a machine. But there may be other reasons for those views, too. And while I can’t speak for a million other people, I can say for myself that I am drawn to the whole nature of this kid’s willingness to be so courageous (did I say I was impressed by his expectation of failure?). It’s easy to connect with him, to be inspired by him, because he’s willing to be authentic.

Connection is one of the Song of the Heart studio values. The times that I’ve been able to connect with my kids in the studio have formed many of my favorite memories with them. Knowing that my newborn babies were perfect, that there was a whole world of wonder waiting for them, made it difficult for me to accept the fact that I was going to mess up this parenting gig sometimes. Nevertheless, the longer I parent, the more I read and practice, the more convinced I am that connection (with my kids, my partner, and other parents) grows in an environment where I am willing to expect failures, to stay open despite the mistakes, and to persevere through the more difficult times of parenting.




At the end of my daughter’s Kindermusik for the Young Child classes this week, a fellow student came bursting out of class, with delight and pride, exclaiming to her mom that she “matched Ms. Carol’s pitch!” (Ms. Carol asks her older students to sing back to her when they get a stamp, “Good-bye Ms. Carol,”—using music to create an I Love You (TM) ritual, and giving the students another opportunity to develop their musical ear.) While I don’t make it a habit to eavesdrop on the conversations that other caregivers have with their kids at the studio (so, you know, don’t be paranoid when you see me there that your conversation will end up on the web forevermore!), this one caught my ear. That girl, sharing the contentment of her accomplishment, excitedly sharing it with her mom, exuded pure joy.

Joy. It is one of the most profound human emotions that we can experience. It can also be a really difficult emotion to experience, because it betrays our vulnerability. An addict, for instance, may be as likely to experience a relapse after a joyful experience as he or she may be as part of a depressive experience, because both can be very overwhelming and difficult to face alone. Certainly, not all of our habits are unhealthy. Candy Crush, exercise, shopping or eating can all be good things, if they hold an appropriate space in our lives. But if we turn to those things so as not to experience emotion (joy or sorrow), we are numbing. And I have learned that we cannot selectively numb–if we numb the pain, we also numb the joy in our lives.

Pema Chodron quoteOf course, it takes regular practice for me just to sit with strong emotions. I tend to forget when I’m in pain that it will pass, and that when the joy comes it will be worthwhile. Child-rearing, of course, is one big petree dish in which to practice vulnerability and courage. Or, as my dad used to say, “Kids are a lump in the throat or a pain in the butt.”

Brené Brown, author and shame researcher, teaches that joy comes when we practice gratitude:

“We can spend our entire lives in scarcity . . . just waiting for the other shoe to drop and wondering when it will all fall apart. Or, we can lean into the uncertainty and be thankful for what we have in that precious moment. When I’m standing at the crossroads of fear and gratitude, I’ve learned that I must choose vulnerability and practice gratitude if [I] want to know joy. I’m not sure that it will ever be easy for me, but I have learned to trust this practice. For that, I give thanks!” (Brené Brown, blog post, What I’ve Learned About Gratitude and Fear 11/23/11, accessed 4/10/15).

But, she notes, we can’t just say that we practice gratitude—we actually have to have some measurable way of marking that for which we are grateful:

One of the Song of the Heart values is joy. So, as a community, this week let’s practice gratitude in a specific, “tangible” way. When you come to class, check out the paper that will be posted on the wall, and add something for which you’re grateful. And ask your kids! What good thing has happened to them today? It can be something specifically you find to be grateful about Kindermusik and the Song of the Heart studio, or it can be something about another part of your life for which you give thanks. Then, when you’re in class, dare to lean into the joy of singing a lullaby with your child or dancing with your preschooler—be OK with the fact that the moment is fleeting, and give yourself permission to feel it completely.


Music and Movement

Have you seen any of those “Difference-between-your-first-and-second-child” humor posts? Stuff like, your first child gets his own nursery, complete with matching bedding and hangers, while your third child sleeps in a crib underneath his sister’s poster of Ariana Grande.

I’ve been living it this week. My youngest girl has been observing her big sister work on some choreography for a homework assignment, and has now taken to asking her father, the moment he gets home from work, to, “Watch my dance, Dad!” Of course, it’s entirely typical for a 6 year-old to create a dance for her parents. But instead of dancing to Laurie Berkner, or Dan Zanes, like her older siblings, she moves to Shakira and Ellie Goulding.

But move, she does.  Just like her brother and sister before her.  And me before them (to the likes of Michael Jackson), and I’m sure my mom before me.

Dr. Daniel Levitin (I wrote about him in my last blog post, he’s a neuroscientist and musician), in the documentary The Musical Brain, performed some MRI studies on Sting, in order to understand exactly what parts of the brain fire in different musical contexts. In one of the studies, he asks Sting to simply imagine a song playing in his head. What Dr. Levitin noticed was that, despite not hearing anything musical, his body “begins to groove to the rhythms of Miles Davis.” (The Musical Brain, Christina Pochmursky, Matter of Fact Media, 2009, documentary film).

He comments: “The part of his brain that would be moving his body was very, very active, even though he was lying perfectly still. That points to an ancient, evolutionary link between music and movement and dance. . .”

According to the documentary, when we hear music, “the deepest parts of (our) brain(s), are ordering (us) to move.”

The evolution of dance goes far beyond Elvis. Egyptian paintings, dating from 1400 B.C., depict dancing, and history gives us many examples of dancing in Ancient Greece (remember Dionysus from your Greek mythology classes?) as well as in other, non-Western, tribal groups, the traditions of which many cultures continue to preserve.

Historically, there hasn’t been a distinction between music and dance, a division which we sometimes make today (like I am at this very moment, listening to the theme song of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, moving only my fingers at the keyboard, and not to any remarkable beat).  As Dr. Levitin states, “Music is movement, for most of the world’s peoples and throughout most of history.”

This is not particularly news. I mean, this video went viral ages ago.

But I am fascinated by the idea that the connection between movement and music it isn’t just cultural, nor is it simply a learned behavior. It has deep, neurological roots that serve to ensure our survival and teach us the experience of human emotion. When we’re in Kindermusik with our little our, we aren’t just having fun lifting them up in the air, we’re teaching them to feel joy. We’re engaging our primal, evolutionary instincts to create a tribe and deepen connections through music and movement

And, of course, it’s a blast for us, too!

The Emotion of Music

This week in my daughter’s Kindermusik for the Young Child class, Ms. Carol talked with the kids about how music is connected to emotion—that it can help us feel happy or sad. The kids even got a picture of a happy and sad boy that they could use to visualize this concept.

Later that evening, I went to band practice, where we spent some time together picking out our next song. Since our band has 2 female singers, we like to choose female artists to cover when we can.   Heart’s “These Dreams” came up as a possibility.

Yes, the hairstyles immediately date the video to the 1980’s.  But I knew it was from the 80’s for another reason: when we listened to together, I also found myself immediately wanting to run out of the room and get a drink of water—my typical reaction in junior high anytime a slow song came on at a school dance, so that I could avoid looking like the wallflower I felt myself to be. And, indeed, a quick check of the dates confirms that I was in 8th grade when the song was popular.

My fellow bandmate said that “Love Bites,” by Def Leppard, produced a similar, emotional response in her—taking her back to her early adolescence.

Then, yesterday, I got to play my guitar with another teacher as part of a retreat for the middle school students at my school. The song that she had chosen had emotional lyrics, but also a great crescendo part (another word the Young Child kids have been studying) that is designed to be fairly emotional. While we hadn’t practiced together before we performed it, I really enjoyed  playing it with her—there was tremendous satisfaction going from slow arpeggiation of the chords to full-out strumming, knowing that I was part of creating the emotion.

I’ve written before on the blog that music is connected to memories. And one needn’t have come of age in the era of power ballads to fully understand this even just from personal experience. But I find it interesting to think about how, exactly, music can evoke similar emotions in us, even without a shared memory—in other words, it isn’t merely the memory of being an awkward teenager that makes us feel a certain soulfulness listening to “I Want to Know What Love Is.” Also, science experiments show that we don’t have to understand the lyrics to have a fairly predictable emotional response to a particular song—indeed, some of the most emotional music we have comes from the classical genre and includes no lyrics whatsoever. Which also means that though years and even centuries separate us from those who were able to listen to Beethoven’s 9th symphony for the first time, we can still connect with them through what are probably very similar responses (though this is by no means universal—we are, after all, individuals).

Even certain chord structures can evoke particular emotions. One, in particular, is known as the Tristen chord. Much has been written about all the structures behind it, but the long and short of it is this: nothing about it gives us resolution, so we experience a tension, anticipation and longing. Exactly what Wagner wanted for the opening of his opera, Tristan und Isolde, from which the chord derives its name.

(If you’ve got 6 minutes, here is a fantastic video that shows the whole emotion of the music, and how it eventually resolves.)

Scientists, specifically the work of neurologist and composer Dr. Daniel Levitan, tell us that music is, “another way that the brain experiences pleasure.” (The Musical Brain, Christina Pochmursky, Matter of Fact Media, 2009, documentary film). In other words, we get all sorts of dopamine hits when listening to a song we love. We experience brain activity that is very primal, connected to our survival and reproduction instincts.  (Dopamine, you’ll remember from your science class, is the neurotransmitter in our brains responsible for moving us to act in order to get a reward.)

It is no surprise, then, that being in Kindermusik class with my kids has given me a great sense of emotional pleasure, and has been a fun way to connect, emotionally, with my kids during some very formative years. As my kids get older, I continue to enjoy watching them move and create music of their own. Certainly, it’s a different experience than singing a lullaby with them. Nevertheless, I can’t imagine a better way to create a shared bonding with them than through music.

The Ruth D. Anderson Kindermusik Children’s Fund


Kimberly Sena Moore, MM, NMT-F, MT-BC, a board-certified musical therapist and neurologic music therapist, writes a great article about why musical therapy works. Among other reasons, she notes that our “brain is primed early on to respond to and process music,” and that “Children (even infants) respond readily to music.” Of course, at the Song of the Heart studio, we see this daily. (You can find her article here if you’re interested.)

Music therapy benefits a variety of people. For instance, cancer patients may use music therapy to help ease the symptoms of their treatment[1]. Music therapists work with kids who have Autism Spectrum Disorder, and military personnel who have PTSD. And research into the benefits abounds. For instance, Gold, C., Voracek, M., & Wigram, T in 2004 found that “music therapy has a medium to large positive effect” on children and adolescents with a range of mental or behavioral disorders such as depression and addiction.  Even in recent news, we see that Gabby Giffords’ progress proves the success of music therapy.

While most Kindermusik instructors are not clinically trained or licensed music therapists (there are some!), they facilitate a researched-based music program that parallels many aspects of music therapy, including musical movement, improvisation and creating imagery through music.

It is no surprise, then, that Kindermusik educators hope to connect their program to all children, not just neurotypical children with a particular economic background. For this reason, Kindermusik International established the Ruth D. Anderson Kindermusik Children’s Fund. It “provides assistance to children who are physically or emotionally challenged, who are financially or educationally disadvantaged or who have lost a parent.”[2] The fund cooperates with Kindermusik educators who provide free tuition so that qualifying families have equal access to quality at-home materials.

Last week at the Song of the Heart studio, we celebrated We Love Kindermusik Week. My daughter was unfortunately sick, so we didn’t get her t-shirt until this week. Nevertheless, she’s been wearing it non-stop since. You may have heard your instructor note that proceeds from the shirt sales went to the Ruth D. Anderson Kindermusik Children’s Fund, and we were able to contribute more than $300. Thank you!

So who has received those scholarships?  Here are two:


As a baby, this girl’s epileptic seizures were extreme enough that her parents and medical team decided to remove half of her brain–with the thought that the remaining half would, over time, adapt.  She has a lifetime scholarship with the help of Kerri Sox’s Kindermusik program at Playtime Music Studios in Florida.
Here is a video of her journey, and you can check out her blog here.


Several years ago, Alexis received a scholarship. She was born at an unusually small size and weight (1.5 pounds, 12 inches), though doctors were unable to explain why.  Although she didn’t speak, she was able to communicate with sign language, and loved listening to Rhythm of My Day, from Kindermusik.


Photo from Deborah Foster, 2012

[1] American Cancer Society website, accessed 2/20/15

[2] Kindermusik Minds on Music blog, accessed 2/20/15

He Called for His Pipe and He Called For His Bowl

Last year, my 9-year old son, seemingly out of the blue, came to us and said, “I want to learn how to play the bagpipes.” Consequently, I’ve learned more about bagpipes than I ever thought I’d learn. I now know, for example, that there are only 9 notes on a bagpipe, and none of them are sharp or flat. I’m also learning to appreciate that, since bagpipes are always “on,” the way to generate diversity in articulation is with a variety of embellishments, like grace notes.

When I first started playing guitar 24 years ago, I remember there being a little bit of a learning curve, in terms of getting my fingers to stretch over the fret board and developing some calluses on my fingers so that it wasn’t quite so painful to push down on the strings. Still, within a couple of weeks, I could strum a pretty decent version of “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Of course, now that I have an electric guitar, I’m learning to value the dexterity involved in a complex guitar solo, but I think there is a reason that the guitar is the ubiquitous campfire instrument—you don’t have to be a virtuoso to get everyone to sing Sweet Caroline with you.

Not so with the bagpipes. My son spent 7 months just learning how to play a scale and enough embellishments to get to the point he could play Amazing Grace on a practice chanter. We’re almost to the point of acquiring a set of pipes, nearly 11 months later. Even after he gets his pipes, it will take several months to get to the place that he can play them with all the drones.

Several weeks ago, the Song of the Heart Studio Facebook page (a font of great information, and worth following, by the way) led me to this article from New York Magazine, written by Po Bronson. In it, the author details a research study that highlights how important it is to praise kids for their efforts, rather than their genius. Doing so leads kids, even those who may not be so “smart,” to choose harder puzzles without fear of making a mistake and looking not smart. They stick to a task and work at it more energetically–habits that lead, obviously, to other successes.

Research studies continue to tell us, “Organized music lessons appear to benefit children’s IQ and academic performance have a high correlation to success in school.” (American Psychological Association, June 2006, Vol 37, No. 6 Print version: page 13.) (And you can also find articles about it here and here.) I’m sure there are lots of things happening in the brain that support why this is so. But, based on my own anecdotal experience, I think that part of the correlation comes from the intrinsic payoff that comes after putting in the hard work of learning a song.

For instance, I’m noticing with my son that because he has to continue to work at his chanter, he’s learning to persevere through things that don’t come easily. He’s learning how to be careful and slow down so that he can get all the embellishments in while keeping to a steady rhythm. He’s learning the habit of practice, and the value of repetition in building muscle memory. In other words, an intrinsic reward of creating music functions as the praise for hard work, rather than for genius. Solving yet another math equation on a story problem worksheet just doesn’t generate that same emotional high.

That’s not to say that there aren’t tears and tantrums over practice time in our house. And I’m still on this parenting journey, so I can’t say that this one thing will be key to his overall success as a fully-functioning adult. Nevertheless, the fact that he dares to wear his kilt to school, he finds joy in a birl well done, and he has worked to save money for his pipes, as well, I think these are all promising factors.

I continually sing Kindermusik’s praises for developing the whole child. But part of this whole child development includes music instruction, too.

It’s Music, too!

I find myself continually writing in this blog about how Kindermusik develops the whole child (here, here and here, just to name a few). But as I sat in my daughter’s Kindmusik for the Young Child class this week, I realized that Kindermusik actually teaches music, too. Fancy that!


The first-year Young Child students have recently acquired their glockenspiels and have been diligently studying two-note patterns. They even have a variety of musical poems to recite as they work through the idea that the low notes are on the left of the glockenspiel (where the bars are long) and the high notes are on the right (where the bars are short).

Second year Young Child students build on this concept as they continue to add more notes and experiment with the lengthening and shortening of strings on a dulcimer.

Ah! But it doesn’t stop there!

I first became interested in Kindermusik as I listened to my sister-in-law describe this very concept. With my background as a secondary school educator, my lifelong interest in music, and having just had my second child, I knew that music instruction was important, but that I couldn’t possibly dream of having my particular preschooler sit at the piano and work with me to learn the notes. (I know some kids are capable of doing this, but none of mine have been—or, maybe better, I haven’t been able to do this with them.) Therefore, I was elated when she described the idea of using age appropriate activities to teach these concepts.


One of my favorite Kindermusik songs for babies is “Zoom-e-oh!” You may notice with your little one that when you sing “Up in the sky!” the notes are higher, while “Down to our toes” we sing at a lower pitch. You may dance to this song, lifting your baby up and down through the room, or you may use a scarf to play with, swishing it high and low. Though the concepts are simple, this is where our babies can begin to distinguish high and low notes—in an environment filled with love and nurturing.


As our children grow and become toddlers, they continue to learn through movement. You may notice that if a child who is just learning to talk says “up” or “down,” he or she also demonstrates the movement somehow—pointing, or even moving his or her whole body. In our Kindermusik toddler classes, you’ll see that we use simple poems and songs to tie the musical concept of high and low sounds with imaginative play, language development and movement. For instance, “Can you stretch like a cloud in the sky? Stretch big and tall, stretch up high!” Or, in another one of my favorite Kindermusik songs, you may “Walk along, Rover” or “Crawl along, Rover,” which has the added benefit of encouraging kids to explore opposite movements.


Once children become preschoolers, their locomotor skills have drastically improved. Therefore, they can become much more sophisticated in their imaginative play—hopping, skipping or galloping. This allows us to go for a hike in the mountains and fly like birds or hop around on the ground like bunnies. Additionally, children this age explore a greater variety of musical instruments, so that they learn about the different timbre of each one and see that there are some that make higher sounds (like bells) and some that make lower sounds (like drums).

At the Kindermusik by Song of the Heart studio, however, musical learning doesn’t stop with a child’s graduation from Kindermusik. With the Suzuki Singers class, children can learn to match pitches with their voice, and in Simply Music Piano or ukulele classes, kids develop skills to produce a variety of pitches on a couple of different instruments that may appeal to them.

And, yes, I suppose I could make a case for applying musical concepts of high and low sounds to something philosophical, like helping kids understand the highs and lows of life. But, sometimes just learning the music is great, too!

The Fine Art of Balance

Proprioception: from Latin proprius, meaning “one’s own”, “individual” and perception, is the sense of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.[1]

As Joseph Bennington-Castro explains here, proprioception is “more complicated than you realize.”  (There’s good stuff over there, if you’re interested in the science behind all of this.)

If you’re in the Cuddle & Bounce class with your baby, you’ll notice that one of the activities we do in Kindermuisk is a bit of exercise—moving your baby’s arms and legs up or down, in and out. Of course, being a music class, we do this to a rhythmic poem that provides for language acquisition and a sense of steady beat. However, the activity also reinforces her sense of proprioception (how parts of her body need to move in harmony with other parts of her body, among other specifics) and helps her find balance.

If you go to the Sing & Play class, you’ll notice that sometimes with your toddler you’ll dance with a prop, like a hula hoop. Your child probably just enjoys playing with the hoop, but he’s also working on his sense of propioception. In this case, the weight of the hula hoop as he swings it around, or the balance required to step through it, provides a bit of extra challenge to his equilibrium, and helps his muscles interact together.

In fact, you’ll notice that throughout the Kindermusik years, we work on proprioception in a variety of age-appropriate ways, including the big kids, when they learn the Mexican Hat Dance. But why would it matter? Kids who don’t go to Kindermusik classes somehow learn to walk and run and hop, too.

I’ve learned in the last couple of weeks just how important this sense of balance is, and how targeting it as a specific skill and strength can be key to our overall health. Because of the hours I spend standing and walking around my classroom, I’ve been experiencing tremendous leg and foot pain. In fact, I’m now seeing a physical therapist. This week he made me stand on one foot while we threw a giant exercise ball back and forth, and every day for homework I have to spend some time balancing on one foot and then the other. I am genuinely surprised at how poor my balance is, given the fact that I am generally active. Nevertheless, as I’m mindful of exactly where I’m feeling the muscle fatigue, I can see that I’ve got all these muscles working in tandem to keep me steady–all those proprioceptive skills at play. Apparently, with things being so uneven lately, as the therapist explained to me, none of those muscles and tendons and nerves are working together very well, and this is both a symptom and a cause of my pain.

As is common to the human experience, I believe, when the system was working well I took for granted something I didn’t know I had. Now that I’m working to regain it, I appreciate what I’ve lost. I’ve also reflected, once again, how Kindermusik helps develop the whole child through music and movement. Targeting these specific propioception skills is more than just teaching our kids how to walk or hop on one foot—it’s helping them gain a greater sense of overall health and wellness. As a mom, I know it can sometimes be extremely difficult to keep working Kindermusik into my schedule, when we have so many demands on our time and money (including the increasing pull to do nothing!). Nevertheless, I’m grateful for the gifts that have come to my kids as a result—including those that may be happening while we just think we’re having fun dancing.