Puppet Play!

Have you noticed the AMAZING collection of puppets we use at Song of the Heart? We find that puppets always add a splash of excitement and an extra layer of enjoyment during our classes. We often look for new and different puppets that we can add to our collection to add variety and value to our classes for you.

Not only have our puppets been a beloved part of our in-person classes, they have been invaluable props during our virtual classes the last several months. Nothing quite beats the excitement in a child’s eyes when they see a giant whale appear on the screen, or maybe a parrot, or a princess, or a donkey, or a monkey!

Puppets are a whole lot of fun, but they are actually an important developmental and pedagogical tool as well. Puppets can have incredible benefits in a child’s early development. Here are a few:

Language Development

A shy child who is uncomfortable using their voice may be more confident in letting the puppet be their voice. They can practice using their voice and making different sounds when it’s the puppet speaking, and not them. Even if a child isn’t shy, they will automatically be inspired to try out new phonemes and blended sounds as their imagination sparks and they make their puppet speak.

Social Development

That shy child may be uncomfortable interacting with their teacher or classmates. Sometimes children are even unsure when interacting with their own immediate family members. But pull out a puppet, and they instantly have a safe and nonthreatening companion to interact with.

Emotional Development

It can be difficult to find words for our feelings. It’s a challenge even for grown ups to express, find validation, and process difficult emotions. A person may not feel comfortable talking about their feelings to another person, parent, friend, or teacher. But that nonthreatening puppet can be a friend that’s much easier to talk to. This is why Mr. Rogers, virtual childhood educator extraordinaire, used puppets so extensively. Through puppet play he was able to show children how to process challenging experiences and make sense of the world.

Listening Skills

A child may not listen to their mother or teacher, but pull out a puppet and just watch their attention change. This magic Mr. Rogers understood, which is why he built an entire Neighborhood of Make Believe. Acting lessons out through puppet play prompted the children to pay attention, truly listen, and learn.

Fine Motor Skills

We love our classroom finger puppets! It’s such a delightful way for a child to practice moving their fingers individually, pulling a puppet on and off, switching fingers, and more. It’s great for coordination, control, and dexterity. This will have long-term benefits as they learn to play instruments, type, and write.

Creativity & Imagination

A child with a puppet naturally creates new scenarios, acts out behaviors, makes new sounds, and has new conversations. They automatically flex their storymaking skills, which is fundamental to learning sequencing, an essential pre-reading skill. Not to mention just learning through exploration as they create new ways of playing with their puppets and scaffold new skills upon that puppet.

We wish we could all be sharing our puppet library together right now, but you can still benefit from puppet play at home. Grab an old sock or a paper bag, some glue, yarn, crayons, markers, pipe cleaners, felt, etc. Let your imagination run wild as you and your little one create and make your own puppet pals.

We’d love to see what you create! If you make a puppet with your child, please snap a photo and tag us on social media! Have fun with those puppets!

Unstructured Play Boosts Learning

Pediatricians believe in free play as a fundamental healthy-child strategy. How important is it? Enough that the American Academy of Pediatrics dedicated an entire article discussing the “why’s” of play, the reasons it has become more rare in the lives of many young children, and how doctors should encourage parents to incorporate it into their daily lives.

Why Is Unstructured Play Important?

Creative play is something that the average adult is…well…not very good at implementing. But it’s not solely the result of increased responsibilities. Actually, the reduced potential for creativity begins much younger. Research shows that by age 10, many children have lost up to 70% of their creative capacity (yikes!). This is because we do not actively encourage play enough.

5 Ways Child-Led Playtime Boosts Learning

So, if most grownups are bad at playing, how can we learn to nurture play in our children? By watching them! What you will see—children’s cognitive, physical, and social-emotional development propelled forward—is astonishing. That’s enough proof to ensure hours and hours of unstructured, undirected play each week.

Here are 5 key reasons to let your little ones loose and watch their skills take off without a plan of action:

  • Play leads children to sort information in new ways and to seek symbolic representations. For example, just watch toddlers begin grouping items by color or shape or other categories they clearly understand (even if you don’t!).
  • Play allows children to imagine whole new ways of being, pushing their minds and bodies in new directions. You know how preschoolers love to move like their favorite animals? That’s free play plus imagination at work.
  • Play leads children to solve problems with perseverance and creativity! Have you seen your child try over and over and over again to construct something tall or to fit objects into specific spots? Even if they don’t succeed the first time, they already have the goal in mind.
  • Play stretches the imagination through fantasy. Just wait…you’ll see a superhero “flying” through the room or a wizard using the power of his magical wand before you know it.
  • Play invokes laughter, which is one of the best “nutritional supplements” we have! That’s because play is FUN. Laughter relaxes the body, boosts immunity, triggers the release of endorphins (our “feel good” chemicals), and improves the functions of the cardiovascular system. Additionally, your child’s laughter draws you closer together, causing you to join in and laugh yourself, which creates a bond that lasts well beyond that moment.

What Does Unstructured Play Look Like by Age?

  • Babies: Arms flail, legs kick, hands fist and unfist…baby giggles. This active play is all about discovering how their bodies move. It’s fun to learn how to be in charge of those body parts, and you get to witness this truly joyful play.
  • 1-2 years: Young toddlers love to play alone, so they need things like blocks and other sturdy toys that can be manipulated in many different ways. They busily occupy themselves bringing their imaginations to fruition through the ways they move objects, propel themselves through space, and interpret what their senses tell them. In fact, you might notice your little one starting to watch how others play, but she probably isn’t too interested in joining them, and that’s OK. Focus on watching her personality emerge!
  • 2 years+: Older toddlers start to participate in parallel play alongside or near others, but not with them. You’ll find that you begin to have fun playing in the same area your child plays in, encouraging her to explore by example versus directing or interfering.
  • 3-4 years: Early preschoolers begin to associate play with others—for example, playing on a piece of climbing equipment at the same time—but still pursue their own interests. You can best participate in play by following, not leading or interjecting your own ideas.
  • 4 years +: By age 4, children really begin to play with others and are truly interested in what they’re playmates are doing (and how they’re participating together). At this point, you can plan to layer in some daily structured play. For example, you might spend 30 minutes a day with your child doing things such as putting together puzzles or engaging in games that include rules, while saving that remaining time for independent exploration.

The most important thing to remember about unstructured play is that you really don’t need to sweat it. You just need to implement it! As long as your child is in a safe environment, you’ll be surprised at how she moves through these milestones on her own given a little bit of this priceless freedom. You may feel like you’re not being “hands-on” but you are!

In fact, if you need a reminder, stream that motivating chant “Ev’rything Is Just Fine!” Download our free app on the App Store or Google Play, and tap play…you might even encourage some interpretive dancing without having to lift a finger.

At Kindermusik, one of our most important principles is to follow the child, which is something we encourage families to do at home. We treasure each little one’s creativity, imagination, and unique style. And we know that by providing the music and carefully observing independent responses to activities like dancing, playing instruments, and storytime, we foster the critical elements of free play. Come join us!

– Reposted from Kindermusik International

Be a S.T.A.R!

“Be a star!” at Kindermusik means a very different thing than if you heard that phrase at a dance studio, or even a different type of music studio. Elsewhere that phrase might bring up imagery of stages, lights, sequins, practiced smiles, and scripted choreography.

Here at Kindermusik, we focus on process based curricula, rather than performance based rehearsals. Every moment in a Kindermusik class is carefully planned to promote optimal age-appropriate development. Focusing on process rather than performance allows your children the time, space, and safety necessary to learn through exploration. This promotes cognitive development, social development, fine and gross motor development, and emotional development. We’re about the WHOLE child, not just the cute part that looks adorable on a stage. Joyful music exploration is the vehicle whereby we promote growth, rather than perfect performances being our goal.

So at Kindermusik, when we talk about being a STAR, we’re not talking about being a great performer. We’re talking about breathing. Breathing is such a fundamental part of being human, we do it without thinking. However, in times of stress our breathing becomes shallow and our brains don’t get the oxygen they need to function in the executive problem-solving state. In those moments when our brains are in flight-or-flight mode, we need a tool to bring our brains back up to the executive functioning level.

Enter breathing. Balloon arms anyone? Or perhaps some S.T.A.R. breathing? Studies show it takes about THREE deep, slow breaths to calm the nervous system and bring the brain out of fight-or-flight and return to a state of problem solving calm and learning readiness.

S. – Stop
T. – Take a breath
A. – and
R. – Relax

S.T.A.R. breathing is a technique you can use as an adult when work and parenting overwhelms you. It’s a technique you can teach your teens and tweens to employ when their lives get to be too much. It’s a process that elementary aged children and preschoolers can do when they need help with emotional regulation. And you can even hold your screaming infant to your chest and breathe deeply, helping them feel your slowing breath, to help them to slow and deepen their own breathing.

Calm breathing can help your child feel safe. Empathetic breathing between you and your child will remind them they are loved. Only when they feel safe and loved can they return to learning, focusing, cooperating, and functioning.

How’s your S.T.A.R. practice going at home?

Get Ready, Get Set, SING!

It’s that time of year again. There’s been a run on school supplies and the stores are wiped out. You can’t find a pencil case to save your life. There’s an excitement and nervousness in the air for both the children AND their parents. Crossing guards, 20 mph school zones, and yellow busses slow down our morning commutes once more.

What does this mean for us at Song of the Heart Studios?

It means we have been working behind the scenes getting ready for a brand new season of joy and music making with you! Our summer break is anything but. We spend our break time dreaming up new ways to bring extra sparkle to your Kindermusik experience. We have been sprucing up the studio with new decor and deep cleaning. We are brushing off our lesson plans and brushing up on our pedagogy skills. Mostly we are thinking about you and your child and how we can provide you the best possible experience here.

Everything we do at Song of the Heart Studios is motivated by our love for music, our love for our Kindermusik families, and our deep belief that the answer to all of society’s problems is excellent early childhood education. When you invest in your child’s development at this age, their brains are wired in healthy ways that sets them on a trajectory for mental and social health and happiness. So thank you for doing not only what is best for your child, but what is best for the world. Thank you for letting us be a part of their childhood development.

We can’t wait for you to walk through our doors soon so we can watch your hearts sing and your children flourish!

“Mom . . . I’m Bored!” Embrace the Summertime Blues

Summertime: when the livin’ is easy . . . except when it’s not.

Holiday celebrations, hosting barbeques and picnics, finding child care, taking kids to their various enrichment activities, swimming lessons, road trips, family reunions, and more. What a wonderful time of year! But with all that joy and all those fun activities we can get stressed from all the running around. Our children can be over-stimulated and under-rested. And over stimulation and sleep deprivation can lead to behavioral and developmental problems.

Summer has changed a lot in a generation. In the 80s the days were filled with running around the neighborhood in bathing suits and cut-off shorts, chasing the distant jingle of the ice-cream truck, dashing through sprinklers, and playing pick-up games of Kick the Can. And don’t forget laying out in the backyard with tanning oil slathered all over you. Some things have changed for the better (thank you sunscreen!) but other things seem a bit . . . much.

With all the wonderful opportunities and activities and year-round schools that we have now, there is one thing oftentimes missing from our children’s lives: BOREDOM.

Did you know that some child psycholgists say that boredom is good for our children?

Yes, it’s true. Boredom is actually a benefit, and not something to be avoided.

Boredom has been proven to promote creativity, problem-solving, and independence. Boredom may be just the stimulus that your children need this summer. Yes, all those enriching camps and lessons are wonderful. And yes, those sanity-saving screens are convenient and easy to hand to our children when we need a few minutes to ourselves.

However, if we schedule every minute of the day and fill the leisure minutes with mind-numbing online content, we are doing our children a disservice. They need to be bored in order to have the time to tinker, time to think, and time to explore. Boredom helps them learn self-regulation. It provides them opportunities for conflict resolution (sibling rivalry anyone?). It gives them a chance to be in charge of themselves and flex those developing independence muscles.

It is HARD at first to shed the assumption that we need to be full-time entertainment directors for our kids. And if we don’t provide the fun and refuse to hand over a screen, that’s even harder. At first. But if you can cope with the complaining and bickering for a few minutes, it won’t take long before you’ll see your kiddos find something to make or break or solve or climb.

So lean in to the summertime blues. Let your kids be bored. It’s good for them. It’s good for you.

“Aaah, summer – that long anticipated stretch of lazy, lingering days, free of responsibility and rife with possibility. It’s a time to hunt for insects, master handstands, practice swimming strokes, conquer trees, explore nooks and crannies, and make new friends.”
~Darell Hammond

Rainbow Connection: A Pathway to Social Bonding

In 2012 an archaeological site in Europe unearthed the oldest musical instrument artifacts ever found: flutes carved from bird bone and mammoth ivory. These instruments date back ~42,000 years. That means that when our Paleolithic ancestors were engaged in the life-saving activities of hunting and gathering they were also prioritizing the making of music.

A 2013 review of musical research describes how when playing music in a group individuals have contact with others, engage in social cognition, develop empathy, communicate, and coordinate their actions. Music actually impacts the brain circuits involved in empathy, trust, and cooperation. Perhaps this explains why music has developed and thrived in every culture of the world.

The key here seems to be shared music making, not merely listening to recorded music. It’s the act of connection that occurs when people gather together to experience and create music. It’s why every world religion employs music in its services. It’s why musicians tour and do live concerts. It’s why political rallies include performances by popular musicians. When you share music together your brain releases oxytocin and chemically bonds you to those around you.

Oxytocin is the same chemical released during breastfeeding. It’s the same neuropeptide associated with physical touch. It is a proven hormone that increases bonding and trust between people. Remember the feeling of love and affection wash over you as your breastfed your little one? Or when you gazed into their eyes as you rocked them and sang a lullaby? That was oxytocin bathing your brain, connecting you and your little one.

THAT is what we do here at Kindermusik. It is an intentional shared musical experience between you and your child that optimizes brain development in them and heightened emotional pleasure in both of you. For our older students, the sharing time with you at the end of class is limited. So it’s even more important that you engage in at-home music making.

THAT is the purpose behind our Rainbow Connection efforts these next two weeks. We provide tools for you to take the Kindermusik experience that you’ve invested in and bring it into your home. We want you to get the full benefits of our program and make shared musical experience a natural, daily part of your family culture. Because it will make your family even more bonded, and make your children even more cooperative, and bring you all emotional well being.

 

Music builds connection.
Music builds brains.
Music builds culture.
Music builds cohesion.
Music builds cooperation.

 

And, as we have learned from our Neanderthal ancestors, as they have passed down in our very DNA, music breeds life.

So dig into your at-home materials with renewed interest and enthusiasm and intention. Develop your own family musical rituals with purpose. And keep coming back to Kindermusik. Keep this development and bonding going through Summermusik and into the next year.

Can’t wait to see your beautifully colored Rainbow Connection papers as you bring them back next week!

How to Calm an Upset Child with Music

Music is often thought of simply as entertainment, but its power as a conjurer of emotions is undeniable. You probably have that song that transports you right back to your first big breakup, or to a special moment from childhood. Certain music makes you want to get up and dance, while other tunes can make you weepy for no obvious reason. Music’s unique ability to influence our emotions makes it a powerful tool to manage feelings and behavior.

For children, especially, music can help instill calm, promote self-regulation and impart joy. This is great news for parents, who are so intimately familiar with how quickly and unpredictably kids can “lose it.” Finding effective strategies to calm and comfort can be a challenge, and music is a good one to have in your arsenal.

How To Calm and Upset Baby | Kindermusik

Creating Feelings of Safety and Security

Many children struggle with change and transitions. Drop-off at school or Grandma’s house, getting into the car for an outing, abandoning a favorite activity for bathtime…all of these things can be stress triggers. The good news is that building music into transitions can help smooth things out.

Try introducing a favorite song during times of transition to set the mood. Want your child to relax? Play something calm. Does your child need to perk up and get moving? Play something lively! Music can also help define and communicate your expectations, so your child understands what’s about to happen and how he or she should respond. Sing “It’s time to take a bath,” or “It’s time to clean the toys” to the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell,” for example. When you choose music that’s familiar, predictable, and used routinely, your child feels calmed by the certainty and familiarity of it all.

Singing calms babies longer thank talking. | Kindermusik

Building Self-Regulation

Another way to ensure calmer, happier days with your child is to help strengthen his or her self-regulation skills. Children who can self-regulate are able to remain calm and soothe themselves in stressful or frustrating situations, delay gratification, and adjust to unexpected changes. Self-regulated children wait their turn, share easily with others, and listen carefully.

Sounds dreamy, right? Well, if you don’t feel like this perfectly describes your child, you’re not alone. Self-regulation develops gradually, across the years of early childhood, and it is definitely a process. The beginning stages of self-regulation are about impulse control, so the first step is understanding what it feels like to stop yourself from doing something.

Betsy Flanagan | Stop=and-go games teach self-regulation | Kindermusik

That’s where musical “stop-and-go” activities can help. Remember playing “Freeze Dance” as a kid? Everyone dances to music and then freezes in place when the music stops. Try this with your child. Sing or play music and let loose dancing together! Then stop the music abruptly to challenge your child to control the impulse to continue moving. In the ensuing silence, your child can literally feel themselves stop; they can feel that they are in control of their actions. This is such a fun and easy way to build important self-regulatory skills. Think about it: In order to play the game effectively, your child needs to focus, listen, and react to aural cues. These are the very things that help children develop attention and control—the building blocks of self-regulation.

Managing Meltdowns

Even children who feel safe and secure and show good self-regulatory skills will occasionally have what we lovingly refer to as “meltdowns.” (And don’t we adults have them, too?) Music can be especially effective at easing everyone back into a better state of mind. And there’s a powerful brain theory behind this.

Research has shown that listening to music lowers cortisol levels. Since cortisol is commonly known as the “stress hormone,” it follows that listening to music reduces stress. Scientists have also proven that listening to music increases dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is known as the “motivation molecule” because it leads to the type of feel-good moments you might experience when eating a favorite food or completing a physically satisfying workout. Feeling blue and out of chocolate? Turn on a song for a dose of mood-enhancing dopamine.

How to Calm an Upset Child with Music | Kindermusik

So if your child is feeling stressed, frustrated, angry—any of the emotions that might lead to the dreaded meltdown—turn to music. It just might be the cure.

– Reposted from Kindermusik International

The Child’s Brain on Music

The majority of scientific studies about music and the brain are done on adults, but there is a premiere neuromusicologist at Harvard Medical School that studies the effects of music on children’s brains.

Gottfried Schlaug M.D. PhD tested the brains of 6 year olds, giving them 15 minutes of keyboard instruction for a period of 15 months against the brains of a control group of 6 year old children that received no musical instruction.

The musical children’s brains showed measurable increase in the auditory and motor centers of the brain. Additionally, they outperformed the non-musical children on tasks of sound discrimination and motor sequencing.

What does that mean?

Kids who engage in musical training and practice have more developed brains than their peers. Kids who engage in musical training and practice have a higher capacity to sort and identify sounds. What does that matter? Auditory discrimination sounds fancy, but essentially it is the ability to distinguish phonemes, the most basic unit of language and speech. The child who studies music has increased ability to both express and understand language. Language expression and reception is a crucial skill throughout life.

Additionally, the musically trained children had higher ability in motor planning. Motor planning is the ability to conceive, order, and carry out a sequence of non-habitual movements from beginning to end. So much of what we do in life is motor sequencing: cooking a meal, dressing ourselves, cleaning a room, exercising, driving, and on and on.

Kindermusik is giving your child a leg-up in these developmental tasks. Don’t you feel glad that you are giving them the best foundation for growth? All wrapped up in one joyful package!

The WHY of Kindermusik and Online Parent Guides

There are two things you can be doing with your toddler now that could give your child a leg up when it comes time for them to start kindergarten. This is according to an impressive longitudinal study that tracked more than 3,000 children across Australia over the course of several years. The two things? Shared reading experiences and shared musical experiences. That’s right. It seems that 2- to 3-year-olds who enjoyed these purposeful interactions turned into 4- and 5-year-olds with more prosocial skills, better emotional regulation, and an increased ability to understand and work with numbers.

The idea that a shared reading experience (i.e. reading a book aloud in a way that engages and involves your child) is beneficial should come as no surprise. There’s been a lot written about how these interactions build early literacy and social-emotional skills. As you giggle together, wonder together, talk about the pictures and words in a book together, your child learns, but the two of you also bond.

Less attention has been paid, however, to the value of shared home music experiences; dancing with your child, humming and rocking together, singing along with your favorite recording—all of these have benefits beyond just being fun. And fun they certainly are. When you stop to think about it, don’t many of your fondest memories from childhood involve music?

The fun of Kindermusik and shared musical experiences between you and your child is what is happening in the foreground. It’s why your child loves coming to class each week. It’s why they are disappointed when they ask if it’s a music day and you reply that it isn’t. But in the background of all that fun and bonding is an incredible abundance of optimal development for your child’s brain and body. It’s the WHY we do what we do. Tangible long-term benefits hidden between the bars of our songs and movement activities.

It’s also WHY we provide to you the Kindermusik Online Parent Guides. These are tools for YOU, the adult, to supplement the Kindermusik classroom experience at home. When your little one is disappointed they can’t go to music class, you are prepared with streaming class music, a simple printable or craft that coordinates with the current curriculum, or a short video to spur connection and exploration. These nuggets of fun bring the benefits of shared musical experience into your home, on demand, when you and your child need a moment of connection. 

Just log into my.kindermusik.com to access the Kindermusik Online Parent Guide for your current or any of your past curriculum. 

Thank you for letting us be a part of your child’s development!

-partial repost from Kindermusik International

Babble On . . . It Benefits Baby!

If the hours of cute baby footage on YouTube are any indication, watching a baby babble is a pretty solid form of entertainment. Just check out one of the hundreds of videos with titles like “cutest baby babble videos ever,” and you’ll see what we mean. You won’t be able to resist the urge to giggle—and perhaps even babble right back yourself.

Actually, choosing to babble back to a baby is a great instinct. Babies love hearing you mirror their speech sounds right back to them—and doing so encourages them to continue with their own babbling. This is how babies first experience verbal back-and-forth communication and learn the patterns that characterize speech. So those seemingly nonsensical sounds are actually quite significant.  After all, sounds—which have absolutely no meaning in isolation—are the building blocks of words. When your baby babbles, he or she is putting together sounds in pleasing ways and learning how our language works. Babbling also helps develop the muscles a child needs to speak.

When baby babbles and mom responds, it creates a social feedback loop of communication and learning, which is what we call language.

Beyond Babbling

You can also respond to baby babbling in more sophisticated ways. Notice what’s prompting your child’s babbling (did he or she see something exciting or interesting? Is he or she imitating a specific sound?) and respond by affirming it. Use rich vocabulary to describe what’s going on: “Yes! That is a cute dog. Look at his big eyes. He is wagging his tail. He likes you, too!”

To help your child begin to develop listening ears as well as speaking skills, focus attention on specific sounds: “What’s that sound? It’s a dog barking. Woof, woof!” Don’t be surprised if the sounds then become part of your child’s babbling vocabulary.

baby babble - kindermusik

Embrace Your “Baby Voice”

Don’t be afraid to use that high-pitched sing-song voice that comes so naturally when you’re talking to a baby. This type of speech, characterized by a slower cadence, shorter sentences, exaggerated intonation, and lots of repetition, is known as “motherese,” or “child-directed speech.” Research suggests that speaking to your child this way can actually boost their language development and learning, since babies are better able to attend to and understand “motherese” than regular adult speech.

Whenever you talk to your baby, be sure to make eye contact. This is a very important part of meaningful communication. Even if your baby can’t answer you in words, you’ll know from his or her facial expressions that he or she is participating in the conversation.

Cut Down on Cell Phone Babbling

This comes as no surprise, but it’s a good idea to put away your phonewhen you’re spending quality time with your baby. Save texts, emails, and calls for later, and just focus on your child. Continually glancing at your screen not only interrupts the critical one-on-one interaction that teaches your baby about communication, but also distracts you from the important cues your child is giving you.

Don’t Have Preconceived Notions About When “Real Speech” Will Occur

Every parent waits for that magical moment when a child first says “Mama” or “Dada.” But that will come in each baby’s own time, not according to any particular schedule. It’s good to have a sense of the typical language development trajectory and milestones, but it’s a broad range, so try not to get too caught up on specific deadlines.

baby babble - kindermusik

In the meantime, keep up that back-and-forth babbling! As with almost everything, music makes it more fun and interesting. And (surprise!) we even have some babble-friendly suggestions for you: Try singing along to “Dipidu”  during your morning routine—during diapering, feeding, or dressing. And play “Bubbles on Me” during bath time, so your baby can practice forming syllables as he or she blows buh-buh-buh bubbles in the tub. These are the moments when you truly realize how important you are as your baby’s first teacher.

To experience this weekly at our in-studio experience, join us for a class!

reposted from Kindermusik International