The Brain Amazes Me

Warning: You may get a flashback to 9th grade biology reading this blog post, and you may feel compelled to flirt with the cute kid sitting next to you.  Or, you may find yourself with an uncontrollable urge to sink lower into your seat to avoid the teacher’s gaze.  But hang in there, there will be no test or grade afterwards.  It’s just something to think about when you’re in class this week.

The corpus callosum is the part of our brain that facilitates communication between the right and left hemispheres of our brains.  The bigger the corpus callosum is, the better the coordination between our right and left sides of our bodies.  Research shows us that the absence of a corpus callosum can be problematic, leading to difficulties with vision, hearing, sleep, attention span, just to name a few.

When I was younger, I learned that the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, and vice versa.  We now know that the division between the hemispheres is not so simple.  Both sides of the brain are active whenever we do something, even though each side has a specialty.

I learned the other day that left-handed people continually confront tasks that demand they use their non-dominant hand (Berger, K. (2014)  Invitation to the Life Span. New York City, New York: Worth. [180]).  For instance, they shake hands with their right hand, but eat with their left.  Or, they figure out how to use right-handed scissors (with their right hands) because left-handed ones are not as common in schools.  (The other day I had to use a pair of left-handed scissors, though I worked them with my right hand!  Holy Cow!  Everything felt completely upside down!)

It may be this back-and-forth that causes left-handed people to have bigger corpus callosa than us righties.  And, there is some evidence to suggest that people who are left-handed may have strengths in creativity and an ability to access both hemispheres of the brain.  Judy Garland, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Simon, Michelangelo, Carol Burnett and Jim Henderson were all lefties.

In class, your child may reach for an instrument with her right hand, or her left.  Of course, in Kindermusik class we would encourage a child to do what comes naturally in that regard.  However, we also work on activities that develop coordination between the hemispheres—actions that require both sides of the body (running, skipping, even gentle baby massage in the infant class).  It’s one more way that we are helping in the development of the whole of your child.

The Sense of Kindermusik

Once upon a time (because that’s how all good stories start), nine years ago, I was visiting my in-laws in Seattle.  My sister-in-law was, at the time, getting a license to teach Kindermusik.  She told me that one of the hallmarks of a Kindermusik class was how kids learned musical concepts through using their bodies—so, for example, kids would learn the difference in pitch by crouching low for low sounds and stretching high for high sounds.  Everything I had learned in my formal training to be a secondary educator led me to recognize immediately the sound pedagogy of what she was sharing.  Age appropriate?  Check.  High interest?  Check.  Incorporating a variety of learning modalities (in this case, aural and kinesthetic)?  Check.  I was sold.

However, a quick search revealed that there was no Kindermusik program within 50 miles of where we were living at the time and I decided that if my kids were going to benefit from the program, I’d have to be their instructor.  My Kindermusik career was born.

Flash forward nine years (even though few fairy tales ever share with us “the rest of the story”), and I realize that, yes, what my sister-in-law said was true.  There’s nothing like climbing up the ladder, climbing to the tip top and sliiiiddding down (especially when accompanied by a slide whistle) to help kids understand musical concepts.  I love that Kindermusik uses this approach to teach musical concepts.

But I’ve also learned that kids in a Kindermusik class learn more than just musical modalities.  Take, for instance, the concept that Ms. Carol was teaching in the preschool class this week: smooth and bumpy.  Of course, this is a great way to teach staccato and legato (because where would we be without great staccato songs, or amazing legato songs?).  But “smooth” and “bumpy” are themselves important concepts for preschoolers to learn.

When most of us are born, we have the capacity to learn about textures, but we haven’t yet developed the ability to distinguish between them.  This is why so many children’s books or toys have textures built into them.  It’s a way that we can wire kids’ brains for effective learning.  Nevertheless, if you ever question the role that processing different textures has our lives, you need only ask a parent or an instructor of a child who lacks this capacity.  People with sensory processing disorder will probably tell you how difficult it can be to manage such a thing.

Feeling the textures in a book (or even talking about the textures of the animals in the “Animals A-Dancing” unit that we’re doing) can give kids a kinesthetic sense of texture.  Nevertheless, tossing the parachute up and down, making it go slow and smooth or rough and bumpy, can also help kids develop a sense of texture—but this time, it’s through a visual cue.  And then there’s the sense of hearing—what does a smooth song sound like?  A bumpy song?

As children get older and can begin to process abstract concepts, we can look at “smooth” and “bumpy” in terms of metaphors.  If you’re anything like me, sometimes getting dinner on the table can be a fairly “bumpy ride.”  Or, maybe it’s “smooth sailing” from here on out?  Have you ever stopped even notice that a smoothie shouldn’t still have chunks of fruit in it?  No bumpy smoothies!  The definitions of those words become so ingrained in our brain’s make-up, we sometimes don’t even notice how they form the basis for so many other phrases.

So, yes, our kids are learning musical concepts in Kindermusik, and this helps them foster a lifelong love of music.  But that’s only because music is such a great way for our kids to develop into whole people.  And that, in the end, is what Kindermusik is all about.

Tickles and Hugs

Tickles and Hugs

“Touch is the only sense we cannot live without. You child could be blind and be fine, she could be deaf and be okay, but without touching and being touched, a child will die.” —  I Love You Rituals, Becky Bailey, Ph.D., pg. 10
The other day my son asked me which of my five senses I would give up if I needed. I told him that although it would be sad (more than sad) if I couldn’t hear him or his sisters again, or if I couldn’t see their faces as they grew older (and life without chocolate might be unbearable!) I certainly would retain my sense of touch. I want to be able to nurture my children through touch, and I definitely want to be loved and held myself. Nothing soothes my soul like a hug from one of my kids.
Researchers have looked extensively at the devastating consequences of non-touch, especially at the deprivation that occurred in the Romanian orphanages. This Scientific American article points out that skin-to-skin contact with babies calms them and helps them sleep better (who doesn’t want a baby to sleep better?) and helps mom’s own levels of stress and depression.
Of course, if I had read this as a new mom I would have an increase in my stress levels, wondering if I was holding my baby girl enough. Sometimes she didn’t sleep well at night—was I doing everything “right?”
Now, I read that advice and I notice all the times during the day that I DO hug my kids, or snuggle with them while we read on the couch. And I think to myself, “My preschooler may be upset today, but it’s NOT because I didn’t touch her enough—it’s got nothing to do with me and I’m doing my best here. And just think how upset she might be if I HADN’T hugged her?”
Having an 11-year-old daughter, I know it isn’t always easy to give her a hug (especially when she really needs it—that’s when she’s at her most resistant to me). Still, I try to look beyond the moments that she squirms away from my hugs and instead find the times when I can put my arm across her shoulders or brush her arm gently to wake her up in the morning.
You may have noticed that in the green studio we have some words on the wall. From time to time when I’m snuggling with my son during class I look up and see the word “touch.” I’m reminded that this is the gift of Kindermusik—it gives me a chance during the day to focus exclusively on my son, to hug him and let him know that I see him and I value him. If there are more important things to give my son, I’m not sure I’ve found them yet.
One of the rituals we do in some of Kindermusik classes is called “Round and Round the Haystack.” It’s a great way to entertain the kids while you’re waiting for the oil to get changed or while standing in line at the grocery store, as well as engage in some playful touch.
Round and round the haystack goes the little mare (draw circles on your child’s hand/knee/shoulder, etc.) with your index finger
One step, two steps (walk your fingers up the child’s arm/leg/back, heading for a ticklish spot)
Tickle you under there! (Give a gentle tickle under the child’s arm)
(Also found in I Love You Rituals, pg. 111)
Do you have a favorite snuggling ritual with your child? What are some of the ways you engage with your kids in some playful touch? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!