I sing with babies, toddlers and preschoolers almost everyday, and one thing I understand as a music teacher is that there is one serious deal breaker to learning music: that is the inability to feel a beat or the failure to understand rhythm.
A person can play notes that he reads even if his pitch is not perfect. He will probably eventually learn to hear those notes a little better if he keeps playing an instrument. But the lack of understanding and feel for rhythm can halt his progress on learning to read and play music if this inability isn’t repaired. I have worked with a few people who are totally rhythm deficient. Teaching this understanding is not easy. Although I am almost always successful at teaching rhythm to children, I have not always been successful in the most extreme cases where the child has grown older and has never had any training in rhythm. I tackle rhythm hard early on with my children. As soon as they are comfortable enough to play a few simple songs, we start with metronomes or my drum machine (which I happen to prefer with many children.)
Because I have the privilege of singing with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, I have made it my goal to make sure that every baby, toddler, and preschooler learns to feel rhythm. You will notice that I said “feel.” I didn’t say, “understand.” That comes later. Babies will not understand the rules of timing and meter, but they can and will learn to feel rhythm in my class.
I will describe what I do to accomplish understanding of rhythm at each stage.
Babies (up to about 18 months)
Babies are fun. When I teach babies rhythm, it does not look like I’m teaching at all. I am sitting on the floor with my rhythm guitar strumming, singing, and tapping my feet which have foot tambourines on them to really emphasize the rhythm of my songs. My body is often moving to the beat of the song and sometimes I will actually count beats out loud.
With babies, I choose to sit with them most of the time so that I am at eye level with them. I put instruments out in front of those babies so that they will have things to enjoy trying to figure out while I’m playing and singing. While this is happening it is amazing to watch those babies move, dance, clap, try to pat drums, shake rattles, sway, or sing. I never cease to be amazed at the elation and joy that music brings to babies. I always praise the mothers and fathers for seeing and understanding how valuable music is to their babies. Bringing your baby to a group music class is invaluable in this process of beginning music education. I have yet to see a baby who does not completely enjoy being around music.
I must point out that every child who started in my babies music class shows a complete understanding and feel for rhythm when he has finally moved to my preschool class.
Toddlers (18 mos – 3 yrs)
For my toddlers, I can start involving them in the music. I will sing songs that invite them to move, dance, stomp their feet, clap their hands, jump up and down. Now they are physically responding to the beat of the music. I still do not use any formal training with music notes on the staff, but at this stage they will hear me count beats out loud in the song. For all children, teaching rhythm through body rhythm is very valuable, but for toddlers, it is the primary and almost only method I use. I have a 45 minute toddler class and most of the class involves them watching me, mirroring me, or following my instruction. (This by the way is invaluable preparation for school as I have pointed out in one of my other blogs.) Many of the songs you will hear me sing I have written just for this purpose and you can now find these songs on my two CDs, Dance with Me: Songs for Young Children and Color Songs: Songs for Children.
Now, I no longer sit at eye level the entire time. I am up and moving and having them move with me. They love the dancing and movement. We use sticks and scarves and body movements to work through other songs. At the toddler level, children are still learning to feel the music. Studies are now proving that play is the most important way for young children to learn, and this principle is clearly applied in all of my music classes for young children. If it isn’t fun, learning will not happen. My toddlers, frequently beg to come back. Parents who consistently bring their children to my music classes are laying a solid and strong musical foundation as well as a foundation for all learning. What looks like fun in our eyes is the most serious of learning for these toddlers.
Preschoolers (3 yrs – 5 yrs)
Now that the foundations have been laid (through my classes or listening to music at home) we are finally ready to begin the most basic of formal music education. We are still by no means going to get very detailed or technical, but we do start formally counting beats with sticks, drums and body movements. Not only are we learning basic beginner principles of music, we are preparing for reading. I have children placing notes on my felt music staff and I even have them practice drawing these notes on my enlarged musical staff worksheet that I hand out. This is not just good for learning music, but it is also good for teaching them to read and write. We are working on drawing from left to right. There are just so many wonderful activities that we can do with preschoolers to teach them to get the skills necessary to learn to read and play music. I get specific about many of the activities that I use in my other blogs. Check them out!
Even in my preschool class, I still include my fun movement activities that were present throughout my toddler class. A few movement activities is a great way to start my class before we start working on the more formal learning.
I encourage every parent of young children to find a good music class and enroll your young children in these classes. These classes are so very valuable to children’s growth and development, not only musically, but in many ways!
Using two simple wooden sticks can be such a wonderful source of learning and entertainment for toddlers and preschoolers. Getting them to clap or directly work with their bodies is one new thing they are learning to do, but adding an external object is a little tougher. This takes more coordination on their part. Young children are very quickly gaining hand eye coordination skills through video games and electronic media, but the act of using wooden dowels makes it physical. Little boys love being able to bang sticks, but so do girls.
Here are some of the activities that I use.
1. Making Rain This is a great activity for controlling loud and soft and fast and slow. I will tell the children, “I see a big rain cloud coming, but I don’t have to go too far. I think I can walk to the store.” When I am walking it starts to rain really softly so I have them tap their sticks slowly and softly with me. “Oh no!” I say a bit anxiously. “It is starting to rain really hard!” At this time we bang our sticks quickly and loudly. Toddlers and preschoolers love the sudden change, and they love banging their sticks loudly and feeling the anticipation of the heavy rain. I then tell them that the rain is slowing down, “but I am already pretty wet.” We again tap our sticks softly and slowly. Then, “Oh no, it’s starting to rain really hard again!” We repeat this cycle about 3 times and then with the last big rain I say, “Oh look! There’s a rainbow. I see blue sky. The sun is coming out! The rain stopped.” I then tell them to put their sticks up. Putting their sticks up at the beginning and end of each activity is a great way to keep them from getting distracted and to keep their focus on me as the teacher and leader of the activities. They love this as you can see from my YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wU73aQRBoMU (This video is at the bottom of this page on my website!)
2. Froggy in the Meadow This is a little rhyme that I learned and use almost every week with my toddlers. “Froggy in the meadow, can’t get him out. Take your sticks and try to get him out!” Then the children and I bang our sticks very quickly and loudly on the floor. This is wonderful because these young children are mirroring me. It is so very important that these children learn to follow what I am doing. We then chant together, “Froggy in the meadow, can’t get him out. Take your sticks and stir him about.” Then the children and I take our sticks and stir them on the floor together. We then chant the first part because nothing has yet worked to get that froggy out. The last time we chant and then bang our sticks we can say, “Yay, we got him out.” I then say “Sticks up” to get ready for the next activity. Putting our sticks up is a great way to transition from one activity to the next as it will help keep them from being distracted.
3. Do As I’m Doing This is something I sing, but it could also be chanted rhythmically. “Do as I’m doing, follow, follow me. Do as I’m doing, follow, follow me.” I tap sticks on the floor counting to four so that the children can hear that four beat count. I then change my action and click the sticks together, repeating this same song or chant. I can make up as many actions for them to follow as I choose. Here is where the teacher can get creative and use what works best for the children. Again, this is an excellent mirroring and following directions activity. The children have to watch me to know how to do the activities. This is also another good activity to musically let them feel rhythm. It takes toddlers a while to fully grasp rhythm, but believe me, if I do rhythm activities consistently, they will learn to feel and understand rhythm. I say that there will be no learning of music without understanding rhythm. This is very important and a necessary foundation. I have seen success as they grow older. The key is knowing what they grasp and expecting no more. This is teaching for success and success is measured in very small things. Appreciate every tidbit of success!
4. The Cobbler Song This is the chant that I use, but different poems or chants could be used. I have the children take one stick and hold it up vertically while the bottom of the stick rests on the floor. Then they take their second stick and hammer the top of that stick. I always tell them that they are hammering a nail. (Good sticks that are not too long or narrow are best for this activity, and sticks that have flat ends are best.) Here is how my rhyme goes. “There’s a cobber down the street, Mending shoes for little feet, With a bang and a bang and a bang, bang, bang, With a bang and a bang and a bang, bang, bang. Mending shoes all day long, Mending shoes to make them strong, With a bang, and a bang, and a bang, bang, bang, With a bang and a bang, and a bang, bang, bang.” Any rhyme that allows them to hammer could be used. Again, this is another great mirroring, following, and rhythm activity.
5. Five Little Monkeys This is a great little break after I have worked them hard as they have had to to follow me. I simply have them hold their five fingers up (Toddlers can try to help me count them but will not understand the eliminating one finger at a time process.) I simply have them bang a stick on the ground each time that monkey bumps his head (and then I add a pause in the rhythm and say, “Ow”) This is just a simple chant that children absolutely love. A little fun mixed in with work. This is what works best with children and children’s programs. Teachers and leaders have to mix up the work with fun, but it always has to be fun to keep children’s attention.
6. Rhythm Activities with Preschoolers I will not elaborate here as I have discussed this more in my other blogs, but sticks are great for counting beats and rhythms. It is really nice to be able to use an external object besides their hands to teach them more coordinated movement. This is also a great introduction to preparing them to play a real instrument. The simple action of playing the sticks instead of their hands is a step that prepares their brains for learning to play an instrument. With preschoolers, drums would be next, but for starters, sticks are a little less distracting.
Sticks are a wonderful. They are but one manipulative among many that can be used. There are many more activities with sticks that have been created. These are only a few examples. Try making sticks one of your toddler or preschool activities.
There is so much to learn in the world of music. As a matter of fact, good musicians never stop learning. Music can be very complicated and there are many levels and facets to learning music. How to begin formal education with young children can seem overwhelming at times. One instrument that is so wonderful for introducing playing and reading music with very young children is the xylophone.
Teaching young children has to begin very simply. Fine motor skills and reading are not even developed, so much of the earliest music education is about skills that prepare children for reading and simply appreciating music and understanding simple pitch and rhythm. When children are three years old, we can begin introducing them to very simple reading skills. I find that using the xylophone is one of the best ways to introduce them to reading and playing.
The first thing is purchasing a good xylophone. Look on any sites that sell instruments for music education and compare prices. A good xylophone for a classroom will cost several hundred dollars. Just shop. The purchase will be worth it.
Once you have acquired a xylophone you are ready to begin teaching. Remember, that very young children are not quite ready to play complete songs, even simple ones. You must begin with very simple phrases. I like to start with a simple “sol, mi” pitch pattern like the the melody you find in the song, “Rain, Rain, Go Away.” (There is one “la” in the song, but first part is there.) Simple songs like this can be found in The Kodaly Method:Comprehensive Music Education from Infant to Adult by Lois Chosky. I put only two notes on my xylophone or hand them two tone bars if this is what I have purchased instead of the entire xylophone. These movable bars give you flexibility and make the chore of playing music very simple for very young children. They are now not having to find the notes. You have found the notes for them and have given the notes to them.
The teacher will give the children who are playing two mallets, one for each hand. It is best to find mallets with shorter and wider sticks attached to a slightly larger head. If these are not available for purchase, then making them may be an option. Let each child have one mallet in each hand for playing one note at a time. Play notes for them so that children can mirror your playing one note at a time, one per hand. Some young children may not be able to alternate hands while playing. Encourage, but don’t penalize if they cannot do this yet. This is a skill that takes time to learn, so playing each week will slowly teach them how. This is also a cognitive skill, so it will happen when it is time for them to be able to do it. It cannot be forced ahead of time. If they play hands together instead of separately, give them praise! With a “sol, mi” pitch, they are still playing the chord. Young children will be so proud of themselves for playing an instrument! This will be their first success at playing real music!
When I teach with just two notes, I show them the notes on my felt staff that I have made and let them each come up and put those two notes where they belong on the staff. Children love putting the felt notes on my felt staff. After we have done this, we practice trying to draw the notes. Three year old children have less success with this, but they enjoy doing it and this is the beginning of their reading and writing career. I am always very conscientious of going from left to right since this is the direction in which we read in many of our countries and in our music!
Now, once this foundation has been laid, children who are four years old are ready to learn to play a really simple song like hot cross buns. They will enjoy this because it sounds like a real song. Again, just apply the felt activity to help them reinforce the reading of notes. I use B,A,G. Any notes will do. With songs like this, I just have my students play with one mallet in one hand. At this age children will be ready to explore learning other instruments like piano, but still at a very elementary, introductory level.
If you as a teacher can successfully begin using xylophones for teaching music, you will successfully introduce your students to the world of formal music education.
Children love visual stimulation and babies and toddlers love faces. Now what could be more appealing than puppets? Puppets can be so entertaining for babies and young children and are a great way to get children’s attention. If a teacher needs to teach a new idea, using puppets is a fantastic choice.
Using puppets as part of your curriculum does not demand that you be a ventriloquist or have years of experience. Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers will be interested in your puppet for so many reasons. Here are some very simple guidelines.
1. Make it is visually stimulating. Just watching the puppets alone will hold children’s interest. The story or song that goes with it is not the only source of interest. Puppets with bright colors and good eyes are always best. Young children love faces and good eyes! Mouths that move are preferable. I always try to remember to open the mouth each time my puppet says a word. Try not to move the puppet around too much so that children’s eyes don’t have to work too hard to follow your puppet.
2. Make sure your puppet tells a good story that holds their interest. Create simple plots. Think like a child! Watch them! They will tell you what to do by their reactions and interaction. The good thing is that they will be so interested in the puppet, they still won’t mind. Get good ideas from age appropriate children’s books, shows, and songs and use them or rewrite and adapt original material using similar formats.
3. Use traditional stories or songs or create new ones. Start with something like farm animals on Old MacDonald’s farm or animals on Noah’s ark. Remember, everything is new to these little children! No matter what you create and share will be exciting if it is something they can relate to. Take traditional stories like these and add your own creative twist.
4. Give your puppet a name. This will give you a sense of the puppet’s personality that you can expand on. I have my barnyard animals that I use with my babies. There’s Pete the pig, Wally the duck, Charlie horse, Chuck the dog and his cousins, Buck and Lulu. I enjoy these names so it is easy for me to have fun with the songs I use them with.
5. Make the entire skit you use something you enjoy. If you enjoy it, the kids will enjoy it. Really. Your happiness will be transferred to them. How simple is that! Because it is fun, it will be much easier for you to create more characters and additions to your plot.
6. Use all kinds of puppets. You do not have to use the most expensive or famous name brand puppets. You can find great puppets at thrift shops, yard sales, or make them yourself. Before you know it you will have a good collection of puppets who become your companions.
7. Don’t wear out your welcome. Keep the show time with your puppet simple and only long enough to hold the attention of your particular age group. Remember that young children’s attention spans are not very long. If you watch your audience closely, you will know how long to keep going. The more you do this, the better you will be! Learn as you go!
I cannot emphasize enough how simple it is to use puppets and how engaged your little ones will be. Please, start looking for your first puppet today!
When I started singing with very young children, I had to come up with ideas that would work. Well, naturally, movement was one idea, but I also knew that I needed props and objects that they could manipulate to make activities have meaning. I begin pulling together a few songs that would allow me to create some good felt activities.
Aikendrum was my first felt activity. I think most of my readers here are familiar with the guy who lives on the moon who has body parts made of food. I knew exactly what to do. I went and bought felt and made the body and put it on a dark blue background. Then I made all of the food body parts. I give a body part to each child and that child had to listen to the song so that he/she knew when to put the body part on Aikendrum. This is still the favorite of all of my children. The song is paced just right for the children to have time to take their turns putting on the body part. Children love being involved in an activity.
My next activity was “Sally the Camel.” This time I used fleece because it is the fabric I had. I made Sally the camel with a very long body and made ten humps to fit on her back. My preschoolers take turns taking off one hump at a time until she is left with no humps. My toddlers love this activity. With this activity we are learning to take turns and learning to count. It is another valuable activity.
We use “The Old Lady Who Swallowed the Fly.” I created the old lady out of a 2 liter soda bottle with the top cut off and covered in fabric. I added a head with a large mouth that opens. Then I collected the animals that she swallowed for the children to take turns putting inside her. They love it! Just another hands on activity!
I have made costumes that I use for the song, “The Little White Duck.” The children get to dress as a duck, a frog, a bug, a fish, a snake, a bear, and a bird and act out the song as we sing it. Children love to act! This works best with young elementary groups that are small. I have six different animal characters so I have to use this with small groups.
And of course there is “The Green Grass Grows All Around.” Yes, I have a hole in the ground, a tree, a branch, a nest, some eggs, and some birds. The kids love this. You can add whatever you’d like.
These are just a few examples. I have other activities that I use or have used. Some have been more successful than others. It’s all about experimenting and finding out what works. Start creating activities that use felt of other props that get preschoolers involved. These activities are so wonderful for teaching children to listen to and follow directions. Children learn to become more aware of their surroundings and they learn whatever lesson the activity teaches them. I use felt and fabric instead of paper because it lasts much longer. I have been carrying Aikendrum around with me for seven years now and he still looks great! These activities are fabulous learning tools for any story time or music activity! You don’t have to sing. Just tell the story, and if you do sing and your singing is not perfect, the children will not mind at all. They will be having way too much fun to notice!
These days when both parents are working, they are often depending on the schools to provide programs for their children after school. I have had the privilege to work in many after school programs locally for the organization with whom I am employed, Mountain Top Music Center. I have had 7 years of learning how to make after school programs work for children.
I love and have a great deal of enthusiasm for what I do. Very often many of us who are artists and teachers do. The problem arises when I expect children to have the same level of enthusiasm that I have. In an after school program, this is not going to easily happen. I have to come in and approach those children with my enthusiasm but, even more importantly, with my understanding.
Understanding of what? The biggest thing that all of us have to understand in after school programs is that children have been in school all day. Some have left their homes early in the morning and will not get home until late in the evening. In the winter some leave in the dark and get home in the dark. They will get home, eat and be rushed off to bed with very little time to unwind in their own home. They are tired, they have worked hard, and most of them would like to be home unwinding on the couch, reading, playing a game or watching TV. Now, after working hard all day, being asked to do many activities and learn many new things, I am coming and giving them another activity and more things to learn! Before I even begin teaching them, I must understand that they are not going to want this at all.
So what must I do to make my programs successful?
1. I must make it fun! If it is not fun, it will not hold their interest. Now, we must all remember that fun is relative. I teach music. I have to understand and hope that teachers who are running the after school program understand that not all children think music or anything to do with music is fun. I never want children to be forced to be in my group against their wills. Some children love music. And some would rather stay at the Lego table or play in the gym. Making it fun demands of me that I have props and hands on activities that will hold their attention. I must make sure that I am giving them activities that they enjoy.
2. I must show each child that I care about them. I have often had the privilege of having very short one on one lessons with children on the piano. So many children beg to come to my one on one activity, not because they are madly in love with the piano, but because they love and need the one on one time. Even in groups, I must give each individual child special attention and patience.
3. I cannot demand that they learn a large amount of material. They are tired. They have been learning all day. In after school programs, I find that my job is to leave each evening knowing that I have given each child an enjoyable experience, and because I have done this, children will want to come back to my activities the next week. I am always thrilled to see that children beg to come to my group and do my activities. I know that I have done the most important thing. I have given them a love for music that will probably stay with then for the rest of their lives. They may not leave my groups with a large amount of memorized theories, but they do leave with a love for music!
4. I must keep it simple. I teach a lot of piano and guitar. Children do not leave with very advanced skills. I have to learn to be content with letting them learn at their own pace and be willing to let them repeat the exact same simple songs from week to week. I always try to get them to go as far as they will let me take them, but I never push them. At the end of the day they have played songs with success. They have learned to read some music. Their hands have been on the piano or on the guitar and they have tried. When and if they decide to get serious about music, they will know exactly what to expect. And because of this, I have done my job.
5. I must know that I am offering them a skill that will one day help them to release stress from their lives. From me, that activity is music. What a gift! Some of these children may come from families who cannot afford music lessons. My presence in the after school programs exposes them to special skills that they can call their own. For me music has brought happiness and relieved so much stress. I convey this very principle to children. They see my love fore music and understand. They love me and respect me more for it. I sometimes feel like a missionary walking into a foreign land and offering a gift that the native people don’t have. In this case, I am offering a free or very inexpensive exposure to something for many children from all walks of life. This gives me a huge sense of joy!
At the end of the day, I have spent time with these children. I have shown them love. I have given them a sense of accomplishment. I have left them with a love for music. This is success!
I have to say that I only recently had the privilege to Skype with a couple of classes, and I am in love with it! I travel a couple of hours to do some shows and go to local preschool classes regularly. I love writing for and singing with children, but being able to visit a class halfway across the country is a fabulous experience. I want to use this blog to express to anyone who has a product to market the wonderful benefits of being able to Skype.
Here are three benefits that come to my mind immediately:
1. You can share in places that are too far to travel. This is the first and most obvious benefit. When you Skype you can go places that you could not physically go.
2. You save money. You can visit more places around the country that lack of money would not normally allow you do. Travel is expensive. Skyping costs nothing.
3. Because travel time is not involved, you can visit more groups in shorter periods of time. Now this is efficient use of time! If you have the time and energy, this is a very wise option.
I cannot express to people who want to market and share the value of being able to Skype enough. You will definitely increase your audience, many more people will get to know who you are.
Anyone who receives services via Skype saves money as well. Because travel expenses and time involved in traveling aren’t involved, costs are minimal.
I know that teaching through Skype for me is almost as wonderful as being physically present in other classrooms. If I simply adjust my repertoire a bit, I have huge and lasting success with the children I meet. I love what I do, so please feel free to connect with me at musicforkids. I would love to meet more wonderful young children! Skype in the Classroom offers free exchange of services between classrooms so check them out as well! Every educator should take this option very seriously and make it part of their routine. Why?
1. Your own children are opened up to wonderful new experiences. These experiences may not be available to you in your community, but with Skype so many rich opportunities and exchanges become available.
2. You may have the privilege of exchanging ideas with children/students in other countries. Imagine being able to travel from your own classroom. The rewards for student are obvious.
3. Children are introduced to the benefits of using technology to learn new things. This lesson is invaluable in today’s world. What a wonderful way to show them the fun things we can do using technology. Young people today know and use many of its benefits already, and using something like Skype in the Classroom only reinforces its benefits.
Nothing beats being in any place personally, but Skype offers the next best option! I have already made lasting friendships and connections! Start setting up today if you have not already done it!
Parents and children’s song writers know that there is a huge world of children’s music to be found, and it comes in many different styles! Most all of it is lively and has great rhythm. After seven years of experience with singing and writing for young children I have come up with a few rules to follow. I sing with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers almost everyday. When I write new music I test it with my audiences. If it does not pass the test, it will either be edited or completely omitted from my list of songs to go on my CDs.
Here is my list of qualifying characteristics for good children’s music
1. Songs have to be easy for little ones to understand. I write about topics that they love. They like to move. They like ice cream and pizza. They think about what is under their bed. They love to be silly. Funny words and sounds are great! They love animals, especially pets and farm animals. Boys love fire engines and zombies. Oh, and the list goes on! Anyone who has kids can finish it. I love to listen to little children’s play and conversations for the best material.
2. The children have to enjoy and request my songs. This is the feedback that tells me the song is good. I love to hear children ask for my songs! And they do, because I listen! I don’t write for me. I write for the children. I often say that the children write the songs.
3. The songs will appeal to a young child’s sense of humor or need for movement. Children love to laugh. Children are more stressed today than ever. Having a song that makes them laugh or invites them to dance alleviates that stress. We as adults love music for the same reason! Our favorite songs often help us to forget about our problems! Children like songs that do the same thing! Being able to have the freedom to jump up and down and fly like a bird brings joy!
4. Children love songs that invite them to add some information to a story. For preschool teachers, this is great. Not only are the children having fun, they are learning. They are learning how to be creative. Filling in information in songs helps them learn how to write their own material. When children are asked to give their input into a song, they feel valued. I’ve seen it on their faces, and I know this is why they enjoy these songs and request them.
5. Children love songs that ask them to move. Children are learning to listen to and follow directions. This is a skill that they will be using for the rest of their lives. In a fun song, learning this skill is not a chore. Learning while they are having fun is the best education. Studies are beginning to prove this!
6. Children love songs that invite them to do a certain activity. I use felt activities and other props a lot. Children are often invited to add to or take away felt figures on a felt mascot for the song. What a wonderful activity that teaches preschoolers to listen to and follow directions. Children have to really pay attention to and be aware what is going on in order to participate in the song well. Most children want to do this as they love handling the manipulatives and helping.
7. Repetition works. I repeat phrases a lot. Little minds do not want to be trying to absorb too much information at one time. Repetition reinforces the message and makes the song easy to remember. Adults actually like this too. Good songwriters for adults know this also.
Good children’s songs are very useful in preschools, children’s playgroups, or for mommy or daddy and me time. The characteristics that I have described make the songs fun and educational. Music is so very valuable for children and they love it.
We don’t always have to use kids songs. We should expose our children to all kinds of music. Playing what we love is important also, and exposing them to many different styles of music is invaluable.
The bottom line is that we have to make it fun and start dancing and learning with music!
I have been teaching a toddler music class for 9 years now, and I can say it is probably one of my favorite classes. I watch these little shy toddlers come in not knowing what to expect. They aren’t babies anymore, but they are not ready for preschool yet. Now they are sitting in a group class ready for a new world of learning to open up to them. For many toddlers who come into my music class, this is a first class, and indeed it is a great learning experience!
Now I am all about singing and teaching musical concepts, but these toddlers are not only learning and absorbing music, they are learning what it is to actually participate in a group. Here are some benefits.
1. They are following directions. They have been learning this already from mom and dad. Now, they are listening to directions in an educational setting where a teacher is telling them things to do in a new activity. Hopefully this activity will be enjoyable enough to invite them to participate and want to follow directions. This is where the teacher has to make sure that he/she is offering fun activities that toddlers will enjoy so much that they will want to come back!
2. They are learning to sit still for small periods of time and listen. Anyone who has worked with toddlers knows that this does not happen naturally. Their little bodies want to move, so sitting down and doing nothing cannot happen for long periods of time. This is why I am constantly offering activities that offer movement. Learning to sit quietly and listen is a priceless skill to be learned for the classroom, but it does not come naturally. Parents should not expect that their toddler is going to sit down like a perfect angel, but should certainly steer them in the right direction. Being in a group like this helps them understand and learn a structure. This is a very important learning experience in itself.
3. They are learning to interact with their peers. Believe me this is a new experience as they are in a cognitive stage where they are still very egocentric in their approach to learning. Learning to understand and interact with their peers is not going to be easy or come naturally, so offering activities where they are learning to become aware of the presence of others is invaluable. At this stage, doing the right thing is something they have to do without fully understanding why. We as teachers and parents have to have the patience to remember that they are not going to have a sensitivity at this age to fully sympathize with the perspectives and feelings of their peers. It is merely a choice where doing the right thing offers rewards and doing the wrong thing could result in punishment. I have observed sympathy and empathy with young children. Good parents and teachers learn to teach them to understand and amplify these feelings that they are experiencing, and then learn to use behaviors that apply them.
4. They are learning to understand how a routine works in a classroom. Any parent or teacher knows this does not come easily for toddlers. Teachers and parents are constantly reminding them to stay with the routine. A sense of time and sequence of events is not clear. They will learn through repetition of the same activities and routines, and will eventually anticipate the events to follow. They learn to feel a sense of safety in routine which every good parent has learned to do to help create that sense of security and safety. The same idea works in the classroom. Toddlers learn to look forward to activities that they anticipate in a consistently followed routine. Good teachers of toddlers learn to adhere to a routine.
5. They are meeting new people. Toddlers are not comfortable around people they don’t know. They become secure in familiar surroundings, so new groups is something that takes some time for them to feel comfortable. This is a learning experience in itself. We as adults can understand this feeling, but the more exposure and experience we have with new groups teaches us how to handle it. It is the same with our toddlers. Parents want their children to be comfortable in new activities. This is a very important skill for success in clubs, sport groups, new jobs, interviews, business connections. Parents want to teach their children to be comfortable in many social situations.
6. They are learning about a teacher student relationship. This is a new experience for them. Up until this time the majority of their guidance has been coming from their parents, or a trusted babysitter or caregiver. Now they are receiving instruction fro a new person, a teacher. Although I am very much about making things fun for them, I am a new person who is teaching new activities. This is a relationship that they will be experiencing for the rest of their lives. A good teacher will be aware that he/she is someone that these little children are still not fully comfortable with. I try to move very carefully from activity to activity and make it fun! At this age it is wonderful for parents to have another person with new perspectives teach their children new activities with different methods. It also becomes a learning experience for parents as they watch their little ones watch attentively and mirror activities that the teacher is offering.
These skills alone are enough to make a toddler group class desirable. The things they learn in the class are important of course, but learning to be in the class is just as important, possibly more important. Their experience in the classroom can be so much better and be very successful. This is where educational success begins!