What Makes a Successful After School Program for Kids

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!

Using Skype for Marketing and in the Classroom

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!

A Pippilo and Jumping Up and Down: Good Songs for Young Children

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!


The Value of Group Classes for Toddlers

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!


Teaching Left and Right to Preschoolers through Music

Learning left from right is one thing that music easily allows us to teach preschoolers. Most preschoolers do not know which hand is their left hand and which is their right hand. Having that sense of left from right is so important to opening up their little minds. Adding movement activities that require a response to this knowledge slowly opens up their understanding and response to this concept.

Musical activities introduce this concept. Let’s look at a few.

1. “The Hokey Pokey” is an oldie but a goody. This song has rhythm and  melody that makes it fun. Before children start, simply begin this activity by having the children mirror you while you raise your left hand and then your right hand. Do the same thing with your feet. Now begin the song. You may sing it without instruments, but I recommend using prerecorded music. Prerecorded music will allow you to do the activity with the children so that they can follow you. If you strum a guitar, make sure that children are able to have a good person to mirror who is doing the activity successfully.

2. “Mother Gooney Bird” is a great song. Children will love adding one appendage at a time as they follow the lead of the teacher with the instructions in this song. Mother Gooney Bird’s seven chicks could only move arms, legs, and other body parts. I have yet to meet a child who does not love this song. I like to add my puppets into this activity. Again, children are moving. This movement reinforces learning a very important skill and the music makes it fun!

3. “Waking to the Left” is my own song.  I wrote this song for this purpose. Children can simply get in a circle and walk to the left and right as a group as the song instructs. I use a parachute to help the children stay in the circle as this can be difficult for preschoolers. Other fun parachute activities can be added to this one. Having fun cannot be underestimated. Children (as well as adults) retain so much more information while they are having fun. You can find this song on my CD, Dance with Me: Songs for Young Children (by Sharon Novak). http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/sharonnovak

4. There are many more songs.  Look up songs for teaching left and right. Many great artists and songs will come up. Check them out and pick your favorites, or better yet, pick the children’s favorite. I personally enjoy Patty Shukla’s songs. Lots of great choices. Just be comfortable leading them. And the best part is you can let the recording do most of the musical parts for you.


Learning left and right is so important to a child’s development. Think of the spatial relationships that are being learned. Imagine how much easier it will be for a child to learn an instrument when his/her instructor asks him to use his left hand for the bass notes and right hand for the treble notes on the piano. Know that coordination for playing sports will be better. This skill will open your child’s mind up to a lot of things!


Group Guitar Classes for Young Children

Teaching a group class for instruction on any instrument can definitely have its challenges. One on one instruction is clearly a better option in most cases. So why should a parent enroll his/her child in a group class? I am going to talk about the advantages of a group guitar class for children. A group guitar class for young children certainly has its advantages over individual instruction.

1. It is cost effective. Group lessons will often cost at least half the price of a private lesson. What parent would not find this to be a good thing. When a child is starting on any instrument, a group class is a great way to make sure that the instrument he or she has chosen is something he wants to continue learning. The lower cost is definitely a better option considering that the child and parent are still testing the waters. Just make sure that the class is offering a positive learning experience so that his judgment is not clouded by a poor classroom experience with the guitar.

2. Children often enjoy group classes. When my son was given the choice between group activities or one on one activities with adults, he would always choose the group activities. Often children get a little bashful in one on one situations with adults, and adding the learning of a new instrument into the picture only makes things more stressful. Being introduced to a new instrument with his or her peers makes things so much easier for children, especially young children.

3. Guitar is an instrument where children in a similar age group work at similar paces.  Because learning the guitar is much more complicated than many instruments, children require constant repetition of basic skills. This makes the group activity work well. Because most of the children stay at the same level, rarely will a single child find himself feeling frustrated because he or she cannot keep up. Children in the group quickly learn that they are all working on this difficult instrument together.

4. A class that is taught by a teacher who has good control of the class will make a successful experience. I love teaching my group guitar class. I get my 6 to 9 year old children playing simple songs on the very first day. We name the strings, we find frets, get our fingers on the frets (ow! reality check!), and learn a very simple song with 3 parts which get slightly more complicated as we move along. I put on the drum machine and we begin to rock out droning the low E string for 4 or 8 beats and then do the same on the A string. We go back and forth between the strings doing the same thing. over and over again until I see the children are comfortable with this. They love that they are playing a song with a drum beat! Voila! Success. And you will see me often say, I teach with success. Activities have to be something that they can do. We then get our fingers on the frets. This requires that we take a break to learn how the pitch works and to work on getting our fingers on the frets to change the sound. This takes a while but I move them along so that we can play the next part of our song on the low E string, 0, 3, 5 once each per each 4 beat measure. We repeat until children are comfortable with what is happening. Then put the parts together. This all happens in about 20 minutes. Most children start feeling success with this on the first day! I have already won them over! After a few weeks of repeating this simple song and gradually learning a few more simple skills, the children in my groups understand what it takes to learn guitar. Many of my students are so enthused that they continue their study in private lessons.

With the guitar, a full semester works great! Because children are equally challenged, I don’t see many children trying to move ahead (as long as children are in proper age groups.) For group piano, I would recommend I shorter time period because children move at different levels quickly. I definitely would recommend starting any child’s  introduction to an instrument with a good group class.

Using Movement and Manipulatives in a Preschool Music Class

When teaching music to preschoolers, the first thing we must do is to make sure that they are interested and able to understand the concepts. Teaching very young children is not the same as teaching adults. Young children are not ready to learn so many concepts that we as adults take for granted.

Now before I even begin my more complex lessons, I always begin my classes with movement activities using songs that I have written and songs you will find on my CDs. This will start them feeling music and rhythm. These are great warm up and mixer activities for my preschoolers as they often come into my class a little shy. Children will specifically dress in clothes that have many colors before they come to my class because they know that I am going to do the Color Song” (“The Color I See”). These are the fun things that make them want to come back. After these warm up activities my children are ready to learn.

Now as a teacher, I am all about teaching with success. I never force children to learn any concepts that are a little too difficult for them. I simply introduce concepts and repeat them from week to week. Repetition is so important with preschoolers. Children slowly begin to grasp all of these concepts if we are patient.

These are basic concepts that I will teach in my Preschool Music Class at Mountain Top Music Center:

1. When teaching rhythm counting beats alone is not sufficient. We have to allow them to move their bodies in some way to keep their interest and help them feel the beat. I will have them tap sticks together or tap them on the floor, tap a drum, use body movements like maybe patting their knees. Sometimes I will count, but I will often use a beat machine or stomp my feet to help them hear the beat while they are doing body movements. They love variety so I change the movements to make it more fun. Later in the year I will find out if they have learned when I will play my guitar and let them follow me on instruments that I have given them. One of the best songs to use is “The Ants Go Marching One by One.” I always stomp my feet to the beat while I am playing and singing so that they can follow me.

2. When working with pitch with preschoolers, I start with sol, mi and use songs like “Rain, Rain, Go Away”, or “Ring Around the Rosy.” I start with even simpler tunes like “The Counting Song.” I have found these and more songs for sol, mi and sol, mi, la pitch in “The Kodaly Method: Comprehensive Music Education From Infant to Adult” by Lois Choksy (1974, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey). We simply raise our hands up for the solfege sign for sol and then down for the solfege sign for mi. They can see the high low with our hands. They “Pussy Willow Song” is another great song for pitch. We gradually raise our bodies while the pitch goes up, until at the end we are standing up. We then gradually lower our bodies as the pitch goes down (“I Know a Little Pussy” http://bussongs.com/songs/i-know-a-little-pussy.php ). These are just a few examples. Now, these are not the only songs we sing, but these give consistent pitch lessons each time we meet. I always sing familiar songs with children before we do this activity.

3. Teaching beats for quarter notes and then eighth notes follows a similar pattern depending on the method you use. I use the Kodaly Method very often because it is consistent with its words for note value (“ta” for a quarter note and “ti” for an eighth note). Different animal names can be used also. I have children learn to tap the beats of the melody rhythm while singing it. I tell them to let their sticks follow their mouths as the say the words to the song. Then we say ta, ta, ti-ti, ta or whatever rhythm we are using in the song. I have them use craft sticks to draw the pattern from left to right. They copy what I have drawn. This is such a great pre-reading skill as are all of these activities. Parents should really take notice with how music definitely prepares the brain for learning.

4. I almost always add the xylophone to this activity so that the children can play sol, mi pitches. Again, they love the hands on experience. Success with this activity varies with age. I help them but never force them to get this perfectly. Many 3 year old children struggle with alternating hands from note to note. I just let them play them together if my attempts to get them to do otherwise fail. They will learn as the weeks go on and as they get older.

5. Now I have created a felt staff with felt notes. Children love finding the lines or spaces on the staff to place felt notes on. I use whole notes because they are easier for little fingers to manipulate. I repeat the same notes from week to week. I will occasionally change keys, but I rarely use more then 2 different keys per session. Keep it simple!

6. I will often give preschoolers a chance to draw the notes and rhythm symbols on a paper with a staff on it. Most preschoolers love the opportunity to draw! I like having the ones who know how write their name on the paper also. Parents enjoy this addition.

These are my basic activities. Sometimes I will have children play piano, the recorder, a small guitar or other instruments in my classes as well. As you can see, there is no way that I can fit all of of these activities in one class so each class will vary.

I always end my classes with a fun felt activity that I have created like Aikendrum where they put on the body parts as I sing about them. These kind of activities are great for teaching preschoolers to listen and follow directions at the right time. This is also a music skill as well as a basic classroom skill. Music classes for preschoolers are excellent for preparing them for music lessons in the future or even just preparing them for following directions in school.

Very often activities 2 – 4  happen around one feature song such as “The Counting Song.” If I use “Ring Around the Rosy,” we get to do the movement activity for the song first. Activity 1 is usually done with a different song.

In some satellite preschool classes I tend to limit the solfege and melody rhythm activities as attention spans vary from group to group. Again, my number one rule is have fun! Then children will learn.

This is a brief description of what my preschool classes look like. Please refer to this link for help with symbols.  http://www.midnightmusic.com.au/2011/08/sibelius-tips-for-kodaly-teachers/

How Do You Know When Your Child is Ready for Piano Lessons?

As I work with young children everyday, I have the privilege of watching them develop cognitively and musically. I watch very young children go from banging random beats on a drum gradually learn to follow a steady beat and then finally be able to hold a steady beat through the duration of an entire song. I watch 3 year old children struggle with playing one hand at a time on a xylophone finally learn to handle alternating hands on two different notes.

I have learned what to expect from children at different ages. In the world of music, cognitive development is very evident for children of different ages. One place that this is clearly noticeable is on the piano. Children love when I bring a piano to a preschool classroom. All of their eyes light up and they can hardly wait for their turn to be able to play on the keyboard. Little do they realize that they are about to take one of their first placement examinations. I love telling preschool teachers to watch as children between 3 and 4 years old go to the piano. I already know that the 4 year old children are going to be able to respond to my directions much better than the 3 year old children.

These are the tests. How a child responds is going to tell the teacher, mom, or dad whether his or her child is ready to take piano lessons.

1. The first thing I have children do is find their left and right hands. They will use their left hand to play the low notes (low left) and their right hand to play the high notes (high right). Usually both three and four year old children have very little trouble with this (aside from their inability to differentiate between left and right, but we can work through that). Frequently if I have a standing keyboard or piano I will have the children line up behind me so they can mirror me with their left and right hands before they go to the piano. Now of course, this is where songs like the “Hokey Pokey”, “Mother Gooney Bird” and my own “Walking to the Left” help children learn the difference between their left and right hands. Sometimes we just have to work sitting down calling one child up at a time to come and play the keyboard.

2. The next test will divide the 3 and 4 year old children. I have the children look at the keyboard and look for the groups of 3 black notes first. I will have a couple of children at a time come up to find as many sets as they can. I stick with the sets of 3 black notes first so that I don’t overload them with too much information at one time. Some of the 4 year old children can do this with no problem. Some of the 4 year old children struggle. Almost no 3 year old children can grasp this concept. I will then have them come up two or three at a time to find the sets of 2. This reinforces the thinking of looking for the sets. The results rarely vary between children or age groups. After we have completed this test I can usually find at least 2 or 3 children who are ready to begin working on simple exercises at the piano. This has been working for me without fail for years.

3. Now, if I have a group of 4 and 5 year old children, we can progress to learning to play “Hot Cross Buns” on the 3 black notes. They totally love the feeling of success they have when they learn to play this simple song. In a group when we do this for the first time, I don’t worry too much about fingering. I begin to focus on  fingering if I have the children doing piano activities for more than one week or if I am teaching individual lessons.

4. The next step will most likely happen in older groups or one on one with younger children. We will learn to find middle C. This will involve proper fingering on the black notes. I start with a thumbs on C approach. I will have children find the sets of two black notes. They will place finger number 2 (tall man) on the first black note (C#) and finger number 3 (middle finger) on the second black note (D#). After these initial steps have been taken, we can begin finding notes with both hands. I personally prefer a thumbs on C approach with young children. This is the step where more serious piano lessons begin.

No matter what approach to teaching happens with a young child, these steps are amazingly helpful and accurate in telling a parent if his or her child is ready for piano lessons. One important transition phase in learning piano is the ability to read. Before and after this happens are two different worlds when learning piano. Learning piano and learning to read go hand in hand for a child who is in kindergarten. Children learn to effectively read music as they learn to read words. Children between the ages of 4 and 5 but still cannot read will definitely benefit from some group or even one on one time, but the lessons will happen at a slower pace. And may I say that even though the pace is slower, there is nothing like an early introduction to the keyboard. Foundations are laid that will not be forgotten.

Why I Love Teaching Music to Young Children

I started teaching music and singing with young children a little over seven years ago. I fell in love with it instantly, mostly because I saw immediately how much young children love and respond to music. I knew I had something powerful and very influential going on. I then knew I had to work on creating programs that worked and were effective.

I immediately began devouring all of the textbooks I could get my hands on to give me suggestions for methods and songs. There were some great and helpful ideas. I needed to work on rhythm. I chose a few ti,ti, tas with Kodaly. I needed to add a little pitch training in there. So we started adding some sol mis. This was getting good. I then began singing some favorites like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Kids loved that song, and they would often sing with me. They knew it and loved it. This started getting better. I then decided to start adding some visual activivities and use props. Aikendrum became a felt activity where children would add felt body parts as we sang about that man who lived on the moon. They loved it (and still do!). I learned many traditional songs, some from Barney, a couple from a few well known children’s artists, and many suggested movement songs from former Mountain Top Music Center employees. Kids loved movement. Still not enough, so I started writing my own, traditionally styled songs that worked in similar ways that the songs I was already using did. Kids looked forward to my classes and started requesting my songs.

As time progressed I realized some of the greatest jewels for teaching music to children were instilled deeply inside of me. My mother, who was not a music teacher, taught me everything a young child needed to know to begin a career in learning music. She taught me to love music. We sang and played music in my home often. I only needed to transfer that love and joy that I feel for music to the kids. Well, I was already doing that. My mother taught me rhythm. She didn’t count beats (although I do). She would tap her foot on the floor. It was loud and it was clear. I learned to feel rhythm by listening to my mother tap her foot. So, of course, I frequently tap my feet and clap my hands to teach rhythm. I want to create that same joy and love with my children that my mother did with me.

I have watched many children start music with me as babies. I watch babies respond to music by dancing and singing. They love it. I strum a guitar. They hear rhythm. They feel my genuine love and joy for music. They look forward to coming to my class. I give them the most valuable first steps ever. By the time they have moved into my preschool class, they totally feel and understand rhythm. Then, I am only explaining how to count what they already feel. We beat drums, tap sticks, clap our hands, and use body rhythm to instill a better understanding of rhythm. I mix fun movement and visual activities with the learning. We use props that make it fun. My rule is, “If they are not having fun, I am wasting my time.” My job as an early music educator is to reinforce what I believe is already there, a love for music and then to make them want more. Once that foundation is laid, they are ready for their new career as a music student, studying an instrument and gradually more detailed theory.

I believe that when foundations are laid at a very early age, the rest of the learning gradually happens with so much less effort. Feeling rhythm, learning theory, learning to sing, learning to follow my lead are all fundamental not only in teaching music but also in preparing children for a successful classroom experience. http://www.mountaintopmusic.org/


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