Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Making Music Together: What to Expect from Your Child

So, you’ve signed up, and the new session of music classes has begun. But, what exactly should you expect of your child during that musical forty-five minutes a week? 

What do Fiddlesticks teachers expect in the music classroom? What if your child jumps up and wanders to the other side of the room and starts singing a totally different song? What if they start crying or want “space”?

I’ve gotten questions of this kind from countless parents. I am going to try and tackle some of these questions in this blog-post. Trust me. Your child will not be the first run in circles… or wander around greeting other parents in the room. Nor will they be the first to totally reinvent the use of a tambourine. There will be times when you wonder what on earth your kid is doing. There may even be times when we adults wonder what on earth we are doing!

There are bad days when rain, exhaustion, family changes, knee scrapes, late lunches, short naps, car trips, and Incomprehensible Snack-time Cheerio and Juice-box Tragedies all come crashing down right before music time. (I think that every snack time tragedy needs a good title.)

There are also magical days when every child is well rested, well fed, in a good mood, and musically excited. This means a bit of chaos as much as it means order. It means silly songs and serious moments. It also means moments of silence scattered between the singing, playing and noise.

Don’t worry. We expect every child to interact with music in their own way.

Above all, two things:

First, sing with your child. Resist the urge to grab hands and “help” children handle and play their instruments a particular way. Likewise, do not tell a child “Sing!” Instead, jump in, and model the kind of participation you would like to see. They will react if you are sitting right by them participating excitedly… even if that reaction is just watching or listening.

Second, be safe. Don’t be worried if your baby slobbers all over a shaker egg, but be careful as you play with things like rhythm sticks. Help your child learn that musical experimentation is wonderful, and that they can play musically while being safe, careful, and considerate of others.

Pay attention to how the kids are interacting with music:

Some children may loudly and expressively participate in every activity.
These are the children who are obviously comfortable. Even if they are not singing “in tune,” tapping their sticks at the right time, or otherwise participating in the “right way,” it is ok. Let them explore, and join them in exploring music.

Some children may simply sit and watch.
This is a very important part of learning for all children, and should be recognized as a way of participating. Your child is learning! It is absolutely ok for your kid to “just watch.”

Some children may trail off into a personal story or distraction for a minute.
These interruptions really aren’t a problem. I will not “call the child down” and I don’t see these moments as a major distraction. We will find a way to get back on course. And, who knows. We might even begin singing about their story!

Some children may watch for a while, then have a “discovery outburst.”
Though this may seem a distraction, these “light-bulb moments” can lead to some of the best learning for the whole class. I love those moments, even if I have to adjust something in my plan to accommodate them!

Some children may become chaotic individually or as a group.
When this happens we will try and just focus through a musical idea. Remember that your participation gives your child more musical excitement than you can imagine! Just find a way to interact with your child musically, and make sure they are behavi
ng in a safe manner.

But what if something goes wrong?

What is a child starts acting in an unsafe way, physically or emotionally?
This is the one thing that calls for a real pause in either personal or group activity. We must all remember to be safe!  

Wildly flailing an instrument, running past a baby, or knocking over another child can all be considered “unsafe” actions. Most of our focus is on stopping an unsafe action before an accident occurs. If you see something about to happen, try this:

  1. Try sitting/dancing close to the child and modeling song/music action.
  2. Try getting on individual child’s level and reminding them to be safe.
  3. Remove unsafe object (instrument, scarf, etc.) and sit to the side with child for a moment until they are ready to be kind/gentle/cautious/respectful of others again.

What do we do if these measures don’t work… or if my child has an earth-shattering meltdown?

The best thing is to take them aside and help them calm down. This can happen in the room, or you can take them out of the space, or into the hall for a bit, to re-center.

Sometimes, if your child is too stimulated by being in the group space, just going outside the divider will help them calm. Even if you guys need to sit out there to sing, or stand and watch the group sing from outside the divider, it is ok.

It will not be disruptive to leave, calm down, and return to the class. Sometimes those days happen, and you just need a minute!

Music can touch you and your child in a powerful way when you least expect it. 

 Most of all, don't worry. We will have fun. We will laugh, dance, and make noise. Something special will happen in the forty-five minutes that we meet... We will sing together. So lets be silly. Lets sing and play and we will all learn together!!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

"Musical Tennis": Serve and Return Learning

We all love the play along time in Music Together. It is beautifully exciting to see the way kids' eyes light up as the bin of instruments is carried to the middle of the room. Even as an adult, you can’t help but get tickled at the brightly colored music makers. It can be easy to miss, in all this excitement, that this is one of the best times to connect with your child’s personal musical learning. 

During this time, no one is dictating how or when to play with the music. Instead, the child has total freedom to experiment and guide its own musical experience. We adults have the opportunity to respond to that learning. 

Watch your child closely. Pay attention to how they experiment with an instrument or interact with a particular beat in the music. Maybe they are dancing instead of playing an instrument! Respond to these ideas.

If your child picks up a drum, find a drum so that you may play along with them and respond to their musical ideas. If they are dancing, don’t be afraid to get up and dance too. When you respond to your child like this, you create a perfect environment for them to learn.   

Many neurological connections happen when a child acts on an idea, and then has that action affirmed through repetition and interaction with another person. This back-and-forth between child and parent creates a healthy “feedback loop” that solidifies a learned action. 

This idea of “back-and-forth” works almost like a tennis game between child and parent.  Experts in early childhood development and neuroscience call this interaction: “serve and return” learning. 

This “serve and return” can be very simple. If your child is shaking a maraca in a particular way, return the gesture. If your child is dancing and using a strange movement to the beat (don’t be afraid to look silly) go ahead and mirror that rhythm and gesture. You can affirm a learning moment through your demeanor, facial expressions, and actions. 

Look for ways to enter this “tennis game” of learning with your child. And next time you hear the play-along music begin, seek out a chance for you and your child to “serve and return” a musical idea!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Little Singers, Higher Voices

Did you know that your child’s voice is higher than yours?

We adults naturally have a lower speaking and singing voice than children. Our vocal cords are bigger and therefore have the ability to make lower sounds. We physically can’t make some of the high-pitched sounds that kids make. I am sure you have noticed this around the house, and on the playground!

This is similar to the difference between the big double-bass and the smaller violin. The smaller instrument, with the shorter strings, makes the higher sound.

Have you ever noticed your Music Together teacher check a note before they begin to sing? This is because all our music is set in a perfect place for children to sing. We are making sure to start in the right place. Not too high, and not too low.

Roosevelt Dime

Your child’s vocal cords are so small that 
they are about as long as a dime is across.
As they grow, this will change.

Girls will eventually have vocal cords that are about as long as nickel is across.

Guys will have vocal cords that are about as long as a quarter is wide.

Even if it may seem silly to meet your child’s pitch, let them sing where they are comfortable. They will probably choose to sing songs a bit higher than you would naturally choose.

Enjoy those high voices! Even though they may make piercing sounds at play, this is the only time you will hear your little one singing in their “child voice.” 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Potty training. Rig-a-Jig-Jig, and go!

Transitions are never easy. Potty training. Sleeping alone in a “big bed.” Beginning preschool. That first long road trip. The list goes on and on. Difficult moments, piled up with successes and frustrations. There is no end-all answer to making these times easy. The ups and downs are inevitable. But, music can help.

Music can help form rituals, and can help process emotions. Singing songs can help with reminders, and using a special song for an activity can help form habits.

Potty Training. This is one of those things that is easy for some, yet it can be a huge frustration for others.

If your kid has difficulty deciding to go potty, you can use a song to focus, and decide if you need to “go.”

“Rig-a-Jig-Jig” works well as a word substitution song. Try sitting on the floor and asking “Do you need to go potty?” Then sing together:

Do we need to potty now,
Potty now,
Potty now?
Do we need to potty now?
Hi-ho, Hi-ho, Hi-ho!

You can also use:

Here we go to potty now…
Now we need to wash our hands…
Now we need to dry our hands…

Feel free to make up verses if there is difficulty remembering things like flushing, wiping, pulling up pants, etc.

If you can sing about it, you can help make these healthy habits. And just maybe, some of your reminders to “go potty” can be humorous and fun, instead of frustrating!