Photo by Azikiwe Mohammed
Ever since researchers discovered that fetuses respond to sound in the sixth month of pregnancy, there have been those in the baby biz that have tried to capitalize on this information. New parents have been manipulated to feel that they need to engage in some sort of special stimulation of their unborn child to build a ‘better’ baby. Or once born, parents feel compelled to buy special CDs and music videos that purport to make their baby smarter. And through my experience as a music educator I know that many parents worry if their child doesn’t start playing an instrument at three years old they will somehow fail to develop to their full potential.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Learning by Doing
Young children are fundamentally physical. The foundation of their knowledge and understanding is “sensorimotor”, which means the integration of sensory information with physical action. Children learn best by doing.
My school’s early childhood music classes incorporate The Dalcroze Method, a whole-body music education technique created by a Swiss composer, musician and educator in the early twentieth century. Dalcroze used the term eurhythmics (“good rhythm”) to describe his method, based on the Greek axiom that music and body movement are one and inseparable.
Best Ways for Young Children to Learn about Music
When looking for a music class for your young child, keep the following characteristics in mind to assure your child will have the most fun and get the maximum developmental benefit:
- Keep it physical — Young children will learn faster and with greater depth of knowledge if they are physically engaged.
- Fewer words, more action — One way to lose a child’s attention quickly is to overwhelm with lots of verbal instruction.
- Education over entertainment — Expect the music class to directly and actively engage your child, rather than just passively watching a ‘show’.
- Start with what comes naturally — Young children love to move to music, it’s easy for them to feel the ‘beat’ when they’re walking, an ‘accent’ when they’re jumping and a ‘rest’ when they stop.
- Process over product — An effective music class for young children will encourage open experimentation and physical exploration of the elements of music without emphasis on correctness, to build confidence and willingness to take creative risks.
- Live music — Live music-making in the classroom can connect the child and the music in ways that a CD can’t.
- When it comes to instrumental lessons, sooner is not better — Children that start instrumental instruction when they’re too young are more likely to get frustrated and quit, no matter how musical they are, because it requires more fine motor dexterity and a longer attention span than they have developed yet.
- Sing and dance when you’re pregnant! — The best way for you to introduce your new baby to music while you’re pregnant is to listen to it, and sing and dance while you’re listening, you’ll be doing it together!