By Kylie Rendle - Mini Maestros Mt Eliza Franchisee
Twenty years ago I sat in a cosy café in Richmond with Jenny Fogarty, the founder of Mini Maestros, and had my interview as a prospective teacher. I was completing my music degree and wondered how it was possible to teach music to young children as I had always learnt music the ‘traditional’ way through playing an instrument and doing exams. Jenny and her wonderful program, along with many professional development sessions I attended, opened my eyes to the power that music education has from an early age. I learnt that providing music to children in the early years is fun and enjoyable, but can also provide so many other benefits to prepare them for their future.
Music brings joy to every human, and is an intrinsic part of our lives. Every child should learn and make music because it is makes them feel good, and allows them to learn and acquire many other skills in a stimulating, nurturing and positive way. When children are involved in a quality, sequentially-developed music program, they are covering many aspects of education and personal development. Yes, they learn foremost about music, but through music children also learn about mathematics through beat, rhythm and musical structure, literacy through rhyme, chants & song, science through pitch, sound and timbre, physical education through co-ordination, body awareness and movement, art through creativity and composition, personal development through listening, learning to process information and follow instructions, sharing with their peers, regulating their emotions and developing a love and understanding of music.
We know that music offers many benefits. Let’s explore how music develops the whole child:
Cognitive Benefits: Actively moving, playing and singing develops the left and right side of the brain at the same time. Multi-tasking when playing music makes the brain more agile, and able to learn complex functions at an early age. Repeating movements and melodies lights up the brain and will forge new neural pathways between the brain cells. Repeating and practising music helps to develop memory and recall. Playing a percussion instrument along with live or recorded music, or keeping a steady beat whilst singing may look like a simple task, but the joy of music is that while children are enjoying moving, playing and listening, they are assisting the brain to develop on both sides. Children attending our classes will love listening and/or singing to melodic stories such as 'The Wheels On The Bus', 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' or 'Incy Wincy Spider'. The children love these activities, but are unaware that it allows them to multi-task and develop language, listening and gross and fine motor skills all at the same time. The children in our 4-5 year old classes consciously understand the difference between beat and rhythm, and can play one part while hearing another. Working toward ensemble playing allows them to concentrate on their part whilst working within the group to keep in time. We are also practising multi-tasking as we read the music, sing, play and listen all at the same time. It’s quite amazing when we actually step back and analyse what is happening.
Numeracy: Music is very mathematical. Elements of music such as form and structure, rhythm and metre, pitch and tempo can be related to the measurement of time and frequency. In our babies classes we sing songs to assist with understanding mathematics, such as 'Five Little Ducks', where the teacher or parent will use their fingers or puppets to show the correct number in their hands. In our 2 year old program, the children make 5 little ducks and are able to take away and count the remaining ducks (sometimes from left to right). Not only can they count the number of ducks remaining, but they are also learning to visually recognise how many ducks there are without counting. Our older age groups will also play games where they listen to a number of sounds played and find the corresponding box with the correct number. Other games allow them to also decipher whether the sound played is high, low or middle and then complete the task using their listening and thinking skills. Musical form is experienced through moving and dancing to the different sections of a piece of music. Babies are carried in their carers' arms to experience beat, rhythm and form. The babies' faces light up when they are moved around and in and out of the circle to see other happy smiling faces. Often the parents/carers are exhausted as we relax back on the floor, but there is always a baby who likes to tell us they wanted to keep moving! Once the children are walking, they have the confidence to move their own bodies and respond to changes in the music. I love to allow the 3 and 4 year old children to do a dance on their own after we have practised it for a few weeks. It shows independence and allows them to listen and think on their own.
Literacy: Studies have shown that children who can keep a steady beat often show a greater fluency in reading. Chants and rhymes are important from infants to school age children. In our younger classes, the babies and toddlers bounce to the beat or play along on percussion instruments, while we chant the rhyme. Our 2-3 year old children will do actions to show the different sections of the rhyme whilst developing their speech, and our 3-4 year old and 4-5 year old children will use the rhymes to understand the difference between beat and rhythm, and also make up their own musical compositions on percussion instruments. Syllable work is conducted unconsciously and consciously within our program and assists the children to be able to read and write when they reach school age.
Motor Skills: Movement through music enhances fitness, muscle tone, flexibility, coordination, balance, eye development, body and spatial awareness. Children from birth need constant daily stimulation of the 'vestibular system', which is located within the inner ear. Rocking, swaying, spinning, swinging and rolling on the floor are very important balance activities to stimulate the vestibular system. Many babies take their first steps whether it be crawling or walking, at Mini Maestros, as their inquisitive minds lead them to reach and explore the wonderful array of instruments or props we provide. Babies initially love to watch positive role models such as parents, grandparents, teachers and older siblings clap or pat along to the beat and after a while begin to imitate. After mastering these actions, it’s time to move on to stamping, rolling, jumping, rocking, hopping, skipping, spinning, walking forwards, backwards and sideways. Our older children often like to pick more than one action a time which is a workout for their brain and motor skills!
Art and Creative Benefits: Music allows us to use our imaginations and paint pictures in our minds by passively listening, acting out or composing. Imaginative play is essentially when children are roleplaying and acting out various experiences as they are experimenting with making decisions and are also practicing social skills. There is a lot of opportunity to explore this within our program through songs about the weather or dramatic play songs such as Miss Polly Had a Dolly. In the later years our children create musical compositions through playing instruments, writing lyrics or putting musical notes on the music staff.Not only are the children learning through music, so are their teachers!
After 20 years of teaching, I am still learning and loving my job (although it doesn’t really feel like a job). Every day, every class, every child is different and unique and helps me to grow as a teacher. Music is wonderful and I hope you and your child continue to appreciate and develop through everything it has to offer.
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