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Raising Musical Kids

How To Expose Music And Help Your Child Appreciate It

Six bare-foot preschoolers fidget on the checkered rug. A soft-spoken blonde sits cross-legged at the front of the room. She smiles at the children and begins to sing.

All at once, the room is alive. Eyes are twinkling. Hands are clapping. And before the song is over, six bare-foot preschoolers are singing, too.

So went my son's very first preschool music class. For a music lover like me, the experience warmed my heart and touched my senses. It was hard not to enjoy the music mixed with laughter. But I learned something else, something that could only be taught by my curious 3-year-old son and an excited preschool music class: music plays an important, if not critical, role in a preschooler's life.

The Importance of Music

Why is it so important to expose a child to music? For one thing, the exposure might be intellectually stimulating. "Beginning in the mid-90s the country was a-buzz with the research that there is a certain window of opportunity for the musical neurons to be connected," says Rachel Kramer, assistant executive director for Programs and Convention for Music Teachers National Association, in Cincinnati, Ohio. "Introducing music to children before the age of 3 would solidify this connection, and that connecting these neurons would in fact, increase the spatial reasoning capabilities of a child."

The importance of music in a child's life can be much less dramatic than increasing intelligence, but even more meaningful. Kramer, who is also the owner of the Baldwin Music Education Center, a 36-year-old preschool music program, says that exposure to music and participation in preschool music classes help a child to develop self-expression and social skills, not to mention the foundations for later musical instruction: keeping a steady beat and matching pitch.

Music in the Home

Music is a constant background at the home of Lolita Coughlin of Madison, Wis. "Both [my husband and I] love music, so it is important that Mariana loves it, too." A collection of compact disks, ranging from children's classics to Walt Disney movie soundtracks, helps add flavor to then3-year-old's day. Coughlin says that once a disk is in place, it's not long before Mariana is singing along.

But an elaborate music collection is not the only thing that can give a child exposure to the positives of music. Parents can open the world of music to their child by simply singing to them. In a matter of time, most parents notice that their child is singing along.

"I sing to Christopher when we're working together at home," says Dianne Cooke, of Madison, Wis. Cooke says they pick music according to the activity. For example, they use energetic rock songs for house cleaning and classical music for contemplative reading.

Music Outside of the Home

Once a child has been introduced to music inside the home, the next logical step is to explore musical opportunities in the outside world. Kramer suggests parents take their preschoolers to concerts and enroll them in a preschool music class.

Many larger cities have symphonies, orchestras and choral groups specifically dedicated to educating the younger public. Parents can check in their local yellow pages and telephone box offices for the availability of matinee concerts geared toward children.

These same cities with children's orchestras and choirs are often home to organized preschool music programs such as Gymboree Play and Music, Kindermusik, and Music and More. Here, parents participate with their youngsters in 8- to 12-week courses that involve learning about the world around them through singing, rhythm, and explorations with musical instruments.

Shelli Minnaugh, of Richmond, Va., and her daughter attended an eight-week Music and More class. While her daughter was more interested in running around during class time, Minnaugh noticed that the music did seep in. "They do give you a tape of the music, and she loved listening and singing along to it while in the car."

The early years are about building a love of and strong foundation for music. According to Kramer, formal instrument insurrection does not usually begin until the first grade, although some teachers will begin instruction with 4-year-olds. In this case, Kramer says that the preschooler is usually limited to instruction on piano and violin.

Cook's 3-year-old has already asked to take music lessons. She happens to be a musician and plans on instructing him on the violin at home. It is important to Cooke that her son has the opportunity to try instruments. She recalls how her interest in music was mostly ignored as a child, and she refuses to let that happen to her son. But what if he's not really interested in music lessons? "I won't push it at all," Cooke says. "I'll just continue listening to music with him."

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