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HELP! How to manage a class of VERY active Toddlers!

As Musikgarten teachers, we always have to be on our toes, and have lots of tips up our sleeve!!  “Educating” parents and setting up expectations from the beginning will help immensely!  Here are a few quick tips or reminders to help manage the classroom experience:

  • Use simple pictures to convey your expectations (i.e. ONLY run when you hold your grownups hand;  it is OK to sit or stand by your grownup or the teacher;  it is OK to stand in the middle of the circle!) This will especially help the toddler and preschool members of your classes.
  • Remember to rid your teaching space of any and all distractions, and look ahead to what you will need for the class like instruments, CD’s, paper, crayons, etc. Have them ready but out of reach!
  • Remind your parents: React or Intervene ONLY when the child is doing something that is dangerous to him/her or someone else in the room, the child is doing something destructive, or the child is carrying on at such a level that it is distracting or causing distress to others!! Otherwise, wandering or seeming to not be engaged is perfectly normal and acceptable behavior. Children are taking in everything in the environment!

Here are a few book resources on how children learn which have been huge influences and help in my teaching:

Here is one other resource I would like to mention: Conscious Discipline by Dr. Becky Bailey. This book is written primarily for classroom educators, so I’ve done a little “editing” to these excerpts using some words/examples that might take place in a Musikgarten class.

Conscious Discipline Chapter 3: pages 91-97, entitled “The Power of Attention: What You Focus on, You Get More of.”

1) “In a given scenario where two children are ‘fighting’ over a scarf or a drum, how will you react?  Will you focus on what is wrong? “What are you two doing? What is the rule about pushing? No pushing! Do you want a time out?” Or will you focus on action needed to solve the problem. Calmly say, “Jane, you wanted that red scarf that John has. You didn’t know how to ask him so you pushed him. Say ‘May I have that scarf please?’ Say that now.” Of course, a 2-year-old may not have the language to say that yet, but you could ‘help’ them, with parent’s assistance.”

 2) “Often we carry on about the things we want children NOT to do, to stop doing, or what we will not allow. Think about these commands and questions: “Stop talking! Don’t push! Don’t run! Don’t hit the wall! Do you want to go to time out?”

What if you were told “Don’t think about a purple alligator”?  What would pop into your mind?  Of course, a purple alligator!  Watch a toddler if you say, “Don’t touch my CD Player!”  what does the child do?  He/she reaches out to touch the buttons!  Her brain heard “touch the CD Player”, so she looks at you proudly as she reaches out!  Imagine her confusion when you growl, “What did I tell you?”  and push her away.

Redirect the child, instead of focusing on what you don’t want. You could say, “You see all the things on my table! The CD player, the sticks, the scarves…. Let me pick you up so you can see them better! Now let’s go find an instrument to play”, OR “let’s rejoin the class OR sit by mommy!”

Children younger than 5 or 6 simply do not understand conjugated verbs such as “Don’t”. Your goal should be to create descriptive, mental images to help them be successful. The brains of young children are governed by mental pictures, not words”.  

Think of what you “see” with these comments:

“Use your walking feet around the room so no one gets hurt!”

“Hold on tightly to your sticks!  No throwing!”

“Children listen so you will hear my story.”

Hopefully these ideas will give you some tools to use in keeping a happy and safe environment in your Musikgarten classes, but remember that some days, nothing works! It’s a “full moon”, or it’s “going to rain”….. Just smile, keep singing and making music! I’ve even been known to say “I think these children are done for the day!” and dismiss a few minutes early!

Lianne Brewer, Musikgarten Teacher since 1994, Springfield, IL, and now Southern California

Summer Offerings: Ideas from Musikgarten Teachers

Every teacher has a different idea of how they wish to teach through the summer months. Long gone are the days when music studios go quiet during the summer months. Parents are looking for music classes and camp programs to keep their children involved in music. I was curious how different teachers manage their summer months. Last month I spoke about my own way of creating a balance between downtime and offering classes.  Here are some other teachers’ responses.

Bobbi Morgan of Florida, who teaches in a studio called Music Compound in Sarasota, Florida tells us about her program:

During the summer I use a variety of Musikgarten programs:

  • Babies: Babies Musical World
  • Toddlers: Sing/Dance/Play or Clap With Me
  • 3s and 4s: Summer (part of the Cycle of Seasons Program)
  • 5s: Music Makers at the Seashore
  • 6s and 7s: Introduction to Keyboard.

For my Music Makers: at the Keyboard students I also offer a Music Makers Keyboard review class.

Although we have an outdoor space, we tend to not use it because it is simply too hot out there!

I offer my programs through late Spring and Summer. I work most weeks, but I take a break from over the July 4th holiday and most of August. Like many studios, I teach by myself and do my own administrative work, like marketing, registration, collecting tuition and material fees.

To attract families, I have a mailing list to which I email a schedule prior to each session and then I follow up by phone or individual emails. My schedule & Musikgarten information is on the studio web site. I teach a free class for the Hospital Mom/Baby groups.  I also put schedules in music stores, children’s clothing stores, church nurseries, doctor’s offices, libraries, coffee shops with bulletin boards, etc.

I teach in the summer because my parents request classes. Teachers in my area who are off in the summer request them too. Short summer classes attract new families, help retain families, and generate income for the studio during dry summer months.

The Toddler classes are most popular, although Baby classes are a close

Second. These classes enable children to participate in group experiences
before preschool years begin. It gives the moms something to do together
with their child and friends with kids. They believe in the power of music
to facilitate their child’s development. Everything is new & exciting
to this age group. To new teachers I just want to mention that attendance to summer classes in my area is generally sporadic, unlike during the rest  of the year.

Lianne Brewer founded The Music Factory in Springfield, IL in 1994, and currently has 7 teachers serving approximately 300+ children.  She now lives in southern CA and has started teaching Musikgarten there at a local music school.  This is how Lianne is shaping up her summer plans:

I use the Musikgarten curriculum because everything I need is there! I love teaching Musikgarten because the curriculum excels in providing developmentally appropriate activities, as well as fun activities, melodious songs, and lots of variety for the families and for me. The music school I presently teach at has no access to outdoor space, but many years ago I did have a grassy area outside that we used in the preschool classes!  Great fun!

Currently I teach a summer program by myself (looking for another teacher and helper!) for six weeks during the summer starting in early June when school is out.  In previous summers my teaching colleagues and I have presented a program called “A Taste of Music”. This ran for two weeks in August and was a music program filled with fun, low-key classes that geared up for Fall. We made a rule that current families could only attend if they brought a NEW family. These August classes were FREE!

To find families, I advertise on Facebook, and direct email. I primarily teach during summer to attract new families, so I make the session shorter to give families a taste of my regular programs.

In my present music school my most popular  class has been our Dancing, Drumming & Drawing Camps for preschool (ages 3-5 yrs) and music makers  (ages 6-8). Offered 1x a week, on two different days, from 9:30-11:45 AM, for 6 weeks. I am lucky because I can offer a Baby Class or a Toddler class at the same time in another room. Of all the summer toddler programs, Twist and Turn or Nimble and Quick have been the most popular.

I would encourage teachers to offer “perks” to get new families in! It works to offer discounts to current families if they bring a new family; I also have families pay for only classes they can attend (minimum of 4 out of 6 weeks) so those who say they can’t come at all because they’ll miss two classes due to vacation, swimming lesson, etc, will be more inclined to come!

Stephanie Rivera, Coordinator of Children’s Music at First Presbyterian Church Orlando, has big plans for the summer:

We use the following programs during the summer.

Summer Curriculum plans for 2017:

  • Babies (birth-13 months) – My Musical World
  • Walkers (14-23 months) – My Day
  • Toddlers (2-3 yrs) – On a Trip
  • Big Kids (3-4 yrs) – Cycles Summer
  • Family Class (mixed ages) – Nature’s Music
  • Explorers (4-5 yrs) – My Neighborhood Community
  • World Travelers (5-6 yrs) – Seashore
  • Nature Trail for 6-8 yrs, possibly

We solely use Musikgarten as our curriculum because of it’s quality, flexibility, and how many curriculum options we have for our large program.

Our location is a church in a downtown area. It has 3 buildings and a parking garage, which can be intimidating to some families.

Our summer schedule usually consists of morning classes Tuesday-Thursday, adding Friday as necessary. Very rarely add Mondays, but it has happened. We also offer a lunch-time class, but that has a tendency to be cancelled because it is such an odd time. We take off the week of July 4th, and this summer will also take off the week our church has Vacation Bible School due to lack of rooms available.

I have a team of 4-6  teachers that teach during the year, and a small set of 2 teachers that teach during the summer. This summer, I’ll teach on my own due to one teacher being on maternity leave and the other traveling more this summer than usual.

We use Facebook for our advertising through our own Facebook page and my own personal page. Our teachers share my posts about upcoming classes. Current families also tag their friends in the comments. The rest is word-of-mouth. In May, I will give a free demo to a local moms group in hopes that they will join us for Summer.

Our most popular classes during the summer are Walkers and Toddlers. There are many activities available for 3 years-old and older in our area, and some people think their baby is “too young” to attend classes so they wait until they are walking to pursue any structured activities.

When offering summer activities, consider that many people are traveling during the summer, so try to keep your classes in the middle of the week rather than Monday or Friday. As always, nap time is a major factor when families are scheduling activities, so ask around about what ages are napping and what time of day. Mixed ages classes work well during the summer due to older siblings being out of school, so that might be a good starting point of your curriculum offerings.

I hope these three teachers give you some great ideas!  What are you planning to do this summer?

Summer – Create a Year Round Teaching Schedule That Fits You!

You have worked hard to enroll your classes for the winter and spring and are happily on your way to sharing music with children and their families in your community. But … are you ready to enroll for your summer session? Parents are already looking for summer activities for their children. Now is the time to contact your families and offer your summer program even as the snow falls.

Summer photo

Your summer schedule is as unique as you are. For me, I used to take the entire summer off because I had three children and I wanted to devote my summer days to them; July and August was about long beach stays, playing games with my children, and riding bicycles. It was also a time for me to rejuvenate my energy for the upcoming Fall schedule. But now I am an empty nester and the Musikgarten summer curriculum is too good to pass up. So this summer I plan to teach three days a week for eight weeks and still give myself a few weeks off to rejuvenate.

Why should you consider teaching Musikgarten during the summer?

  • Current Students: inviting your students to continue with your classes over the summer rather than other classes down the road is important. Why leave the door open?
  • Marketing: With the right marketing you can entice the families who are unsure to join you for a shorter period before they commit to your Fall and Winter Sessions
  • Summer Students: some families who cannot join your Fall, Winter, and Spring classes, due to location and/or work commitments can fit you in during their summer months (which is the case for many of in my resort community families who live 90 miles away during the school year)

The Musikgarten curriculum has many different programs you can use over the summer. Each are flexible and can be molded to fit your needs. This coming summer I want to offer weekly classes and I ask my families to choose at least four classes throughout my July and August Schedule.  They are welcome to choose more than four classes, but I don’t want people dropping in. I offer a choice to come weekly or twice per week. This works for the families who rent houses here for one or two months. My local families often rent and leave the area for anywhere from two weeks or one month to the entire summer. So I meet my family’s needs by offering the flexibility to choose a variety of days and class times, unlike during the regular season when I insist in weekly attendance. The downside is some classes will be less full than others. The summer programs are not sequential so I can do this. NOTE: The only exception is my Intro to piano session which is only four weeks long and the families must register for the entire program.Shoot3and4_Robert_IMG_6082

Musikgarten also offers one week camps. If you have the space for a week long summer camp I highly recommend this option.

Here is a checklist to get ready for your summer program:

  • Go to your personal schedule and decide what weeks you wish to work and what weeks you want to vacation and not work. I call this your ideal schedule. Take a good amount of time to create this ideal summer schedule because once it is set you will thank yourself later.
  • Now consider what programs you want to teach. Consider you space limitations. I am excited to offer the brand new summer toddler program for 8 weeks on Wednesdays and Fridays. For my mixed aged families I want to add Twist and Turn to the schedule. Note: If you wish to make your schedule 10 weeks, the program gives you that flexibility or offer less weeks to fit you! For my threes and fours I have added afternoon classes since all my pre-schoolers now attend morning camp (daycare). I love teaching Summer from the Cycle of Seasons Program. My older 4s and 5s will enjoy Music Makers: Seashore, or what I call Going to the Beach, which is a nice set of lessons specifically designed for weekly one hour classes that fit perfectly in my community and in my studio.  Finally I plan to add an Introduction to the Piano for six year olds which will meet either twice a week for two weeks or four weeks (but you can also offer it over one week). All these classes must take place on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, no exceptions. This gives me four days off per week.  Heaven!!
  • Once you create that ideal schedule it is NOW time to put it onto your website. Really think through this. I have a Summer page that delineates all the programs I am offering and the dates of the classes. I add pictures from the Musikgarten teachers source. I want it to be easy for them to register for the weeks they want.
  • When that schedule is set it is time to advertise it. My favorite avenues are:
    • My present families – Send them a link to the website and ask them to consider joining my summer programs. I also add a coupon incentive giving them a sizeable discount. These are the families that will make my groups sing and dance because they already know my program and will carry the newbie’s along with their enthusiasm. It’s worth the investment.
    • My Summer families – I have a list of families who live in NYC and only partake in my programs in the summer. I will send them a link to my website by March 1. I will also send them a coupon encouraging them to refer me to their friends. I also ask them to include me in any email or Facebook pages they are active on.
    • My New families – Families are calling me for spots in Fall classes. Why not introduce them to my programs during the summer? I send them a link to my website and suggest they register now. I send them a coupon where if they join in the Fall, the summer program is discounted.

You can also check out this previous blog post for more marketing ideas!

Preparing for the summer means imagining what you want to teach, creating the ideal schedule, establishing the classes, and then getting the word out on your website and in your community. Just cross your fingers and you are on your way.

Question:  What summer program would you like to have?  Or what has worked in the past for you when scheduling your summer?

How to become more comfortable teaching improvisation.

Improvisation is a skill we piano teachers need to develop.   When we teach our students to improvise, we know they gain a greater understanding of the language of music.  Sylvia Rabinof, my improvisation instructor at the Juilliard School wrote, “It is a tool to building effective musicianship.  Together with ensemble training, the study of improvisation is perhaps the most undervalued and misunderstood phase of music education today.  We tend to forget that improvisation is a basic element of music making and that one who can improvise successfully uses all of the various idioms and skills of that language as naturally as if speaking in his native tongue.  The entire musical literature, which its tremendous diversity of expressive styles, has evolved from improvisatory traditions; all of this predated systems of notation.  Improvised music, then, no matter how primitive or limit, carries on a unique artistic heritage.”

But for the majority of piano teachers, the art of improvisation was not included in their own weekly piano lesson. As a result, many teachers feel awkward when it is their turn to create an improvisatory phrase in front of their students.  Can we, the teacher, still develop our improvisational skills?

I believe the best answer is to teach The Musikgarten curriculum, Music Makers at the Keyboard, a three year sequential program for group piano.  This method has the best improvisation sequence I have found.  It teaches improvisation step by step and I recommend you, the teacher, follow this program to develop their own improvisational skills. If you work alongside (or a bit ahead of) your students and master each step of the process you will find this process of creating music gradually becoming easier for you.  If you haven’t yet started a class I still think you can go through the program and work on the steps bit by bit.

Let’s take a quick look at how improvisation is introduced in Book 1 of Music Makers at the Keyboard:

  1. In Book 1 the children and teacher are echoing fundamental tonal and rhythmical patterns that are found in the pieces they are singing and dancing to. The patterns we practice are commonly found in the songs such as See the Pony, Who’s That? and Hot Cross Buns. These are pieces we are singing and dancing to and eventually learning to play by ear on the piano.

Video 1 – See the Pony, Who’s That?, and Hot Cross Buns with Tonal patterns.

  1. As the children become more familiar with the songs, such as the song we sing and play within the video, we play a game whereby they find these patterns in the piece they are singing.  There is such a sense of satisfaction and “AHA’ in the children when they are successful in finding a pattern in a song.  These patterns become their friends at the piano as they work out how to play the patterns in different keys and how they work them into the familiar tunes.  This takes time. Almost the entire Book 1 is devoted to becoming comfortable with these patterns.  I hope you as a teacher also become comfortable with these patterns in your voice and at the piano.
  1. By the tenth lesson, the children begin to create their own tonal patterns. We do this exercise on the floor. First, they echo the same pattern I chant and then they are asked to create new patterns on their own. Here is your opportunity as a teacher learning to improvise to start to create your own patterns. Try thinking of different ways you can make a tonal pattern using Do, Sol and   Then go to a piano and find those patterns.  When you are comfortable, try two tonal patterns in a row. This will be good preparation for what will occur in Book 2.

Video 2 – children singing rhythmic patterns and then improvising on the patterns.

Video 3 – children singing tonal patterns and then improvising on the patterns.

In Book 1 we play with duple and triple rhythm patterns and major tonal patterns based on the Tonic I Chord.  In Book 2 the children are led through a carefully planned sequence of activities which lead the students to improvise patterns on the piano within a duple or triple rhythm context.

You should feel comfortable making up patterns on the piano, but if this is difficult for you I suggest:

  1. Learn the patterns as the children are learning them, using the practice CD to learn the songs by ear on the piano.
  2. Create a tonic pattern on the piano and then figure out it’s name. Then sing a tonic pattern and find it on the piano.  Go back and forth until you can do this easily.
  3. When you are comfortable, move to longer patterns.
  4. Add a Tonic chord under your improvisations and play with this.

Creating a few patterns each day will slowly increase your confidence at learning to improvise.  You may be a few steps ahead of your students or perhaps at the same level.  Just keep going to the piano and play, play, play.

What have you found works for you to become more comfortable with your own improvisational attempts?  Let me know by responding to this essay in the comment section below.

Interested in taking training for Group Piano? Click here to find out more!

The Value of the Parent in a Toddler Music Class

The time to start experiencing music is in early childhood; the place is in the family. Home is the first and most important school for children, and involved parents are the most effective teachers. Adults are learning how to interact effectively and easily with children through music, and families are growing together musically. This is good for children and good for families. (Musikgarten, Family Music for Toddlers, On a Trip, 2016)

When I teach a music class for toddlers I must acknowledge the elephant in the room.

elephant

Next to, or nearby, every toddler attending class is an adult. This adult could be a parent, a caregiver, an uncle or a grandparent, but what do they all have in common? They are no longer toddlers and therefore have completely different musical needs from a toddler. They may be agreeing to sit in a toddler class but does that mean they need to sing along, dance along and play along? Wouldn’t they rather grab their cell phone, find a corner and start Facebooking? What can you do to keep those parents from herding into a corner and starting a gossip circle?

News Flash! You are not only about to teach a toddler music class, but also teach music to adults. So let’s first address the question,

“Why do Musikgarten family toddler classes include a loving adult for each toddler in the room?”

  • The adult links you, the teacher, to their child. For instance, you will demonstrate a steady beat by bouncing your stuffed animal and the adult will bounce their child the same way, instilling that steady beat.
  • The adults join in a community chorus of singing and participating that surrounds the toddler with hopes that one day s/he will feel comfortable joining.
  • The adult creates a space that becomes a safe zone for the toddler. Within that space the child feels most comfortable; in their comfort space they can best learn.
  • The adult makes logistics easier in the classroom. Imagine walking into a classroom filled with 12 roving toddlers and no adults. Bounce along? Maybe one at a time if you can catch one. Sing to them? They won’t sing back and will stare at you with a lost look. Sit in a circle? What’s a circle? Hand out sticks? Could be dangerous. Ask them to Walk and Stop? Good luck. Try pulling out that drum. Bam, oof, watch out!

Teachers agree: The parent is the channel through which you instill the heart and life of the Musikgarten program.

When the parent participates in class, the class is moving and grooving. When they sit back and watch or zone out your class is compromised. So your parents need to know this and you need to acknowledge their presence and worth. They already have a clue that music is wonderful and significant for their children. They have heard that music is part of a well-rounded education and it makes a significant difference in the lives of children.  Now the participating adults need to know they are the magic key to accessing the music education in your classroom. So what can we do as teachers to help the parents feel their value?

  1. Make sure you have spoken to every parent that plans to attend either on the phone or at a parent’s meeting. Besides reminding them about arriving on time, washing hands, and taking off shoes, they need to learn to enter the studio with excitement and anticipation, leaving the worries and cares outside the door, along with their cell phone.
  2. Before class begins, set the mood by having the CD for the program playing softly. So often I have parents walk in and begin to sing along with music. This is marvelous proof that they have been doing their homework and playing that recorded music often enough that they know the words.
  3. Room should be free of clutter and all toddler distractions put away. Remind the parents to leave all toys and food outside of the room. Stuffed animals that sneak in under a child’s arm gets invited to watch on my piano. Invite them to sit on your clean carpet or floor. Maybe have a drum or other classroom instrument to explore. Note: I keep that instrument with me at all times.
  4. Begin the class on time. I can’t emphasize this enough and tell the parents that we always begin on time. Note: I say this every week and also mention this at the end of class.
  5. Ask the parents to gather up their wandering children to form a close-knit circle.
  6. Quietly remind the parents that you are modeling all movement and they are expected to sing and move just like me. Mention this for many weeks – not just the first week! Note: I do not go into the discussion of “But I can’t sing” at this time.
  7. Sing the opening song quietly with a smile.
  8. Keep a slow tempo and make sure you have had eye contact with each parent and hopefully with each child.
  9. As the class progresses you will deal with individual needs and issues: roving toddlers, toddlers that need some quiet time in the waiting room, chatty parents, non-participating parents, etc.
  10. End on time, acknowledge the class, and invite them back for next week’s class.
  11. As parents leave, take care of any business. Note: I sometimes choose to call or email business related items later and keep the goodbyes pure.

As rapport grows, encourage parents to sing more and more in class. First encourage the ancient word, “la” and then urge the parents to eventually sing the words. Repeat a verse so that parents can sing along. Note: I make sure I drop out for a verse or sing quietly along, promoting their musical participation.

There are a few ways to communicate to parents between class and this is a great way to smooth out any miscommunications or to continue to educate parents about music class.

  1. A follow up phone call
  2. Through emails or handouts
  3. Indirectly through the encouraged use of the CD or downloaded music at home

By making the parent the most valuable asset, you are investing in your studio because these are the parent who will return next semester and the year after that.  Eventually you will have a base from which you can teach all that Musikgarten has to offer.

Make this your first step towards establishing your music studio.  You will reap the rewards of all your hard work.

Question:  What have you found to be the most effective way to guide your parents into joyful music making in your classroom?

Instruments: In the Classroom and at Home

An essential part of a Musikgarten music class is playing simple instruments, like rhythm sticks, rattles, jingles, and drums. Children love to explore these instruments and I want to make sure I have a selection of the highest quality available for my students in the classroom. Since we, as the teachers, are models to the parents, parents often ask me, “What instruments should I have in my home for my children?” Parents value instruments that are not only fun to play but ones that will also last over time and make beautiful sounds. There are lots of instrument choices for parents to purchase on the internet but many of these choices are not appropriate for young children. If it looks like a toy, it is probably a toy.

When I create a list of instruments for parents to choose I consider:

  1. Instruments that have an excellent sound quality.
  2. Instruments that are made of natural materials.
  3. Instruments that are safe for children to handle.

In the classroom I mainly use instruments that Musikgarten offers, including their beautiful and simple drum. It has a wood frame, natural calf skin head, and is sturdy, but light weight. It is perfect to put on the floor and have the children play with their hands, but light enough to hold while standing.  I always make sure I have enough for everyone to have a drum.

IMG_0247crop

Musikgarten sticks are natural and have no varnish added to them so they can be mouthed by the babies and tapped by all the children.  These sticks need to be smooth and have no rough edges.  I like sticks that are small enough that they cannot become a ‘sword’ and heavy enough for hands to actively tap in various ways and roll on the floor.  Perhaps they may even become letters or houses.  I also have sticks with ridges so we can explore the sounds of insects, trains, rubbing or other imaginative sounds.

IMG_0265stick crop

Musikgarten rattles are also made of wood and large enough so they cannot be swallowed by the youngest baby, but are small enough to feel comfortable in little hands.  With these cylinder shaped objects we can tap, pound, and roll and, yes, create towers to crash to the floor in a noisy heap.

IMG_0262rattle crop

A classroom can survive with only these instruments – great news for new teachers on a budget.  As the years have passed I have collected and adorned my studio with ethnic drums, band instruments my own children attempted to play while in school, bells found in antique shops and garage sales and other odd assortments perfect for a play-along time. These instruments are like flavor to a stew and can be used for a fun celebration at the end of class or at home.

I have also found it very helpful to give parents some instruction on how to store the instruments. My favorite suggestion is to collect all those instruments and place them in a music area in your home. As families participate in the Baby and Family music program they receive a home instrument with each unit including a set of sticks, rattles, bells and sand blocks.  These can go into a basket which is separate from the toy box.  Add a music player that children are allowed to control, place the basket of instruments on the floor and you have music time!

IMG_0013basket resized

Then when your music time is over, place the basket OUT OF REACH of the children. Why?  I believe instruments should be treated differently from toys.  They are tools to create sounds and are taken out and put away when the activity is done.

Remember, for both your studio and when advising your parents, to keep it simple. Choose instruments that have a great sound quality, are made of natural materials, and are safe for children to handle. I advise staying away from plastic instruments and those 20 instruments in a set deals that you can find on the internet.  Homemade instruments can also be fun as long as they are safe for the children.

Eventually the question comes up from parents, “When should I purchase a piano for my child?” This is a blog article in itself, so stay tuned for the answer!

 

Musikgarten Recordings Make Classes More Successful!

Last week an enthusiastic father in my toddler music class announced to the class that his daughter learned to sing two new songs this week. While both songs (If I had a Hammer and Puff the Magic Dragon) are wonderful songs by themselves, I wondered why he wasn’t enthusiastically sharing how his daughter was singing two of her favorite songs from her class recording. So I asked the question every Musikgarten teacher fears asking,

“Have you downloaded (or listened) to your classroom music yet?”

As a teacher I bet you will cringe when you hear the myriad of excuses why parents haven’t gotten around to doing this simple and important act, and as a parent I bet you guiltily look for that code to download the songs onto your listening device or search for your CD.

Why would children and parents listening to the music at home be so important to the success of your program? Here are five important reasons to consider:

Familiarity breeds success: Children love to hear a song over and over and over again. They will request the music on every car trip. When they enter the classroom they embrace the activity because they KNOW the songs from listening to the recording at home.

Children singing on recordings: All Musikgarten recordings have children singing several of the songs, sometimes in a children’s choir and other times as a solo. This is magical for children because they love hearing other children sing. They can easily sing along because the vocal range is optimal for their voices.

Expands the classroom experience: So often I have parents share how their children are “practicing” their songs. This could be a baby or toddler singing the songs on a syllable like ba or bam in their crib or in their car seat. Or an older child singing a complete song while dancing.

Develops vocabulary: Songs, especially the folk material that Musikgarten uses, are rich in words. When children sing with the recording or later by themselves, they are developing their growing vocabulary.

Parent’s important role: Parents are the model the child will follow. I notice more parents sing in class when they have listened to the recording with their children or on their own.  How many times have I heard parents say they continue to listen and hum along to the music long after they drop off their children to school or other activities?  Parents love the music!

I always encourage families to listen to as many different types of music and I embrace the tremendous variety of musical choices in our society that we can access 24 hours a day. However, I want to emphasize the strengths of the Musikgarten recordings that are created specifically for young children:

Instrumentation is diverse: This is so important! So many children’s CDs limit their instrumentation to drums, guitar, piano and voice.  But take a look at a typical Musikgarten CD. The listener will experience a children’s choir; instruments from the woodwind family like the clarinet, oboe, and bassoon; large orchestras, brass instruments; folk instruments like bamboo flute and jaw’s harp; plus the traditional guitar, drums and piano. Oh, and did I mention an ensemble of Renaissance instruments? When it is time for a child to choose the instrument they wish to study, teacher and parent can be sure they have heard a wide selection of musical instruments before they make that lifelong choice.

Tempo: The tempo of the music is just right for children. I have found when I listen to CDs that are labeled for children they are just too fast. In my classes I am constantly slowing down the speed of the songs we sing to match the speed of the children singing.  At the same time, I want the tempos on the recordings to be lively and catchy and the CDs have the speed that is ideal for the children.

The singers are often children: This needs to be repeated! This means a child has a model of singing that is just like their voice. They hear a sound that they can easily understand and recreate.

Music includes activity: Remember in class we don’t just sing a song, we sing and MOVE to the song, whether it is tapping the beat on our knees, rocking to and fro, marching through the room, or playing along with sticks. This brings another dimension to the song, something a recording by itself cannot do.

Share these wonderful attributes about the Musikgarten recordings with your families. Encourage them to find these recordings and make them a part of their daily life.

This father has promised he will spend five minutes and download the music. I hope he will take advantage of this opportunity to share Musikgarten’s excellent music all week and all session long.

The Magic of Finger Plays

Finger plays are songs or stories that are acted out using your fingers and hands. As parents and teachers, we all want children to experience and play with as many finger plays in their early years because they “focus on the aspect of identification of fingers and hands and experimentation with their various movements.” In Musikgarten classes, finger plays are an essential and fun part of every toddler music class.

Over the years of teaching toddler music class I have learned that I must be well versed in the finger play to be able to share it with a group of children.  As I present the activity I realize I am also presenting it to parents in the hope they will continue to play and share this play at home.

So where do we begin?

Like many finger plays, the raw material for a parent or teacher is usually a ‘head scratching’  little poem:

Five little birds without any home,
Five little trees in a row,
Come build your nests in our branches tall,
We’ll rock you to and fro.

Not much to go on…….

A parent started a discussion about finger plays in class the other day.  She asked, “How do I do finger plays? Is there an online source to show me how?  When can I do them at home?”  I realized that finger plays were not a part of her early life. As a child I was surrounded by finger plays, learning and enjoying them with my parents, my siblings, my Sunday school teacher, etc.  Finger plays were part of my everyday world as a child. Is it possible we have lost the art of finger play in today’s home life?

As a teacher a finger play is an immensely powerful tool to draw in my children and their parents to a close knit circle.  From this intimate space we will share a moment that brings smiles and giggles mixed with hugs and rocking.  Always a good plan in a toddler music class!

The experts say a finger play:

  • develops vocabulary
  • creates a stronger emotional link between parent/teacher and child
  • develops the motor facility of the hand
  • develops cognitive areas of the brain
  • creates a safe place for children and adults to explore together
  • creates a safe place for physical contact between a parent/child or teacher/child
  • connects culture from generation to generation
  • goes beyond the purpose of nurturing, caressing, comforting or feeding.
  • creates laughter and excitement and pleasure.
  • creates a place where a child wants to repeat the game and play more and more.
  • turns a hand into a toy.

The finger play, summarizes Jelena Sitar Cvetko, is the “shortest and simultaneously the most comprehensive form of Folk literature. Finger plays are pre-dramatic forms with fingers as players and the hand as the stage, completed within itself and created within the play itself.” **

Good stuff in a little activity.  But still, the question still begs, HOW do I do a finger play?

So I have created a “before children walk into the room” video of the finger play “Five Little Birds”.

With no children in the room, it appears that all you need are the words and the fingers.  Notice the pace of the poem, the vocal tone used and the expressive quality of my fingers.  I believe a finger play needs to be rehearsed before your families walk in  because when children are added to the mix, anything can happen. You need to be ready to adapt in the moment.

Here is a video of another finger play with children and parents learning side by side.  It is quite different in that  you need to engage the toddlers and the parents. Luckily it helps that you are building on the common bond of love between parent and child:

When can a parent/grandparent/caretaker use a finger play?

  • during a diaper change
  • before bed
  • during a waiting time in a doctor’s office
  • during play time
  • whenever you need a connection or just want to laugh and giggle along with a child

Finger plays are fun and can create special moments throughout a child’s day.  For the teacher, it can make a major fun moment in a music class.  For the parent, it is a break from the necessary routines of a child’s life. Yet both parents and teachers still express apprehension when it is time to actually share the finger play.

Here are some clues to help:

  • Memorize the finger play but don’t worry if you mess up a word or two. It is more about the tone of voice, the pacing and loving way you transmit the play.
  • Repeat over and over. Children love to repeat and will gladly help and correct you if you don’t repeat it exactly the same way you did it yesterday.  Believe me, they remember EVERYTHING!
  • Exaggerate the underlying emotion of the finger play. Emotional response (laughing, crying, gasping) create significant memory cues for the children.

Watch how I emote in “Five Freckled Frogs” as the frogs “disappear into the pond” only to all return at the end.

Finally, some finger plays, like “Whoops! Johnny” can be changed to include the child’s name.  I add verses which include each of the children and then Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, sisters, brothers, and pets. I had a mother say her child would go through everybody in her world before going to bed at night.  The list was quite long and she would diligently repeat all the loving people in her repeats.  And, yes, I was included!

I hope you will make finger plays a part of your repertoire as a teacher and as a parent/grandparent/caretaker. Use these whenever possible.  This magical moment will make a difference in your life as well as the child playing with you.

What could be better?

**Quote from the Paper of Jelena Sitar Cvetco, The value of Finger play as a form of Cultural Heritage in the Curriculum of the First Age Period: https://hrcak.srce.hr/file/222654

Confessions of a Piano Teacher

It’s a new year and a new beginning for our blogger, Ellen Johansen.  She will be adding her insights, tips and suggestions each month.  But first let us introduce her:

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My name is Ellen Johansen and I have a passion for teaching music to young children.  It is my belief that music is one of the most valuable gifts we can share with others; the kind of gift where both the receiver and the giver benefit.  Being a Musikgarten teacher, I get to facilitate and develop this gift of music with children and their parents with the hope that they will continue music in their family lives and in their future.

I began teaching piano when I was 16 and I am reluctant to talk about it 🙂

I had no idea what I was doing but I did discover that teaching music was fascinating.  In my twenties after studying the art of piano pedagogy in college, teaching became an important source of income. I drove from home to home, sometimes wondering if I was teaching music or providing an expensive babysitting service.

As I developed my home studio and continued to study piano pedagogy, an annoying and enduring question rose, “How do children really learn to read music?” I scrambled to collect every possible method book, theory and ear training workbooks thinking they would somehow answer this basic question. Yet there seemed to be a disconnection from the printed pages of these books to the sound I wished for my students to learn. The joy I wanted them to experience with discovering and creating a musical sound was missing.

Why were my students so squirmy on the bench? They seemed un-interested in my attempts to help them see a half step compared to a whole step.  Even though they could name those dots on the page with letter names, why did they seemed no closer to reading music fluently?  I found myself blaming it on not enough daily practice.  Or maybe I wasn’t following the method books correctly. The children coming for piano lessons could not sing in tune or keep a steady beat. This concerned me greatly.

As I began to raise my own family I recalled all the hours I spent singing with my own family as I was growing up. My Great grandfather was an organ builder, my grandmother was a piano teacher during the depression and my mother and her sisters learned to play the piano and sing.  Music was part of my every day as a young child. My mother played the piano and sang every night as I fell asleep and my siblings sang songs and played all sorts of musical games children like to sing and play.  We sang and played in the car, we sang and played around the house, we sang at campfires on the beach, we sang in school and at scout meetings, we sang weekly in church and in Sunday school, and we sang and played with our neighborhood friends in the backyard.  But the children walking into my studio were growing up in a different culture, where music was performed on the radio or TV and children attended playdates instead of knocking on a neighbor’s door.

Then I found an ad about teaching early childhood music and movement classes in my studio.  Maybe this source could help me answer this question.  I met Lorna Heyge and everything changed.

I completed every training session offered in early childhood music, and then I taught as many classes as I could book in my music studio. It has now been over 20 years that I have taught the Musikgarten curriculum and this wonderful teacher’s resource has been the ongoing wellsping of appropriate and passionate sequential musical activities that lead the children in my classes towards musical literacy.  But it wasn’t without many missteps and musical mishaps before learning how to incorporate this aural and joyful approach to my classroom.

Today I run a successful, independent music studio on the East End of Long Island and offer all levels of the Musikgarten program, from toddlers through keyboard classes. Most of my Musikgarten graduates continue into piano studies.  I now have the experience of witnessing many of my Musikgarten graduates go on to study other instruments as well as composition. They enter college with music in their hearts and as part of their course load.  One student of mine, who started in a toddler music class, is graduating from High School this year and will be giving a concert of piano music including Debussy’s Arabesque and Gershwin’s Preludes.  He is a great example of the Musikgarten graduate who is the literate musician I always dreamed of teaching; he thinks and plays musically, can hear what he sees and sees what he hears.  It all started with that first question: “How do children really learn to read music?”

I hope my experience and insights into this marvelous curriculum will help you find your answers to your teaching questions.

11 Reasons Kids Need Music More Than Ever!

Parents have lots of options when it comes to activities for their children. How’s a parent to choose between Baby Yoga and Toddler Soccer and Mommy & Me Cooking Classes – not to mention those other music-like programs? As a Musikgarten studio owner, it’s important to know what to say to a parent who is thinking about signing up for Musikgarten, but isn’t totally sold…yet.

So with that in mind, we’ve researched and compiled a list of 11 important ways children benefit from music education. Use this sound reasoning to help parents make the smart decision!

  1. It’s highly logical: music improves reasoning skills! Children who take music lessons are shown to have unique brain functions compared to children who do not receive music lessons. In general, children with music instruction tend to score higher in memory, reasoning and in writing, math, and science. Source: PBS.org
  1. All together now: music teaches coordination! Playing instruments and learning rhythmic movement develops dexterity and coordination between the ear, brain, and body. Enhanced coordination, fine, and gross motor skills can open a world of possibilities, not only in the arts, but in sports as well. Source: Parents.com

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  1. Excuse me ma’am, music cultivates social skills! Music classes require interaction with both adults and peers, and classes help teach respect, direction following, impulse control, teamwork and “musical sportsmanship” – that is encouraging and supporting each other. Through music, a child learns how to respect others and collaborate within a group to accomplish a goal. Source: Parents.com
  1. From the top! Music teaches children to practice. While practice may not always make perfect, music teaches children how to practice and why it matters. Whether they’re learning to play an instrument or simply learning about music, the act of practicing teaches children about self-discipline, patience, perseverance, resilience, and how to reach both short- and longer-term goals. Source: Violinist.com
  1. Music boosts confidence and self-esteem! Learning about music and how to play an instrument takes work but the rewards are incredibly gratifying. A child’s confidence can be immediately boosted through understanding, reading, and performing. Even small achievements will boost a child’s self-esteem.
  1. Music is like “IQ food”! Studies show that children who were given music lessons over a year averaged three IQ points higher than other groups. And because music requires the use of both the right and left sides of the brain, it helps create new neural pathways and linkages that help improve overall brain function. Source: beautythroughimperfection.com

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  1. Music teachers are many! We don’t have to tell you that music teachers are something really special! But when it comes to music, children also benefit from a whole world of mentors – from classical composers to popular musicians to experimental sound artists. Whatever a child’s preferences, there will always be an endless catalog of music and musicians available to inspire and teach them something new.
  1. Don’t forget! Music fosters short- and long-term memory! Each of us can still remember the first song we were asked to memorize as youngsters, or even the 16 bars we practiced for hours upon hours. Learning music stimulates the hippocampus in the brain, which in turn supports short- and long-term memory. Source: Psychologytoday.com
  1. Wait, what? Music can increase attentiveness and focus! The ability to pay attention—focus, listening, and staying on task—is deeply connected to academic performance. A research team at Stanford University found that music engages the areas of the brain involved with paying attention and focus, which can directly contribute to higher test scores in school. Source: med.stanford.edu; Oxford Journal
  1. ¡Fantastico! Music helps children learn other languages. Music training has been shown to physically develop that portion of the brain responsible for language development. A more developed language center allows for the mastery of a native language as well as foreign languages. Source: PBS.org
  1. Music is a trip! Because Musikgarten incorporates curricula, lessons and songs from other countries, children will learn about other cultures. Musikgarten won’t just open their minds; it’ll open up their worlds! With our uniquely global approach, children become curious about other cultures and may be inspired to follow an educational or career path that takes them to new and exciting places.

You know music matters, now you can help parents understand why music – and Musikgarten – are so much more important that they realize!