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Start at the Very Beginning

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Union Elementary School music teacher Samantha LaFleur plays ukulele to her 18-month-old son, Barett. Courtesy photo.

Samantha Lafleur, Union Elementary School’s music teacher and the mother of an 18 month old, was asked to share her ideas about introducing young children to music.

Would you begin introducing infants to music even before birth?

There are many theories and studies on the lifelong neurological benefits and social benefits of singing and playing music for children in utero.

I felt moved to create and share music with my child throughout our pregnancy as I sought to connect with him musically before his arrival. Music was and is a way for me to show love. There is absolutely no harm and there are great benefits in sharing music with your child while in utero and beyond. 

Music created and shared during a pregnancy can be used not only by the child after birth, but by the family as a whole to build and teach regulation skills. Caregivers sharing music often have a more relaxed nature, facilitating a strong and deep connection with their  children. 

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Many diaper changes and car rides in the early months were far more successful if  I sang a tune or two that my son had heard prior to his birth because it would provide a feeling of security, familiarity, and predictability. 

What activities do you recommend parents try with the baby in the beginning?  Did your child have a favorite?

Music in the early years supports the development of language, literacy, mathematics, gross and fine motor skills development as well as social and emotional skills. 

Sharing a soothing melody may support self regulation skills. Playing musical games and fingerplays such as “Five Little Pumpkins” or “Open, Shut” facilitate engagement, language, and comprehension. 

Our little one loves to listen to the ukulele and to play the strings as well! We have seen him build gross motor skills as he dances to the music and learns about cause and effect as he reaches for each string in wonder. 

Listening and responding to a variety of music pieces will further enrich a child’s development. When completing my masters in early childhood education, I read through many studies that concluded our brains respond to music more readily in the early years and that music promotes the neurological connections of the right and left hemispheres of the brain as well.

As a child begins to crawl and walk, are there special activities parents can try with these toddlers?

Children learning to move their bodies by crawling, walking, or reaching and grabbing can benefit from music that encourages movement. Some of our favorite songs got our little one crawling, and eventually dancing and walking. This list includes “Shake My Sillies Out” by Raffi, “Born this Way” by Lady Gaga, “Have It All” by Jason Mraz, and “The Bear Went Over the Mountain” and “The Goldfish Song” by the Laurie Berkner Band. 

Some are songs we, as caregivers, love, and some are created specifically for young children. We try to choose a variety of musical pieces because we want our child to have exposure to different genres and musical forms. These songs are alike, however, in that they are typically performed with beats per minute that fall in the average toddler’s heart rate range to encourage their bodies to move. 

When selecting music, we also choose songs with lyrics that lead the listener to perform specific actions. With repetition, your child may begin to perform the actions independently. 

When do you suggest a child might be offered formal music lessons?

Formal music lessons for exploring music with caregivers and peers are great for children of all ages. Classes such as First Steps, Kindermusik, and Music Together are great choices and many are beginning to be offered online or  in outdoor settings.

Formal music lessons that aim to teach specific instrumental skills, such as playing the ukulele, are most likely best for children no younger than 4 or 5 and often much later. 

At some point, should a parent insist on music lessons, just as they insist on school attendance, as in “It’s part of your education”?

I truly believe that musical experiences, including music education and musical activities, are essential to the development of the whole child.

Throughout my career as an elementary music educator, I have taught hundreds of children about the power of music and witnessed daily the impact of formal music learning. 

Show interest and support in whatever your child chooses. Help them to find their connection with music and find their voice, through an instrument, through lyrical writing, or through composition. Music helps us to create our identity, is a way to share ourselves, and fosters an appreciation and awareness of differentiated perspectives and interests.