Top 5 things to look for in a children’s music program
June 24, 2018
In this blog Dr Vicky shares the top 5 things parents should look for in a children’s music program.
In our research work, our aim is to identify consistent traits or elements across different music early learning programs that lead to quality outcomes.
Young children involved in music making with their loved ones is chief among these.
The benefits of this are many, as you know and can read in other blogs I have written. One of my goals at Kids Music Beat is to provide outstanding, ‘best of the best’ music experiences for families.
Our Music Early Learning Program is one of the best in the world, offering families a balance of music therapy informed practice, a music education overview and opportunities to integrate sensory experiences that are age and developmentally appropriate.
Here are my Top 5 Tips for what to look for in a children’s music program to support your child’s developmental needs.
#1 A research informed music program
Check the program is based on actual research. Don’t buy the marketing fad that ‘music makes baby smarter’.
Explore what informs the program. How will it help you as a parent feel more connected with your baby? Does it empower you to use music at home? Does it grow your understanding of how music supports early childhood development?
This is number one because it is most important. Music can support babies’ developmental milestones. Cited research should be specific to babies and toddlers and not based on research into older children receiving music lessons.
Research shows the most valuable experience in terms of brain activity and emotional growth for babies in music groups is when music is:
- played live
- shared with a parent or loved ones
- in a small group
Done. Full stop.
SO LOOK FOR:
A live music program (not recorded and incorporating instruments) that understands how little brains react to people responding to them. Recorded material can be too loud, too rigid, age inappropriate and overwhelming. You want a program you can take home to make your own music together.
The program should be based on attachment theory, positive parenting, meaningful engagement, multi-modal stimulation and parent empowerment.
Child-led toddler music groups (not prescriptive or outcomes focused) better support how young children learn. They should be live and interactive, repetitive and based on music early learning research principles, not just educational outputs specifically.
Pre-school music groups based on early childhood learning principles including regulation, music literacy that is age appropriate and a teaching pedagogy that is fun and interactive will work well for this age group.
These little people are still just babies in the big scheme of life and should be having loads of fun learning together.
Some programs will say they are research based. Check that their program content, session and lesson plans, instrument choice, group size, parent participation, song choices, pedagogy (live music, improvised moments, repertoire and how it is presented) are all based on research findings.
And finally, notice how many music programs reference my research!!! Woot!
#2 The music group leaders can actually sing and play a musical instrument competently
Expanding on the point above, research shows the magic really happens when music is played live with a strong focus on singing and making music together. That’s when little brains light up and neurons start firing!
I am not saying there is no place for recorded music in children’s lives. Far from it – there is the car, we LOVE music in the car! Shows like Playschool, Lah Lah’s Big Live Band and Wiggles are wonderful!
Recorded music played at home to dance and groove to provides hours of fun interactions (or maybe that is just in my house!).
But if you are going to invest your time and money in a music program look for one where the music is predominately live, interactive and reactive.
This requires real musical skill from the staff so in a way is a quality assurance outcome for you anyway!
SO LOOK FOR:
Live live live – live singing, live movement and a variety of instruments for the varied activities.
For babies and toddlers specifically, look for REPETITION. Having a completely new set of songs and instruments each week does not scaffold learning (building), rather it provides constant novelty.
We love novelty but it isn’t what works for supporting little brains. We all marvel at kids wanting to watch the same things OVER and OVER – they are scaffolding their learning.
#3 The music group leaders are appropriately trained and qualified
It takes a great musician and facilitator to follow an informed session and lesson plan, yet remain flexible enough for children to fill the session with their imaginations, requests, movements, ideas and actions.
The early childhood music industry is not regulated, which means anyone can run a music group and make whatever claims they like.
You would not take your child to a doctor who was not qualified. Or to a school that employed wonderful kind people who were not qualified class room teachers.
Your child’s early learning at music should be the same.
At Kids Music Beat, our group leaders are qualified in music therapy, music performance or education (or all!). Then Dr Vicky and the team gives them additional training.
In fact, our people have spent a whole term training with us by the time you see them in a music group.
SO LOOK FOR:
Check that the people who both designed and run the program are appropriately qualified. That is: they have a degree in music (or are studying towards a post graduate degree), music therapy or music education.
In addition they should have worked or studied in early childhood or family therapy, as a big part of their job is working with children and their parents.
#4 The music program uses quality equipment
One of my pet peeves is going to a music program and being greeted by the cheapest of the cheap instruments and props.
Sure! The kids don’t know – what’s the problem? The problem is… I know as a musician.
If you are going to run a music program, then run it with good quality equipment! Same for a sports program, or a swimming program – keep the pool clean and water warm, right?
Most children’s musical instruments are now made in bulk and on mass, so it takes time and dedication to the cause to find good sounding, safe and good quality instruments. We believe in this so strongly we started our own online shop!
Our products are tried and tested before they are brought to groups. We aim to start a lifelong love of music with our little boppers, and this starts with our quality voices (training!) and quality instruments.
SO LOOK FOR
Good quality instruments! Not K-mart toys and cheap (and potentially unsafe) instruments. We only use the highest quality instruments because we think your children are worth it. Parents are always asking me where we source our instruments from and why we choose certain brands over others. Check out our post on Top musical instruments for babies and children for more information.
#5 The music program does not overstimulate your child, especially babies
We are not doing our little ones any favours by constantly layering up their internal world in the name of “sensory” stimulation. Research does not support this over stimulation in the name of ‘activities’ for babies and toddlers. In fact, we are beginning to see that over stimulation may make transitions to learning environments, such as school more difficult, where children predominately learn from a single modality (think one teacher, one teacher’s voice).
Babies don’t need to be constantly stimulated to learn and grow. We believe that there is enough ‘busy’ in this world. Our music groups offer a space where you can slow down, connect and enjoy being in the moment with your baby.
Our gentle approach to multi-modal stimulation in a child-led framework is what sets us apart from all other music programs claiming to support the developmental needs of your infant.
I wrote in more detail about this in my blog Making sense of the sensory craze. For normally developing children, learning how to integrate sensory experiences is what matters and where we can add value.
SO LOOK FOR
Restraint. Designing and running sessions on a music early learning research framework takes discipline and restraint.
When we live in a MORE MORE MORE world, we we think more, more, more is somehow better for little ones too.
So look for a music program that provides a sensory experience that is multi-modal in approach, not layered. This means ONE thing at a time.
For older children, music sessions should allow them to use their imaginations to make up songs and use simple props in creative ways. The program shouldn’t lay out everything for them; it should encourage their thinking, planning, problem solving and imaginations.
The little people should be able to explore their environment with their grown up in ways that encourage curiosity and play rather than over stimulation.