Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Music Class Experience

The Music Class Experience

Holiday season is fast approaching.  Stores are crowded with shoppers; many of them shopping for their children or grandchildren ages 2 and under.  At that age, children are just as excited about playing with the bag or box the present came in or the sparkly bow attached as the gift inside.  Last year, my then 2 year old daughter took the box her present was wrapped in and she started tapping on it like a drum.  The clothes that came in that box no longer fit her, but that box is still in her room! She lines up her bears and dolls, sets up her box drum and a few egg shakers and plays music class. She says the box is one of her favorite gifts because she can use it for music play. So to that shopper who asks, “What should I get my 1 year old for the holidays?” I vote for a music class experience!

Experience gifts are truly a gift that keeps on giving that you and your child can enjoy together. What is the music class experience?  For 10 weeks straight you and your child can come to music class once a week for 45 minutes of uninterrupted bonding time, musical learning, and play. During your music class experience you will learn approximately 25 new songs, play a variety of percussive instruments that your young child can manipulate on their own, dance for and with your child, sing together, laugh, jam, meet new friends, learn about musical development in children,  be a part of a music making community, and share quality time together. Now how could you fit all of that in a box?

The music class experience fits any age or stage of your child’s development. It is also something you can enjoy as a family. Parents and grandparents can attend class together. For families that have more than one child, you can attend class all together. One class fit everyone’s musical ability! While some children may be silent observers and others may be completely engaged and in tune with every activity presented in class, everyone’s learning styles and musical abilities are accepted and included.  Regardless of your musical ability, remember that you are your child’s first teacher and your voice is your child’s favorite voice.  

So is there a final show at this end of this experience? No, music classes are non-performance oriented. The experience is not about putting on a show, rather bringing the harmony home, bonding, learning, and making joyful music together. Experiencing music and making music a part of your daily life has immeasurable benefits too.  Here are some of the benefits of the music making experience for your child. Music development and fostering a love for music, language development, emotional development, physical development, cognitive development, learning self-regulation and increasing security, and self-confidence,  leadership opportunities, and a nurturing and safe way to explore, imagine, create, and be. One of my favorite gifts that the music class experience gives me is space and time with my children to make beautiful musical memories that will last a lifetime. They simply do not make gift bags big enough to stuff in all those goodies!

Give your child, grandchild, and friends, the gift of making music together this holiday season! Connect with your child and with other families in class and beyond. Experience how much fun music making can be even with the youngest music makers.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

We Have A Runner

Along with dancing feet, marching feet, walking feet and silly feet, running feet are often a part of our music class. Today we have a guest post from Rachel Rainbolt of Sage Parenting  entitled "We Have a Runner." Rachel is a mom, author, parent educator, parenting coach, and M.A. family therapist. I highly recommend Rachel's classes and books). Thank you, Rachel, for your insight and wisdom.

Meet West. He is two years old. He has the hair of a Greek god with the adventurous spirit and gleaming smile to match. He converses with anyone who will listen, has deeply empathetic connections with others, is the youngest of our hearty three-boy superhero squad, is as tall as a four year old, and happens to be the runningest runner who ever lived.
He has never been restrained in a container against his will (strapped into a stroller). He has never been walked on a leash like a dog. He has never been forced to hold my hand while we cross a street (much to my mother’s chagrin).
So how do we homeschool out in the world? How do I work with him under wing? How do we survive and thrive in the social current?
Having appropriate expectations is the first hurdle in creating a life with a toddler runner that maintains everyone’s sanity and happiness. No amount of discipline will tame the adventurous spirit of your toddler (and you shouldn’t want to). Neither threats nor bribery will temper the physical drive that is aimed at scaling the Mt. Kilimanjaro of his small world. Wishing your child to be a different soul is an utter waste of your valuable energy (“All of my friend’s little ones just play quietly next to them while they sit and talk. Why can’t my child be like that?”). Attempting to will your child into a different developmental state than he is presently is laughably foolhardy. Embrace the child you birthed for exactly who he is today. Only from this place can you parent successfully. You could no more force maturity than you could force him to be taller. Know your child and set him up for success. If your expectations are not appropriate for your child, then he is not the source of the problem.
It’s all about creating approved ways for him to get that need met in public settings. What is your child’s specific need? How can you incorporate that need into not just each day, but every activity? Giving him time and space to run free to his heart’s content in nature is vital but will not eliminate the need for adventurous and vigorous exploration at every stop after the park.
If we are in a store and West wants to “run away,” he comes to me and says, “Mommy, run that way!” I say, “You want to run that way? Okay, let’s go! Then we run TOGETHER. You’ll notice I put the phrase “run away” in quotes because while that is how most describe it, they don’t actually want to run away from you, they just want to run. So don’t experience it as a rejection. They would love to have you copilot their adventure. They just don’t want a warden.
The minute he became independently mobile, it was apparent that he had a fiery passion for high-speed exploration and adventure. He would start to take off and I would put myself between him and his desired escape route, down on his level, and say, “You want to run that way? Okay, we can run TOGETHER.” Because they don’t really want to escape, they just want to run. So you have to give them a way to run and explore WITH you.
While I never strap my child down into a container against his will, we do sometimes use a stroller. My little one’s legs are small and despite loving the chase, he is simply unable to comfortably walk the distances us longer-legged folks are able to traverse. He loves exploring the world from his pouch (our Toddler Tula) but he also likes using the stroller. It’s a great place to eat some snacks on the go or play with toys he kept dropping. The key with the stroller is that it is HIS choice to sit in it or not. Whenever he wants to get out, he says, “Mommy, I get out” (so his feet don’t get run over) and I stop long enough for him to hop out and we continue on our merry way. If you force your child in a stroller against their will, they will associate that place with disempowerment and a humiliating loss of autonomy and avoid it like the plague. One note with strollers and runners is that it is much more difficult to run with your child if you have to push the stroller. It puts a big, cumbersome, hand-requiring object between you and your little runner so I only bring it along sparingly when the needs of our family of five tip the scales toward its benefit. For us, I want to say that ends up being about twice a month. Rule of thumb: If your child is able to get in and out of the stroller on their own, they are allowed to get in and out of the stroller on their own.
Since I find a way to say yes the vast majority of the time, the infrequent times I am unable to meet his need in the moment, waiting is doable for him because he TRUSTS me. He knows that if there was any way to make it safe in that moment I would.
If we are about to check out at the grocery store, I offer to run to the line together, reminding him that once we get in line, we can’t run until we get our receipt. If once in the line he wants to take off running, I would say, “I have to pay the lady for these groceries, then we can run together to the door. Do you want to help me push the buttons?” (Engaging him in what is happening.) Then I give him status updates so he knows I didn’t forget. “Now we just have to wait for the receipt, and then we can run to the door.” (Sequencing.)
Every single time we get to a door in a public place, we stop and check in with each other. This is key with a runner. It is ingrained in him that whenever he gets to a door, he stops and we check to make sure we are all together. “Here’s a door. Stop! We’re all together? Let’s go!” It should be fun and playful (not at all negative).
On curbs, we always do our safety routine there too. But it only works if you do it every time. Click here to read all about street crossing:
West has learned to navigate appropriateness and safety in public places because I explain things to him and find a way to say yes. If his desired choice is not safe, I explain why and we work together to find a safe way to get his need met. This is far more valuable than obeying commands because you won’t always be streaming orders (nor would you want to). I want to equip my children to be independently successful and buckles and commands will not accomplish that goal.
“I’m feeling nervous about you climbing so high up this very big rock. What might happen?”
“I might fall down get bonk on my head.”
“Oh, ya, that would hurt. What could we do to make it safer?”
“Hold my hand?”
“Okay, let’s try it. How does that feel?”
“No, I need my hand to climb.”
“Okay, what else could we try?”
“You stand right here, so close and catch me if I fall.”
“Okay, good plan!”
We were at Ikea the other day and it was very busy but after a while he asked to get down from his perch on my chest in the pouch. I told him that I was concerned that it was very busy with lots of people and I know his legs like to run. I asked him what we could do to keep him safe from all the people bumping and squishing and from getting lost. He suggested he could try to stay right next to me and if it was still too dangerous, he could stand in the big part of the cart downstairs. So we ran together, we sat in chairs, we opened cupboards, and then he stood in the big part of the shopping cart.
Skip ahead a few days inside Target. It was completely empty, so he asked if he could run around the immediate area. I told him I would stand right in the middle and he could run around the area so long as we could see each other. Every few minutes I would say, “I see you!” and he would respond in kind.
One frequently used marker of freedom for us is aisles. West asks if he can run to the end of the aisle and back. If the aisle is empty I say yes but am intentional in making sure that when he gets to the end of the aisle, I am engaging with him so he is enticed to run back, as the lure of adventure at the end of the aisle is great.
Red Light, Green Light is a very good game for toddler runners to play. It helps them to practice transitioning quickly from running mode to stopping abruptly. However, a common mistake parents make is hijacking the game as a control device. “I said red light Thomas! Stop!” Like I said, it’s a game you play together that provides good practice. Its value is in utilizing it as such. Don’t cry wolf. One key feature of playing this game is that your child gets to spend just as much time as you calling the lights.
On the flip side, be careful with Hide and Seek. When you do play this game, be clear on the context that allows for safety. Hide and Seek is a great game to play at home. It can be a fun game to play outdoors but in our family, we have the rule that one grown up has to see you. Meaning, this is a game that can only be played outside the house with two grown ups – one to find and one to supervise the hiders. So West would never run off and hide in a public place because he doesn’t think that’s how Hide and Seek is played.
You’ll notice a theme of togetherness. Being connected with your child, in tune with his needs, engaged with his interest, and respecting him as an autonomous human being is what it’s all about. Get behind his eyes, see what it is he needs and find a way to meet that. “That other room might be adventurous to explore. Do you want to check it out? Let’s go TOGETHER.”
Making the conscious choice to prioritize your child above social conventions is necessary with a runner. The anxiety from the pressure to socially conform can feel overwhelming. If you have just read 10 books on the library floor with your child when her running suddenly flares, you can try, “You want to run and leave the library. Let’s put these away and run together!” But sometimes, while at such a young age, they are just not capable of giving you what you want. Perhaps you missed her earlier cues of restlessness and now she is too far-gone. Worse comes to worse, (“I can’t wait Mommy. I just have to run!”) leave the books on the floor and move on together. As she matures, she will be able to wait longer and longer. You can pay it forward by picking up and putting away books you see on the library floor the next time you visit the library with your child. It’s a good lesson for you to be able to walk away from an activity you are engrossed in before you are ready and feel a sense of completion because we expect our littles to do it all the time. The world won’t end.
Sometimes the parenting baggage of strangers is unloaded onto you and your child. It comes in the form of “That’s not safe. He is going to get hurt.” but what you should hear behind those words is, “Seeing your child’s freedom brings up feelings from my childhood that I am unable to comfortably handle.” There is a surface layer of genuine concern for your child, so if the person expresses their feelings respectfully, I temper my signature snark in favor of a teaching moment with my child. The other day I was eating lunch with West in the food court at the mall and he was climbing all over me and the booth we occupied. (At one point I did say to him, “I notice there is a person sitting here in this booth behind us so I would like you to be careful not to encroach on her space, okay?” He took note and adjusted his play.) An older woman sitting at the table next to us was repeatedly gasping and staring. I ignored her and enjoyed my lunch date with my son until she leaned over and said, “He’s going to hit his head on the corner of this table.” I turned to West and said, “This lady is afraid you are going to hit your head on the corner of this table. What do you think?” He looked at the table, looked at the lady, and said, “No, I’m okay.” I smiled at her and went back to my lunch. The lady couldn’t help but smile back at him and nervously went back to her own lunch.
This might sound intimidating. It takes more effort up front but it actually requires much less energy in the long run. Checking in with each other as you leave places is really not much effort comparatively. Think about all the energy you expend dealing with a toddler who is constantly running away. You might feel like you are losing a battle and begin isolating yourself from the public world. You avoid outings like the plague and resign yourself to house arrest until your child reaches double digits. You know what? That’s bullshit. Because the world belongs to all of us – children included. Babies can cry. Nurslings can eat. And runners can run. I have found the key to social acceptance is really happiness. If you are stressed, people are annoyed. If you and your child are happy and smiling, people around can’t help but smile and catch some of the contagious joy.
I love connecting with my Sage Parents out in the world. If you see me out and about, come say, “Hello.” Just know that it will be at high speed for the next few years. And I am completely at peace with that. Embrace the fun while it lasts. You’ll have the rest of your life to be boring and slow.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Why Lullaby?

When I was a little girl I did not like going to bed. It was challenging to stop my mind from racing and calm myself down enough to fall asleep.  My parents would get frustrated with my “night owl” tendency. No one was getting the rest they needed; that is, until my parents and my grandmother started singing to me at night.  They stopped saying, “It’s time for bed”. They changed their tune and said, “It’s time for a quiet song. Rest your eyes” instead. I settled into my bed and listened to those beautiful voices as they lulled me to sleep. Musical memories are strong. I can still remember the songs they sang and feel the calm those lullabies brought me; soft voices, warmth, love, security, and finally a good night’s rest for everyone.

Lullabies are more than songs you sing to your children and grandchildren before they fall asleep.  Establishing a ritual of a nightly lullaby is powerful. It is also a wonderful way to bring even the busiest day to a close peacefully with love and tenderness. The quality of your voice and your singing talents is not important. Regardless of your musical abilities your voice is your child’s favorite and most recognizable voice.  In addition, there have been many studies done on how music can reduce the level of the stress hormone, cortisol, in our bodies and the music itself has a calming distressing effect.
Lullabies can strengthen the bond between parents and children.  Creating and nurturing that bond cannot be over-emphasized.  Lullabies can calm and sooth a tired or fussy child. Holding your child close and softly singing to them can help them feel secure and relaxed enough to fall asleep.  If you pay attention to your child’s sleep cues (yawning, rubbing eyes, change in their energy levels etc…) you can help them transition to a calm restful place so they can fall asleep. Singing close to their ears and head may help filter other sounds and noises that can otherwise distract your child from his rest time. You may notice that lullabies may not only sooth your child but they may be calming and comforting to you too!

Lullabies can expose your child to another level of speech and language. By singing to them you are also stimulating their listening skills and their language development.  Sometime we rock are children in our arms or stroke their body rhythmically so when you sing to your child you are providing a movement and rhythm experience as well.  You can also personalize any song by singing your child’s name.
In our Songbirds Music classes we have a ritual of singing a lullaby or quiet song together at the end of class.  Many of the children anticipate the start of the quiet song and often settle into a quiet spot by lying down on the floor, cuddling with a grownup or rocking to the music. I tell my families in class that I do not need to hear them sing but that it is important their child hears them sing. This is a song and a special moment for them and with them.

Lullabies don’t cost a thing but they can create a priceless experience for you and our child.  By establishing this nightly routine you are strengthening the attachment between you and your child while creating everlasting musical memories and you get a good night’s rest out of it too!
I sing to my daughters (ages 3 and 8) every night.  I’ve noticed that my 3 year old rests soundly shortly after I am done singing. Sometimes after I leave the room, she sings to herself or her stuffed animals in bed before falling asleep.  My eight year old and I sometime sing together. Other nights, lullaby time turns into a spontaneous conversation with my daughter where she feels calm and safe and she confides and shares her thoughts with me.  I love our nightly ritual. That’s why I lullaby. Sweet dreams.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Making Music Together: The Importance of Music

Making Music Together: The Importance of Music

We are musical beings. Our tendency to make music is universal and it transcends culture, language, religion, and every stage of our lives. As early as 5 months in utero, babies can hear their mother’s heartbeat and voice. From the time we are newborn and arguably before, playing and making music is not only all around us, it is an integral part of us.  Cooing infants, bouncing babies, singing lullabies, chanting songs in school, attending a celebration, driving to work, music is everywhere!

 Music utilizes and stimulates both sides of the brain. It is a full body experience. Outwardly it engages our voice and our bodies and inwardly it taps into our emotion and memories. We can all recall a song from our childhood. A song can make us feel happy, sad, excited or connect us to a specific moment in our lives.  Music is a way of being and a way of knowing.  Extensive research on the benefits of music has concluded that active music making supports emotional, physical, cognitive, language, and social development. Some studies have also connected music to higher academic achievement.

Culturally, music connects us to a community and allows people to interact and bond with one another. Imagine singing to your child. Think of how physically close you are when you sing. Think about how special that moment is that you are creating together.  Singing together is a beautiful way to bond with your little one.  Beyond that isolated moment, it creates harmony and possibly everlasting memories.  Singing with your child also fosters the love of making music. Only you can give your child the gift of loving music.  Singing and dancing with your child does not cost a penny but the benefits of those experiences are priceless.  Making music with your child does not require any kind of special skill or “talent”. Regardless of your musical ability, your voice is your child’s favorite voice.  Through music and musical play you encourage creativity, personal expression, and social interaction while bringing out the joy and the benefits of creating life-long music makers.

 What would an infant be able to do in a music class?  Music is a language. Although your infant does not talk back to you of course you continue to talk and read to them.  In music class we sing to our babies. They may not sing back for a while but before you know it they will coo and “ahh” to end of songs, hold onto egg shakers on their own and produce sounds, tap a drum with their curious hands and fingers, dance, and most importantly spend quality time with their favorite person – you! They will also have the opportunity to interact socially with other children (which means you get to make new friends too).  They have many opportunities to play, explore, and connect with you, other children, new spaces, instruments, and with a variety of rhythms and tonalities.  They experience and learn music through music.  Best of all, it is FUN! Now let’s make some beautiful music together.