Thursday, January 19, 2012

What will my three month old get out of class?

I get a lot of interesting looks and questions when I tell people I teach music to infants and toddlers.  When I tell them some of my students start as young as 8 weeks old, people looked shocked.  "What can an 8 week old do? What instruments do you teach them? Do they just sit there?"  These questions stem from a culture that thinks of music as a performance medium, not knowing all of the neurological development that is associated with music at a very young age.  True most students don't start at 8 weeks (but they could!), but many students start at 3 or 4 months, and the benefits are immense as is the progress that I see over the course of an 8 or 10 week session.

As far as motor skills are concerned, yes a 3 month old is limited, however cognitively, the possibilities are endless.  Their brains are amazing little sponges, just waiting to absorb everything they can.  The roots of language development are already forming, and they are ready to hear and recreate the phonemes from every language on the planet.  The language ability in infants during the first year is incredible. Every sound that is possible by humans is in their brains, just waiting for exposure so they can practice it.  If you want your baby to speak several languages fluently and without accent later in life, expose them to those languages during the first three years, but most especially during the first year.  That is when their ability to learn and recreate the widest variety of phonemes is the most vibrant and active.  And no, you won't confuse your baby by speaking more than one language to them.  They have the natural ability to figure out what language to speak to different adults based on what language is spoken to them.  The first three years is the best time to speak a second, third or fourth language with your child.  They can handle it!  You are doing them a huge favor!

I digress, but not too far.  Music and language learning is very intertwined.  Learning music and having a variety of live music exposure will help your child not only develop their innate musical ability but also language, math, reasoning, etc.

What does this mean for your three month old in class?  This means that although they have limited motor skills, the information is being absorbed, processed and digested during this time, creating neural pathways, stimulating communication and patterning centers in the brain.  As they develop motor abilities, the information is there and all that is left is to apply what they have instinctively learned.  Like speaking, they will just know how to communicate through rhythm and melody and all it takes is practice to get their arms, legs, hands and feet working together to express the musical ideas in their head.  This intense motivation to express the rhythm will in turn help them to develop their fine and gross motor skills while learning to grab, shake, and strike instruments, not to mention coordinate their body to express music in dance or practice jumping, standing on one foot, kicking, swinging arms, all of which we do in class as part of musical expression.

To express melody, babies begin to coo in the key of the music.  Often this comes as soon as we end a song; they will begin cooing (usually on the base note or 5th) in an effort to extend the musical experience.  Or while we are singing they will follow the basic melody line with coos and squeals of delight.  This first singing starts at a very young age.  I've seen it as young as three or four months and if we have a class of 7 or 8 months, we can have a full on baby choir in class!

Another great benefit of starting at three months is giving your baby the opportunity to interact with other babies and for you to be with other parents who are going through all of the tremendous life changes that happen during the first year of your baby's life.  The community for babies and parents is invaluable.  Babies learn how to safely reach out to and play with other babies and parents get to compare notes about what's going on with them, how to deal with concerns about teething, sleeping, breast feeding, bottle feeding and baby proofing to name a few.

Of course, we can't forget the wonderful bonding that happens with your baby as you engage in musical play with them.  Through engaging them in very age specific ways, we explore new ways to play, to stimulate them, to let them experience music in as many ways as possible.  Taking the time to have this focused musical play is so precious.  They are depending on you for most of the input they get in the class.  My job is to lead, to set the example for you to follow with your baby.  I give you the ideas for you to follow in class so you can take it home and do them throughout the week.  No matter what you may or may not think about your voice, to your baby, it is the sweetest voice in the world.  Sing!  Your touch is the best in the world.  Your energy focused on them is the greatest gift.  The first year goes so fast.  Before you know it they are crawling, walking and running and a brand new level of development and different kind of play is appropriate.  Take advantage of those precious early months; the connection will last a lifetime.

Ultimately its up to you when you start the class, but I have seen first hand how amazing the development is when the babies start as young at three months old.  The changes that happen during the session are astronomical; they are capable of so much growth! The final advantage (but this one lasts for a while) is a really good nap after class.  All that stimulation usually makes babies knock out to process it all.  Many parents have told me that the best nap all week is the one that happens right after class, and I'm sure you know by now that a good nap is priceless!

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