Monday, January 15, 2018

What's Your Dream?

Sorry I haven't been posting lately! I've been getting ready to offer Music Together® classes in a new location, and it's taken up a lot of my time and concentration!  But as we take today to observe the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I'm wondering, what is your dream for your children? 

How do you want their lives to look?  What do you want them to be able to accomplish?  I'm sure many of us would say similar things. We want them to be happy, of course, but what does happy look like?  Maybe it's having the ability to choose the course of their own lives, or the freedom to express themselves.  Maybe it's being able to try new things without fear, or the drive to work hard and practice to achieve a goal or master a new skill.

We want them to have love and to be loving.  Maybe that means we have to put an extra emphasis on finding out about cultures we aren't a part of, because once you know someone, it's so much easier to love them.  Maybe we have to help them learn about altruism, by volunteering together, or sharing why and how your donate your time or funds to charity.

We want them to be successful, but success can look like many things.  Sometimes, we might look at what we think success looks like at the end, and start there, instead of starting at the beginning. When we start with an eye on the end, the pressure to immediately reach that goal can destroy the desire for the journey.

Today, my son (7) picked up my old ukulele and beginner's book and started learning to pick out the notes on the C and E strings.  I sat with him and gently guided him, answering his questions, showing him a bit, but I let him decide how much he wanted to practice, and didn't press him to do more when he was done.  It's not easy to find the balance between providing opportunity and allowing freedom of choice. But if we can find that balance, we can give our children discipline matched with opportunity for creativity, which creates the richest result.

With all the things we want for our children, maybe freedom is the place to start.  Giving our children freedom can be scary and can seem counter-intuitive. But freedom balanced with guidance is an amazing gift we can give them. 

What do you think? How are you spending today?

Monday, December 4, 2017

How to Bring Musical Magic into Your Holidays!

Hello everybody! Usually, I would be answering a question in this space, but I had the most amazing experience over the weekend, and I just had to share it with you.

My very excellent neighbor had a holiday party on Saturday.  She is one of these savant hostesses, who miraculously whips up a homemade, old-fashioned, DIY, country-style gathering at the drop of a hat.  From Scandinavian Christmas recipes, to mulled wine, to paper hat crafts, it's like walking into a Country Living magazine.  So, we always have a great time, and there are plenty of small people mingling with the big people.

One of my favorite parts of her house is the room she calls the "sunny room," which not only gets nice sun, but also houses a piano, many small musical instruments, a comfy bean bag chair, and lots of books.  On Saturday, the kids went right for it, and as the grown-ups talked, we would see and hear a small marching band winding in and out of the rooms, some with jingle bells, small cymbals, an accordion, a harmonica, and big smiles.

As I sat chatting with a woman who brings her boys to my class, her youngest son, 18 months old, was tapping on the piano, singing "Ahhhh", trying to sing the note he was hearing (I think!). As mom and I talked, we sang back to him each time to reinforce and validate.  That alone was really joyful for me, but it got better.

I don't know how it came up, but one of the neighbor's asked me if I could sing Petula Clark, and you don't have to ask me twice, so I started singing "Downtown", and they all joined in on the chorus.  The next thing I know, we are all singing old TV theme songs, and no one is being shy, or complaining that they can't sing.

My neighbor's brother digs up a harmonica and starts playing.  He tells us he plays best by ear, so he needs to hear someone sing so he can play along.  That's when the Christmas carols started.  We pulled out old piano books to get first notes and a few lost verses, and some of us (ahem) tried unsuccessfully to remember how to play the piano, while a father and son teamed up to play the Charlie Brown Christmas theme.

One neighbor picked up a guitar and launched into a speedy version of "Folsom Prison Blues" that left the singers winded, but we all fell back into the swing with "Jingle Bells".  All this took place over a couple of hours, was never very organized, and the best part?  Not a person there (besides me) would consider themselves a professional musician, they were just doing something they like to do, something that brings them joy.  And that joy was contagious!

I like to think that rather than being an anomaly, that night can be an inspiration.  What if we moved our basket of instruments out of the tucked away places, and brought them right out into the main room of a party?  What if we, instead of asking little ones to keep the noise down, encouraged them to sing and play music while they join us at grown-up parties?  What if, when your guests ask, "What can I bring?" you answer, "Do you still have that guitar?"  Holidays are a great time to nurture music making at parties, because there are so many great songs we sing in the cold, dark months to warm our hearts and cheeks.  Even one round of Jingle Bells by the whole crowd is a step in the right direction.  And a song is free!

Let me know how you've brought music into your holiday (or other) parties!

Monday, October 30, 2017

#AskAlexia: Why Bring a Newborn to a Music Class?

My neighbor was having a birthday party for her four year-old son, and I was chatting with our other neighbor, whose son is thirteen.  Naturally, I was talking about Music Together! She asked me what the youngest age of child I had ever had in class, and I told her "hmm, I think the youngest was about three weeks old!" Sometimes, a family with a toddler in class has a baby, and as soon as they are ready, the new sibling comes to join the class.  But the youngest I can remember a child coming to class on his own was two months.  My neighbor was incredulous.  "What can a two-month old baby get out of a music class?" she asked.

What a great question! And it was one I was happy to answer for her. There are so many reasons to start a newborn in music class, and they may not be the ones you think of when choosing classes for older children!

First, let's imagine that you have a newborn.  Everyone knows that newborns can't talk.  Would you then *not* talk to the baby?  Of course not!  We know that we have to talk to babies to help them learn to understand our language, and to convey our feelings through tone of voice.  We know that communicating through language is a basic life skill, so we nurture that immediately.  Well, music making is also a basic life skill!  If you want to fully support your child's innate musical aptitude, you have to begin exposing them to music making as early as possible.  

Could you do that at home? Of course!  But many new parents don't know where to start when it comes to making music.  Most parents will say their children are musical, but they don't give themselves the same credit.  I've met many parents who have never sung a lullaby to their child, because they just don't know what to sing, or they harbor a secret fear that they "can't sing" and that their poor singing will somehow negatively impact their baby. The good news is that your child is hardwired to love the sound of your voice, and anything you sing is fine.  Just the act of adding a lullaby ritual to your lives will support their development and enhance the bonding between you and baby.  My sister used to sing Christmas carols as lullabies to her baby, because they were the only songs she knew all the words to.  When you come into a Music Together class, we give you the tools to feel comfortable singing to and with your child, both in class and at home.  So, when you bring that newborn into class, you are also doing it for yourself.

Music class is also a great place to connect with other moms. Even if you have older children, a lot of moms report forgetting a lot of the baby stuff once their first child has past those stages.  We still need to share ideas and "war stories" with other moms, as well as get some of that much-needed adult conversation (before or after class, of course!).

Very young babies also get a lot out of just being in class.  Hearing people making music from a young age makes it a normal part of their everyday life, which it is not, for so many people!  Rocking and bouncing to the beat helps support baby's rhythmic development.  You'll often hear very young babies start to sound on the resting tone or dominant tone of the song we've just sung, showing us that it's never too early to start a music class.  And, although they don't get as much socializing out of class as toddlers do, if they start in class early, they may fall into the social aspect of the class easier and earlier than their peers who are joining well into toddlerhood.

So, if you have a little bitty one, or are expecting, don't write off music classes as something "for when she's older." I was that person!  I waited until my son was almost two, and immediately wished I'd joined much earlier.  And Music Together is really the only kind of class where newborns do get so much out of the program.

What do you think?  Have you had a baby in Music Together classes?  Have you put off classes until later?  Share your experience with us!

Monday, October 2, 2017

#AskAlexia: Why Don't You Have a Class That's Only for Preschoolers?

Hello everybody, and welcome to #AskAlexia! Every Monday, I'll answer one of your burning questions about Music Together, our classes at Music Together with Alexia, or early childhood music development in general!

Today's question is one I hear a lot from families who are new to Music Together.  Why don't you have classes for just preschoolers?  Or just toddlers?  What is with this mixed-age model?

This is an interesting question, and it really hits at the core of the Music Together philosophy.  Something we know is that children all develop differently, at different rates, and in different orders.  Even the physical milestones you get from your pediatrician are broadly defined, and musical development is no different.  So, putting children of like ages together will not guarantee that they are at the same stage of musical development.

Another thing we know is that children can learn a lot from watching children of different ages.  Older children can learn about leadership, empathy, and confidence, needing to learn to watch out for their smaller counterparts in class and helping the teacher with instruments.  Younger children learn through imitating the older children.  Have you ever noticed that babies with older siblings seem to master complex behaviors a bit earlier than the first-born did?  Close proximity to older children affects a baby's development positively.

Many parents are happy to be able to come to one class with both of their children, and the mixed-age environment helps simulate the multi-sibling environment that only children don't get at home.  Having children of a variety of ages - as well as grandparents, cousins, caregivers, and parents - coming together in class creates a loving family atmosphere that contributes to our goal of a more musical society.

It's true that some Music Together centers offer a Babies Only class.  This class is more gentle and is only for the youngest babies.  After one session, baby is ready to move on to the mixed-age class where a whole new world of music will open up to them.  (At Music Together with Alexia, we currently only offer the Mixed-Age class, however, a Babies Only class could be coming soon.  If that's something you or a friend would be interested in, please let us know!)

If you'd like to explore this subject more deeply, this article does a great job of explaining the research that supports mixed-age grouping, when the teacher has planned the classroom that way, with corresponding curriculum (which we do!).

Do you have a question you'd like answered?  Reply here or at Facebook with the hashtag #AskAlexia, and I'll put on my thinking cap to get it answered!  See you next week!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Welcome to Miss Alexia's Corner

Hello, Everybody!  Welcome to Miss Alexia's corner, a little spot where I can go into more detail about the concepts we cover in our Music Togetherclasses.  Every Monday is #AskAlexia, where we'll cover your burning questions about everything from why we do the "bas" to why your child is staring intently through class and singing her heart out at home.  On other days, I'll share research about early childhood music development with you, and ask you to share your observations, too.  And who knows what else we'll get into!  I'm excited for this new adventure, and I hope you are, too.  See you on Monday!

What's Your Dream?

Sorry I haven't been posting lately! I've been getting ready to offer Music Together® classes in a new location, and it's taken ...