Look around a Music Together class and you’ll notice different behavioral “personalities.” Some children sit still and stare at their parent or teacher singing “Obwisana.”
Others gaze out the window or look at their toes while the class marches and sings “Lukey’s Boat.” And some are constantly in motion, jumping or toddling around exuberantly, even when everyone else is in a close circle quietly singing “Who’s That?” Do you recognize your child in any of these examples?
My own child, Amy, would sit on my lap in class and just watch—even during the play-along! I asked our teacher if we should we take a break from Music Together. Amy just didn’t seem to be having fun like the other kids. “I’m curious,” our teacher asked, “What does she do with the music at home?” At home? SO much more! As soon as we left class, she would talk about how much fun it was and start singing up a storm. I was frustrated. “Why can’t she be like that in class?” I thought. But with our teacher’s guidance, I realized that when Amy was watching in class, she was learning, too. She needed to observe during class and then experiment at home. Our teacher showed me how to support Amy’s learning style—and, suddenly, class became a lot more fun for both of us!
Tuning in to the way your child learns can help you “turn up” their learning. It can also help you relax and have more fun.
We see three main learning styles in young children: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Howard Gardner, who developed Multiple Intelligence Theory, understood that children learn by using a combination of all their senses, but that most children naturally favor one. That primary sensory “channel” is the strongest way for the child to tune into an experience and learn. Here’s a guide to help you start to identify the way your child learns best, whether your family is enrolled in a parent-child class or your child participates in Music Together at their school.
What this looks like in a Music Together class: Child stares at parent’s or teacher’s mouth during singing. Child starts bouncing when we “flash” our hands to the beat. Child moves close to others during an activity to get a front-row seat.
Commonly misunderstood as: Not participating, not social.
How to support: Make sure to move rhythmically while you sing. Show your child the beat in your torso, gestures, and feet. Exaggerate your mouth and facial expressions while you sing.
Resist the urge to interrupt your child’s focus by trying to get them to drum with you, sing with you, etc.
What this looks like in class: Child’s gaze is off to the side or unfocused. Child may also engage frequently in singing or vocal play, enjoying the sound of their own voice. Out of class, child may tell parent, “Don’t sing!” with the recording to avoid having two competing auditory sources.
Commonly misunderstood as: Spacing out, not engaged in the music activity, shy.
How to support: In class and at home, echo tonal patterns close to one ear and then the other. Clap or tap the beat audibly while you sing. Include pauses in your music-play (like before the “Whooaaa!” in “Trot Old Joe”).
Resist the urge to try to get your child to do certain things, like make eye contact with you, move their body, or play an instrument when they appear to be deeply listening.
What this looks like in class: Child toddles around the room for an extended period of time. Child often stands and bounces during activities. Child delights in being rocked, spun, dipped, and lifted by parent. Child may not want to sit with parent, may push parent away.
Commonly misunderstood as: Off-task, too rowdy, disruptive, too active for music class.
How to support: As long as they’re safe, allow your child freedom to experience and respond to the music with their whole body. Play the recording at home as well as in the car to give regular opportunities for whole-body music-play.
Resist the urge to try to make your child sit down and “pay attention.”
Once you’ve identified your child’s learning style, you might be tempted to over-focus on supporting that one sense. But, as Gardner says, children are not mono-sensory. They need a balanced sensory diet. Music Together activities naturally provide multi-sensory learning opportunities, connecting parents and children with visual, auditory, and kinesthetic stimulation and support. This ensures that your child gets a whole brain/body experience with music—and so do you!
Bredekamp, Sue. “How Young Children Learn”. Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth Through Age 8 (Expanded Edition), edited by Sue Bredenkamp, Washington DC, National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1990.
Ability Path. “Children’s Learning Styles”.
“Who Are the Learners?”
Understanding my child’s dominant learning style was an “Aha!” moment for me as a parent. Most of the time, observing first was how Amy engaged in all kinds of learning. Learning this changed the way I interacted with her not only in Music Together class, but also at birthday parties, library storytime, and even bath time! I felt more in tune with my child and more confident as a parent. Fourteen years later, I’m still using what I learned in my parenting and in my teaching. Tuning into your child’s way of learning and processing makes the journey a lot richer, more relaxed, and much more fun!
Devi Borton, M.A., is a Certified Music Together Teacher Trainer and Center Director of FAM JAM! Music Together in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Some Notes About the Wonderful Musical Observer
There are a few threads that seem to travel between our classes and through family experiences both in and outside of the classroom, as related to music learning, that I felt would be well served addressed in this, our family friendly blog!
This month I thought I would discuss this topic, so close to my heart.
The beauty of observation.
I have seen it in every class so far, and I expect to see it throughout my career. Not only have I seen it, but I was told about it by teachers and instructors, and fellow directors, to watch for it and to embrace it. To understand it. The observant child. The children in class who are in a phase in their development, or in their day, or week, where they would rather sit with Mom or Dad and watch what is happening around them than to participate actively. They want to cuddle and sometimes hide in their grown ups arms...listen but not sing, watch but not shake, stand but not dance. Time after time this has and will happen and it will always be OKAY! I know that for me, as a child and an adult, I need this kind of inward, observing time to deeply learn. And that when I am accepted in that need is when I did and can truly flourish. I'm sure for many of you it rings familiar as well. What a gift we give ourselves and our children when we make space for all ways of showing up!
I want you to know that I know that your child will observe and absorb in class...sometimes very quietly, sometimes with their face pressed into you, sometimes timidly sitting and intently watching. They will soak it all in, all the learning, all the musical richness, and they will get home, and there they will EXPRESS! At home they will sing and dance and play...loudly even! Eventually they will sing songs from class, show rhythm in their bodies, and sometimes even 'teach a class' to their stuffies. This is hard work, all this observing and noting and listening! There are vital cognitive pathways being built just by the act of observation!
It is absolutely acceptable, and expected for children under five to observe. There are phases in a child's development where what they really need to learn IS to watch, IS to listen, IS to sit still and record. Because children then, once they are in a mode of expression (later in the day, week, year) take all of that information and make sense of it and teach themselves about it through play!
So parents, grown-ups, grandparents...what can you do? You can join me in accepting and honoring your child's way (which you already do!) and you can join me in music making, and providing a model for your child to observe! Your child is most especially observing YOU in class. They are taking their cues of how to interact with music, how to feel about music, first and foremost, from YOU! What an amazing opportunity this is. To show your child your love of music, your participation with community and with fun, your joy and modeling of social interactive behavior. Your booty shakin', music makin', gettin down with the tunes, fun loving self! To let your child know that you know she/he's watching, and that you are there to be a model of play, learning, and fun for your child to, when they are ready, mirror and learn from.
So keep on, amazing, brave, fun grown-ups! Know you are supported in class, and know you are doing a great job when you just join in, create a safe environment of learning and expression with me and Mia and Jenny!! And yup..you guessed it...we'll make music together!
The Importance of Mirroring and Modeling in Music Education
In order to participate actively and confidently in music as an adult, your child needs years of exposure to music as a young child, and opportunities to experiment with music. Eventually, she or he will acquire the ability to sing in tune and keep accurate rhythm in the body. This milestone is called Basic Music Competence (or BMC). At Music Together, we believe it is every child's birthright to achieve this music development milestone. One of the ways that we can encourage this development is through mirroring and modeling.' – from Music Together materials
Let’s explore mirroring. Recent studies have shown that ‘Mirror Neurons’ are responsible for a baby's ability to mimic actions and expressions BEFORE they are ‘learned’. Mirror neurons ‘light up’ as though the observer were the one acting, thereby developing neural pathways simply through the act of observation. For example, have you ever watched someone do something like eat, or put on lipstick, and found yourself making an ‘empathetic’ face? Mirror neurons are the inward version of this. So if a baby is watching someone tap their left foot, their mirror neurons will ‘light’ the left foot tapping signal in the brain, developing that ability.
As you provide a model for your child to mirror, you are actively lighting up areas of the brain that can aid not only in musical development, but also in language abilities and ‘theory of mind’ skills. Modeling clear movement, expressive gestures, and with expressive voice allows your child to observe and fire up their hugely beneficial mirror neurons. As you mirror back to your child their attempts at tones, rhythms, and movement, you validate their actions and thereby encourage their exploration and play. And as we know, children teach themselves through play!!
Hope to make some music with you and your little ones soon!