March 28, 2002

There’s More to Tot Music Classes than Meets the Ears

Filed under: Art and About Kids — admin @ 2:12 pm

Let’s play a game. Chant along with me.

Beat the drum. Rum-pum-pum. Beating the drum is lots of fun.

Now follow this rhythm.

Beat the drum, Rum- (pause) pum-pum. (pause, pause) Beating the (pause) drum is (pause) lots of (pause, pause) fun.

And now, this rhythm.


The proceeding theme and variations has been brought to you by a percussionist under the age of two in Andrea Gaspari’s “Musical Adventures” class at the Lafayette Community Center on Monday mornings. For 10 weeks, five toddlers and their moms have spent Monday mornings learning about rhythm, tone, melody, dance and avant-garde musical expression, all in the guise of fun and games.

Andrea is a licensed Kindermusik and Musikgarten instructor about whom I wrote a story three or four years ago, long before I had a child. While researching that story, I read about early childhood education, studies on the impact of music on intellectual development, the relationship between classical music and brain stimulation, blah blah blah. All really important stuff, and if it’s new to you, please go do a little Web surfing and catch yourself up. (Just between you and me, with all publicity the research gets on television news because it makes for cute visuals of kids playing music, I’m increasingly stunned that fewer parents don’t make music a daily, heck, a minutely, part of their children’s lives.)

But what I remember most about that story is the pure joy on the children’s faces when I visited a class one day. And the moms looked like they were having fun too. Those were older kids, four and five-year-olds, I think. I told my husband that when we had kids, I wanted to do Kindermusik with them as soon as they were old enough.

What luck! Our Community Center winter class schedule came last November and there was a listing for “Andrea’s Musical Adventures,” coming to Lafayette for the first time in January. One class was listed for 12-months-to-two-and-a-half-year-olds, and my son turned one in December. Perfect!

My son LOVES music. He has been singing, dancing and experimenting with instruments for months, NOT because he’s brilliant (which he is, but that’s not the topic of this column) but because this is something kids NATURALLY like to do. Again, go do some Web surfing to read the research. My husband and I ultimately decided to sign him up for Andrea’s class not so that he’ll do better in math, or be an early reader, or be able to disassemble and reassemble a clock with his finely-tuned motor skills. Music is fun, he enjoys music, therefore we encourage him to do what he loves.

We gathered with our small group of five kids and five moms on that first class day in January, and one thing that was immediately apparent was that the little girl who was just over two and had been doing Andrea’s class for a few months was an absolute genius. This poppet was singing, dancing, playing accurate rhythms, and looked like she could go knock on the door of Juilliard tomorrow.

I’m a believer in music, the Kindermusik and Musikgarten curriculums, and Andrea, but at that first class, it seemed hopeless.

Maybe it was too early to try something this structured with a one-year-old. After all, he barely had an attention span, didn’t follow directions, everything went in his mouth, and he couldn’t talk, let alone sing lyrics. But he did sway to the music, turn around in circles to dance, and intently investigate each instrument that was handed to him, even if he didn’t try playing it. Andrea encouraged all of us newbies to let our children experience the music in their own way, while continuing to role model whatever activity the class was working on.

The first few weeks were tough and chaotic and still seemingly hopeless. Some kids would cry, some would leave the circle, mine couldn’t sit still. The music skills seemed stalled out, but all the kids latched onto the structure of the class. We do the same games every week. Andrea puts out a bag of bells, or shakers or sticks and will say “Get two for you, and two for Mommy or Daddy.” By golly, they did that. At the end of the activity, Andrea would sing “Bells away, bells away, time to put the bells away,” and THEY DID THAT TOO! You must try this at home. It works.

A couple of weeks ago, some of the kids started to understand the cause and effect relationship of the “Beat the drum. Rum-pum-pum” game. When they play, we sing. When they stop, we stop. When they play fast we sing fast and when they play softly we sing softly.

Andrea is always raising the bar so she thought it was time to put together a band. One toddler on drums, one on shakers, one on xylophone, one on sticks and one on bells. An early lesson in teamwork and collaboration. They’re all geniuses!

There’s also plenty of dancing in this class for the high-energy Mozarts. For you sports fans out there, remember dancing is a physical, athletic SPORT, that also happens to be an art. I heard of a mother thinking about doing the Community Center’s toddler hiking class instead of the music class. I have no problem with the hiking class — my son and I will be enrolling ourselves. But please don’t write off a music class because you don’t think there is physical activity involved. My son conks in the car every week before we even pull out of the parking lot, he is so exhausted by music class.

Here’s the part of this story I’ve been debating whether or not to share with you. For the good of mankind, I think I must. The five Mom-and-Tot sets in the Monday morning class are minimum enrollment for the class. Andrea can take more, and although we five cherish our semi-private lessons every week, I can’t bear to think that a toddler and his or her parent may be sitting at home on Monday mornings rather than joining the party with Andrea. The spring session starts this Monday. The Community Center number is 925-284-2232. Do the right thing.