Previously, I’ve written about the importance of music in early childhood. In this article, I wrote about the use of your voice in bonding with your child, music as a whole-brain activity, and the important role it plays in the healthy development of your child. Now that you understand music’s role, how do you find a program that works for you and your child?
How to Evaluate an Early Music Program
There are many early childhood music and movement programs available — from large, licensed organizations to small programs created by qualified individuals in your area. How do you evaluate a program? What questions do you need to ask? Each person’s needs and expectations are different, but your child’s development does follow a fairly standard roadmap and there are some general things to consider when looking at a program for your child who is between ages 0-4.
Music Experience vs. Music Teaching
Exposure and experience with music is more important than musical skill-building at this age. Birth through four years is not the time to be “teaching” music. However, children are very ready for the experience of music. Singing, playing with instruments, and moving to music enhances your child’s overall development and supports their spontaneity and joy-filled moments.
An infants experiences the world in a very different way than a three- or four-year-old. Having infants in the same class with a three-year-old may not be the best scenario, as their development is exponentially different.
This is where the training and skill of the provider comes into play. (I’m using the term “provider” for the person leading the class, like the teacher or facilitator.) It’s important to look for a provider that offers different age group classes for infants 0-9 months, 9-18 months, 18 months to three years, etc. or similar groupings. Some may offer a family, mixed-age group class. If you have multiple children that cannot otherwise be together in a class OR your schedule can only accommodate a mixed-age class, be sure to ask the provider many questions about the structure and how they work with the mixed-age group in one class.
What To Look For in a Class
The most important things for parents to consider when looking for programs for their young children are:
- Price. Every program will be different. I encourage you to base your decision NOT solely on cost, but evaluate from other standpoints. Depending on what you determine is the best fit, it may cost a little more. If finances are a concern, always ask if they offer discounts or a payment plan. As a provider myself, I want to include everyone that I can in the classes. I will accommodate a payment plan or reduced fee as much as possible.
- Length and Timing. A well-run program should be no more than 45 minutes in length because a young child’s attention span will dramatically change at about 30-35 minutes. You also want a class that understands naptimes. All children are different, but classes that are age-specific should have classes scheduled generally around naptimes. Typically, that means between 9 a.m. - 12 p.m. or between 4-5 p.m. (Unfortunately, evening classes do not work for children ages 0-3; you know what it’s like at that time of day.)
- Child/Provider Ratio. A class of 8-10 children would be the largest you’d want to see for young children. With the addition of potentially two adults per child, there could be upwards of 30 people in the class for a class of 10.
These are questions that you should ask the provider to get a sense of the program's structure and goals.
- Who is leading the class? You can read all about the provider from their website or literature, but you can’t determine if they are a good fit without a conversation. Call them, ask them some of the questions posed in this article, and see if you connect. Don’t be afraid to ask for a test drive of a class before committing to an entire session (there may be a class fee).
- What is their tolerance for multiple kids from the same caregiver? You'll want to see if a provider understands the family dynamics of multiple siblings in the same class. The provider should be able to help the parent to engage with the children and help build the bond between the siblings and parent.
- What training, qualifications, and specific certifications do they have? The larger licensed programs have specific training programs for all their providers that often include continuing education. Some have prerequisites such as being a board-certified music therapist, but most do not.
- Is the music in class live, recorded, or a mixture of both? Live music allows for more "in the moment" music making. It allows the provider and families to change the speed, words, and dynamics, which recorded music does not allow.
- What type of music experiences occur in class? Ask the provider to verbally walk you through a typical class so you can envision the experience. You want to know that there is singing, instrument playing, and movement occurring in each class.
- Do I need to sing and make music too? The strongest early childhood music classes encourage and expect the parents/adults to participate fully and use their voice. You are not alone if you feel insecure in your music ability and voice. A good program doesn’t require you to have any music ability and will have a method of encouraging you to sing to your child.
The Music Class
Michelle Montgomery Muth is a board-certified music therapist (MT-BC) and music educator with advanced certification in Neurologic Music Therapy. Michelle is passionate about music and music therapy. She works with her clients focusing on the whole person and the ability of music to affect change and promote wellness in their lives. She is owner of M3 Music Therapy (www.m3musictherapy.com) and provider of Sprouting Melodies®, an early childhood music and movement program.