|Tuning into the Musical Brain||Creating Music in the Classroom||Taming the Practice Monster||Living with Music||A Different Kind of Wealth|
Living with Music
A Hallmark greeting says, “May your life be filled with music, may your day be filled with song.” I wish this for any parent dealing with the challenges of managing a young family, because music can make such a difference in the quality of life at home. Raising children is an intense experience, and parents need all the help they can get! Music can be just that help.
How does music work its magic? Children are instinctively drawn to all things musical from birth. Indeed, researchers believe that music is an innate part of our being and that all children are born with musical aptitude just as they are born with an aptitude for learning language. Even tiny infants respond in a sophisticated manner to musical stimuli.
The very organization of neural activity in the brain appears to be musical. When scientists at UC Irvine assigned tones to their model of this neural activity, the result was recognizable musical styles. The brain itself is highly stimulated by ordered patterns of rhythm and tone. Couple this with the fact that children are known to thrive on order and repetition, and one can begin to see why music speaks to a child's intellect, imagination, emotions and spirit in a way few other media can.
The following suggestions describe how you can use music in everyday life to help direct your children's behavior in a positive, loving way. Some of the ideas I have used with my own daughters; others are from parents who have come up with creative and musical ways to solve problems in their daily routine.
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Leaving to go home is notoriously stressful for young children and their parents! No child wants to see a happy time at the park or a friend’s house come to an end, and no parent wants to endure gnashing and thrashing every time that inevitable moment comes. The answer? Come up with your own goodbye song. If you can’t compose your own melody, use a nursery tune or one of your favorite songs and change the words. “Good-bye (name of hosts), we’ll see you all next time” are all you really need in terms of lyrics! If the goodbye song alone doesn’t work, try singing a pre-goodbye song so that the child will have time to mentally adjust to the transition. One possibility (sung to the tune of “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”):
Five more minutes of happy play
And then we put the toys away
But we’ll be back another day
To see our friends again. Hurray!
In your lyrics, you might also give your child something to look forward to at home.
Getting ready for bed Songs are a great antidote for whatever is most tedious about the bedtime routine. You and your child can make up your own tunes or you can choose ones from popular children's recordings about the bedtime hour. Just playing tapes or CDs while going through the motions of getting ready for the night can also work wonders. My own daughter looked forward to choosing a cassette tape each evening. Listening to her favorite music and flipping the tape over by herself became a soothing nighttime ritual for her and her (by then) frazzled mom.
Getting ready to leave the house Music works beautifully for scheduling children. I still use this trick for my daughters who are now 11 and 13. Children have no conception of time. In fact, much to a parent's frustration, “5 minutes” has no meaning whatsoever to anyone under 4 feet tall. Instead of rushing everyone to be ready on time, we can play a favorite recording and tell children that they need to be ready by the time the recording is over, or in “3 songs.” Everyone, including the parent, can then leave the house singing!
Dinnertime One of the most difficult times of the day is from 5 to 7 in the evening. At our house, we call it the “witching hour” or “feeding time at the zoo.” Everyone is hungry and tired, and mom or dad is trying to make dinner, usually with a small child attached to one leg. This is the time to pull out your child’s favorite recording. If he can choose his own cassette, put it in the machine and turn it on by himself, all the better. And if you can stand the happy noise, simple percussion instruments, saved for this very special time of day, should hold a child’s attention until the meal is ready. If you regularly use television to entertain at this hour, once in a while turn on music instead and see how your child’s imagination turns on, as well.
Waiting Finger plays and chants can help pass the time while waiting in line at a store or for food to be served at a restaurant. Finger plays have the advantage of being short and easy (for adults!) to remember, and children love to repeat them over and over again.
In the car
Have available a supply of favorite tapes ready to turn on at the first sound of discord from the back seat. Consider using this as a time to introduce classical music to your family. You may be surprised at the calming effect it has on your passengers.
Cleaning up A clean-up song will work wonders, especially for very young children. One mom told me that her children wouldn’t pick up toys until she starts to sing their clean-up song.
Nail clipping, hair shampooing, picture taking and other stressful tasks Adding music to these moments can make everyone’s life a lot easier. For the nail-clipping ordeal, I found that a song like “One little, two little, three little fingernails” was a tremendous help. After the fingernails were clipped, my daughter would promptly remove her socks so that her toenails could be cut! Other parents have used poems such as “This little piggy went to market” or “Snip, snap moon slivers” from Catch Me and Kiss Me and Say It Again.
At a photo-taking session, when the children were crying and refused to sit still, one mom broke into song out of sheer frustration. Pretty soon everyone, including the photographer and his assistant, was singing. Music saved the day: the sitting didn't have to be rescheduled and the pictures came out great!
When children are sick
Music can help distract and calm a fussy child during illness. It can be frightening to a parent when sick children resist necessary medical treatment. One mother found that only when she rocked her child and sang to him would he stop resisting the nebulizer treatment for his asthma. Music literally “helped the medicine go down.”
When my oldest daughter was little, she was a terribly picky eater. Being big on nutrition, I wanted her to eat well, so I made up a song about food and growing:
Delicious and nutritious, that’s what our food should be.
Delicious and nutritious, and all made up for me.
For I’ve got to grow up strong, and I’ve got to grow up tall
But if I do not eat my food, I will not grow at all!
Call it brainwashing if you like, but today she is an excellent eater. Television shows such as Sesame Street recognize the power of music to instill knowledge and values: If you want to remember something, to truly “own” a thought or idea, learn it in song.
“Change a mood, not a mind”
As one’s family grows and the possibility of discord among siblings also increases, music can help ease strains. Music is a great distracter, and can change the mood in the house with the push of a button. It is very hard to feel aggravated at someone, for instance, while listening to a song such as Raffi’s “Bananaphone.” So the next time your children begin to bicker, try turning on some snappy music to reestablish good humor in the house.
Bringing children together
A few years ago, there was a television interview with the parents of quintuplets. The children, who were under two years of age at the time, were wandering all around and getting into everything while the interview was taking place. The reporter paused to ask the mother how she ever got her children to do the same thing at the same time. In response, the mother began singing, “The wheels on the bus go round and round.” Like magic, the roving toddlers stopped what they were doing, turned toward their mother, and one by one joined in the song and hand motions.
You, too, can use the magic of music to get your little one’s attention without raising your voice. This technique is especially effective with groups of youngsters, such as at a birthday party.
The gift of music
One of the best ways to encourage children to listen to music is to give them their own tape or CD player and start building listening library just for them. Small electronic keyboards are also a favorite with children of any age. We still have the tape player and Casio keyboard that we bought for my youngest ten years ago. Now 11, she continues to enjoy rummaging through the family tape collection and listening to her favorites on her old cassette player. Every morning before school she sits at the piano and picks out a tune or listens to recordings from keyboard’s song bank. She is having fun, and I know that her mind is being simultaneously stimulated and calmed before a demanding day at school.
Children love things that are all theirs, and songs are no exceptions. Parents have told me that one of the most unique things about their family is that each child has his or her own song. The song becomes a source of security and comfort for the child. Older siblings will often sing the special song to their younger brother or sister. What a beautiful way for siblings to bond!
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