What are the benefits of Mixed Age classes?
My Child is the oldest in the class.
Is my child too old for another semester of Music Together® class?
Is my child too young for music class?
What if my child is shy and quiet in class and doesn't participate like other children?
My child wanders around the room while other children are sitting on their parents lap - is my child disinterested?
My child is 3 and no longer seems interested in class!
At what age should my child begin formal instrument lessions?
Mixed-age classes benefit all children, because they have the opportunity for cross-age interaction. This is an especially rich environment for children to learn. In a mixed-age environment there is a much wider variety of expression than one would receive in a class room with children of similar ages, and children learn at a more rapid pace. Increasingly, young children are limited to same age playdates and preschools. However according to early childhood education researcher Lilian Katz, "it's not natural for young children to spend large proportions of time in the same age group." Katz and others have persuasively written that the mixed-age setting has intellectual and social benefits for both younger and older children.
In our classes, younger children learn from watching the older children in the room (as well as the grown-ups!), and learn by trying to imitate the them. When in the mixed-age environment, they often show more complex behaviors earlier than usual. Older children learn empathy and an awareness of others, as well as social skills that can last a lifetime. They learn to be role models for the younger children and learn valuable leadership qualities. Children develop musically at their own pace in this natural, family-style setting.
Our classes are based on the Montessori style of teaching where children learn from being in a mixed-age environment. In our mixed-age classes, there is a much wider variety of expression that the children are exposed to, but with a specific emphasis on the music making and modeling between the grown-ups, the children and the teacher. The grown-ups are the ones modeling everything for the children and you will notice how the kids often zone in on watching the grown-ups more than the kids for guidance. From teaching this program for many years, we've noticed that very often the children are unaware of the ages of the other children in the room.
Also, the older kids get an opportunity to be the "role models" in the class, coming up with ideas on movements and helping put away instruments. When they are in a group of peers, they don't always get to play that role so there are so many benefits to having the group of mixed-ages. They also learn valuable social skills by being around kids of different ages and how to interact with them. It also teaches them to be gentler with the younger ones.
Most of the older children will be able to sing more of the songs and even hold some of the more complicated musical concepts we do, such as ostinatos, where we sing musical phrases, or rounds. They can also sing complete songs in our classes and at home after a few weeks of coming to class and listening to the music collection CD.
I've been asked many times by parents with children around 3 years old, if they think they're getting too old for our classes or they have taken all 9 collections/semesters. The answer is at around 3 or 4, your child is now going to truly blossom in our classes and it's now that they are going to put all that they've learned into action. You and your child will begin to experience the music in a very different way. They will be able to sing complete songs and/or chants. They may be able to start doing some of our more sophisticated approaches in class, such as sing rounds or ostinatos that they couldn't do before. They may also be able to do rhythm patterns in class for us, or give us new ideas to try out, and many parents share that their 3 or 4 year old make up their own verses at home.
Sing to your child the minute they come into this world. The most opportune time to introduce music and language is between 0-5 years old. Your child comes out wired to receive all of this information and they are particularly in tune between birth and 3 years old. Music is a learned skill, just like talking, and the earlier we start the better. Most think of this as a "gift" or talent that we inherit, but this is not the case even though there are some that have been given exceptional talent. Imagine NOT talking to your baby, they would not learn how to speak. This is the same for singing. Sing to your child on a regular basis and pretty soon your child will be singing and will be as fluent with that as they are speaking their native tongue. Plus, haven’t you noticed from day one how much your child seemed to respond and loved your singing to them?
Studies have been done and we've discovered that a baby can "coo" on the resting tone as early as 2 weeks old. This is fascinating because they can't yet talk, but they can change the tone to match yours or a song they just heard. This is why we sing many songs on a syllable and take the language out, so everyone can sing along.
All children learn in different ways and some choose to sit and observe. They will then go home and sing for you or dance away in the living room. If they are doing lots at home musically, that was the goal. There's so much going on in our classes. Many like to take it all in and get it all "right" so they can practice it at home.
There are many children that walk around the room and explore everything, particularly if this is their first semester in class. Don't worry about this. This does not mean that your child isn't interested in music. Rest assured your child is taking everything in and for them this is their way of learning and/or becoming familiar with their surroundings. You will discover this later in class or at home when they surprisingly offer up something musical we did in class that week. The important thing is to strongly continue to model the music and movements when they do wander away from you. They will check back with you periodically and they will NOTICE that their caregiver is really enjoying this and that is contagious.
Children mimic everything we do, so they will eventually mimic what you do in class. Some kids go through phases of wandering and next semester they will be sitting in your lap. It can take several weeks, or even semesters for a child to really settle into class.
Research has shown that many children between the ages of 2.5 and 3.5 who were once very active in class, can become very quiet. This is not a case of lack of interest, they are all of a sudden "concerned about getting it right" and a social skill is being developed as they are aware that others are watching. At this age they are really "audiating" their singing voices and wondering if they are getting the notes right. This is really a crucial time in their achieving "Basic Music Competence" – i.e. singing in tune, and keeping a beat. They eventually come out of that observing stage and begin to sing and participate again and often enjoy becoming strong leaders in the class.
There is no hard and fast rule here. While some children can start as early as 3 or 4, many teachers would not encourage it until a child is closer to 5-6 and sometimes older depending on each child. The bottom line is that all children are different and you are the best judge of your own child's degree of readiness.
There are a few important factors for you to consider. Is your child asking to play something? Is he/she able to sit and focus for about a half an hour? Do you think they would be able to practice on a regular basis?
The answer to all of these questions may help you in deciding at what age your child is ready to start. The important thing is to make it fun for them at a young age and not to push too much. If you would like to talk through any of this, talk to your Musical Folk Teacher. Regardless of when you decide to begin, the fact that you are bringing your child to an early childhood educational music program on a consistent basis will really help to prepare your child for music lessons giving them a solid musical foundation. We have heard many piano teachers say that they wish all parents would take their children to an early childhood music program such as ours to really build the important foundation of music before starting an instrument.
Congratulations to you, as you've already given your child this skill through our classes. May you continue to bring the joy of music into your family life. Being able to play an instrument brings amazing joy to the player and those around them, as well as all the other benefits that they will gain from this wonderful experience.
For more information, please read this wonderful article by Ken Guilmarten (Founder of Music Together), "The Next Step: Is Your Child Ready for Music Lessons?"