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Music Makes a Difference
Kathryn L. Stout, B.S.Ed., M.Ed.
Published: December 2001
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The merits of music education are no secret. Articles and books have pointed out the wide variety of benefits of listening and moving to music and learning to play an instrument. We've been told that musical studies develop the reasoning portion of our brain. My son even followed advice he'd read and listened to Mozart before taking his SAT exam in order to improve his score. Music has long been promoted to stimulate creativity through listening, movement, and making up songs. Studies urge us to have our children begin learning an instrument as early as age 3 rather than waiting until we think they show talent. Yet with all this publicity, music education often remains one of those "frivolous" extras--maybe we'll add it to the curriculum if there's time--instead of taking its place as a routine part of our children's schooling.
If you recognize yourself in the above, think about these questions: What kind of memories do you want your children to associate with homeschooling? Do you want your children to move with grace? To read with expression? Would you like your children to be self-confident? Do you want them to develop perseverance? You can help your children develop all of these qualities and more by taking advantage of their natural enjoyment of music. Don't avoid music because you feel overwhelmed at the thought of taking on one more thing. You can do it with a minimal amount of effort by simply adding musical breaks to the day. This can change an atmosphere of tedium to one of enjoyment, creating future fond memories.
Young children (especially through ages 8 or 9) need to develop balance, body strength and flexibility to aid in coordination. Moving to music provides an appealing approach and has the added benefit of developing a sense of rhythm, a musical ear. This contributes to their ability to read fluently and with proper expression. After a period of sit-down study offer your kids a 15-minute break to move to music, telling them to march, sway, or tiptoe, etc. according to the beat. Some children seem to ignore the mood and rhythm in their eagerness to jump or twirl. Have them imitate you in order to learn to feel and respond to the movement of the music.
Later in the day, give them simple percussion instruments--triangles, rhythm sticks, a tambourine, a drum--and direct them as they accompany the music. If that's too difficult at first, clap a pattern and let them imitate it on their instrument.
Work toward dance breaks. The polka provides plenty of opportunity to jump. The waltz will require more awareness of rhythm. Learning the steps requires focus. Developing rhythm and grace as they dance requires discipline. These are traits we want our children to develop.
Expand your children's knowledge of classical music by playing tapes of composers lives and music during lunch or while they carry out daily chores.
Broaden their exposure to various types of music easily over time by including samples of the music of a culture during a history lesson. Listen to folk tunes from around the world, show tunes, jazz, opera, classical, and popular music. A good selection of world-wide music can usually be found at your local library and music stores. Catalogs can also be a rich source in helping identify interesting genres of music you may otherwise overlook. (See below).
Music can also be used as a pleasant way to memorize information. Begin family devotions with song. Let the children take quiet-time breaks to listen to Bible stories with songs and hymns that teach Scriptural lessons. Encourage them to join a children's choir. My kids are grown, but still remember the Ten Commandments in proper order because of a song they practiced in children's choir. More than just remembering information, they associate what they learned with pleasant memories.
With just a bit more effort you can include field trips to a variety of musical performances. These provide uplifting experiences, enhance creativity, and broaden your children's perspective of the world.
While all the ideas mentioned so far can be managed during music breaks, for the maximum benefit, you will need to invest more of your time. Even children without a gift for music can benefit from regular, guided practice, singing, dancing, or playing and instrument. While driving them to weekly lessons is a given, that is not your only responsibility. In order for them to make real progress and not become discouraged, you will need to help them as they practice. If you are willing, they will learn perseverance and gain self-confidence.
My son turned out to be a gifted violinist who performed in concert halls throughout Europe twice with the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra during his high school years. My daughter, like me, persevered in practicing the piano but will never play for anything but self-enjoyment. Nevertheless, all of our homeschooling experiences with music combined with her years of gymnastics led to her joining her university's swing dance team. My in-laws fiftieth anniversary was held at a dinner theater featuring an evening with Guy Lombardo's Orchestra. My daughter and her dance partner entered and won the swing dance contest held during intermission. (Her competition was stiff, the Fred Astaire Dance Studio class and staff happened to be in the audience that evening.) This was a real thrill for her grandparents. Her late grandfather, Poppy, had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer, so it was an especially emotional evening. She'll never forget the pride and joy in his eyes that night.
Music triggers all sorts of memories. Let's use it to trigger fond memories of homeschooling.
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If you are looking for resources, try Music in Motion at www.musicmotion.com (Phone 1-800-445-0649 for a catalog) for the variety of materials I've referred to here. Color the Classics offers biographical books and tapes of Godly composers. Visit www.colortheclassics.com or phone 1-888-259-1592 to request information. History Alive offers American folk songs and "17 Centuries of Christian Hymns" at www.dianawaring.com. If you have a budding pianist, you may also want to check http://musicforkidsbykids.tripod.com to purchase music written by kids for the piano. There are teaching tips there, too.