Last summer, a friend told me about a music class that she was taking with her daughter. I listened casually, thinking that this was probably another Mother Goose-type musical activity with lots of Itsy Bitsy Spiders and Wheels on the Bus. To tell the truth, at that point I was sort of tired of the standard children’s music score. Every class we took did the same songs and the same hand games. I wasn’t looking for yet another place to sing Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.
Then she told me something that caught my attention. The class welcomed kids from ages newborn to 5 years. Now, what kind of music class–or any kids’ class for that matter–could appeal to such a wide range of developmental stages? Especially when so many preschool activities are broken up into strict age groups and organized along developmental lines. That seemed worth investigating.
A quick Internet search later, and I was reading about the well-established (currently celebrating 25 years!) and widely beloved Music Together program. Now this was something I definitely wanted to try.
Fast forward and Boo and I are now about to enroll for our third session of Music Together. That translates to about 5 months of classes under our belts. Why did I wait so long to share this amazing activity with our readers, you may ask. Well, the answer is simply that I felt that I needed to immerse myself in the experience and really get a feel for the multi-dimensional nature of the program, something that could never be done after visiting just a few classes, before I was able to articulate with any accuracy what Music Together is all about.
There is lots of information online about this national program, so if you’re interested in reading more about it, I encourage you to visit their website and peruse. Rather than try to encapsulate the Music Together mission or elaborate on their curriculum (because it is a full curriculum, complete with developmental goals for each age-group), today, I am just going to give you my first-hand account of the class experience.
Some things I want to mention up front:
- Normally in our posts, we spend some time talking about the “where” and the “how-to” of the activity we are reviewing. But today I am not going to show you parking lots and entrance doors and restrooms. That’s because there are many, many Music Together classes meeting at many, many different locations across the state (and around the country). So our focus today will be on the “what.”
- I took this Music Together class through the Glastonbury Parks & Rec Department. Therefore, this particular class that Boo and I attended is only open to Glastonbury residents.
- However, the same Music Together center (including the same teacher) that runs classes through the Gbury Parks & Rec Department also offers classes to the general public. Visit Music Together of the River Valley’s website for more information: http://www.musictogetherct.com/
- Other CT centers include Music Together of Fairfield County and Music Together of West Hartford and Farmington Valley.
- You can also search the national site to find a program in your area.
- All Music Together teachers complete a standardized training program, as well as participate in ongoing skill development workshops. This means that although each class may have a slightly different feel due to the individuality of the teacher, you can be assured that the overall experience of any class will be similar to what I am about to describe for you today.
Alright, now that all the “business” is out of the way, are you ready to make some music?
I hope you said “yes” because that is the number one goal of Music Together: to be musical. And this directive is interpreted in so many different ways over the course of even just one individual class. From singing to dancing to playing instruments–or even just pots and pans, spoons and Tupperware–to practicing rhythm, the amazing thing about the Music Together curriculum is that all children can participate (Yes! You really can bring your infant and your 4-year-old!).
For our class, we had a wonderful teacher who also happens to be the director of Music Together of the River Valley. Her name is Jessica, and she would begin every class by reminding us that our role as parents and caregivers in the class was to create as much music as we could for our little ones. Sometimes that meant singing actual lyrics. Sometimes that meant tapping out patterns with our hands. And sometimes it just meant vocalizing sounds.
And while the majority of the activities took place in a circle, there was no pressure to make Boo sit still or participate in everything. In fact, you know Boo, he spent quite a bit of time wandering around the room! It really wasn’t until the end of the first session that he started to pick up on and participate in many of the activities. And that was just fine. Another big part of the Music Together philosophy is that every child develops musically at his or her own pace.
Of course, just because the activities were diverse and the circle formation was not enforced doesn’t mean that the class didn’t have some real structure to it. As we all know, little ones thrive on predictability. When they know what’s coming next, they can be better prepared to participate.
To this end, the class always began and finished the same way, with the “Hello Song” and the “Goodbye, So Long, Farewell” song. These songs were accompanied by a rhythmic clapping that Boo just adored. When Jessica started to sing the “Hello Song” to open class, he was ready.
Of course, while the hello and goodbye songs stay constant across each program session, another wonderful part of the Music Together program is that the course music is always changing. There are NINE different Music Together song books that rotate, meaning that you could sign up for nine Music Together class sessions in a row and never hear a repeat!
Now, before you panic and wonder how you will ever be able to participate in “making music” if just when you learn the lyrics it’s time to move on, let me tell you that included with each class registration is a beautiful, illustrated songbook (complete with musical scores if you happen to be a musician yourself), and not one but TWO CDs–one for home and one for the car (or anywhere else that you spend your time). So with very little effort, you and your child can be immersed in the music.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I don’t think I even cracked the songbook until halfway through that first session. It sat there on the table and every day I wanted to, but you know how it is. Sometimes life just gets in the way. But I’m telling you this to assure you that even if you don’t have the time to learn all the lyrics and listen to the CDs over and over, you and your child will still have a fabulous class experience. I mean, these are not complex operas. They are folk songs and lullabies and marching tunes (some original and some collected from different cultures around the globe). You may even recognize some of them right off the bat. And if not, most of the songs are repetitive in nature and very easy to pick up after hearing them once or twice. You will do fine 🙂
Although there is a focus on singing and vocalization, what would be the point of music without a little rhythm or dancing, right? There was plenty of that too.
Egg shakers were always a big hit.
Boo loved swirling the scarves (I love that these pictures are a little blurry because it shows you just how vehemently he was swinging his arms around!).
We used sticks to tap out rhythms (and sometimes to pretend we were playing a flute).
One time we used these blocks to make different tones (and then pretended they were phones).
At some point during the class there would usually be some movement around the circle (Boo’s favorite was marching).
And Jessica would lead the group in various rhythmic clapping, tapping, and stomping patterns, often inspired by what some of the kids were already doing on their own.
Sometimes the big drums came out.
Two class segments that we could always count on were the dance and the play along instruments. These were my two favorite parts. For the dance, Jessica would put on some music (different every time) and we would all let loose with our little ones. It felt a little silly at first, but once you get into it, it’s a lot of fun. And the kids have a great time. Here’s my one picture from the dance. It’s so blurry and terrible, but you can see how much fun everyone is having. (And you can see that Boo wants me to put down the camera and keep dancing with him!)
After the dance, Jessica would bring out a big tote bag full of percussion instruments like drums, tambourines, bells, sticks, castanets, maracas, etc. The kids would squeal with delight as she emptied in onto the floor. She’d put on the music, and the kids would go to town drumming and tapping and shaking.
Boo’s favorite was a drum that looked like a lollipop. He managed to snag that one every week 🙂
Sometimes he would wear bells on his wrists too. Try out a bigger drum. Or grab a tambourine.
There were plenty of choices, and often the kids would scurry back to the middle to try something else during the course of the song.
As we neared the end of the 45-minute class, we would settle down for our lullaby. Boo loved this part because he got to run over and turn off the lights (actually, this part was very popular with the 2-year-old set in general–there would often be a lot of light switching going on 🙂 ). Then everyone would get comfortable on the floor (Boo really got comfortable), and we’d have a slow song to wrap up the class.
Then it was time for the goodbye song, and class would be over. Boo enjoyed it so much that he always wanted to stay and join the next class 🙂
Another thing I love about this program is that it runs continuously, so Boo and I can keep signing up all year ’round. We like to try a lot of different classes over the course of the year, but Music Together has been our one constant. It’s been amazing to watch him blossom over the course of the past six months. When we started, he could barely sit still long enough to observe, and now he is clapping and singing along, marching and dancing, paying attention to the teacher, and, most incredibly, developing an unbelievable sense of rhythm. Neither myself nor hubby would call ourselves musical, but Boo seems to have lots of natural ability anyway. I’m looking forward to watching him grow musically, and just having a grand ol’ time, for many more sessions.
This information is based on the Music Together program in which Boo and I participated. Please visit the national website to find a program in your area.
Jessica Nevins, Director
Contact her at: (860) 304-5260 or use this contact form.
10 weekly, 45-minute classes include songs, rhythmic rhymes, movement, and instrument play. (Summer is 6 weeks)
Click here for a list of classes and locations, as well as tuition information.
Follow them on Facebook!
Tips & Things to Bring
- This program is designed for children ages newborn to 5-years-old.
- Classes are 45-minutes long.
- FREE for children 8 months and younger when attending with a registered sibling.
- Sibling discount available for siblings older than 8 months.
- Bringing a really little one? Bring a blanket for your baby to hang out on so he or she can be part of the circle too.
- Tuition includes a songbook and two CDs (one for home and one for the car).
- Dress comfortably as you will be sitting on the floor or moving around most of the time.
- Make-up classes are available if you need to miss your regularly scheduled class.
- Click here for some answers to FAQ’s, and to gain a better understanding of what to expect from the Music Together program.
- Other CT centers include Music Together of Fairfield County and Music Together of West Hartford and Farmington Valley.
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