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The Musical Pacifier

13 Feb


Over the past couple of weeks, I have noticed four babies/toddlers sucking pacifiers in rhythm to the music we’re making in class. There’s a lot of cultural pressure in our society for parents to “un-plug” children with pacifiers, so I try to reassure grownups that it is OK for their little ones to keep pacifiers (or nursing moments, or thumb-sucking) during music time. But, sometimes those parents and caregivers need extra reinforcement. Well, here it is: For pre-verbal children, pacifiers are great in music class! As we sing and move to the beat around these little ones, our music stimulates their brains and bodies. And since these children clearly have a natural need to suck, a key way that they join in is through their mouths. And, doesn’t this make sense? When we grownups sing, our mouths are totally in action, so the pacifier-children participate with their mouths, in their way. I’m lucky that I know what to look for, because when I see a pacifier bouncing up and down to the microbeat or hear a baby humming the resting tone of the song we’re singing, I get a little thrill. And you can get that thrill, too! The next time your child has a pacifier in class and you’re worried that she can’t participate if she’s “plugged up,” take a breath and look for pacifier-beats, or lean in close to hear a pacifier-hum. Then, relax and know that your child’s music isn’t being plugged up at all.

Want more on this subject? Check out one of my previous posts on pacifiers in music class. 


And when the two-year-old sang to the one-year-old…

19 Jan


This week I witnessed an amazing musical conversation between a two-year-old boy and an 11-month-old girl right after class. The boy came up to the baby girl and started lightly stroking her arm and singing, “La, la, la,” on his own personal note. After a minute or so, he took a few steps away towards his mom, and the baby sang out, “Ah, ah, ah,” on the 5th note of the scale above his “la-la” note. He turned around and sang his “la” again, and the baby replied with her 5th note above. Truly remarkable! I bent down towards the baby girl and did my own playing around with the little boy’s note (waggled my tongue, blew raspberries with my lips), and her reply to me was on a different note–this time, the 3rd note of the scale above the boy’s note. This baby heard the boy’s note as the resting tone of his “song,” and then vocalized the two strong notes of the major scale–the 5th (to the boy) and the 3rd (to me). Making music isn’t magic…it’s just part of our natural make-up!

So, whether or not you know what note of the scale your child is singing, she or he is singing something. Sing it back to her or him, to get your own musical conversation going…and let me know what happens!

“My baby flies over the ocean…”

24 Oct

The past couple of weeks, I’ve seen a lot of flying babies in my classes. This is mostly because I took great liberties with “My Bonnie” and led it in class as a dance-around-the-room song, including the verse, “My Bonnie flies over the ocean, my Bonnies flies over the sea…” Without fail, the grown-ups with babies held them under their bellies and zoomed those little ones around the room like private jets. While babies love this flying motion in general, they especially respond to being “flown” towards another person, another baby/child, or towards a mirror. So, when we sang, “Bring back, bring back, oh bring back my Bonnie to me, to me,” some of us swung, some of us ran, but the babies all flew to the middle of the room — right towards other adults, toddlers or babies. The smiles and squeals have been priceless.

Developmentally, babies are working on being comfortable separating from their important grown-ups, and this in-and-out flying supports that development. Moving rhythmically close and then far, close and then far, etc. allows the baby to predict the coming and going (precisely because the movement is rhythmic). Prediction gives the baby a sense of having more control, of knowing what to expect. That predicting and knowing can help ease the process of separation, even just a little. So, our flying game in class is supporting not only their music development but also their brain/social development.


Turn your baby (or toddler, or older child, if you’ve got the strength!) into an airplane and fly them here and there while you sing or dance to music. To amplify the effect, zoom your child in-and-out towards another adult, towards a sibling, or towards the mirror. If nothing else, your biceps will be ready to separate from the flying game by the time you’re done!

Do you hear what I hear?

26 Sep

After teaching Music Together for so long, my ears have changed. I hear singing, now, from babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers in class that I simply couldn’t hear before — cooing or crying (or howling!) on the last note of a song, la-la-la-ing the last three or four notes of a song, or “talking” on a note in a song while we’re passing out eggs or putting away scarves. When my kids were little, I wish I’d been able to hear their early singing as easily as I hear it in my classes now. They did it…I just didn’t know how to hear it.

One of my goals is to help every grown-up in my classes hear what I hear — not just in class, but also at home. Once you can hear it, you can echo it, and then those darn kids do it again, and again, and again. (We echo language all the time at home, and look what happens — those darn kids learn to talk!) And, if you hear something that I don’t in class — or at home — let me know about it! My ears have gotten sharper, but I’m sure there’s still a lot that I miss. The best thing in the world would be for a grown-up to point to their child and say, “Miss Anne, do you hear what I hear?”

The Three Drummers

18 Jul


In one of my classes today, I noticed three distinctly different types of drummers: The Holder, The Builder, and The Tapper. The Holder sat with the drum on her lap and watched other people play with their drums. The Builder spent most of his time stacking his drum on top of other people’s drums. The Tapper used her hand to tap the drum in very much the same way that we grown-ups were playing our drums. Someone new to a Music Together class might have seen these three drummers and noted, “Only one, The Tapper, is actually having a musical experience.” Of course, that observer would be completely incorrect!

All three of these drummers were playing in their own, developmentally-appropriate way. Child development researchers have found that quietly observing, building with materials, and practicing the “grown-up way” of doing things are all three equally valid — and important — ways of playing AND of learning. Stopping any of these forms of play serves to stop the learning that’s taking place. In this case, The Holder, The Builder and The Tapper were all three learning a great deal about music, through their particular mode of play — even if it looked like they weren’t doing anything musical at all.

I wonder what other kinds of drummers I’ll notice in the rest of my classes this week…

Think, Think a Song

17 May

This week in class, we’re playing with “Hop Ol’ Squirrel,” with half the room singing, “Hop ol’ squirrel,” and the other half singing, “Eidle dum, eidle dum…” The 2nd time through, the “squirrel” group sings their part, as usual, but the “eidle” group only thinks their part. Then, we switch the 3rd time around, so that the “squirrel”s get to take a turn thinking (and not singing) their part. What a fun way to play with audiation!

Remember that song from Sesame Street: “Sing, Sing a Song?” Well, we’re still singing, but we’re also spending some time just thinking a song, too. When we think the music — hear it inside our heads — we’re audiating. And, we’re giving our children the chance to audiate, too. If our kids are ever going to “Sing, Sing a Song,” they’ve got to “Think, Think a Song,” first. (I almost wrote, “Think, Think a Thong,” but that’s a very different kind of post…)


I know I said it in class, but it’s worth repeating:  See if you can get another grown-up at home to be the “squirrel”s or the “eidle”s, and you can take turns singing and thinking the song. Or, if you don’t have another grown-up to play with, then just pretend you’re two people and take turns with yourself! Watch what your child does, too, during the “thinking” parts. In class, we’ve noticed children laughing, staring expectantly, moving their arms and legs, vocalizing one or two notes, or filling in the missing parts. Whatever your child does while you play this game, it’s great to take notice. Have fun!

“Pacifier Participation” — There’s Nothing Passive About It

4 May

This morning, a mom apologized for her daughter’s non-stop pacifier-sucking during class last week. “I hid it from her today,” she said. Thank goodness this mom told me what was going on — it gave me the chance to let her know that it’s 100% okay to suck on a pacifier (or fingers, or a thumb) all the way through music class. 

Since pacifiers are meant to induce a peaceful, calm state, we tend to think of children with sucking them as passive, disengaged, and silenced. Musically, however, pacifiers can be an active part of the child’s experience. Sucking stimulates the mouth and the tongue, which are integral parts of our music-making system. I’ll frequently see children with pacifiers sucking rhythmically during class, either on the beat of the song/chant we’re doing, or to her/his own personal tempo. (It’s fun to see the brightly colored plastic bounce up and down to the beat!) It’s also common to hear a child with a pacifier (or sucking a thumb) humming or toning pitches we’re singing in class.  In fact, I’ve seen children stop singing or expressing rhythm when the pacifier comes out of the mouth.

So, go ahead and let the binky/passy/thumb/finger-sucking rage on in music class. After our conversation this morning, the mom from class breathed a sigh of relief, relaxing into the knowing that her child’s “pacifier participation” is anything but passive.