Ms. Linda Ehlers has recently been hired to teach music at Sonlight Child Development Center in Mequon. Ms. Ehlers has a BS in Music (Voice) from Bradley University in Peoria, IL, is a licensed Kindermusik Educator, and has been teaching music and movement to infants through 7 year olds for eight years. The music being taught at Sonlight is not a Kindermusik class per se, but it is one of the resources used to create the class for young Sonlight students. Ms. Ehlers recently took time to answer a few questions about her involvement with music while discussing the benefits music brings to children of a very young age.
How did you develop your passion for music?
I began singing in my family's United Methodist Church choir at age 5. My dad was a singer, and my parents encouraged us all to learn music as children. I took piano and clarinet as a child, and learned a little guitar on my own as an adult. I have always lovedsinging, and I am currently a professional member of both the Florentine Opera Chorus and Milwaukee Choral Artists.
At Sonlight, do you teach the children to play instruments as well as sing? If yes, what musical instruments are you sharing with the children?
I use a variety of instruments appropriate to the ages of the children in the classes, including rhythm sticks, one-bell jingles, homemade drums (tin or plastic boxes), shaker instruments, body percussion, instruments from a wide variety of cultures, and more. I will sometimes bring an instrument to demonstrate and allow them to try, such as different types and sizes of drums, cymbals, dulcimer, guitar, bells, clackers, recorder, and chimes.
What is the age range of children you are teaching at Sonlight CDC?
I have been trying to include the smallest infants up through the 4-5 year olds. However, the group is a bit large to give enough attention to all the ages with the number of staff available, so I would like to eventually have two classes, one for the preschoolers and one for the infants and toddlers. This would require more staff members to help out, however, for the little ones to get the attention they need. Perhaps some volunteers would like to join us once a month? This would be fun for them and for us.
What do you feel are the advantages to children being taught music at ages 5 or under?
Musical activities help the child develop in so many ways. We learn listening skills, inhibitory control (stop and go activities), sharing, cleaning up, ensemble development (learning to play and make music with others), and, one of the most important things in life: steady beat development. We all need to develop a steady beat inside ourselves in order to learn to read, use scissors, bounce a ball, walk, run, and more.
How do you coordinate teaching music to varying ages all at the same time?
For instance: I might play a piece of music and ask the children to play along using their instruments. The babies will be given a slightly different instrument (like baby bells) safe for them to hold and explore. I will watch the older kids and direct their playing to bring them to a higher level, (i.e. play on your left side or behind your back). I encourage the toddlers to try something they understand (play up high, play softly, etc). We talk about what we're doing, and I get the older ones to try to help a little with the younger ones. It's a bit tricky at times, but we're all learning together to make it work. The kids at Sonlight are pretty well behaved already, so they work well within the class structure. Also, the staff is present during the class, and they are able to help move teach the littlest ones.
What kind of comments do the children share with you about their involvement with music, especially if they have been formally introduced to music for the very first time?
The older children are very enthusiastic about music class. So far, they have reacted positively to everything I've tried to introduce to them. As I mentioned, they are pretty well behaved already.
Some people have suggested that music can assist to improve a child's early childhood development by stimulating the mind, while also assisting with hand and eye coordination by playing an instrument. What other advantages can music have in a young child's development?
Music class includes activities that develop the whole child - musically, socially, physically, cognitively and emotionally. We are working on gross motor skills during large movement activities, and small motor skills when playing instruments. It helps us learn how to play with others, how to do math, how to relax (a very important skill which is not natural in our society!), comforts us, and stimulates our emotions. Music is a great blessing from the Lord!
What suggestions can you give to parents who want to begin introducing their child to music, either vocally or instrumentally?
I would encourage EVERY parent to enroll in a weekly Kindermusik class or Music Together (another brand) from earliest infancy. We have plenty of opportunities in the Milwaukee area. The benefits of spending time together in music are endless. I also encourage parents to give children a wide variety of listening experiences, from the womb on. Any music is great, but only giving children only one kind is limiting to their ability to learn later. Private instruction at a young age is good, although it is difficult before about age 7 for a child to sit still on a piano bench and for their hands to reach piano keys. Strings can be started at a younger age. Each child is unique, but music will make a child's brain more active and able for whatever they study or become later on.
Are the songs you are teaching the children religiously based, secular in origin, a combination of both, or something totally different?
I'm using a combination of many styles of music. I am a Christian, and the directors have given me the freedom to use Scripture-based songs in my class, so I'm thankful for that. All I've said above about children's receptivity to music also applies to their spirituality. I want little ones to know from the earliest possible moment that they are loved by our wonderful heavenly Father and that Jesus is alive and wants to be their Savior and Friend.
How do you select the music you choose to teach for very young children?
Again, I am trying to use a very wide variety of music including Christian music, instrumental music from the West as well as from other lands, folk music, classical music, female as well as male vocalists, different instrumentation, etc. I try to have a theme each month, so that the class can flow logically, build on what we've learned before, and take us to new places as well.
Specifically, what main aspects of music structure or the like are you teaching the children?
I try to incorporate AB forms, common intervals, steady beat, varieties of sounds and instruments, movement and dance, etc.
Is there anything you might mention to parents that would be important for them to know about their child being involved in music that you have not mentioned with your answers to prior questions?
In my opinion, to know the Lord Jesus personally is the most important thing to teach your child, and the only way to become a whole person. After that, spending time doing music can help your child be smart, happy, loving and successful!
The professional childcare and preschool education at Sonlight Child
Development Center is offered in a nurturing environment influenced by
Christian values. Sonlight CDC is open year round and provides
individualized preschool curriculum for 2K, 3K and 4K as well as child care
for children from 6 weeks through 5 years old between 7:00 am to 6:00 pm,
five days a week. Before and after school child care is also available for
kindergarten students. Busy parents greatly appreciate Sonlight's flexible
scheduling. Program options include a culturally diverse curriculum,
emphasis on artistic self-expression, and nature exploration in an outdoor
nature area. Anyone interested in obtaining more information about Sonlight
Child Development Center may visit their website, www.sonlightcdc.org call
(262) 242-4771 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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