Babies in Mixed-Age Classes - Some Basic Q's and A's
Q: I know babies benefit greatly from being involved in mixed- age Music Together® classes, but some parents don't fully realize this. How can I involve the parents of infants more?
A: As teachers, you can direct some of your parent education moments in class specifically to infant music development. For example, "Sally is responding to the rhythm of this song by bouncing her torso consistently in her own personal tempo. This is a first step. As the child develops, her beat will begin to match beat of the music, but now her response shows us that she hears and enjoys the rhythm."
Structure the environment to include both infants and older children. Most children like to face the center of the room so they can see and feel the musical energy. Babies should also face the center, either by sitting in a lap or infant seat. (You may need to encourage parents with siblings to bring the baby to the circle-some parents will unthinkingly park the baby in a corner of the room for a nap. Encourage participation.) For example, make sure parents holding their baby over their shoulder turn so that the babies are facing center. When the class is dancing, place babies in center lying on blankets or sitting in infant seats and dance around them. Babies enjoy the stimulation of watching others moving, and tend to track the movement of their parent. Preschoolers also enjoy dancing "for" the babies.
Help parents notice and validate the babies' responses to the musical environment. How can parents do this? By imitating them! This positive reinforcement encourages more spontaneous sound and movement activity, which is how a baby learns.
Q: How can parents help their infants develop tonally and rhythmically?
A: As a teacher you can model ways of interacting tonally and rhythmically with an infant; then encourage parents to try these activities in and out of class. You might inspire them with the following kinds of parent education information.
Tonal tips: Explain to parents, "Your babies are likely to pay particular attention to your mouth when you sing, so exaggerate your mouth movements, especially when you are doing songs without words." Another day you might say, "Babies love contrast and are particularly attentive to changes. So at home, juxtapose favorite fast activities next to slow ones, and loud ones next to quiet ones. When you perform a chant, use your high-pitched voice some of the time and your low- and medium-pitched voices other times. When you sing, vary the sound quality of your voice to offer contrasting dramatic interpretations."
Encourage tonal play at home by saying, "At home, engage in lots of resting tone play - that is, fool around vocally on the home pitch of a song. Sing the resting tone quietly in each of the baby's ears, or sing the resting tone while you 'brrrrrr' your lips or sing the baby's name or anything else that would be fun."
Rhythmic tips: Help the parents find ways to allow their babies to feel the rhythm of the song or chant. It may be through close contact with an adult or sibling who is moving, or it may be by gently tapping the baby on various parts of the body. It may also be through moving the baby through space in time to the music.
Encourage parents to try different ways of moving their infants rhythmically during the free movement time. They can walk the microbeat or the macro beat. They could sit on the floor and tap different parts of the baby's body. They can dance with a sibling for the baby. They can wave scarves above the baby. Two parents may enjoy "flying" their infants towards each other until they are face to face. Move them back and forth, apart then together, moving through space to the beat of the song.
Q: What kind of responses from infants should we ask parents to look for?
A: You can watch for the baby's response to music, especially as someone begins to sing or play. While listening, the baby may stop her usual movements or activity and seem to stare intently or freeze. When the music stops, the baby will often change activity again. Here are some of the ways babies respond to music:
* Feet stretch out or kick
* Eyes "brighten" or change focus
* Tongue moves in repetitive motion inside mouth
* Eyes look to the sound or movement sources
* Hands clench
* Hands wave wildly in the air
* Torso middle moves rhythmically
* Cooing sounds
* Smiles and giggles
* Squeals of delight
* Crying in the resting tone after the activity ends
Q: How can parents support babies' babbling outside of class?
A: We have found in our lab schools that the introduction of sound play and games at an early age supports vocal development by increasing the frequency and variety of vocal expression. Parents and other primary caregivers can encourage their babies' singing voices as much as they do their early efforts at speech by responding to their child's vocal sound play. Understanding the developmental importance - for both music and language - of a baby's so-called "babble" makes it possible to perceive it in a different way, to value it, and to want to encourage it for its own sake.
The support children need for their vocal sound play is really not such a difficult thing to provide, because all parents really have to do is follow the lead of their child! For example, parents may notice that their child likes to lie in the crib making sounds to himself for long periods of time. This is his way of mastering the sounds he is hearing in his environment through play. The child's own "babble" is the perfect source of sounds to imitate so parents can join in and play, too. If parents can let go of their focus on words for a while, they can enter the wonderful world of sounding that their baby is exploring and actually communicate with him!
As parents listen to their baby's babble, they will probably notice that he has some favorite sounds and that his preferences change as time goes on. Parents may also notice that he plays with some sounds for his own delight and uses others specifically to communicate, either with pets, objects, other children, or a parent. Most parents in our culture will communicate back to the child at these moments with words, perhaps in a sing-song voice known as "motherese" which mimics the child's higher range and inflection. But the communication is still in words. Encourage the parents to try to communicate back to their baby using the same kinds of sounds he is making. By communicating to him in the same mode or "language" of the moment, parents acknowledge and validate their child's creations and extend the duration of his play.
In all cases, parents should watch their baby for signs of disinterest, stress or fatigue and stop when the baby is ready. All of this vocal play serves to stimulate the creative process and motivate the child to further play, discovery and expression.
Q: What can teachers do to encourage parents to play musically with their babies at home?
A: To help bridge the transition between home and class, make sure to ask parents to share what's happening at home with the teacher and other caregivers. Parents learn readily from each other, especially when their child's development is at stake. Ask simple questions like, "When do you listen to the Music Together recordings? Does she have favorite songs? How do you know they are favorites? How do the older siblings interact with the baby when the music is on? What kinds of vocal play have you tried with your baby?"
Incorporating parents' ideas into the class will not only broaden all the participants' repertoire of music and movement but will also help the child connect the two experiences more easily. Parents and babies will enjoy class more if they make music together at home, and so will you.