Vashti F

By Vashti F

The First Acquired Language: Music

Mishael discovering the guitar in his first months

A pair of deep brown eyes stare into mine already so full of love and trust, and although I’m not sure I deserve such love and trust, they continue to gaze into mine and I am speechless.

Let’s rewind one year. Here I am. First time mom with a new born baby boy in my arms. I couldn’t be happier and also more humbled. Being in the child care field for so many years and working mostly with infants I assumed having my own would be a piece of cake. Wrong.

Sure I already knew how to change a diaper and understand baby babble but what do I do with a newborn that, well, really just lays there and looks at me?

Music.

I rested my son, Mishael, on the living room floor and crossed my legs next to him with an acoustic guitar. Delicately, I strummed chords and sang softly. He seemed pleasantly content and at peace. The next day I let him rest in the living room again as I played and sung to him. The next day as well as the next, I did the same.

Finally, a smile. Before I would even begin to play, Mishael would grin at the sight of me grasping the guitar from its stand.

And then a coo and a hum. He was not only excited when he caught glimpse of the guitar but he had acquired a unique singing voice.

Next a wave of the arm and a shake of the leg. As Mishael’s excitement grew every time I brought out the guitar, his body began to move and wiggle as well.

Music is a language he identifies with. It provides him a way of expressing himself as his vocabulary grows. It wasn’t long after incorporating music continually throughout the day that his expressions grew into many. His babbling grew into words. His waves became clapping. And his legs began bouncing to the rhythm of a song.

Music.

Mishael has developed emotionally, cognitively and physically due to music.

I truly believe that every child can make meaning of the world in their own way through music some way or another. And it doesn’t have to be with an acoustic guitar either. Here is a short list of some places nearby that my son and I love to go every week. They will provide your child with a wonderful start in music and you might just learn a thing or two as well!

 

Baby Time @ New Westminster Public Library. Fridays at 10:15am (no charge)

Pre-school story time @ New Westminster Public Library. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday at 10:15am (no charge)

http://www.nwpl.ca/kids/

Mini Music ages 0-5 @ Music Box. Fridays at 10am and 11am (no charge)

http://www.musicboxnw.ca/childrens-classes/ages-0-3/

Music Kids Daycare @ Top floor of River Market. Occasional and flexible child care, music focused. Monday-Friday 9am-5pm. (Charges apply)

http://www.musicboxnw.ca/daycare-new-westminster/

 -Kimberly Ngugi is co-owner & manager of Music Kids Daycare at the River Market, a new flexible music daycare by Music Box. After completing her Early childhood education certificate and diploma specializing in infant/toddler and special needs care, Kimberly has enjoyed many years of experience teaching children in a variety of settings from daycare, junior kindergarten and pre-school internationally in Kenya. Kimberly is passionate in creating environments for children to make meaning of the world on their own with room to create, imagine and discover. She also has special education in teaching English as a second language and music.  She lives in New Westminster with her husband and 1 year old son.

A Hundred Languages

All children learn, discover and understand in different ways. The way in which one child will understand why leaves are green during summer and fall in autumn, may be completely opposite from another. Being aware that every child learns differently and providing them an atmosphere and environment to explore and make their own theories about life seems crucial to me.

 

Below is a poem by Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio approach. A poem that was shared with me in college when studying early childhood education. It completely changed my perspective on children and the environments which they should be surrounded by to make meaning of the world around them.

 

The child

is made of one hundred.

The child has

A hundred languages

A hundred hands

A hundred thoughts

A hundred ways of thinking

Of playing, of speaking.

A hundred always a hundred

Ways of listening of marveling of loving

A hundred joys

For singing and understanding

A hundred worlds

To discover

A hundred worlds

To invent

A hundred worlds

To dream

The child has

A hundred languages

(and a hundred hundred hundred more)

But they steal ninety-nine.

The school and the culture

Separate the head from the body.

They tell the child;

To think without hands

To do without head

To listen and not to speak

To understand without joy

To love and to marvel

Only at Easter and Christmas

They tell the child:

To discover the world already there

And of the hundred

They steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child:

That work and play

Reality and fantasy

Science and imagination

Sky and earth

Reason and dream

Are things

That do not belong together

And thus they tell the child

That the hundred is not there

The child says: NO WAY the hundred is there–

 

Loris Malagasy 

Founder of the Reggio Approach

-Kimberly Ngugi is co-owner & manager of Music Kids Daycare at the River Market, a new flexible music daycare by Music Box. After completing her Early childhood education certificate and diploma specializing in infant/toddler and special needs care, Kimberly has enjoyed many years of experience teaching children in a variety of settings from daycare, junior kindergarten and pre-school internationally in Kenya. Kimberly is passionate in creating environments for children to make meaning of the world on their own with room to create, imagine and discover. She also has special education in teaching English as a second language and music.  She lives in New Westminster with her husband and 1 year old son.

Do all children play?

Red elastic. Blue elastic. Green elastic. Yellow elastic. Tiny fingers working diligently to wrap band around band until their labours have produced a brilliant and vibrant coloured ball. Believe it or not, if you wrap enough elastic bands around themselves with a couple polythene bags intertwined, it will create a ball durabUntitled1le enough to kick around as a soccer ball.  A clever skill I learned while living in rural Kenya for three
years.
After working in child care for many years and seeing the endless amount of plastic toys the children had to play with, it made me wonder if play was universal. Could children living in the uttermost poor and rural environments still play like children exposed to plastic toys and IPad’s?

The idea of children living in a slum with mud walls to form a simple home and walking in streets of debris seemed to shout a loud, “NO!” Surely children do not play all over the world. But as I walked through the slums of Kenya interacting with the children there, my opinion began to change.

I found children making use of other’s garbage to create toys. I remember one young girl crouched on the ground biting her lip as she put all her concentration and efforts into tying a filthy string to a polythene bag that had been thrown out. I crouched next to her and asked what she was making.

“A kite,” she replied.

Sure enough, as she finished attaching strings to each side of the bag and a breeze passed by, the kite lifted into the air. With a cheerful giggle, the girl stood up and raced around with her kite.

Do all children play? My heart and mind have been persuaded to say, “yes.”

Untitled2
My son & I taking a moment to explore on one of our walks.

My one-year-old son reminds me of these children every day. Like most of you, I’m sure, we have a toy box in our living room. It’s full of plastic toys, as I like to call them. Rarely do I find him playing with a single toy in it.

Instead he is eager to play with wooden spoons or to open every cupboard in the kitchen and discover a toy box of pots, pans and Tupperware’s.   When we go to the park, I pack the diaper bag full of toys and every time I fail to unpack even one of them as he much prefers to play with the leaves, sticks and rocks. I’m sure many of you can identify.

Real. Authentic. Natural. My son will choose a real adult-like spoon over his small plastic spoon. He will choose to play with a stick over a plastic car. He prefers to watch real fish in a pond than play with his plastic fish that flash and play music.

Do all children play? I’ve determined whether children are exposed to manufactured toys or left to imagine what they can create with the natural items around them, it is an outstanding YES.

After working with children for many years and studying the way they play and learn, I couldn’t be more excited to have just opened Music Kids Daycare at the river market by the New Westminster Quay. Founded with Reggio Emilia philosophies from Italy, children are exposed to real, authentic, natural items.

I believe every child is competent and should be treated so. Every child discovers and understands differently from another and I truly desire to provide an environment that allows a child to make meaning of the world in their own way.

Do all children play? Even in the uttermost poor and rural environments? I have no other word to answer with but “yes.” Let’s replace the plastic with natural, the manufactured with authentic and provide our children with an atmosphere that encourages creativity, imagination and understanding.

Clinton, age 3, discovering that he can still draw a picture in the dirt with a stick even though he lacks paper and felts.
Clinton, age 3, discovering that he can still draw a picture in the dirt with a stick even though he lacks paper and felts.

-Kimberly Ngugi is co-owner & manager of Music Kids Daycare at the River Market, a new flexible music daycare by Music Box. After completing her Early childhood education certificate and diploma specializing in infant/toddler and special needs care, Kimberly has enjoyed many years of experience teaching children in a variety of settings from daycare, junior kindergarten and pre-school internationally in Kenya. Kimberly is passionate in creating environments for children to make meaning of the world on their own with room to create, imagine and discover. She also has special education in teaching English as a second language and music.  She lives in New Westminster with her husband and 1 year old son.

Common Music Lesson Questions Answered

Please enjoy these answers to a handful of common questions I hear as a piano & music teacher from parents & adult students curious about music lessons… 

 

Q. What about my 3 year old? 

A. Everyone believes their 3 year old is a genius (mine certainly is 🙂 There are always exceptions of course, but generally private music instrument lessons are best waited until recommended ages found in my Parent Guide. However, most music teachers are happy to give a short assessment of your child and will give recommendations for appropriate instruments and how much longer (if needed) to wait before starting on an instrument.

Q. What are most teachers looking for in music instrument readiness (regardless of instrument)? 

A. Universal of all instruments; Recognition of letters A-G and basic numbers 1-4 (no need to be writing or reading yet, however writing is preferred to have begun), Left and Right hand distinction, a particular level of fine motor skills is expected depending on the instrument (can they touch each of their fingers individually to the thumb? do up a button?), ability to listen, respond and follow instruction, genuine interest in music (do they like to sing or dance?).

Q. How do you know if it is the right instrument? 

A. Please see our Parents Guide. Generally if they meet the minimum age, show an interest and meet any physical requirements they are good to begin. To note: Sometimes, the minimum recommended age is still too young for the particular child (could be for any number of reasons such as maturity, behaviour, physical size, etc). If you are curious if it is a good time for your child but are not sure, it never hurts to get a professional music teacher to assess them and give their opinion.

Q. My child has been told to wait to start private music study – what should we do in the meantime? 

A. Parent led singing and musical activities at home are the number 1 best thing. Sing, sing, sing, dance and play music of all kinds in the house, oh and sing. Having small musical instruments around the house mixed in with their toys – egg shakers, maracas, keyboards, xylophones, recorders, drums and more encourage your son or daughter to make up songs as a play activity or jam along with the radio – aiding natural rhythmic and melodic development in a fun way. General Group Music Lessons are also instrumental in preparing children for school readiness – learning to be a part of a group, following direction and more. There are many different systems for Group Music Lessons, Suzuki, Kodaly, Kindermusik, Music Together, to name a few. We love our Music Kids Club – it is a perfect bridge to instrument learning and a wonderful supplement music program for those entering or in preschool or kindergarten.

Q. My child has a disability, can they still take lessons? 

A. Yes, most definitely. Music teachers (speaking at least of our studio) are generally familiar with working with children of different abilities, will often have special training or experience with different abilities such as blindness, autism, arthritis, speech impediments, hearing loss, MS, and more. Music training can be both therapeutic and highly successful with people of any ability, creating wonderful musicians, performers and teachers.

Q. What about group instrument lessons? 

A. Group Piano, Voice or Guitar lessons can be a wonderful and cost effective way to begin an instrument. However after the fundamental basics are learnt, immediate entry into Private Lessons is necessary as long term group classes can no longer keep stride with all learning styles, learning speeds and individual development and should not replace private study. Instead I reccomend Individualized Instruction where the student can grow at their own pace in private lessons and then bring their skills to activities such as Choirs, Bands, Ear Training Classes and Performance Groups as they provide excellent training and social elements. Music is meant to be played and performed in community after all 🙂

Q. My son is 6 and wants to learn piano but I still don’t think he’s ready for lessons yet. Should I still put him in? 

A. No. Wait until you think he is ready. Parents know best, if you have reason to believe he wouldn’t do as well now as in a year or 6 months, there is no need to rush it.

Q. Is it ever too late? 

A. No, not at all. Do not worry – starting piano at 7 instead of 4, or 30 instead of 4, or 74 instead of 4, is not a problem. The most important factor to success in music is starting and persisting, regardless of age. 

 

Do you have a music q? You can reach me at info@musicboxnw.ca or vashti.fairbairn@gmail.com

Enjoy music!

 

-Vashti Fairbairn is a local New West music and piano teacher, wife, mother, owner of Music Box New Westminster’s Music Academy at the River Market & a new Second location to serve you at 630 Carnarvon. You can learn more about raising your children musically at musicboxnw.ca/blog/

Why play the Piano first? Why not the Flute? A parents guide to Private Music Lessons

Why consider some instruments at an earlier age over others? How does one assess if it is the right instrument?

Piano

Piano is the generally the most popular and successful instrument to start with from a young age. Most children can successfully begin at age 4 (this was me many years ago!) or 5. Occasionally, some children can begin as young as age 3.5 (lessons for ages 3-5 year olds generally incorporate a number of off the piano activities to reinforce piano skills in new and interesting ways. Instruments, colouring and movement may be incorporated depending on the teacher and needs of student). Skills to have mastered; Left/Right hands, recognize letters A-G (no need to be reading yet though), strong fingers with a high level of finger independence (how would you evaluate their fine motor skills? can they do up a button or zipper yet?). Piano is a great foundation for all instrument study, music reading is transferable to any instrument, the finger strength, rhythm and theory skills that piano study builds alone are irreplaceable.

Ukulele

Ukulele is a wonderful instrument for young children. Generally speaking, this instrument is best started at age 5 and can sometimes be started as early as age 4. Skills they should have mastered; Left/Right hands, be able to recognize letters A-G. Strong fingers, with good finger independence (though not as important as it is in Piano). Ukulele is also a wonderful instrument for children who would eventually like to move to Guitar. Do you have a child who loves to sing but not yet ready for voice lessons? Children can learn (mostly from example) to sing and accompany themselves at a young age. Take for example my daughter *gushing mother* who is 3.5, she is not ready for voice lessons, but I am considering placing her in Ukulele lessons this Fall so she can have more fun singing along with herself 🙂 http://youtu.be/-EMHdcVLAR0

Guitar

Guitar is a great instrument to begin at age 6 or 7, (to note for petite children – only with the right sized guitar – please speak to an instructor about the best size for your sized child). At this age it is best to start on an acoustic guitar with nylon strings, then transitioning into steel strings or electric guitar if desired. Children must have strong fingers (much stronger than Ukulele to fret the notes) and be comfortable with developing calluses.

Flute or Clarinet

Flute is a wonderful great first wind instrument, best started at age 8. Children need time to develop lung capacity and grow their little bodies (holding instruments away from your body for extended periods of time is tiring!) so no earlier is recommended. A wonderful precursor to the flute or clarinet however is the Recorder, which is great to begin at age 6.

Violin

The Violin can be very successful at age 5 if the child shows an interest. Unlike the piano, the violin is not as initially gratifying to listen to 😉 However, this beautiful instrument is great for developing a keen sense of pitch and heightened listening as one must be diligent on each sound made being in tune. Fine motor skills must be well developed here for a small fingerboard, good wrist flexibility for careful bowing and acknowledgment that sometimes arms will get tired from holding the instrument. Thankfully violins come in a large assortment of sizes, all the way down to 1/16th of the original size, be sure your child is fitted properly and always playing the correct size. The violin is also a great precursor to the cello, which is best started at age 8 or 9.

Voice

Voice lessons are best started at age 8. Much like the Flute and Clarinet, time is needed to develop lung capacity and grow! However, lessons can sometimes be started as early as 6 years old with the right teacher who takes care to guide the voice gently with repertoire and technique that is age, voice maturity and range appropriate. Voice training has many benefits, but less known to point out are – aiding in speech impediments, lisps, dealing with a new retainer or braces and finding a full voice for speech. To note – voice lessons are a wonderful compliment to piano or guitar learning where one can eventually learn to accompany themselves while singing and can provide a sound theoretical base for the voice.

Drums

Private drum lessons at age 8 are great if there is strong interest shown. Aptitude for rhythm can be indicated very early on in life (perhaps a gift of a toy drum they love to sing and play with?) and generally speaking you may be able to tell if your child is naturally rhythmic much earlier than 8 years old. Things to look for – strong coordination, beating beats on the kitchen table, love of dance, can clap (or tap, or beat on the table, etc) a steady beat, can clap back accurately what you clap, can clap along in time with music. However, the beauty of music training is – these things we look for to see if there is a natural tonal or rhythmic ability with any instrument – can all be developed with desire & study! Hooray!

-Vashti Fairbairn is a local New West music and piano teacher, owner of Music Box New Westminster’s Music Academy at the New Westminster River Market & a new Second location to serve you at 630 Carnarvon. You can learn more about raising your children musically at musicboxnw.ca/blog/

Would you like to learn to play Beethoven’s Fur Elise?

Persistence & Patience Building in Young Children: How instrument learning aids these important academic & social skills

You could do this in perhaps 1-2 years of study. Or a concentrated month of doing nothing else:

You could do this in 7 years. Seven. At least:

For the average student, It takes generally 7 years of piano study to have the skills necessary to play the entirety of Beethoven’s very famous and beautiful “Fur Elise.” What is required? Patience throughout the time it takes to build the necessary skills. Persistence to learn, practice and perfect the skills. Persistence & Patience to learn the difficult piece itself over 1-3 months.

Piano lessons (or any private instrument music lesson studies) are not a race, they are a journey.

Patience is built through:

  • Attending weekly lessons, learning and slowly putting together the building blocks of music and piano technique.
  • Waiting for the necessary skills to develop to play desired pieces.
  • Working towards long-term goals that can be months away. 

Persistence is built through:

  • Learning fingering, scales, chords, pieces, and many other elements & skills that are a challenge and difficult at first.   
  • Pushing through times when it’s easier to quit than continue. Seeing past the present difficulty for the long term benefits and desired outcome.

How hard is it to keep going when things get tough? It’s difficult. But having patience to preserve through those tough times can bring some of the greatest satisfaction in life. Learning an instrument is difficult. You must be patient with your child and yourself. Our natural desire for big results now, is not possible when learning a musical instrument, slow and steady wins the race.

How do you encourage these important traits of Patience and Perseverance in your children? To grow them to be people and adults that don’t give up when things get hard? That are in things for the long haul and finish what they start? Even when it’s hard to say, “Try, try again?”

Music study is the answer for some.

Consider this quote from Einstein, even with the difficulty that comes, “I get most joy in life out of music.”

-Vashti Fairbairn is a local New West music and piano teacher, owner of Music Box Music Academy at the New Westminster River Market. You can read more about raising your children musically at musicboxnw.ca/blog/

Music as Motivator

Believe it or not, my three year old frequently requests to brush her teeth longer.

How did this occur?

-For many straight months my husband and I fought with her to brush her teeth. We valiantly led by example, promised cookies, pinned her down, brushed her dolls teeth – there was no convincing her that this was a fun thing to do.

-We turned to Music. Elmo had been a hit and so we pulled out a Sesame Street Music Video of Elmo brushing his teeth and singing a catchy pop song “Brushy Brush Your Teeth.”

-We sang and did a silly dance around the bathroom, all while brushing! If she stopped brushing, the song was paused until she started to brush again.

-To date, we have moved on to a new motivating song, called ”Brush Your Teeth.“ (Both songs can be found on YouTube).

Why is music a good habit building motivator?

-It can elicit emotional reactions and enhance mood

-It can combat de-motivating brain signals associated with fatigue or boredom

-It can draw our attention away from the negative aspects of a task

-It can energize and increase endurance

You may wonder – without a YouTube music video, will she still brush her teeth? For the first 1-2 months, she would not; she needed those dancing & singing kids to encourage her. However today she will happily brush without a music video – often longer than my husband will.

Please enjoy these clips with your children:

We started out with Elmo.

This is the latest favourite, though even my daughter notices how slow the cartoon kids brush their teeth, “It looks like they’re sleeping!”

Happy Brushing all!
-Vashti Fairbairn is a local New West music and piano teacher, owner of Music Box Music Academy at the New Westminster River Market. You can read more about raising your children musically at musicboxnw.ca/blog/