The research is clear that music helps in all aspects of child development but what age is the right age to start music lessons?
A toddler should start as soon as possible because during the first few years of life, the brain is developing at an alarming rate of more than 1 million new neural connections every second. Essentially, children should start classes just after they are born.
For someone whose only experience with music has been the school choir or learning the piano, it is difficult to think of a one-year-old in a music class, let alone newborns.
We know that “Early experiences affect the development of brain architecture, which provides the foundation for all future learning, behavior, and health” (Center on the Developing Child – Harvard University).
Research also tells us that different musical features activate emotional, motor, and creative areas of the brain. So it makes sense to start as young as possible when these connections are being made, and skills are developing at the fastest rate in our children’s lives.
What Do Toddlers Do in a Music Lesson?
If you think of your 1-year-old sitting down to learn the piano, then you have never seen a good toddler music class.
Toddlers are learning to gain control over their bodies. They are learning to move, to be more coordinated and to understand what their bodies are capable of.
As such, they need to move in order to learn. Traditional instruments are not appropriate for this age group as they don’t have the cognitive processes or motor function to accomplish playing them. That doesn’t mean they can’t learn fundamental, foundational concepts through using their bodies though.
In a well-structured toddler music class, you will find a good balance between structure, scaffolding and exploration.
There needs to be a well thought out flow and structure to the lesson with organized activities that are going to achieve certain objectives, otherwise it becomes a free for all.
Children need guidance and boundaries but also room to explore to learn about their world.
A good music class will provide all of these things. Structure allows children and parents to learn in an organized way, building on and extending concepts logically. This appeals to the toddler brain, that forms simpler neural connections and skills at first, followed by more complex abilities.
Lev Vygotsky, an educational psychologist, said there was a zone of “proximal development” where someone with more accomplished skills leads another with less skill through this zone until they have acquired the skill.
While that guiding person is often an adult, if they are open to taking the child’s lead, it can often be the child coming up with new ways of doing things, teaching the adult.
Scaffolding is where an adult provides temporary support while a new skill is being acquired. There are 3 main steps:
- Observe (what is your child interested in, how do they go about it)
- Enhance (build on your child’s interest using open ended questions)
- Support (make connections to something familiar, imaginative play)
Open ended questions are used to help guide the child and provide that support while encouraging exploration.
Children learn through exploring their world with as many senses as possible. They touch things, lick them, manipulate them to see what they will do. They link language to the meaning of words by integrating language with movement.
Providing time and space for individual exploration is essential in a toddler music class. While you might provide some structure (handing them some bells) you provide open ended exploration (how can you play your bells) at the same time.
How Do I Know if it is a Good Music Environment for my Child?
Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering if the environment of a particular class is right for your child:
- Does your child enjoy the lesson?
- Do they like the activities?
- Is there enough room for them to grow and expand their ideas?
- Is there a range of activities targeting multiple learning domains? (for example, musical, physical, language, cognitive, emotional, and social)
- As an adult are you encouraged to participate and help your child to learn?
- Is the class meeting your needs and expectations that you have for your child?
Not every situation will be right for every child, but if you have found the right place, it will offer flexibility, support, community, skill and encouragement.
What Benefits do Toddlers Get Out of a Music Lesson?
There are many benefits for toddlers who attend music classes, some of which you might not even associate with music. Here are a few but if you want more information see our article on 15 benefits for toddlers in a music class.
|Better Organized Brain
|Research has proven that the benefits of early music classes last a lifetime, even if they stop music lessons in later years.
Skills are across many learning domains and help both hemispheres of the brain work together and generally makes all learning easier
|More Controlled Balance
|Music and movement classes allow the body to move and stimulate the vestibular system. This helps to make our center of balance strong.
It helps us to know which way is up, which direction we are going in and helps us to sit or stand still
|Through combining movement, language and songs, children learn parts of their body and how to move them. They get to see what those body parts look like on others as well as learning about their own body
|Learning to internalize steady beat helps toddlers with self-regulation. This is having an appropriate response to a given circumstance. In short, it means shorter tantrums and less of them over time
|As children move around others in space, they get a better sense of where their own body is in space and how to control it. This is happening with their bodies and through the auditory system. Spatial awareness is an essential math skill and children with good spatial awareness usually have good spatial reasoning for math later on
|Singing songs and linking language with movement helps toddlers not only to develop better language skills, but to understand the meaning of words. As they jump, run, walk, and hop, by linking the word with those movements, they understand what the words mean
|Toddlers who attend music classes gain great overall confidence in themselves and their abilities. They are more cognitively and emotionally aware of themselves and of others which leads to more confidence in themselves and in social situations
What Should I Look for in a Music Teacher?
An experienced early childhood music teacher is someone who understands child development, the capabilities of toddlers and the objectives of how to get them to the next skill level.
They would also need most or all of the following traits:
- Knowledge of each age group in the first 5 years
- Observation skills to recognize where each child is in her class (realizing that not every child is at the same level)
- Knowledge about developmental delays and how to address them (for example, if a child isn’t crawling by a certain age, how to help them etc)
- Nurturing and loving – toddlers need connection and they learn best when in an environment that is emotionally positive
- Clean and organized – the environment needs to be child proof and kept clean and tidy
- Builds community – you want someone who builds community within the class so it provides a support network for you as well as your child
- Musical – if it is a musical class you need someone who can sing and is musically experienced
- Experienced with early childhood – teaching music to high school students is entirely different to teaching toddlers
- Communicates well both with children (at their level) and you
- Speaks to the children at eye level
- Teaches parents about their child and child development – during class, a teacher should be explaining WHY these activities help your child
- Confident in their abilities as an early childhood educator
Do Toddlers Learn to Play Musical Instruments?
The short answer is yes and no. It would be inappropriate to try and teach a toddler traditional instruments such as piano, violin or trumpet.
They don’t yet have the skill or cognitive ability to learn at that level or the discipline to practice in order to acquire skill.
Toddlers need to learn the fundamentals of music and do this through using untuned percussion instruments and props. You might find in a music class:
- Shaker instruments
- Chime bars
- Rainbow shakers
- Other manipulatives
Do Toddlers Need to Practice?
Like anything, for a toddler to acquire a skill they need repetition. When they are learning to walk, their brain tells them repeatedly to walk, walk, walk walk… and they keep doing it until they have acquired the skill.
Repetition is essential in the acquisition of any skill.
A good toddler music class will have enough repetition and opportunities to extend current skills that make a smooth transition from one skill to the next.
Some music programs boast of “never repeating an activity” which might be fine for parents but is not developmentally appropriate and will not help your child acquire new skills or grow the ones they have.
So do they need to practice? Yes – repetition is key.
Does that mean structured homework? No. It should be organic and you should find the types of activities you do in class add to your life and make parenting easier. They should give you the tools to continue the learning in your home environment 24/7 with great music, guidance and ideas.
Where Do I find a Quality Music Class?
There are many music lessons for toddlers in the marketplace. Some are programs that a person has made up themselves and others have years of research and backing to support their reputation.
I have taught many of them, and even been asked to write curricula for several of them. My choice though, after all these years is still Kindermusik. If you aren’t sure if it is right for your child, then see our article on why Kindermusik might be right for your child.
To find a class near you, you can use the Kindermusik locator found here (for in person classes) or they do have some educators who also offer live, virtual classes.
I offer virtual classes and would love to have your child in class. My classes are fully interactive, cater for each child in the class and have a strong foundation in child development.
If you have an older child, I also do zoom piano lessons (starting with our preschool program for children 4 years and up.
If you would like to know more, please fill out the form below: