An article in The New York Times caught my eye recently. It reported on several studies that found music training during childhood may improve auditory skills for a lifetime. Playing an instrument can, for instance, help you be able to hear a conversation over background noise when you’re elderly. (In my own unscientific research, I have found that I am excellent at clapping to the beat of a song; my husband, not so much. Guess which of us played the clarinet for 10 years.)
You don’t need a scientific study to know that music is good for kids, good for the soul and just plain fun. Before I had kids, I thought lullabies and nursery rhymes would be in my new-parent future, but when my daughter was born I realized that I didn’t remember very many of them. My curiosity led me to All Together Singing in the Kitchen, a fabulous guide for any family that wants to make music part of their lives. Musician-sister duo Nerissa and Katryna Nields put together this creative handbook for family music-making that covers everything from lullabies and simple singing games to instructions for making homemade instruments and what to do if your kid decides she wants to be a drummer.
If you don’t consider yourself or your family “musical,” this book is especially for you. It offers easy ways to incorporate music into everyday life and comes with a 30-song CD with traditional favorites and new folk-inspired songs written by Nerissa.
1. Turn on the radio or stereo: The easiest way to learn about music is by listening. Take some time to turn off the news or TV, pop in a CD and share your favorite music with your kids.
2. Sing during everyday routines: Whether you’re brushing teeth, getting dressed or just marching around the living room, everything is more fun if you add a silly song.
3. See shows: Look for kids’ concerts in your community and take them to see music being made.
5. Keep instruments and props available: Buy or make a variety of age-appropriate instruments, and make sure they’re easily accessible. One tip I especially love: Make a song basket. Write the names of you child’s favorite songs on slips of paper and keep them in a basket that you can pull out and choose from whenever you want to sing a song.
6. Schedule it in: Whether you sign up for a music class or just decide to sing the same song every time you’re in the car (children love repetition), add it to your routine and start making music memories.
And when it comes time to sign junior for piano or violin lessons, heed this advice from Alexandra Parbery-Clark, a concert pianist turned brain researcher quoted in the article:
“We want music to be recognized for what it can be in a person’s life, not necessarily, ‘Oh, we want you to have better cognitive skills, so we’re going to put you in music…. Music is great, music is fantastic, music is social — let them enjoy it for what it really is.”
The Nields sisters offer family music classes in Northampton, MA. Visit hootenannyfamily.com for more information.