Boulder business uses music to enhance brain development in children

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The Sunday morning class of Music Together. (PHOTO BY ASHLEY McLEOD)

It’s Sunday morning at the Birthing Center in Boulder, and a group of parents and their children have come together for a music program designed to help enhance brain development in their children.

Teacher Amy Abelein leads the class in singing, dancing, playing percussion instruments and twirling scarves in the air. Both the children and adults are full participants in the class.

Abelein teaches of one of the many classes held by Music Together of Boulder, a music enrichment program for parents and their children, starting from birth up to age five. The program began in 1987 in New Jersey, and is a researched-based program that helps to develop the children’s brains through engaging in musical activities.

“There’s actually been studies that have shown that there’s certain parts of your brain that are only activated when you’re engaging with music,” said Abelein.

Studies from the Auditory Neuroscience Lab at Northwestern University have shown that exposing children to music, and having them participate and be engaged in music helps brain development and  development of language skills. According to an article in Time magazine, one study from the lab at Northwestern showed just this.

“In order to fully reap the cognitive benefits of a music class, kids can’t just sit there and let the sound of music wash over them. They have to be actively engaged in the music and participate in the class,” wrote Time in 2014.

“What research tells us is that when you are exposing your child, especially the first three years of life, when the brain is growing so rapidly, you are basically laying down the roadwork that will eventually get paved,,” said Jane Simms Roche, the director and owner of Music Together of Boulder.

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Amy Abelein sings with a child during a class she teaches for Music Together of Boulder. (PHOTO BY ASHLEY McLEOD)

Roche, a native of Colorado, opened Music Together of Boulder 19 years ago after traveling to Princeton to complete the Music Together training to open the business. She began with one class, and has since hired five other teachers and is now working on opening a fourth location for the program.

“We work with over 200 families every semester, and that’s usually around 230 or 40 children under the age of 5 with their parents,” said Roche.

During the 45-minute classes children do a number of different activities designed to engage them in the song and dance with their parents.

“We do everything from little finger plays like the Eensy Weensy Spider, to getting up and moving to different songs, different ways of loco motoring around the room, small movement, large movement,” said Roche.

There is also a basket of percussion instruments given out for a jam, followed by a dance, a lullaby and at the close of the class, a goodbye song.

The parents participate with their children during the classes, singing the songs and dancing or using the percussion instruments. The program also give parents a CD with all of the songs that will be used in class, so the children can listen to them at home, and the parents will be able to learn the songs to participate in class.

“The whole point is that if we can teach the parents how to support their child’s natural musicality, then they’re going to be able to do that at home or in the classroom. The parent is the role model for the child,” said Roche.

The music used in the program is specifically chosen by the founder, Kenneth Guilmartin and his cowriter Lili Levinowitz, who is a premier early childhood music researcher. The music is different from other children’s music, which Roche says is “dumbed-down” for children, which is unnecessary.

“We believe that children need to be exposed to really rich musical experiences not that dumbed down kids music that is obnoxious for anybody to listen to for too many repetitions,” said Roche.

Carolina Neii brings her young daughter Marina to the Music Together classes every Sunday. Neii got involved in the program after noticing her daughter was dancing and trying to sing every time she heard music.

“When she hears music on the radio or outside, wherever, she’s trying to move, to sing, to do something,” said Neii.

Neii says her family isn’t very musical, but now she plays the Music Together CD constantly for Marina around the house.

“We didn’t know anything about music. In our family it isn’t common, so it’s really nice to learn, and because you learn too with the baby,” said Neii.

During the Sunday morning class, Marina danced all around the room, with her mother following behind doing the same. At some points in the class the children get distracted, but it’s OK. Once a song comes on that the child recognizes, they’re back to dancing and smiling with the rest of the class.

“I love watching the kids light up when they recognize a song they really like or they’re dancing with their parents, it’s really great, and I love it,” said Abelein.

Music Together of Boulder holds three sessions a year, each which last twelve weeks. For more information, visit www.musictogetherboulder.com.

 

A transcript of the above audio can be found here.

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