Settlement Music School CEO on the benefits of music for kids

Curious about music classes for your child? Drop in later this month at one of Settlement Music School‘s “Family Fun Open Houses” at five of its location which will feature programs available to kids from 6 months to 9 years.

On September 16, the Germantown, Mary Louise Curtis, Willow Grove, and Wynnefield branches will hold open houses. The Camden location will host on September 18. There will be free sessions of Children’s Music Playshop and Children’s Music Workshop along with other activities including musical performances, demonstration lessons, opportunities to speak with teachers, and giveaways. Detailed information about the events are available here.

To tell us more about Settlement’s programs, the benefits of music, and arts therapy, we checked in with Settlement Music School CEO Helen S. Eaton.

You have classes for babies as young at 6 months. What are the benefits of introducing music at a young age?
First off, music is fun! What’s more, introducing music to babies has been shown to increase their social, emotional, and cognitive learning. Music aids in memory development and enhances the neuro activity in the brain. We know now that an infant can recognize a song long before he or she understands words. That said, if during playtime you sing a song to your child, he or she begins to associate that music and experience with a positive mood. It’s wonderful.

Very young children are often able to express themselves through music before they’ve formed a full vocabulary. In addition, repeated motions and activities enhance large and small coordination, and often help children develop that coordination more quickly than they otherwise might.

How do these benefits grow as the child gets older?
As a child gets even older and begins to play music in more formal group settings, he or she builds relationships and trust through that music. Everyone in an ensemble, for instance, is responsible for his or her own part, but also for the larger dynamic and sound of the group. Ultimately, music builds a child who is aware of the strength and power of community—it builds good citizens.

What’s a good time to start a musical instrument?
This absolutely depends on the child and on the instrument. Here at Settlement, we believe that a child is ready when he or she expresses interest and can focus for a long enough period of time to allow for lessons and practice. Typically, the earliest children would begin lessons is at age 4, when they are often ready for learning cello or violin through the Suzuki-method, which is taught by listening to music and repeating what one hears.  But it is important to know that most students start musical instruments much later than age 4 and do beautifully.  For some instruments, children cannot even begin studying them until they are at least 9 or 10-years-old.

What’s your advice for parents who want their child to pursue music, but their child loses interest after a couple of years?
In these situations, we recommend that a parent talk directly with their child’s teacher about new opportunities for engagement. That might mean having the student join an ensemble where he or she gets to socialize with other young musicians. Perhaps it could be taking a child to see different types of live music so that he or she understands all the avenues and styles that can be pursued. And perhaps it’s simply talking to the child about the myriad ways that music is incorporated in our everyday life.

The biggest thing that a parent can do, however, is encourage their children to stick with it. We have seen many parents say to their children that if they go to lessons and practice for a year and still lack interest, that they can stop. But more often than not, you’ll see children really being inspired by how much they can learn and improve through practice, and children often want to keep going after they see how much they can grow! It’s really inspiring to see.

Who is good candidate for arts therapy? Can you give us an example of how it has helped a child?
Any child who has learning differences or who has delays in social, intellectual, or physical development may be a good candidate for arts-based therapy. Arts therapy can assist the non-verbal child in expressing himself or herself and can empower those with developmental or physical delays to explore their own creativity at their level of ability. Arts therapy has also been shown to aid in social development.

For the child on the autism spectrum, the arts approach is a non-intrusive intervention to facilitate communication and social skill development. The arts (music, dance, and art) are a common means of non-verbal communication and children on the spectrum tend to gravitate towards them. With an informed use of an arts-based approach, by a trained arts therapist, the art creates a bridge to facilitate language from the nonverbal to the verbal realm. For example, a child who generally does not speak or is non-communicative in his day-to-day activities, can spontaneously be engaged by the use of music to point or verbalize to continue a favored song or activity. This initial engagement is then built upon to elicit and encourage more verbal communications as the therapy sessions progress. The music becomes the buffer that allows the child on the spectrum to be more comfortable to engage with the therapist to develop new skills.