A German-invented method of teaching preschoolers social skills and languages through music
I have to admit, when I first heard about the Kindermusik center over at the Crescent, I presumed it was all about musicianship for kids. What I imagined was something more Suzuki-style, a group of three-year-olds with miniature violins, or a cacophony of pretweens going wild on their glockenspiels.
Lauralynn Goetz’s classes, however, aren’t really about musicality. They’re very musical for sure, but there’s something going on here that’s beyond the music. The children who attend these short, concentrated lessons are each exposed to a series of songs, games, and social cues that are designed to capture their attention just long enough to instill basic educational concepts. The theory goes that this will help them to establish versatile behavioral platforms that should serve them well when the time comes to go to school.
“I think there’s a strong need among children here for the whole scope of Kindermusik,” says Lauralynn. “It isn’t only music; it encompasses all the aspects of the child’s development. Every domain of the brain: cognitive, language, movement, emotional, social – they’re all addressed. Especially social skills. So many of the preschools and international schools here require those fundamentals in order for children to benefit from what they have to offer.”
Parents sometimes take a while to understand what’s happening. “One of the criticisms we had from a parent was, ‘Well, this is very structured,’ says Tom, Lauralynn’s husband and partner in the business. “Yes it is! It’s not a playgroup. But it’s fun. The child doesn’t know it’s structured. But the parent’s assessment was correct. It’s very definitive, but it works. It flows through transitions.”
At just 45 minutes per session, this is not a daycare center, neither is it a place to drop off your toddler while you hit the gym. Parents are more or less required to attend with their children in the early stages, and it’s as much instructional for them as it is for their kids. Each family is given access to digital takehome materials online, designed to support the character-building sessions in class. It’s not all about polite behavior either – one of the routines in each lesson involves dimming the lights and having parents lovingly support their child, engaging total relaxation techniques that don’t come naturally to children. Reinforced at home, these exercises have profound balancing effects on erratic preschooler behavior.
“Daycare is just that, they’re care centers,” says Lauralynn. “There’s no one there to teach them how to take turns, attentive listening, and so on. It takes a long time, and of course they’re not going to do it right away. You expect that. But as they’re seen to do it, they’re being applauded for it, so there’s not only emotional development there, but social development too.”
“I see it especially in our Sing & Play class [for children aged between one and two],” she continues. “For the first year of their life, everything’s theirs. It’s very, very difficult for them to start to share. Then I see in Wiggle & Grow [two to three years] that they take their time; they have that patience to wait their turn.”
“You can see in the expressions on their faces when you congratulate them for having that self-control. They’re so pleased with themselves,” says Tom. “That’s when they start to think, ‘Hey, I have control over this situation, I can do this.’ By setting the parameters, you’re making those kids stronger. You’re not confining them. They certainly learn to think outside the box. As long as it’s a safe environment, you have to let them explore so that they know what the limits are.”
Read My Lips
The Kindermusik system itself is a German invention based on the work of several early 20th century specialists in education who began to understand how young children in their formative years learn through play. Growing from early music and movement courses – and closely connected with Eurhythmics and the Montessori Method – Kindermusik came to fruition in South Carolina in the US, from where the master curriculum is now licensed worldwide. The studio at the Crescent is now the sole franchise holder authorized to run the program in the city, fulfilling the dream that Lauralynn and Tom have been building here since they first arrived in 2005 as somewhat jaded expats of more than two decades in Hong Kong.
“We got off the plane, and everybody was so young,” says Tom. “The Hong Kong expats, the long-term residents, they’re very old. But here, everyone was so young. Babies. So we thought to ourselves, ‘This is Kindermusik heaven.’ So every holiday, every schoolteacher’s holiday, Tet, Chinese New Year, summer holiday, we would be coming here at least four times a year.” The couple now reside here permanently.
After years of teaching the shorter version of the course ABC Music and Me in schools – and suffering multiple set-up and funding disappointments along the way – the meticulously-designed Kindermusik studio now provides the ideal space for instruction. As the business has grown, it’s kept up with developments in the international program – and this includes a deliberate focus on the system’s ability to support language acquisition, something the couple hopes will encourage more enrollments from local families. Most of the school’s students are currently expat kids, but they’re not all Westerners – while all instruction is in English, cushioned in the international language of music.
“Kindermusik instructors have really started to notice the effect the program has on kids learning English,” explains Lauralynn, whose whitepaper Music and Movement and…Foreign Language Acquisition deals exclusively with this subject. “Language acquisition starts with the phonemes, the smallest particle of speech. Little sound bites. They’re very easy for children to learn. They’re not going to be bilingual in a New York minute with this program, but the foundation will make them better English speakers later on.”
“The youngest children can learn to speak any language in the world,” adds Tom. “From zero to six months, babies are looking at your eyes, but at around six months to a year, they’re focused on your mouth. They need to know how that mouth works. They want to be able to communicate.”
The studio is now branded with the ABC English & Me logo – which, according to Lauralynn’s paper, “naturally evolved from Kindermusik educators’ vast teaching experience in non-English speaking countries around the world. Very young children are not only learning musical skills – listening, coordination, rhythm, following a steady beat, singing – but are also acquiring a variety of language skills in English: following instructions, understanding vocabulary, speaking interactively, singing, and repeating nursery rhymes and poems.”
In this case, theory does translate into practice. Parents from non-English speaking households do regularly express their surprise at how much of the language their kids are picking up. You can see it happening before your eyes in the class area – those children who’ve settled into the pace and variety of the lessons follow Lauralynn eagerly as she leaps about with different props and instruments, mimicking her deliberately overemphasized instructions.
Although she regularly interjects snippets of theory into the lessons for the benefit of the parents, their expectations seem to be far more straightforward. As mother Phan Thi Thanh Xuan, who has been attending Kindermusik through four units now with her two-year-old daughter Nguyen Lan Chi, puts it: “Kindermusik is an important first step in her education and real life, especially for working and living abroad. It’s fun. She can exercise with her mother, teacher, and friends. My daughter has a new knowledge of the outside world through these lessons.”
For more info, visit www.kindermusikvietnam.com
Images by Loc Nguyen