Music to Their Ears

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I’m a bit of a music geek. Much of my free time is spent discovering music old and new, mainstream and obscure, making mixes (on CDs, because I’m old), reading, thinking and writing about music and, whenever I can do it, listening.

I also have four daughters, and as much as I want to share my enthusiasm with them, this has proved to be tricky. For one thing, much of what I listen to is simply not appropriate for children (the same can be said for what still gets played on Top 40 radio). For another, my girls are free with their opinions and have made it clear what they want to hear and what they don’t (my seven year-old is alone among her sisters in appreciating a good synthesizer).

What works for them? We play a lot of classical music during the day. It has been claimed that playing Bach and Vivaldi and especially Mozart can have a positive effect on a child’s brain development; and though the evidence for this has been disputed, there’s no doubt that it makes a nice backdrop for them as they work and play. Jazz and folk music have always been popular in our house. While the kids love the soothing sounds of New Age music, I…don’t, so much.

It is only recently that my kids have discovered the musical mainstream, in the form of the soundtrack to Frozen. You are probably familiar with this, especially if you have girls. There is nothing like hearing four children sing “Let It Go” at the same time in four different tempos and levels of volume.

Children are always listening, and will soak up whatever is around them. Some of my earliest memories are of my parents playing Janis Joplin and Creedence Clearwater Revival, and not surprisingly they stuck with me. It made me very aware, as a parent, of what I am exposing them to. So what’s the best way to introduce music to kids?

  • It’s important to help children connect what they’re hearing to the people making the music. If you have musicians in your family, let your kids see and hear them playing instruments.
  • If you can, practice an instrument, any instrument, at home. I own a banjo, and regardless of my lack of skill, it is good for them to see me struggle with it. After all, we want them to know that we take on skills through practice, and that failing is part of the process (I am good at failing on banjo).
  • Show them performances on YouTube and point out what’s happening. Help them to identify the sounds that they’re hearing and where they come from.
  • Encourage them to make music on their own, whether it be through the music program at their school, or with instruments (bought or made) at home. Countless studies have made connections between music making and other skills, especially math and problem-solving.
  • Most importantly, sing! Make up songs for bedtime, cleanup time, bath time, and crossing the street. Sing lullabies. And yes, sing songs from Frozen. Using songs to prepare children for chores, transitions and other routines has proven to be very effective.
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A Kitchen of Their Own

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Everybody eats.

That’s why a play kitchen is a crucial part of our childrens’ education at home. Through playing at cooking and serving food, our kids can practice the skills they will need as they get older. They can learn about nutrition, how to prepare a balanced meal, and how to interact with others around food. Kids like to imitate the work we do around the house, and a play kitchen can provide an entry into helping grownups in the “real” kitchen.

Who can benefit from a play kitchen? It is traditionally thought of as a toy for girls, but given that everybody eats, and everybody can prepare food, it is just as important and just as valuable for boys.

You can spend as much or as little money as you wish. We have a simple wooden kitchen with a stovetop, a sink, some cabinets and an oven. Most toy stores carry more elaborate models with a microwave, a kitchen clock, and various dials and thingamajigs. But you can use most anything to make a play kitchen, and the kids will be glad to help. A cardboard box, with circles drawn on top for burners, works just dandy.

There’s no need to buy play food, either. My girls recently stocked their pantry with food they made from clay and painted; they frequently use wooden blocks, paper cutouts, water, dry rice and beans, mud (preferably while outside, though this is not always the case) and pure, all-natural imagination. They love to play with empty containers such as butter boxes, yogurt cartons, and cupcake holders. We often “hand down” old utensils, plates and cups.

Kids love to help out with food preparation. Even toddlers can stir batter, combine ingredients, chop vegetables, fruit or, say, cheese sticks (closely supervised, of course, with a butter knife or crinkle cutter: safety first!). My nine year-old daughter has mastered baking from a recipe, and can scramble eggs like a champ.

Involving kids in kitchen work is a great way to introduce math concepts through measuring and timing; to show them where ingredients come from and how they work together to make a meal; and to model cooperation and sharing work with others. The added responsibilities will make them feel proud and useful. Best of all, if kids are picky eaters they are much more likely to try, and enjoy, foods they had a hand in making. Inevitably, they practice these skills in the play kitchen as well.

To Nurture

 

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What do we mean when we say we want to nurture our children? As parents we probably think right away about food, clothing, shelter. I don’t know about you, but those considerations alone take up most of my time. Hugs, snuggles, taking care of “owies.” Those things are nurturing, right?

But when it comes to the more complicated functions of parenting—teaching values, establishing routines, instilling discipline—what is the most nurturing thing we can do?

It’s always useful to consult the Four Questions, as I brought up last week. When I check what I want to be doing against what I’m actually doing, I am often surprised, and not always in a good way.

What does nurturing mean? I’m not a gardener (I struggle to keep houseplants alive), but I can understand that I need to be watering and tending the plants that are useful, and that if I don’t, it’s the weeds that are likely to flourish and take over.

There’s a story that keeps coming up when I have conversations about parenting in a nurturing way.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you—and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.” 

What does this have to do with parenting? I want to “feed the wolf” that will help my child feel loved, valued and respected. So, I have to demonstrate this with real words and actions. For example:

My time with my children should belong to them, rather than my iPhone screen (I struggle with this).

Nap times and bedtimes should be calming and predictable, and I should be committed to helping them to rest.

I should discipline them according to clear and consistent expectations; they should know what my expectations are, and any consequences should follow logically from them.

If I want them to be the most responsible, capable and caring people they can be, I need to focus on the behavior that demonstrates these things, rather than the behavior that falls short. If I feed the wolf that misbehaves—with my time, my attention and especially my anger—then the misbehavior is what will flourish.

None of these things are easy. They take real work, experimentation and practice. But I find that it is helpful to keep in mind what it is that I want to do, and what it means to nurture.