Colorful scarves fly through the air, children squeal with glee as they romp through the room and join their parents in singing and dancing to “Pop Goes the Weasel.” The 10 children, ranging in age from newborn to 5, and their parents, are participating in a Music Together class, a music and movement approach to early childhood music development, held at the United Methodist Church of Auburn.

Music education. You may have heard about the Mozart effect that suggests listening to Mozart increases intelligence. And, perhaps, you heard that some further studies claimed that playing Mozart to your unborn child in the hopes of birthing a genius might not work. Whether you believe in the power of Mozart to increase an IQ score, researchers conclude that music is an important part of early childhood education.

“Everyone is born with the ability to develop his or her musical aptitude, the time to build the child’s primary music development is from birth to age 3,” says Sue Barre, a registered Music Together teacher and co-owner of Music Together of Lewiston/Auburn. “Our society has become busier. Families have moved away from making music together. Classes like Music Together develop a musical vocabulary and memory, which can be used as building blocks towards music competence.”

Music can help children learn to understand and speak. Sometimes the words to a song can be among the first that a child learns.

On any given Monday or Friday at the Lewiston Public Library, one can see this development as Cindy Larock sings and accompanies herself with her guitar at “Bookin’ it with Babies.” In a year’s time, when the “babies” grow to toddlers, they’re happily up front helping Larock with hand motions while she sings “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” She helps the children make a connection between the song she’s singing and the story she’s reading to them.

Social and emotional skills are enhanced through music education, too. As children are singing in a group, they’re also learning playing skills, such as making motions to accompany the lyrics or taking turns singing parts of a song.

Children’s songs often have silly words, encouraging children to laugh and develop a sense of humor. In time, they might even make up their own silly words to a song. A child’s self-esteem is also enhanced when they receive positive encouragement for making music. A parent can copy what the child does and join in the fun.

Less stress, more fun

Sharing music together can lower stress levels – in both parents and children. Just as it’s difficult for a child to throw a temper tantrum while singing and or dancing, it’s also hard for a parent to yell if he or she is singing right along.

Many meals have been saved in our home by playing “cELLAbration! A Tribute to Ella Jenkins,” a great tribute CD to the Ella Jenkins, a folk singer and “the First Lady of Children’s Music.” My son is partial to the song “Please is a Pleasant Expression” because he loves the banjo or “denjo.” I’ll admit to using the repeat function on our CD player so that we could finish our dinner in peace.

Lili Levinowitz, professor of music education at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J., calls music making “as much a basic life skill as walking or talking.” In her research, she points out that the first six years of life are critical to a child’s musical growth. If a child’s musical education is neglected, he or she may not “develop the ability to perform the music of their culture with accuracy.” She laments that our culture often sees music education as a “frill” and this is why so many of us can not sing “Happy Birthday” or “The Star-Spangled Banner” in tune.

Carry that tune

Caroline Young, a native of Auburn and a current student at University of Southern Maine, was exposed to music at a young age and can sing in tune.

“As far back as I can remember, my whole family has sung together. When we would take long trips in the car, we would sing songs to pass the time,” she said. “My mother had an Autoharp and a flute, and she would play for my sister and me. My grandfather would take me on his knee and sing me songs.”

Young says her family’s love of music encouraged her to play the flute, sing in a school chorus, perform in musicals and join the church choir.

She has directed a youth choir and was a part of a female a capella group at USM. While Young has decided not to pursue music as a vocation, she is currently a member of the USM Chamber Singers.

And she says that music will always be an avocation for her.

“My exposure to music at a young age might have made me better at it; but more importantly, it made me love it!”

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