Early Childhood Facilitator Peta Bale tells FOCUS readers about NECOM’s Early Childhood Music Program, known as Mini Minstrels. This is an exciting and fun-filled introduction to music for children as young as two months. Mini Minstrels provides an outstanding music education that gives children a life-long love of music and is the ideal springboard for their future instrumental or choral studies.
What is Mini Minstrels? It sounds cute, but isn’t it just having fun making noise?
I like to call our very special foundation music program (Mini Minstrels) “serious musical fun”. It looks like a lot of fun, with all the games and songs we do, but beneath this lies a carefully prepared, sequential music development program, based on studies by the famed music educator Kodaly. It can set a person up for a life of enjoyment and confidence in music participation.
So, what else do you do in a Mini Minstrels music class?
We start most of our classes with sitting and bouncing on balls. This is such a great way to engage everyone right from the start (there’s never a dull moment). The parent or caregiver helps the child bounce to the beat of our welcome songs. By the time the children are three or four years old, they can mostly bounce to the beat all by themselves (recognising and responding to the beat is a school outcome). Once you can recognise the beat, there is so much you can participate in. So, a lot of our class is spent reinforcing a sense of beat … Whether it’s saying rhymes together, playing a variety of percussion instruments or playing games.
Is that all?
We also do a folk dance together. This is a wonderful way to encourage community, enjoyment and to gain a sense of musical phrasing.
Not everyone has had the opportunity to listen to classical music, either. So we always have a short segment of moving (often with scarves or ribbons) to a piece of recorded music.
Why is music so important?
Music is one of the few activities that engages both sides of the brain at the same time. When you think about it, there’s the creative aspect as well as the logical sphere, all working together when you participate in music. Research is showing that this increases the connectivity of the synapses in your brain. Music actually helps you become smarter! But that’s not all – sharing music together with parent and child creates a lasting bond, along with a cultural sharing that is so important.
Does each child have to have an adult with them?
In our NECOM classes this is usually the case. Our classes are limited to 10 children and their caregivers. Of course, the classes also help the adults gain confidence in singing, playing and moving with their children. I am sure that some aspects of our classes are enjoyed at home during the week.
I do take some classes in the community. These classes are crafted to suit the situation. I’m so pleased with the musical development of the children at Drummond Park Preschool and St Pats in Walcha, where early childhood music continues to Year 2. While I’m in Walcha on a Thursday (five weeks a term) we also offer a 30 minute community family class to suit a multi-aged group.
When are the Armidale classes?
Our regular classes are on Friday mornings with me (Peta) and Saturday mornings with April. The Friday classes are one year old, two year old and three/four year old. The Saturday classes are family classes. This is a wonderful way for busy parents to bring their children together for music for just 45 minutes a week.
Our newest class is our “Babes in Arms” class on a Thursday morning.
Whatever would you do with babies?
I love this class, as it especially gives new mums the confidence to bring music into their child’s day. We still do bouncing and rolling on balls, rhymes, songs, instruments, dancing and listening, but there are fun little rhymes and songs to do while changing nappies, tickling, rocking and playing peek-a-boo. Most of our classes also have a featured lullaby, where the older children rock a teddy to sleep.
What if my child won’t cooperate?
There is no compulsion to join in everything. Some children take a few weeks of observing before they feel ready to participate. This is fine.
Do parents have to commit to the whole program?
Not at all. We understand that family circumstances often change, so our program is completely flexible. You don’t have to start at the beginning either. You can join in at any point (where there’s a vacancy) and you only commit to one school term at a time, which is nine lessons. Our rates are very reasonable, too. There are no extra costs or joining fees…. just the flat rate or an early bird rate if you’re able. We really do try to make it as accessible as possible, as it’s such a great resource in our community.
Does this whole program work?
Many of our children finish our program and go on to Mini Singers (a choir for K-2 school aged children) or take up learning an instrument. But even if they don’t, the confidence, the ability to work together in a group and the mastery of the basics of music will be a life-long companion, ready to be used whenever needed.