- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 12, 2009

Eight toddlers and preschoolers in a room full of stuffed animals, percussion hand instruments, bubble blowers, wooden rhythm sticks and books sounds like a recipe for chaos.

But under the instruction of Kindermusik teacher Jennifer Lloyd, instead of dissonance and disorder, the props are used in a 45-minute class by the wee ones to further their sense of music and movement. Hand puppets become part of an interactive story about a trip to the zoo and the wooden rhythm sticks allow the kids to drum the beat of a song.

“What does the lion say?” asks Ms. Lloyd midclass, holding up a lion hand puppet while eight pairs of curious eyes watch the action.

“Roar,” responds Janie Sargent, 2, dressed in mostly purple — her favorite color as she’s eager to tell anyone who wants to know — and a veteran of Kindermusik classes.

“That’s right,” responds Ms. Lloyd enthusiastically and then plays a recording of actual baby and adult lions roaring.

And so it goes for the next near-hour: about a dozen segments of dancing, singing and movement, including various props — all neatly linked to the story about the interactive trip to the zoo.

The kids are surprisingly attentive and involved.

“I love to see their sense of accomplishment when they remember the words or movements to a song,” Ms. Lloyd says after the class.

And when controlled chaos happens — one child walks off to beat on some cabinets and another takes a catnap in a corner — Ms. Lloyd reassures the parents and nannies that this is normal for toddlers and preschoolers.

“They come in and out of attention,” says Ms. Lloyd, whose own daughter, Makayla Ross, was in the class. “And as long as they don’t interfere with anyone else’s experience, that’s totally fine.”

So far, so fun.

But Kindermusik, according to its proponents, is not just about kids’ enjoyment of music and movement. It’s also about improving a child’s cognitive abilities along the lines of the “Mozart effect,” which was widely debated in the early 1990s. (Proponents of the “Mozart effect” claimed listening to Mozart’s music made kids smarter; critics said the claims were grossly exaggerated.)

Says Ms. Lloyd: “Will Kindermusik create little geniuses? I don’t know. But they will learn words, spatial awareness and movement.”

Laurel Trainor, director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind in Hamilton, Ontario, says her institute’s research indicates there is a link between actively taking music lessons and increased IQ scores.

“Our studies indicate that 4- to 5-year-old children taking music lessons show brain responses similar to children two to three years older,” says Ms. Trainor, a professor of psychology, neuroscience and behavior. “In sum, we are finding that music had benefits for attention and memory process that affect all learning.”

She has not, though, directly studied the effects of Kindermusik on kids’ cognitive abilities.

Mommies and nannies at the recent Kindermusik class on Capitol Hill, though, seemed less concerned with the improved-cognition claims than they were with the kids just having fun and enjoying each other’s company.

“I’m not going to read too much into it,” says Jeran Gimigliano, whose daughters Josephine, 2, and Jacqueline, 14 months, both participated in the class.

“I’m just happy that they’re socializing with other kids,” Ms. Gimigliano says. “And that the girls can do a class together.”

If there are benefits beyond that, great, but Ms. Gimigliano is not counting on it.

Dunniela Levin, mother of Jack Levin, 19 months, echoes that sentiment.

“He just loves music,” Ms. Levin says about her son, an unusually happy little fellow in plaid pants and a sleeveless blue shirt.

“Beyond that, I don’t know,” Ms. Levin says. “But since he remembers the songs and movements, I guess you could claim it’s good for his cognitive development.”

At the end of the second weekly class (each Kindermusik session consists of seven to nine classes), moms and nannies receive a book, a CD with songs and shaker for home use.

“It’s a great way for parents to learn nursery rhymes and finger play,” says Ms. Lloyd, adding that many of us have forgotten them over the decades.

So, while the debate continues over whether music makes kids smarter, happier or both, one thing seems clear, Kindermusik certainly can help teach forgetful parents exactly how the itsy bitsy spider goes up the water spout. Eight toddlers and preschoolers in a room full of stuffed animals, percussion hand instruments, bubble blowers, wooden rhythm sticks and books sounds like a recipe for chaos.

But under the instruction of Kindermusik teacher Jennifer Lloyd, instead of dissonance and disorder, the props are used in a 45-minute class by the wee ones to further their sense of music and movement. Hand puppets become part of an interactive story about a trip to the zoo and the wooden rhythm sticks allow the kids to drum the beat of a song.

“What does the lion say?” asks Ms. Lloyd midclass, holding up a lion hand puppet while eight pairs of curious eyes watch the action.

“Roar,” responds Janie Sargent, 2, dressed in mostly purple — her favorite color as she’s eager to tell anyone who wants to know — and a veteran of Kindermusik classes.

“That’s right,” responds Ms. Lloyd enthusiastically and then plays a recording of actual baby and adult lions roaring.

And so it goes for the next near-hour: about a dozen segments of dancing, singing and movement, including various props — all neatly linked to the story about the interactive trip to the zoo.

The kids are surprisingly attentive and involved.

“I love to see their sense of accomplishment when they remember the words or movements to a song,” Ms. Lloyd says after the class.

And when controlled chaos happens — one child walks off to beat on some cabinets and another takes a catnap in a corner — Ms. Lloyd reassures the parents and nannies that this is normal for toddlers and preschoolers.

“They come in and out of attention,” says Ms. Lloyd, whose own daughter, Makayla Ross, was in the class. “And as long as they don’t interfere with anyone else’s experience, that’s totally fine.”

So far, so fun.

But Kindermusik, according to its proponents, is not just about kids’ enjoyment of music and movement. It’s also about improving a child’s cognitive abilities along the lines of the “Mozart effect,” which was widely debated in the early 1990s. (Proponents of the “Mozart effect” claimed listening to Mozart’s music made kids smarter; critics said the claims were grossly exaggerated.)

Says Ms. Lloyd: “Will Kindermusik create little geniuses? I don’t know. But they will learn words, spatial awareness and movement.”

Laurel Trainor, director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind in Hamilton, Ontario, says her institute’s research indicates there is a link between actively taking music lessons and increased IQ scores.

“Our studies indicate that 4- to 5-year-old children taking music lessons show brain responses similar to children two to three years older,” says Ms. Trainor, a professor of psychology, neuroscience and behavior. “In sum, we are finding that music had benefits for attention and memory process that affect all learning.”

She has not, though, directly studied the effects of Kindermusik on kids’ cognitive abilities.

Mommies and nannies at the recent Kindermusik class on Capitol Hill, though, seemed less concerned with the improved-cognition claims than they were with the kids just having fun and enjoying each other’s company.

“I’m not going to read too much into it,” says Jeran Gimigliano, whose daughters Josephine, 2, and Jacqueline, 14 months, both participated in the class.

“I’m just happy that they’re socializing with other kids,” Ms. Gimigliano says. “And that the girls can do a class together.”

If there are benefits beyond that, great, but Ms. Gimigliano is not counting on it.

Dunniela Levin, mother of Jack Levin, 19 months, echoes that sentiment.

“He just loves music,” Ms. Levin says about her son, an unusually happy little fellow in plaid pants and a sleeveless blue shirt.

“Beyond that, I don’t know,” Ms. Levin says. “But since he remembers the songs and movements, I guess you could claim it’s good for his cognitive development.”

At the end of the second weekly class (each Kindermusik session consists of seven to nine classes), moms and nannies receive a book, a CD with songs and shaker for home use.

“It’s a great way for parents to learn nursery rhymes and finger play,” says Ms. Lloyd, adding that many of us have forgotten them over the decades.

So, while the debate continues over whether music makes kids smarter, happier or both, one thing seems clear, Kindermusik certainly can help teach forgetful parents exactly how the itsy bitsy spider goes up the water spout.

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