Teacher works to improve babies’ minds with music | SierraSun.com

Teacher works to improve babies’ minds with music

Do we take music for granted?

We tune the radio to favorite radio stations, plug into CDs, take music lessons, play in bands, compose symphonies, shop to mall tunes and sing in the shower.

Though we might be exposed to music every day, local music teacher Rita Whitaker-Haun believes we are not making the most of the experiences music offers, particularly for children.

Her philosophy of music education is based on a theory that suggests music education, when introduced to children at a young age, can improve reading, motor, vocal and language skills, cognitive and abstract thinking and self-expression.

“I see my role addressing music as an art in itself and as part of children’s early brain development,” she said.

Whitaker-Haun teaches music education for children ages 18 months to seven years at the Learning Tree in Tahoe City, the Truckee Recreation Center and the Sierra Montessori School in Truckee.

Sitting in a circle with one of her classes at the Learning Tree recently, Whitaker-Haun tells a story of a seed growing into a sunflower.

A few minutes later the children move to the middle of the room and interpret the story in movement. Every child’s interpretation is a little different.

The outcome is not important, said Whitaker-Haun. What is important is the process. The children use their imagination and express their ideas.

Fine motor skills are developed by the children learning to manipulate their fingers as if they were holding drum sticks. Then they actually use the sticks, playing patterns.

They’re learning coordination and precision skills and at the same time being introduced to a form of music, Whitaker-Haun said.

“The idea is not to diminish music as an art but increase its status as an educational tool.”

She also teaches classes for mothers and babies at the Truckee Recreation Center that emphasize forming a bond using music, singing, talking and rocking.

“I try to affirm moms’ natural instincts,” said Whitaker-Haun. “Now that we understand that (music education) helps babies’ brains develop, it is important that we do it.”

At all age levels, Whitaker-Haun believes that music should be a daily activity at home.

“If your child sees you enjoying music, singing and dancing, and is encouraged to experiment with music then they will grow up with a joy for music.”

And if the researchers are right, the child will have more brain power with which to explore their world.

According to a growing number of researchers including the American Music Conference, a national non-profit educational association dedicated to promoting music education, numerous studies show that early experiences, like exposure to music, determine which brain cells will connect with other brain cells and which ones will die away.

“Because these neural connections are responsible for all types of intelligence, a child’s brain develops to its full potential only with exposure to the necessary enriching experiences in childhood,” the AMC reported.

As well, findings published by Neurological Research in 1997 report links between music and intelligence among children.

Researchers compared the effects of musical and non-musical training on intellect development among preschoolers.

They found children who received musical training performed 34 percent higher on tests measuring spatial-temporal ability (higher brain functions required for mathematics, science and engineering) than children who received computer training and children who did not receive any training.

However, with the exception of researchers, professors and music teachers, few people are aware of the benefits to children of music education, according to Whitaker-Haun.

After the birth of her first child, Whitaker-Haun, already a music teacher of 12 years, came to rethink the importance of music on early childhood development.

“Christopher and I were enjoying each other so much at home, singing and rocking,” she said. “I thought there must be (a music program) for babies.”

Calling around, she found a Kindermusik program in Reno. Originating 25 years ago in West Germany, Kindermusik programs are designed to promote language development, symbolic thinking, coordination and social interaction while cultivating the child’s imagination.

After participating in the classes with her son, Whitaker-Haun decided to train in the Kindermusik style of music education.

Whitaker-Haun currently teaches a number of classes in Tahoe City and Truckee.

A typical 45-minute class for four to seven year olds at the Learning Tree in Tahoe City incorporates listening, singing and speaking, imitation, imagination, movement and playing with simple instruments and prompts.

For information, call 582-1341.

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