By Cristina McSharry
A few years ago, a young child in my care, who was diagnosed with autism just before his 2nd birthday, could not communicate his needs in a typical way. Often out of frustration he would lash out into tantrums – screaming, kicking, sobbing. The same child sat in a circle with other children his age, while a music therapist began to strum her guitar. The child froze, staring at the instrument and his eyes widened. They sparkled as his expression softened into a smile. For the next 45 minutes, the child interacted and expressed himself alongside his peers. There was pure joy in his face.
I’ve worked with young children, ranging in ages three months to three years old for the last six years. Coming from a musical background myself, singing is one of my “go-to” methods for any situation, difficult or otherwise, involving children. Remembering the way my father softly sang lullabies at bedtime, it becomes a natural habit for me to sing it to children in my care at nap time when they are having difficulties falling asleep. My many years of dance classes inspire dance parties in the afternoons when the children are exhausted from a long day and need some stimulation and fun. Recalling my father’s ability to create a song out of any word or topic becomes my way to help children transition in a smoother way. I could rattle on about 100 other ways I use music to motivate and engage the children in my care on a daily basis, but my point is… it works, and we are all happier taking advantage of it.
Everyone loves music. Whether listening to your favorite station or song on the radio, dancing at a wedding, or singing your child’s favorite song over and over again, music is all around us. Up until last year, I had left my years of dance classes, musical theater performances and singing lessons behind to pursue early childhood education as a career. Although I did use music with children in the ways I described earlier, it wasn’t until I watched that child with autism engage in a music therapy enrichment program that I realized how much more special music could be. I had to find out how I could provide a musically enriching experience for the children in my care, similar to the music therapy program. An internet search led me to South Shore Conservatory’s Music Together®.
An international research-based music and movement program founded by Ken Guilmartin and Dr. Lili Levinowitz, Music Together combines a versatile and culturally diverse music experience for young children and their caregivers in a 45-minute session across a ten week semester. Encouraged by principles of how young children learn through watching and through play, Music Together encourages caregivers to model the music-making throughout the session by following along with the Music Together teacher. The program includes a CD and songbook to continue music-making at home or in the car. As an early childhood educator and new Music Together teacher, I can tell you first hand that your child will learn much more from watching you than she will from watching me.
Since finding Music Together I am a much happier person for having music back in my life on a regular basis. Providing a welcoming musical environment for families to come together and make music has been very rewarding for me. Week to week, I see parents and their young children bonding in similar ways I remember as a child with my dad. Everyone is competent and capable of learning rhythm and tonality at any age. Whether you are a shy singer or a professional musician, your child deserves more musical experiences with you. Music Together demonstrates how naturally gifted and inspired children can be.
Come join us this summer at South Shore Conservatory. The first of two Music Together summer sessions starts the week of May 31. For more information, visit us at sscmusic.org.
Cristina McSharry has been a Music Together teacher at South Shore Conservatory since January, 2016.