"Arts engage a child on every level-sensory, verbal, cognitive," says Valerie Bayne Carroll, teacher of the Baby Artsplay class at the Wolf Trap Institute in Virginia. In the class, infants and toddlers and their parents experience the arts together. At weekly sessions, they sing songs, read stories, play simple rhythm and melodic instruments, move to a beat, and learn chants and games.
For the children, this multisensory experience fosters language skills as well as motor development. "The tools that you need to sing and dance are all tools that are going to help develop language, help develop gross and fine motor skills and coordination. They support all the brain functions that are firing away as you go through infancy and toddlerhood. The arts just sort of light up those neurons and give them a focus, a momentum, an excitement," Carroll says. "It's important to begin arts education with very young children because it is a very natural thing for them to sing, to dance and move, and to pretend. And when, as a parent, you place a value on that, you are giving your child permission to pursue those things and to express themselves in ways that come very naturally to them."
Here are some ideas from the class on engaging ways to share books and music with young children:
- Pass along familiar stories and songs that you remember from your childhood.
- Listen for the steady beat, not only in music but also in nursery rhymes and books. Even if you're not comfortable singing, you can say the nursery rhyme to your child and move to the rhythm (or shake some rhythm eggs to it).
- It's very important that young children experience the steady beat through their bodies. An infant who can't walk can experience it through the movement of the mother's body. Carry your baby as you sing and move to the beat of "Ring Around the Rosy" or another favorite song.
- When reading a book, look at the pictures and sing songs associated with the pictures in the book. For example, the book shown in the segment, Goodnight Moon, mentions "three little bears sitting in chairs." At that point, Carroll might say, "Oh, let's stop here and sing the 'Teddy Bear Song.'" She explains that "It's very active, and the music supports the book, and the book supports the movement, and the movement supports the singing-they're all linked and all supporting one another in keeping the children engaged and focused."
- Don't feel like you have to read the book all in one gulp. You don't even have to read the words verbatim from the book. You can just look at the pictures and point and name things for the baby and then pause and sing a song if there's a song you think of that links to one of the pictures.
- As a parent, sing and move with your children. You're their first and primary role model, and your enjoyment and participation will encourage them.
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