Guest Blogger: Julie Salvano from Rhythm Babies
As an advocate for unstructured creative play, and a provider of structured music classes for children, I sometimes find myself at odds with how to explain what activities are best in early childhood. At one end of the spectrum, I’ve researched structured activities that develop a child’s “ear,” teach them how to keep the beat in music and show how body movement seems to connect these goals into reality. On the other hand, I’ve read articles, attended conferences, bought books, and watched just about every documentary on early childhood development and they all explain that young children in over-structured, regimented academic learning environments actually do worse later in life. As a result, they may be less creative, develop anxiety disorders, learning disorders, and a disdain for learning.
I remember loving art projects as a child. In fact, I remember one day in preschool I got to happily bring my dad to school for one. My father told me we should color and paste our house in our own way instead of copying the picture displayed in front of the room. At the end of our project, I peered around at the other pictures and realized I left class with a picture that looked nothing like the rest of them. I was super proud of that house. I thought my dad was special and kept a secret that no one else knew. Being original is so much better than copying something that already exists.
A report released in 2015 called “Reading in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose” highlighted that the pressure put on students to read in prekindergarten and kindergartener is actually harming children, not advancing them in life. Learning skills sooner in life does not equal better. There is no supported neurological evidence that states children will be smarter or better off doing so.
How do you know the difference between a good extra-curricular activity that enriches a toddler or child, and one that is too structured? How do you know as a parent that you’re giving your child a great head start in life, full of knowledge and skills, while also making sure you’re not leaving them in an environment that will put them behind other children intellectually and emotionally?
Like most things in life, it starts with proper balance. Picking one to two extracurricular activities in a week is more than enough. Are the activities results-based? Chuck them. Your three year old shouldn’t be racking their brain to name all the states on a map. It just isn’t necessary or beneficial at this age. Memorizing facts is not learning. Learning is training the mind on how to think and proper learning in early childhood also doubles as a way to develop emotional intelligence.
I believe in arts-related activities for young children. I also believe heavily in nature, reading (when not forced), singing, drawing, blocks, and a host of other things. The difference in these activities is that there is no room for right or wrong answers. The child is creating their environment, learning at their own pace, and exploring different ways of doing things. This is how learning develops naturally. This is why I recommend anything from art classes, nature walks, to music classes that focus on an open-ended readiness program. I do not teach any kind of technique to children, nor do I teach them the nuts and bolts of reading music notes. I simply show them tactile, aural, and visual ways to experience music and learn things on their own. I let them play, dance, or do whatever their heart desires while maintaining order and still progressing to the end of class.
While growth is at its peak at five and under, brains are developing and they are figuring out connections in the world around them. Playing is better than memorizing. Being original is better than copying. Imagining and leaving room to explore is better than telling a child this is right, and this is wrong. The only way to learn is to question, and the only way to question is to explore. Let your children explore; it’s what they are meant to do.
About the Author:
Julie’s love of children started with her internship at Walt Disney World, where she worked in the Magic Kingdom while enrolled in business entertainment courses at Disney University. After her internship, she moved to the Philadelphia area and went on the job hunt. In 2010, Julie started teaching child development/music classes. After two years of teaching classes for another company, she realized she had a natural ability for implementing creative new lesson plans to capture the children’s attention and enhance their learning experience. In 2012 Julie started her own traveling music company called Rhythm Babies. Since then Rhythm Babies has been growing quickly with daycares, preschools, and caregiver/baby music classes across the Philadelphia metropolitan area. In 2015 it was named “Best Music Program” in Philadelphia Family Magazine.
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