Parents read all the studies. They know about the benefits of music and movement to stimulate a young mind. I know too, because I have this 18-month-old ball of noise and motion bouncing off my walls. He thrusts open kitchen drawers so he can slam them shut. He clambers up the stairs, humming as he goes, and hastily arranges furniture. He throws bowls of cereal to hear them splat. He falls asleep whispering “wacka wacka” then he shrieks like what I’m assuming a pterodactyl sounds like in his sleep. Good thing there’s a purpose to this chaos. My son Dorian is learning and exploring, so to encourage him we go to an IGKnight Music and Movement class at the Summit Country Day School.
Each 12-week class, led by Donna Dirksing Doran, is specially designed for children birth to 24 months. As a music education specialist, Doran sees great value in music to ignite the brain. She cites research in early childhood development finding that music promotes speech, reading and math skills. It’s also said to foster emotional skills — and in Doran’s class the activities are meant to grow the bond between parent and child. Doran, who holds a Masters in Music Education, also has a beautiful singing voice as I find out when she begins the class with a good morning song.
Doran always starts with this cheerful, gentle song as we sit in a circle. She says the repetition each week brings structure and acclimates children to the class. Other songs and activities vary. Today there seems to be an equestrian theme as we gallop around the room. We sing about ponies and ladies riding horses. We whinny and neigh and bounce our babies on our knees. The rhythm and predictability of the songs help children follow a steady beat and anticipate what comes next. There’s also an unpredictability as we swing and swoop and drop to the floor.
Many of the activities encourage socializing and cooperation. Doran rolls out four large drums and we gather in circles. Some children fall hands-first and beat away. One inventive little fellow climbs onto the drum and has a seat. A little girl, recognizing a good idea, does the same. The more observant of the group hang back in quiet rumination. Then there’s my son. Where is my son? Darting to the corner where he’s found an unattended key fob. His fingers dangerously close to triggering the panic alarm. I take his hand and we walk back to the drum circle. He sees what fun everyone is having and joins in.
One great thing about these 45 minute classes is that they are long enough for a quiet time. Doran turns off the lights and parents cuddle up to their children. Not everyone is ready to settle. A few stragglers rove in search of more instruments to rattle. Even though there’s a few jitters, the darkness and soft music has a calming effect on everyone. When the lights flick on it’s time to move again.
No baby class is complete without egg shakers right?! We play the Shake and Stop game, which is a great way for kids to learn to follow direction and anticipate when it’s time to freeze. Then, at the end of class Doran sings a goodbye song. Like the good morning song, it’s a familiar refrain signaling that it’s time to go. Some children wave. Dorian waves in reply, then dashes off in search of that key fob. A little girl signs “thank you” to Doran and smiling little faces gaze up at their parents as they walk to the door.
Selena Reder is a mother, writer and part-time video producer living in Cincinnati, Ohio with her son Dorian and husband Tim. Dorian loves chasing Selena and Tim’s tailless cat, making messes for dad to clean up, squealing loud enough for the neighbors to hear and staring at strangers until it’s uncomfortable. Tim loves Dungeons and Dragons, Margaret Atwood and writing meticulous grocery lists.
Selena loves washing cloth diapers, binging on British TV (Top Gear, Only Fools and Horses, Doc Martin, etc) painting and knitting super fancy baby sweaters. She also loves working part-time with her video editor husband (special shout out to her parents and in-laws for being great babysitters!).
If Selena were stranded on a desert island with only one thing to do for the rest of her life, she would nurse her son in their favorite chair. It’s the best thing in the world right now.