As a Classical Education teacher, I am in the business of Training the Affections – teaching children to love that which is good, true, and beautiful from the youngest of ages. It is my mission to take little hearts and shape them toward that which is truly lovely, and I love finding engaging and joyful ways to do so.
I also teach at two local preschools where I have music classes with children as young as 18 months. I believe children are never too young for classical music, and – in fact – it’s when they are young that you have the best chance of tilting their hearts toward the beautiful.
With that in mind, here are 8 thoughts on how I teach preschoolers to love classical music…
1. Don’t Take It Too Seriously.
- Myth: Classical music is too elevated for preschoolers.
- Truth: Most classical music was not that elevated when it was written.
Classical music is only serious now because we’ve made it serious over time. A lot of classical music was just a blip on the music radar. It was enjoyed and completely forgotten until someone found it decades (or centuries) later. For the most part, people did not take what we call “classical music” very seriously, and we shouldn’t either – especially when teaching it to our kids. It’s when we make it Oh So Serious that it starts to feel separate, inaccessible, and frankly – not that much fun.
2. Commit to Having Fun
You might feel like a fish-out-of-water at first trying to teach your preschoolers about classical music. This resistance might lead you to act like it’s Really Very Important. Warning: kids have a sixth sense when they suspect you are forcing something on them that you don’t really think is that fun either. Kind of like if you hate broccoli, and you fix your child a plate of broccoli and serve him with a strained smile, proclaiming, it’s delicious! Really!
They’ll see right through it.
The reality is, most of us are products of modern education, when classical music was not high on the priority list. You probably didn’t grow up learning about classical music yourself. And you might not be that interested in it now. It’s okay. You actually might only be reading this because you want to ensure you kids don’t end up the same way.
Remind yourself this is fun, and review #1. Have fun learning about classical music alongside your kids and learn as you go. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a burning passion for classical music. It might just come over time – for you and your kids. Keep it fun and full of joy in the meantime.
3. Kids Love What We Teach Them To Love
Our young children don’t actually have access to choose their own music.
They love “Wheels on the Bus” because we play them “Wheels on the Bus.” If we never played it for them, our two-year-olds would not return from the park saying, “hey, I heard Henry talking about this cool song about a bus…”
Did you play Mozart for your pregnant belly? My guess is yes. Did you keep playing Mozart after your baby was born? My guess is no. It’s a strange progression. Those little developing brains we were so concerned about in utero are actually still developing in deep and profound ways for many years.
Somehow we have bought into the lie that children only respond to juvenile, tinny, sing-song music. Not true. You just have to place the good stuff before them. And you don’t have to act like the other stuff is bad. I believe in all music — there is nothing wrong with “Wheels on the Bus” (and I actually use a version in my classroom), but don’t let that be all they are exposed to. Offer music up like a buffet. Play Bach. Play the Bus.
Or! Pretend Bach gets on the bus…
Which leads me to…
4. Don’t Underestimate the Power of Imagination.
I’ve used this composer fan deck for years. I turn the cards into puppets and make the composers talk to the students, introducing themselves and all their famous works. Preschoolers have absolutely no qualms accepting this. They happily exist in the in-between place of reality and imagination, and it’s so much fun! I use crazy voices, hand gestures, silly sounds. The whole deal. They love it.
5. Use Speak and Repeat to Create Conversations
I use a lot of speak and repeat, as I turn the composers into puppets with my fan deck.
For instance (holding up the card for Bach)…
- I say: Students say, Good morning Mr. Bach!
- (Students repeat) Good morning Mr. Bach!
- I say: Students say, I love your Brandenburg Concerto Mr. Bach.
- (Students repeat) I love your Brandenburg Concerto Mr. Bach.
- I say: Students say, I hope your 20 children are doing well Mr. Bach!
- (Students repeat) I hope your 20 children are doing well Mr. Bach!
You get the idea. They love this little fantastical conversation and all the repetition enables them to learn and retain a lot of information over time. After a while the composers begin to feel like friends to them. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. Whenever I bring Mr. Bach (or anyone else) in for a visit, they feel like their friend is coming to see them. And on a day it’s time to meet a new composer friend? Well, that’s just their favorite.
6. Titles are Relative
Don’t get hung up on the actual names of anything. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is Mr. Beethoven’s Moon Music to my students. I call Aaron Copland’s Hoedown the Giddy-up Horsie Song. We celebrate Mr. Grieg’s Tiptoe Song, Mr. Handel’s music for the boat party, and Mr. Haydn’s song that was full of surprises to keep everyone awake.
Don’t worry about correct names. We are training the affections here, not preparing them to be contestants on Jeopardy.
7. Include Lots of Movement
We play “do what I do” which is really like Simon Says, except without all the rules. It’s the most simplest of games where I move my body with whatever music I am teaching, and my students mimic me. I make my movements match the music, whether fast/slow, jumpy/smooth, etc. I try to help them feel the music with their whole bodies. (Older kids can lead this, which is a great way to engage the whole family.)
8. Put the Composer to Sleep
At the end of our lesson we say night-night to the composer and tuck him in to sleep until our next class. It cracks me up how much my preschoolers love this. If I forget, they often remind me we need to put our composer friend to bed. Remember #4 – imagination is a powerful tool! Harness it well.
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