I'm often asked how our mixed-age classes work, as it may seem strange that a baby of four months would do well in a class with kids up to five years old, and vice versa. In my experience, the benefits of mixing the age range outweigh the challenges. However, due to nap schedules, other activities, and preschool, most classes tend to self-select. That is, certain class times tend to have a majority of kids close to the same age. For example, the 11:30 classes are usually favored by those with kids under 2 who are still on a two-naps-per-day schedule.
So what are the different age groups learning from the curriculum? Obviously a five-year-old will not get the same things out of class that a five-month-old does. What do the teachers expect of the students? And what's expected of the adults who attend with the kids?
Let’s talk about the babies first: Although children under two are often not yet developmentally mature enough to participate in all the activities we are presenting, the exposure to these concepts is key. Studies show that music, singing and social interaction all contribute to brain development. From day one, babies who hear you sing and speak to them often develop larger vocabularies, do better in school and make better choices (for more on this, check out the First 5 California website). As they watch you and the older children in the class, these little ones are ABSORBING EVERYTHING.
Even though it may feel silly to wave your arm around singing “Taxi, taxi” while your 13 month old is playing with a shoe on the other side of the room, just DO IT. You can occasionally try to bring them back into the group, but don’t worry if for now they prefer to explore the shoe. They will often surprise you at home with the movements or words for songs that you were convinced they were not attending to in class! I have also received feedback that some younger children respond more to the behavior modeling of older kids than they do to behavior modeling from adults. Our class is a great opportunity to expose your child to both.
What about the more mature kids? The 2-5 year olds will be encouraged by our instructors to be leaders. They will have opportunities to give suggestions, lead certain activities, and explore their creativity and musicality. Our curriculum has been developed to instruct them in the basics of music, without the anxiety of tests or expectations of performance. We take on the responsibility of exposing them to a diverse range of musical styles, sounds, genres, time signatures, melodic themes, note intervals and sound qualities. Their job is to have fun and to be leaders for the younger kids.
From this fertile and expectation-free approach, we see kids develop a love for music (without the pressure), an intelligent ear for melodies and rhythms, and a respect for their fellow classmates, no matter how old they are. These skills serve them well no matter what instrument they would like to play, and are useful even if they don’t continue with their musical education. In the years since I began as a Music for Aardvarks instructor, I’ve seen my students go on to play music professionally, join bands that gig throughout NYC, and even more important, have lasting friendships that began in my classroom!
I hope you and your little one will find our classes inspiring and enriching to your whole life, no matter what age you are.
With much love and respect,