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What Kids Need

What Kids Need

March 10, 2016

what kids need

Last month, I wrote an article on what kids want that featured a commercial from an Australian food company. It beautifully demonstrated the importance of quality time vs. quantity of time between parents and kids. As it turns out, kids crave time that involves meaningful interaction, such as mealtime. During a meal you make eye contact, talk about your day…what you saw, what you learned. It’s time to learn a bit more about each other. Your kids are constantly changing.

Recently, early childhood expert Erika Christakis gave an interview over at NPR and focused on her new book, The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grown-Ups.  What kids need is a logical next step in the discussion following what kids want.

What Kids Need

Less Paper, More Play

Christakis’s basic premise is straightforward and direct. We live in an educational era dominated by test preparation. I have mentioned before that my wife is a public school music teacher and she sees this on a regular basis. The amount of activities in which children take part that are experiential in nature seem to take a back seat to process or didactic learning (think lecture). We need more opportunities for experiential learning.

Play is a wonderful form of experiential learning. Dancing, movement, singing – these are all opportunities to do and learn through doing. And this is what Christakis suggests – kids need opportunities to learn and grow through play. Specifically, our kids need play activities involving adults with whom they have important, positive relationships – like parents and grandparents.

Here’s a brief video explaining experiential learning, and how it benefits growth. One of the most important parts of this is reflecting on the activity at hand. And this can be simply talking with your child – perhaps during a meal (See what I did there? Full circle!). They are initiating the process of learning when they play, developing an understanding of the world around them, how their minds and bodies work in that world, and how they interact with others.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are multiple modes of learning that are effective, however, when you reduce the amount of active participation on the part of the learner, it can have a negative overall outcome.

So…what does Erika Christakis have to say about learning through play? From her February interview with NPR

Playful learning is embedded in relationships and in things that are meaningful to children. I use the example of the iconic Thanksgiving turkey [handprint] . When you really get into what’s behind those cutesy crafts, a lot of curriculum is organized around these traditions, things around the calendar, things that are done because they’ve always been done.

When you look at how kids learn, they learn when something is meaningful to them, when they have a chance to learn through relationships — and that, of course, happens through play. 

And there it is again – the idea that learning is heightened when there is active participation coupled with meaningful relationships. As easy as it is for us to say “go play in your room”; it’s much more meaningful if we play with them, if we move with them, if we sing with them. And the research I mentioned last month indicates that the quality of these moments is far more important than the quantity. Make them count.

Playful learning

A Natural Flow

How often does what we need as humans progress so neatly from what we want? They are often two very different things. But with kids and their “blank slate” nature, these two things do tend to align, or at the very least, one feeds the other. If you take the time to have quality moments with your child, this can often result in Christakis’s “playful learning”. What they want becomes what they need when you find ways to make that time experiential and playful. Then, it cycles back on itself when you find opportunities to talk about what went down. And trust me…if it was fun, they will want to talk about it! They’ll want to call up their aunt or grandpa to tell them all about. So take advantage – ask questions. Get them to ask you questions. Connect, learn, grow…together.

Music in the Baby’s Cry

Music in the Baby’s Cry

February 3, 2016 — Leave a comment
music baby's cry


We are musical beings. From the beginning, we are designed to make music. It’s in the rhythm of our movement, of our breathing. If we listen carefully, we can hear music in a baby’s cooing, in her babbling. This music reassures us that our child is content. He’s happy with the world around him. The reality is that this aural connection, the music in the sounds we hear while in the womb preprogram us to make specific music in our first cries. Some of the initial external programing for our growing brains comes from the rhythms, highs, and lows of the speech sounds outside of our little natal apartment. Researchers have discovered that babies in different countries cry in different “accents”. Those accents closely match the cadences (think rhythm, rise, and fall of an area’s speech patterns).  Check out a portion of Annie Murphy Paul’s TED Talk – What we learn before we’re born:

Annie Murphy Paul and the “accents” of infants’ cries.

Crying as Language: Language as Music

Murphy is most likely referring to studies conducted by Kathleen Wermke of the Center for Prespeech Development and Developmental Disorders at the University of Wurzburg in Germany. Wermke found that this accented crying occurred as early as the first days of ex-utero life. The music of the mother’s voice helps to provide a foundation for the maternal bond long before birth. While this crying is not technically a language, it certainly has linguistic qualities – flow, intonation, varied volume. And it’s precisely those aspects that, in turn, have musical qualities – melodic shape, repeating patterns, and tempo.

So What of Actual Music?

The womb is actually an incredibly noisy locale. Lots of musical sounds besides speech make their way to the developing ear. It’s like a street level apartment in New York City. You have the ever present heartbeat of the mother, the whooshing of blood pumping, the gurgling of food digesting, and the sounds of the lungs constantly inflating and deflating. Can actual music get through this biological big band and have an effect on a baby in-utero? Annie Murphy Paul thinks so.


Simple is Best

I need to disclose that I am a classically trained musician – and I love classical music. But as it turns out, it’s likely that the complexity of this music is lost while competing with the “street noise” of the womb. In her interview with New York MagazineDr. Deborah Campbell, the Director of Neonatology at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, reminds us that infants have the capacity to recognize simple melodies experienced while displacing mom’s bladder. Think folk music. And guess what? As it turns out (here’s where we tie a bow on all this), folk music is often based on the pace, rhythm, and melody of a region’s speech patterns!

So…if you put the headphones on your tummy, or sing to your partner’s navel, stick to the classics, time-tested folk music. Kindermusik uses a great deal of this music in our classes, and while there are many reasons this category of music is so effective with new humans, its ability to be internalized quickly and repeated easily is certainly connected to its special relationship with the language of origin.

Next time you hear your baby cry, hear the music. She’s singing to you in your language.