How Educators and Parents Can Support Children’s Learning and Development with Music

Music plays an important role in children’s development. It helps create a secure attachment in very young children and can help older children express themselves through free movement, making music, and singing. In this episode, we chat with Maryann Harman from Music with Mar on how educators and parents can support children’s learning, and why it’s so important to help with other areas of development.

Connect with Mar through her YouTube, website, and Instagram!

Episode 238 Transcripts-

Maryann HARMAN:

And people just think that you can do the same thing with all the ages, but you can’t. They all have many unique qualities and they’re developing so much from [ages] zero to six that we have to be respectful of what we’re teaching to which age group.

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: 

Mar [Maryann], welcome to the Preschool Podcast!

HARMAN:

Thanks for having me, Ron!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

We’re delighted to have you. Folks, we have Maryann Harman with us today. She is an educational consultant, a musician and founder of Music With Mar. And she also tells me she’s a really nice person, which I do think is also true.

HARMAN:

Thank you, thank you.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Well, Maryann, welcome to the Preschool Podcast. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you ended up founding Music With Mar and all the amazing things you’ve done with it since you did found it.

HARMAN:

Well, I love music – it’s always been a part of my life. And I am a music teacher by vocation. When my daughter was born, I was staying home on maternity leave and looking for something to do with music and kids while I was home with her. And I started doing weekly music classes with the parents, which led into them wanting to buy the songs. But I was making them up.

And so I wound up going in a recording studio. And then the parents were like, “Why don’t we do these classes once a week?” And then somebody said, “Can you teach me how to do the classes?” And the next thing you know, I have classes in Buffalo and classes in California. And the whole thing just kind of grew organically.

I went back to get my master’s degree in education. I have a really, really strong interest in brain research and music. For so many people that are afraid to use music in the pre-K classroom because they’re thinking that, “I really have to get them ready for kindergarten and they’re not going to be ready for wasting time singing songs, sitting around.”

And I really am passionate about getting teachers and parents to know that music is much more purposeful and functional than just having fun. So, I put the brain research behind the music that I write. I now have, like over 40 recordings – you can find them on Spotify [music streaming service]. And I was very excited when Alexa [online search engine] found out who I was.

So, the music is easily accessible for parents and teachers to use. When I write a song, I try to be very mindful about the fact that it should be appealing to children the appropriate length of time and also be helping them in their development. Not just cognitive, where they’re learning maybe how to count, but also physically and emotionally. So, I write songs for all kinds of topics and like to get people excited about using them.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Very cool. And so you mentioned you decided to go get your master’s in education. What was the driving force behind that? And what value did you feel you received from going back to school to get that?

HARMAN:

Well, I started to get asked to speak at a lot of conferences and being asked to talk on the topic. And I felt that I needed a little bit more street cred, so to say. I didn’t want to be that person that gets up and talks because they ran a book on the topic. I really wanted to become knowledgeable.

And so I went back. I wanted to learn the stuff. I really love reading about brain research and child development. So, it was a personal desire to further my own understanding, but also because I wanted to be able to speak at these conferences with a better background.

RON

Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. I also sometimes myself feel like I would love to go do something like that, like a master’s in education or something because HiMama, who hosts the Preschool Podcast, we’re a software company. But understanding the education side is just so important because that’s what early-childhood education is all about.

Now, what do you think that education has contributed to your work with the music and development that you’re combining with Music With Mar?

HARMAN:

I think that it’s getting a better understanding of not what we want to teach children, but understanding where the developmental levels are at. We shouldn’t be teaching something because we want them to know it. We should be teaching because they’re ready for it.

And getting the skills in place, the education that I obtained in and am passing on to others is the foundation of, “At what age level are they ready for what?” And then using music not to… I’m not teaching music, I’m using music to teach. So, I write songs for infants all the way up through fifth grade, songs to know that what’s appropriate for a baby versus a one-year-old versus a three-year-old.

And people just think that you can do the same thing with all the ages, but you can’t. They all have many unique qualities and they’re developing so much from [ages] zero to six that we have to be respectful of what we’re teaching to which age group, and also respectful that there may be some four-year-olds that are ready to read and some six-year-olds that are not.

And music is a way to help put those skills in place so that when their brain is ready, they’re more able to learn it. It becomes more easier because we did these activities with them when they were younger.

I developed a program where parents come with their children. And I train other people, I do certifications to where people can learn how to use the Music With Mar program to work with their own children or in their own schools and understand the progression of the child’s brain development and needs.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

So, can you walk us through that a little bit, in terms of brain development and music through the different age groups? Like, what kind of things would you be looking to work on in terms of a child’s development with music at the age of one, let’s say, versus a three- or four-year-old?

HARMAN:

Okay, well, from like [ages] zero to one or maybe zero to 18 months, the most important thing to a child is attachment and connection and that you’re taking care of them and they feel safe. So, most importantly at that age when holding them in your arms and rocking them, looking them in the eyes and smiling. And when you’re singing to them using a nice melody and voice so that they feel safe and they feel loved.

Then doing silly stuff as well so that they can see the different emotions. There’s a lot going on there with mirror neurons, meaning that they look at your face and they read your emotions and they start to understand them by imitating them. And all of that is, like, good stuff at that age where you start putting rhythm sticks in their hand or shaker eggs and stuff to make them feel the beat and move around.

For three- and four-year-olds, I’m going to start getting more into things like taking rhythm sticks and actually tapping out words; marching and counting while we’re marching; singing songs that go along with things like animal sounds and think, “What’s up in the sky?”

On my Facebook page – Maryann Harman – today, every Thursday, I go on and I sing three or four songs. And I teach the teachers why I’m singing these songs, what they’re doing for the child. And so for a four-year-old, today, we’re singing a song about “Tell Me The Word”. And it’s kind of like a real rocky kind of song. But we’re just singing about the things that are up in the sky and making it fun.

So, by the time they get into kindergarten, their brain has had all these experiences. And because music is the only activity that uses all the areas of the brain, whatever you learn through music, you’re going to remember for a very long time. It’s like it doesn’t matter what age group you are. If somebody sings, “Here’s the story of a man named…” Everybody knows the next word is “Brady” because you heard it with the song over and over again. And that’s just the power of music, the beauty of music.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, that’s definitely true. There’s lots of life experiences where the thing you remember most is the music. I know, whether that’s a show or maybe you were somewhere and something happened and you remember a little bit about the event, but you remember the music that was playing or something like that.

And I know on your site and on your social media, you like to quote some brain facts, which is kind of neat.

HARMAN:

I do.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Do you want to share any random brain facts with us?

HARMAN:

Sure. I had shared with you the one about that if you dance once a week, you reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by 69%. That’s just by dancing. To dance for one to two minutes, at least one time a week, you can help protect your brain from Alzheimer’s and dementia.

And then there’s other little brain facts, too. Like when we get children moving around and dancing and we have them do things like shaking their hands and we think we’re just being silly, well, actually, any time you start shaking, you are activating the lymphatic system of your body. And the lymphatic system helps to get rid of toxins. So, it really helps your immune system to sing and dance.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

I guess it’s a good thing I have a one-year-old and a three-year-old at home, then, that I jokingly dance with. Because it’s funny, I feel like I get energy when I do that. But there’s a there is an actual science behind it.

HARMAN:

That’s right. And you know what, I’m going to have to send you “Da Daddy Dance” [song]!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

It sounds like it!

HARMAN:

We have a specific song we do for “Da Daddy Dance” and the kids imitate what they think their dads look like. It’s very amusing.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Oh, wow, that does sound very amusing, I would love to see that, cool. And let’s talk a little bit more about the practical side. So, one thing that I’m curious to know about is, I guess is delivery. Whether we’re talking about tone or our physical connection or how we’re delivering that music to children. Any thoughts or recommendations there?

HARMAN:

The delivery can be different, depending on the genre of music. And children should be exposed to all styles of music. It’s actually not the style of music that can be harmful, it’s the lyrics. So, always be mindful of the lyrics that are playing because whether you think the children understand them or not, they do make the emotional attachment of what that probably means. So, you do want to be careful of that.

So, the delivery should vary and you should mix it up. Like, sometimes I’ll be very, very soft with the children and say, “Here’s my nose, here’s my eyes,” be very deliberate and quiet. And other times I’m like, “Shake it, shake it!” So, depending on where I want to take the children, music… we have something called “entrainment”. And that means that you match the energy level of the brain and then use music to bring them to where you need them to be.

So, like when children are very, very hyper, people think, “Oh, you play soft quiet music.” No, the brain’s not going to pay attention to that. So, you play loud, rowdy music and the brain is like, “Yeah, that’s where I’m at!” And then as soon as you have the brain’s attention, play something slower until you have the children calm back down. So, you pay attention to the music you’re using depending on where you want the children to be.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, that’s interesting. It’s kind of almost like a similar concept that we’ve covered in the Podcast before in terms of dealing with children that are having challenging behavior or struggling with something emotionally. It’s like you have to start by connecting with them and recognizing their feelings and where they are at that time. It’s almost the same idea you’re saying with the music and what they’re feeling, like you can’t just ignore that and play something that’s calm if they’re not in a calm mood because it’s just not going to really…

HARMAN:

Right, you can’t demand that they get to where you want to be. You have to first go to where they are.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, cool. And so a lot of your work in terms of consulting and presenting and helping others is through Music With Mar. Tell us a little bit about your company and how you’re supporting educators or families with Music With Mar.

HARMAN:

It’s multifaceted. We, of course, just started out with the classes. So, now with the way things are in the world now, the classes have moved to online, which is harder for very young children. And we’ve been preaching all along that we don’t want little kids on screens. And now we’re telling parents, “Put your kids on the screen,” because that’s what we need right now.

So, everything has to be done with moderation. And so in Florida, the weather’s nice. So, we can have outdoor music classes and socially distance. So, we offer classes… for schools as well, a lot of times the school will call me and arrange a Zoom [online video conferencing] concert because they can’t have people come into the school and sing for the kids. So, I come online and sing with the children. And that is that has been so much fun. I love that I am able to do that.

Some library systems have had me do shows and then they keep them on their library website so that children and families still have access to the music. As far as workshops, all that now is being done virtually. They’re trying to start opening up workshops but I really don’t see how that’s going to be happening within the next few months. I think we’re a little bit away from having 1,200 people in a room jumping up and down and singing and dancing with me. So, we do it virtually, as well.

And as I said earlier, I’m going to do a certification training through online so that people can be using these activities and not have to rely on having Ms. Mar or Ms. Karen or Tamara or any of the other music instructors come to their school because they can’t. They can just go online and be with us. So, we’re trying to accommodate.

I also have expanded my YouTube page tremendously so that I have on there some virtual workshops. So, if a teacher wants to know how to use music with infants and toddlers, they can look up that workshop and I will talk with them about those songs and how to use them. If they want to know how to use songs to get children more familiar with different letters in the alphabet, they can use YouTube and watch the videos.

So, I’m trying to provide as much for teachers in that way as I can. But I’m also very flexible, which I think is one of the most important words in the English language, is “flexible”. If somebody says to me, “I have an idea and I would like to know if you’d be open to trying this,” I am most likely going to say, “Yeah, let’s give it a shot. Let’s see if it works.” I should say, depending, within reason.

But yeah, I mean, a lot of people are coming up with really creative ideas now. And I think it’s important for us to be open to them. Some people are even doing music, singing and guitar lessons and stuff online.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Totally. And what is your website address, if people want to go check out some of your material or connect with you there?

HARMAN:

Oh, my website, you say? It’s www.MusicWithMar.com. “Mar” is short for Maryann. So, Music With Mar is also my Spotify name, my YouTube channel, my Twitter, my LinkedIn, Instagram, you name it. It’s all in the music under Music with Mar so that it’s not so confusing for people to have a different name under a different medium.

I also have a Facebook page called Music With Mar’s Brain Facts. And if you like that page, every day a different brain fact comes up. On Tuesdays, I post Teacher Tip Tuesday. And I put up a song and an art activity or a dancing activity so that teachers can get some ideas for some things to use with the children. But I also support it with brain facts of what is happening when you’re using that activity.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, I love it. And I’m on your website right now. And for our listeners, there is lots of great material here. There’s some free downloads and handouts and brochures. And you can access songs and albums and all kinds of stuff. So, definitely recommend checking it out, www.MusicWithMar.com.

Mar, before we wrap up our chat today, the last year has been pretty tough. But looking forward, we’re feeling a little bit more optimistic. What are you excited about for 2021? What are you looking forward to this year?

HARMAN:

Being in a room with children that are jumping up and down singing with me and no one’s wearing masks. That I am really looking forward to. And also being able to go to a school and work with teachers in-person and thank them for hanging in there and doing their job, despite all the obstacles. They are really, truly wonderful people and I would love to be around them again, I miss them.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, yeah, it’ll be great to see those kids’ smiles again.

HARMAN:

Oh my gosh, and get hugs, I want hugs!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, the teachers, too, they’re going to need lots of hugs.

HARMAN:

Mr. Froggy has been missing people – he’s my mascot. I know you can’t see me, but Mr. Froggy is a big fluffy frog. And the kids love to hug him and they can’t. And to be able to have that happening again is wonderful. It’s going to be wonderful. And I’m looking forward to it. I’m a very optimistic person. I really believe that things are going to be fine. I’m also the kind of person that doesn’t just jump in the pool. So, I think I like to take time and little steps at a time and accommodate. And I think that’s what’s going to be happening here.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, awesome. Well, Maryann, thank you so much for joining us on the Podcast and for all you’ve done to help with children’s development and help the teachers out there with using music in the classroom and for families at home. [It was] really great to have you on the Preschool Podcast. And now we can confirm you are a really nice person, so that’s wonderful!

HARMAN:

Well, thank you. And I’d like to say that I believe the same thing is true about you!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Awesome, thanks, Maryann!

Kiah Price

Kiah Price is a Community Ambassador at HiMama. Prior to HiMama she was an Early Childhood Educator in a preschool classroom in Toronto. She is the Jill of all trades at HiMama from dipping her toes in Sales, Customer Success, Operations, and Marketing! She enjoys sweating through spin classes, hot yoga, and biking along the waterfront trails. She loves traveling and trying new foods and wines across the globe- 29 countries and counting!

One comment

  • Fetouh says:

    Hi there,

    Yes music is so important.
    I did music activity whith my toddler while she is sight challenged. The music makes her happy.
    I was telling to hit fast then hit slowly on the drum, she was laughing when she was hitting fast. I laughing with her and encouraged her to sing some Arabic music he familiar with , like Happy Birthday 🎵.

    Then every time she came I asked her if she likes to play some music, because I observed her how the music makes her enjoy being in toddler room.
    .I really missed all my toddlers i hopes pandemic ends soon.
    Thank u for your information.
    Happy Tuesday.

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