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Baby & Preschool Music Programs & You

With Summer just around the corner, I see solicitations for programming ideas and suggestions everywhere. Aleah Jurnecka, a colleague of mine at Kitsap Regional Library, has hit gold with two of her music programs aimed at babies and preschoolers. I wanted to share her success and best practices so you too can confidentially add a baby or preschool music program to your library offerings this summer.

Inspiration

Aleah first started her music programs when she worked as a librarian at Los Angeles County Public Library in southern California. She had a diverse audience at her storytimes and noticed that many caregivers didn’t truly participate along with their babies unless it involved music. She “saw the need to break down the language and cultural barriers inherent with baby storytime” she told me, and that music had a way to transcend these barriers in such a way where anyone could do it. For example, by focusing on the rhythm or beats in a song rather than lyrics or pitch. So, Baby Band Practice was born, and continues to grow at Los Angeles County Public Library with Kay Wantuch.

Later, Aleah started Mini Maestros for kids aged 3+ who had “graduated” from Baby Band. In this program, she focused on matching the developmental pace of the kids by incorporating cooperative play with the instruments, practicing impulse control through shake/freeze games, and even musical elements like soft/loud or how you can use the same instrument to make different sounds.

Getting started: the format

Opening

For both programs, she begins with a warm up stretch to get everyone used to moving their bodies.

First Song

Then she launches into the Mr. Eric and Mr. Michael version of the Hispanic Folk Song “Mi Cuerpo Hace Musica.” This song shows kids and caregivers how you can make music with your bodies. Moreover, it offers language exposure for non-native Spanish speaking participants and reveals how music transcends cultures to connect us.

Musical Concept

She then introduces a musical concept that’s developmentally appropriate for the age group. For babies, she may teach the caregivers that holding their children and rocking to the beat allows babies to internalize the beat and leads them to picking up patterns and rhythms of language. For the older kids, it may be alternating both hands to bang a drum. She’ll play 1-2 songs to help them practice these concepts.

Instrument Play

For another 2-3 songs she sets out an array of instruments and encourages everyone to explore. Perhaps kids want to test how two different instruments sound together or a baby grasps a shaker for the first time. Caregivers are encouraged to participate at the very least by modelling the beat.

Closing Song

The program ends with a “slow down song” where the kids play with softer instruments or use scarves to do large gross motor movements to calm their bodies.

Much like storytimes, Aleah uses the same songs for a season and then changes everything up. She tries to include regular music that grown-ups may be interested in addition to kid-focused music and music from different cultures.

Instrument suggestions

For instruments, Aleah has the basics of shakers, drums, bells, and tambourines. She also will use household items like a coffee can to demonstrate how you can get sounds out of everyday things. Our library system created a special Early Learning Kit featuring Baby Band instruments and song lists that can be checked out by patrons for use later at home.

Putting it all together

While Aleah has a musical background in addition to early childhood development and librarianship, she stresses that such qualifications are unnecessary to run successful music programs for the 0-5 crowd. “Librarians are already doing music actions during storytime—this is just expanding on that” with a focus on “whole child development,” she said. A bit of research may be needed to accurately communicate musical concepts or explain to caregivers the benefits of music on language development. Aleah suggested using the terms “Active Music Play Literacy Language Benefits” in a search engine or checking out the University of Washington iLABS research on music and babies to learn more.

Music programs can provide alternatives for kids who move too much for traditional storytimes, for neurodivergent kids, and can be more accessible for families of culturally diverse backgrounds. Music can truly bring communities together. I hope this post encourages you to try out a music program this summer. Are there other ways you’ve used music in your storytimes or as a separate program? Please share in the comments below!

Meg Beade Stowe is a member of the Early Childhood Program and Services Committee and a Youth Services Librarian at Kitsap Regional Library. 

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