KINDERMUSIK WITH MUNCHKINS TO MOZART
Teresa Birch has been teaching music students for over 25 years. Her school has been located at AMEND MUSIC CENTER since 2002. The following is an article from the SPOKANE SENTINEL that can describe Teresa’s program better than I can.
ALL THE RIGHT CHORDS by Kara Hauser
Have you ever tried to teach music theory to a five year old?
Teresa Birch does it multiple times a day…and it all started from teaching primary music at her church. Having seen Birch’s teaching style with children in primary, one of her piano students casually mentioned that she would be a great Kindermusik teacher. Birch, who was busy with piano lessons and raising her family, brushed the suggestion aside. However, when her husband became unable to work due to medical complications, she suddenly found herself the main breadwinner of the family and was reminded of her student’s idea. Seven years later, Birch has almost totally quit giving piano lessons and focuses solely on teaching a total of 26 Kindermusik classes each week.
A visit to Birch’s class for 5 to 7-year olds is a fun and energetic experience. Eight children sit on the floor, wiggling and poking each other, while “Ms. Teresa” sits on the floor in front of them, explaining each activity and reminding them to use their listening ears and inside voices. They clap basic musical rhythms, and then work on identifying the musical symbols associated with each rhythm. They take a short break to release some energy by jumping ten times, and then go back to working on hearing the differences between high and low sounds. They play games and sing songs, and even have a short story time where they learn about Mozart and the music he wrote. One boy immediately raises his hand and asks about Mozart’s funny hair. Ms. Teresa compliments his good observation and they have a brief, animated discussion about his wig. Finally they lie down on the floor and listen to Mozart’s version of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. A restless boy squints one eye open and gives me a big grin.
Just before the grown-ups arrive, Ms. Teresa announces what is obviously their favorite game, called Wild Birds. Ms. Teresa reminds them that although the game is called Wild Birds, that they must be good birds and not fly around too wildly. A chorus of voices is immediately raised: “But I want to be a hawk!” “I’m a bald eagle.” “My favorite is a scarlet macaw.” Once they have all decided what bird they want to be, the flying begins. By the time the grownups arrive, the kids have used up some energy and are a bit more subdued. The last 15 minutes are spent playing games with the adults and showing what they have learned. At the end, Ms. Teresa sings Goodbye to each child, and they in turn get to sing Goodbye into a microphone. Some sing loud, others a little more shy, but each are encouraged.
After class is over, Birch takes a few minutes to each a quick lunch and, in between bites, explain a little more about how Kindermusik has become such a big part of her life. “I was pretty skeptical at first. I wondered why parents couldn’t just teach their kids at home.” But as she learned more about the program and the child development experts that created it, she became a believer. “It lays a good musical foundation, but more than that, it’s about the whole child.” Using music as a vehicle, classes are focused on every area of child development. Hand-eye coordination, listening and comprehension, interaction with others, body coordination, imagination, emotional balance, and language are all developed through various activities. A Kindermusik teacher goes through extensive training, is licensed, and held to a very high standard. Caregivers are expected to be a part of each class, and there are materials for each child to work on at home. The children love showing their parents what they’ve learned and even more, love having them participate with them in class.
Birch admits this job is not a big income-earner, but as she says, “I feel so lucky to be able to do something I love.” When asked what exactly she loves about teaching Kindermusik, she says with a big smile, “It feels like a beautiful, happy bubble of joy. No matter what’s happening outside in the world, in here its good.” She also loves that the classes give families extra help and ideas of how to engage their children in music. Classes are offered for ages infant to 7 years and Birch says that many students, by the time they leave the program at age 7, can read and write basic music in treble clef and discern different types of music. Many can also play simple music on glockenspiel (pre-keyboard), string and wind instruments, which can help the parents and child focus on what musical instrument suits them best for future lessons.
What has Birch learned most over the last seven years? “I understand better about different learning styles. Some children take longer to process. Some are outgoing, others very shy. I try to encourage each of them and watch for what sparks their interest. Sometimes I try to give the caregiver some ideas of how to encourage them at home as well.”
Obviously Birch is doing something right, because her Kindermusik studio has now earned the rank of “Maestro Conductor’s Circle” which means that they are in the top 1% of Kindermusik studios in the entire world. This ranking is based on the number of students, but as Birch points out, the parents wouldn’t bring their children back or refer others to the program if it wasn’t a success. And even though the prepared curriculum is very well written, it still takes a lot of work for Birch to adapt lessons and activities to the different dynamics of each class. Some are bigger, or more energetic. The baby and toddler classes have caregivers involved the entire time, whereas older students spend the first half of class without their parents.
It is obvious Birch loves working with these children. She takes every potty break in stride, and makes sure everyone has a turn. When one child interrupts her to point out that “Amsterdam” sounds like “hamster” she simply smiles and says that maybe it will help him remember the name. And she shows just as much interest in the child that tells her about his Hatch and Grow Dinosaur, as the girl who wants to show how she plays her violin. As all the children leave, this “happy bubble of joy” feels a little empty. But another class is due in an hour, and it will again be filled with happy songs.
For information about Kindermusik classes you may contact Teresa Birch at 509-456-3559, or www.kindermusikfun.net