Sarah Weber, Katherine Weber, Elizabeth Weber, Mary Walsh, William Walsh.
Music Together®’s philosophy of mixed-age classes is based on the enduring belief of education experts that very young children learn best in a mixed-age environment. There are a myriad of reasons why this has proven true. Indeed, the theory bears itself out time and time again in research studies. In 18 years of combined teaching experience we’ve witnessed first-hand the strength and benefit of mixed-ages in our respective Music Together classes. It works.
At the same time we are keenly aware of the apprehension a parent feels when they see their two-year old child intermingling “in a classroom environment” with other children who range in age from infancy to preschool age. We understand that it’s difficult to appreciate the benefits of age diversity when, in fact, age diversity in “mommy and me” programs is not the norm. That is why, as co-directors of West Side Music Together, we are continually looking for new ways to articulate and demonstrate this philosophy.
We have found over the years that it is the families themselves, those who have grappled with the discomfort of their child being the oldest or youngest in class, who best express what we wish to say. These families have stood on both sides of the issue, have reaped the numerous benefits of mixed-ages, and have come away with a deeper understanding and respect for this philosophy and our adherence to it. We recently spoke with two of these moms. We hope that in reading the following interview, you will find a connection to their experience and ultimately garner a sense of assurance that mixed-age classes truly are the best choice for you and your child.
Deanna deCampos and Sally Woodson
Co-Directors of West Side Music Together
WSMT: Thank you so much for agreeing to meet with us. First, how old are your children and how long have you been taking Music Together?
M and K: We both started taking [classes] when our children were about 6 months old. Now, William and Elizabeth are three, and Elizabeth’s sister Sarah is 11 months.
WSMT: You both are now in a class of mostly 1 year olds. Do you or did you have reservations about your child being the oldest in the class?
K: To be honest with you, I did at first, going way back. When Elizabeth was about 6 months old, I wondered if it was weird for her being a baby with all these older kids running around. I wasn’t really a skeptic, but it was so different from what I thought it would be, and now I’m a total convert. I so understand it. I have a much more natural view of childhood and child development now that I have two. I see how they teach each other. I see how they learn from each other, how Elizabeth gets to be a big kid, and I see what that does for her and how she gets to teach her little sister too. It’s so normal and natural and I think that’s what childhood is supposed to be, with families and multi-age groups. It’s been fantastic and I’ve seen it work on both ends, both when they’ve been the youngest and the oldest.
WSMT: You were more of a skeptic when your child was on the young side. Right?
WSMT: Do you take any other classes that are mixed ages?
M: Not really. I do take an art class with different ages, but the age spread is probably not more than 6 months. In Music Together, I always felt that it was great for William, because he observed when he was little, and now he’s running around while the other babies are observing. It has come full circle, and it’s great for him because I think he can be kind of reserved, not intimidated, but reserved, when he’s around more boisterous kids. Now he gets to be the big kid and I think he finds it so liberating.
WSMT: When he was younger in class, he didn’t seem to want to venture off your lap for a long time.
M: It takes him a while to get comfortable with a situation. He certainly is comfortable with this situation though, and I do think a lot of his comfort comes from him being the older one now. He also really loves the younger children and loves interacting with them.
WSMT: Do you think your children are benefitting as much from this class as they would if they were in a class of all older children?
K: I don’t think Elizabeth is missing anything. In some ways, she gets more attention this way, as the big kid in class. She doesn’t have to stand in line to get “secrets” [tonal game used in Music Together class.] She can come right up and get one. In a way, there’s a little more of an opportunity for her to get to do the things that are at her level, to really shine, because there aren’t so many others trying to do the same thing. She can get kudos for her dancing or for being a showoff if she wants to. She can be a big fish in a small pond.
M: Yes, I definitely think William responds to that too! He feels more comfortable about coming out in front of the whole group when some of the children are younger.
K: It is so great to have a program where I can bring my children of different ages together. There are so few programs out there which allow that.
WSMT: Many people say that to us, but then some want to separate their children so they can give them each individual time.
K: I think having some of both [types of classes] is great. Ii is nice to have “one on one” time with each child, but the time is going to come too soon when Elizabeth is in school and the family activities together will be fewer and further between. So I’m grateful for a class to which I can take both, and that is equally engaging and beneficial for [their] different ages. I’m not dragging Sarah to a big kid’s thing where she’s allowed to be there but it’s not really for her, and vice versa, Elizabeth is not just sitting around at a baby thing. I really believe that each of them is getting a lot out of the class.
WSMT: Musical learning has nothing to do with age. There are adults in the class that can be at the same place as a child musically. Many of them have told us that their own musical competence has improved through being in the class with their child.
M: You’ve always said that your child’s primary role model is the parent. If so much of the interaction is parent-child, why should it matter whether the children are older or younger? They really do look to the parent . Obviously, they’re looking around too, but I think that because the parent-child dynamic is such a huge proponent of the class, it is sort of a moot point how old everybody is.
K: Good point. And although they’re observing and learning from eachother too, it really isn’t a social experience, it’s a musical experience.
WSMT: One of the big concerns that parents call us with, is that they are afraid that their children are regressing when they get down and crawl with the babies. We are one of the only programs that doesn’t divide by age. We do this for many reasons, but the parents say that since nobody else has mixed age classes, why do we? They want it to be more of a social experience.
K: It’s not set up that way. This is about the music and the parent-child relationship. I feel that this is straight out of your literature, but it truly has brought music into our home. My husband and I both sang in the chorus in middle school, so we’re not totally without musical background, but neither of us is that “musical.” The idea of singing as an adult used to feel intimidating, and it doesn’t anymore. Although I wouldn’t sing to a bunch of adults, I sing constantly with the children, going around on the street with the stroller, making up songs, making up verses to the songs we know. My husband does it too and it has given our family kind of a music library to work from.
M: And I think they are more receptive to other music after being in a Music Together class.
K: If we hadn’t allowed Elizabeth to keep at it and continue as a three year old, she, and we would miss the culmination of all this. This is the time when she’s really old enough to sing and put it all together and invent songs on her own, which is so fun and special.
WSMT: It seems easier for the parents of a second child to realize all this. Katherine, you have two children, but Mary has one.
K: Well, Mary is very enlightened.
M: I see how it works with William.
K and M: We’ve BOTH seen how it works. Let the skeptics call us if they have doubts!
WSMT: Thank you so much for your time and thoughts. We know that your insights will prove reassuring and valuable to many families who may be concerned about the “age-mix” in their class.