Teaching kids to sing - music education program turns 25

Why would a baby take a music class? Because it’s never too early to learn—a fact the Community Music Education Program (CMEP) has been proving for 25 years.

"We are like a music conservatory, we're community-based and we offer classes for all ages, but we are particularly strong in early childhood classes," said Nicole Wilton Elliott, manager of CMEP, which is offered by the Centre for Continuing and Distance Education. "Obviously an infant cannot understand the music he or she hears, but it is unconsciously absorbed, and it serves to make the child ready for conscious listening with understanding at a later point."

A lot of research is now looking into early childhood learning, explained Wilton Elliott, and it is believed that the basis of intellectual curiosity is laid during the earliest months.

"Parenting with Music is a class we offer for parents and newborns from zero months up to three years old. Singing and music help synapses form and the brain develop. When music is involved, research indicates that the children perform better intellectually."

The parents are seeing the difference too, she said. "Over the past five years, the number of parents taking their babies to music classes has tripled. Parents see the benefit and how their children respond to what we teach, and the classes help create bonds between the parents and child as well."

CMEP has even started taking their classes on the road. "We do a lot of community outreach—we go to nine daycares in the city and take the program to those who might not otherwise get to attend the classes. We also offer bursaries to those who otherwise couldn't afford the classes."

But the classes aren't just for wee infants; CMEP also offers music classes for children up to the age of six as well as private lessons in piano, voice, guitar and violin for kids aged from seven to 12 as well as adults.

"When I started teaching, there were four instructors, now there are 17," said Wilton Elliott who has taught in CMEP for 14 years and whose mother was one of CMEP's first instructors. "I have seen children who started in the classes and who are now taking music education at the
U of S. I've seen past students who are now parents with children enrolled in our classes. That is the ideal—for us to engage them and teach them so that they develop a lifelong interest in music."

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