Young Children and Music Lessons: Kindling the Spark and Keeping it Alive


Last week my four and a half year old child listened to two different pieces of music that were on the radio. One was a piano only instrumental and the other had a violin accompaniment. She heard the one with the violin first and then the one with only the piano second. After the second one started she promptly said to me, “Those are different songs. This one doesn’t have a violin.”

I was shocked! It took me years to develop the ability to pick out different instruments while listening to a piece of music. Either she has some skill that I don’t…OR, it’s because she is four and still has a skill that was “unlearned” with time.


What I mean to say is that most children probably have the ability to learn to discern various instruments in a piece of music, or learn the basics of being able to carry a tune or follow a beat, if exposed to music early on and on a regular basis.

This actually takes me back to an incident that just happened a few weeks ago. My daughter’s piano teacher had sent out an invitation to a free and open to the public classical music recital that she was going to be performing in at a local church for Christmas. I decided to take my 4 ½ year old because I thought it would be a good experience for her. We sat very far back in the pews in the balcony and she behaved well. At times I carried her around and whispered in her ear. “Do you see the violins?” “Do you hear them?” “Do you see the conductor telling the musicians what to do?”

At other times she sat on the floor and colored with the materials in the quiet bag provided for church services. Although she was coloring she was still listening as she would occasionally move and sway to the music.

This is all music education.

Some people may ask why one would take a preschooler to a concert as they “wouldn’t get anything from it anyway” but I disagree. I’ve wrestled with whether it is worthwhile and now I believe it is.

When she was younger we did the “Music Together” program which was wonderful. There is lots of singing and musical activities that involve rhythm and tonal competence for both mommy and baby/preschooler.

As for “formal lessons” she started taking piano lessons about six months ago. As soon as she started to show a real interest in banging the keys and pretending to play, I decided it was time. I called my own violin teacher and told her that the lessons were to begin. I made it clear that these lessons could be about whatever grabbed her attention and kept her engaged. There should be no pressure for her to be able to perform or master any skill. She does not have to practice anything in particular and nor do I ask her to. My goal was for her to stay with the teacher for the half hour once a month without leaving. I talked to her a lot about her piano teacher and her “music time with Stephanie.” At the beginning I avoided the use of the word “lessons.” I wanted it to be fun and engaging. We have recently gone to twice a month and for now that seems just right. And now she loves her lessons. “When will my piano teacher come again, mommy? Soon?” Now that music time has caught her interest and she is engaged and excited about it, I use the term “piano lesson.” My initial goal for her with the lessons was to just get used to the idea that someone would be coming to spend time with her for a set amount of time and that during that time her job was to be with that person. I wanted her to get a feel for what lessons felt like and for that to be something that she not only was committed to carrying out but something that she enjoyed.

It has only been about six months and she has changed immensely since she started. In the beginning it was a huge challenge to get her to stay with the activities for the full half hour, even though the activities included stuffed animals and animal sounds! Now she will sit for full minutes at a time doing the child-focused activities that are in her first lesson book and even hitting a few keys at the right time. She LOVES it. When her friends come over she wants to bring out her book and bang around on the piano; she wants to pull out the CD and sing to the songs and do her music activities.


I do not interfere with her process of developing a love for music and for creating music in whatever form that may come. My goal right now is to keep the spark alive and that is all. As she ages this will certainly change, but right now, her four year old musical self is coming alive and I love it! I hope it will never die.

Why Hopscotch Matters

I love this blogpost on hopscotch. My daughter and I have been doing a lot of hopscotch lately because she really struggles with standing on one leg for any length of time.

This is from

Hopscotch was one of my favorite games as a child and it still is today. In fact, Hopscotch proves one of my pet theories that (in most cases) what’s fun for kids is good for kids. 

Here’s my Child-At-Play/Play-At-Work analysis of this timeless, universal classic or 11 Great Reasons to Rush Out and Buy Some Chalk Today!

CHILD’S PLAY. For kids, it feels good to move, and when it feels good, they want to do it over and over again… just as the rules of Hopscotch require.
PLAY’S WORK. Believe it or not, hopping on one foot is one of the most complex movements the human body can perform. The technical term for it is homolateral movement, defined as one side of the body moving while the other side of the body is still. For children, hopping signals sophisticated advances in both physical coordination, balance, AND cognitive development. You see, as your child refines her physical coordination, she is also building essential neural pathways in the brain. It’s those exact same pathways which will one day become the conduits for left/right brain thinking tasks such as creativity, reasoning, and self-regulation.
CHILD’S PLAY. Whoaaaa! Don’t hop on the line! As much as we think kids don’t like rules, rules provide the challenge that make games like Hopscotch so much fun!
PLAY’S WORK. As much fun as hopping is, it’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it unless something gets in your way. And that’s where the mechanics of Hopscotch are so brilliant, forcing kids to hop, jump and stop with deliberate control. As such, Hopscotch is a master at helping children master self control.
CHILD’S PLAY. The thing about hop-hop-hopping is that in order to get good at it, you’ve got to get into a regular rhythm. Hopscotch gives kids lots of hopping practice, of course, which helps them find their rhythm. But more, the rules of the game require you to stop hopping, do something else, then start again. And that’s the best practice of all for developing rhythm.
PLAY’S WORK. Think of Body Rhythm as an internal metronome… the constant “beat” of how we move our bodies, which in turn, helps to develop a whole host of other skills and capabilities that extend beyond movement. For instance, Body Rhythm underscores language acquisition by helping children tune into speech patterns which in turn, aids memory. For instance, what comes to mind when I say, “e-i-e-i-o.”
CHILD’S PLAY. Once children have tackled hopping, leaping comes next, which is also a big part of Hopscotch. As the game progresses, it’s often necessary for children to leap over two or more spaces at one time. Two-footed, that’s hard. But Hopscotch requires a one-footed leap, and that takes a lot of strength.
PLAY’S WORK. Strength builds physical stamina, of course, but it more, when young children push themselves to new, physical achievements, the brain is recording these sensations and preparing itself to take on even bigger challenges in other areas of life and learning. For instance, when confronted with a gnarly math problem, children who understand the effort it takes to leap stand a better chance of sticking with the problem.
CHILD’S PLAY. A typical turn in Hopscotch looks something like this:  Throw… stand… hop… stop… bend… pick up… straighten up… leap… jump… hop… hop.. land… turn… and repeat. Now do most of that on one foot and that’s a real test of balance!
PLAY’S WORK. Balance is an essential building block to all physical movement, and cognitive, emotional, and social growth as well. Hopscotch is ingeniously designed to challenge children’s sense of balance and orientation.
CHILD’S PLAY. The iconic spaces of a Hopscotch board determine the playscape, define the rules, and present the challenge.
PLAY’S WORK. So often today, we encourage children to “think outside the box” or “color outside the lines.” These metaphors for creative thinking and problem solving are great, and I’m all for them. But there are times when boxes and boundaries are necessary to help children develop fundamental skills. And Hopscotch is one of those times. You see, by fitting themselves into the boxes on the game board they are developing  spatial awareness which helps them understand how they “fit” in the world and even more, how the world “fits” together… just like the spaces on a Hopscotch board.
CHILD’S PLAY. The game begins by pitching your pebble onto the game board. Until you get the pitch right, you can’t play, making Hopscotch a natural motivator for eye/hand coordination.
PLAY’S WORK. This humble beginning is actually a test of a child’s ability to see a target with her eyes and translate that knowledge to her arm and hand to determine the right aim and amount of force necessary to reach the target. That’s eye/hand coordination at work, and while we don’t see it, there’s a ton of body-brain computing going on. And of course, with each turn, the target changes, getting further and further away, challenging her ability to make tiny – but important – adjustments for accuracy.
CHILD’S PLAY. Achievement is part of every turn, signified by retrieving your playing piece from the game board. But Hopscotch doesn’t make it easy for little ones, which is all part of the fun!
PLAY’S WORK. Stopping mid-way through the game board on one foot is hard enough. Now the rules requires the player to bend over and pick up their pebble. Yikes! That takes a lot of body control and concentration. But Hopscotch adds one more wrinkle — the delicate control of the finger muscles to reach and retrieve the pebble.
CHILD’S PLAY. Because the game board changes on each turn, children have to work out how they are going to approach it each time… hop-hop-leap-jump-hop-stop, etc. What fun!
PLAY’S WORK. Planning and strategizing are life-long skills learned through play. But unlike sedentary board games, an up and at ’em game of Hopscotch allows children to physically realize their plan while developing on-your-toes adaptabilty.
CHILD’S PLAY. Hopscotch is a great “social campfire” for children. The simple, repetitive rules make it easy for children to learn and play and stay engaged in the game when it’s not their turn.
PLAY’S WORK. Friendships begin on the playground because kid-sized social experiences like Hopscotch create the framework for learning about peer relationships.
CHILD’S PLAY. When light-hearted competition is introduced into play time, kids naturally push themselves to be better. No one needs to stand on the sidelines encouraging them. The natural, human drive to succeed is all the incentive they need to try harder.
PLAY’S WORK. When children develop good sportsmanship, they are developing the skills and attitudes they’ll need for a well-balanced approach to life. Because in the end, winning feels great but losing build character.

Mesothelioma Awareness Day

I was contacted by a mother who wants to bring awareness to Mesothelioma. She writes the following:

“Hi there!

The reason I have reached out to you is because of your blog! My name is Heather and I am a wife, mother, and a mesothelioma survivor. When my daughter was 3 ½ months old, I was diagnosed with this rare and deadly cancer, and given 15 months to live. Despite my grim prognosis, I knew that I needed to beat the odds for my newborn daughter, Lily. It’s been 7 years now and I feel that it’s my duty to pay it forward by inspiring others.

In honor of upcoming Mesothelioma Awareness Day (September 26), I want to use my personal story to help raise awareness of this little known cancer, and to provide a sense of hope for others facing life’s difficult challenges. I would love it you would help me spread awareness by sharing the campaign page on your blog so hopefully your readers will participate! My goal is 7,200 social media shares – your support will help get me there!

Here is the link: www.mesothelioma(dot)com/heather/awareness/


Learning to Love Again. Every Day.

momma in me

When they are babies it is easy.

You rock them; you cradle them. You hold them; you kiss them. You do it out of pure love.

You do what a mama is designed to do.

You feed them and burp them and keep them alive and breathing. You check on them and worry over them and fuss over them.

Is she eating enough? Is she sleeping enough? Why isn’t she sleeping? Why is she sleeping so much?

Is she happy? Is she suffering?

We wonder and worry and love, love, love.

But they don’t give much in those early days.  Just their gentle sighs and their smiles in their sleep.

They don’t say, “I love you.” They don’t reach out to hold you and hug you.

But you keep giving.

You do it because you love them. You do it out of love.

They don’t talk and give back in the way that one normally gets back love, but you love them nonetheless.

But as they get older this changes.

Your little baby is no longer a baby, she’s a toddler.

And then that little toddler is gone and in its place is a little fresh preschooler.

And with each change you learn to love again. You learn to love in a different way.

Just last week my little girl was wrapping her arms around my neck as hard as she could. She’d whisper in my ear, “I love you soooooooo much….” And I’d say it back. “I love you soooooo much…” and then I’d wrap myself up into the warmth beside her and drink up that love.

But she doesn’t do this today. She no longer wraps her arms around my neck and says “I love you sooooo much” like she did just yesterday.

In one week that has changed.

Today, I whisper to her, “Who loves you more than anybody in the whole wide world?”

“Mama,” she says, without missing a beat.

“And who do you love more than anything in the whole wide world?” I ask. “Dada,” she says.

My heart skips a beat. What do I say?

And just for a moment, out of my own need, I test the waters.

“You don’t love mommy?”

Of course she does. She loves us both, she says.

Her idea and expressions of love are changing and with that I must change to.

She’s speaking now, thinking, loving with her mind, not just her heart.

Love is no longer an unadulterated instinct that wells up from within her and springs forward out into my arms. It’s a thought and a decision and a test.

She’s maturing.

The irony is that where she needed me more in the past, I am growing to love her more with every day that passes.

And with every day that my love grows deeper and stronger, she is moving a little bit away from that precious, sweet love made strong by the mommy umbilical cord.

So I need to learn to love all over again. I need to learn to love the way that she needs it and want to.

With each passing day, I need to learn to love again.

Learn to love again.

Every day.

Visiting the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and Discovering “The Learning Center”


I’ve been to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum many times since I moved to Minnesota but today was the first time I’ve been to The Learning Center. The play areas reminded me a little bit of the outdoor play areas of Wood Lake Nature Center and the Tamarack Nature Center. As far as young children go, this was probably the best of the three!


I was amazed and surprised at all I’ve been missing out on! They have beautiful outdoor spaces for toddlers and preschoolers and a garden where summer camp kids grow vegetables.

Inside they were having a special event and activities related to bees. We spent half the day at The Learning Center alone!

Inside the greenhouse. The little butterfly hat was an art project they had set up for the kids to enjoy.

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Flowers in the greenhouse.

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The children are spraying the plants in the greenhouse with water bottles provided by the arboretum for visitors to use.



In honor of “Bee Day” they had a bee costume for kids to try on.


Some sort of bird house in one of the four outdoor areas surrounding the Center.


The first free outdoor lending library and outdoor reading area I’ve ever seen. There was a canopy of crabapple trees and birdfeeders all around. More nature play objects as well.


Enjoying one of the books on birds and the sheltered reading area.



Each outdoor space as items for the children to use and to enjoy. Most of the items for creative play were items found in nature.

I think the children enjoyed this table the most. They painted slices of tree trunks with paintbrushes and water.





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An interesting crawl space/fort made of iron stakes and some sort of mesh-like burlap.



This area had a water spout and PVC tubes to build waterways.



“The Capital View Cafe”: A Hidden Brunch Gem in St. Paul, MN


I love “The Capital View Cafe,” a local diner/restaurant located on the outskirts of downtown St. Paul, MN. And more importantly I loved the mommy/daughter brunch we had there today. It’s warm and cozy; the staff are nice; and everyone appreciated my daughter’s unique sense of style and self expression. Plus, the kid’s meal consisted of a HUGE plate of eggs, bacon, pancake, and a drink for the low price of $5.00. Can’t beat it. We’ll be back. We LOVE pancakes.



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Just Show Up: A Love Story

Below is a story of a woman who suffered from Postpartum Depression (PPD) after the birth of her child. I posted this story because when I read it I was deeply and intimately reminded of the first few months of my child’s life as I, too, suffered from PPD. I have read many accounts of woman with PPD but this story is the one that has resonated with me the most. I felt that same desire to run away. I lived the anxiety, the fear, the guilt, and the deep shame at not feeling the way I was “supposed” to feel. I placed the picture of me to the right of her because I was immediately reminded of the picture of me and my newborn when I looked at her picture. I remember feeling so lost, sad and empty and not knowing why. The thing I had wished for most had finally come true and yet I was at the lowest point in my life. I thank her for sharing her story.

Joy with her son shortly after he was born momma in me

Just Show Up: A Love Story

For months, I felt no connection whatsoever to my newborn son. Then one day an idea took hold that changed everything.
By Joy Peskin from Parents Magazine
Trying to remember the exact moment I fell in love with my son, Nathaniel, is hard. It might have been when he appeared to be listening intently as I read him my favorite book from childhood, The Velveteen Rabbit. It might have been during the walk when he reached out from his baby carrier and grabbed my finger. But I know for sure that it wasn’t the first time I held my child — and the shock I felt at not experiencing the rush of love I had anticipated upon becoming a mother was staggering.Even though I had a cesarean section, I still expected to see Nathaniel right away. I imagined he’d be lifted over the curtain and placed onto my chest. He’d open his eyes, and we’d look at each other, and the collective wisdom of generations of mothers who had come before me would beam into my heart.Instead, my son and I had our first meeting in the recovery room at the hospital, hours after his birth. My parents and my husband were there. A nice nurse kept asking me where I was on the pain scale from one to ten. Someone handed the baby to me at some point, but the memory is elusive, just beyond my reach.

The last thing I recall clearly was being in the operating room. The baby had just been delivered, but he wasn’t crying yet; the nurses were still clearing out his mouth. I was shaking violently, either from fear or from all the drugs that had been pumped into my system. I begged the anesthesiologist to do something for my nausea. Before she added another drug to my IV, I heard a nurse asking my doctor the reason for the C-section, presumably for hospital paperwork. “It’s late and I wanted to go home,” he said. I suppose he was joking, but after 36 hours of labor, I wasn’t really in the mood to laugh.

In the blurry weeks that followed, I went over the events of that day in my mind like a crime-scene investigator, trying to figure out exactly when something had gone horribly wrong. Because something was clearly horribly wrong. When I held Nathaniel, I felt a pounding, all-consuming anxiety. One word thrummed through my head like a drumbeat: escape. I wanted to put Nathaniel in his crib, walk out the door, and never come back. When we took him for his first checkup, I sincerely hoped the doctor would see that I was not up for the challenge of motherhood and allow us to leave the baby there.

What kind of mother was I? What kind of person was I? You’re a monster, I told myself. A monster who doesn’t love her own child. It didn’t make sense. I had always thought of myself as the kind of woman who was born to be a mother. But here I was, desperately plotting my escape from the role I had craved most in life.

When my husband took pictures of me with the baby, I tried to force my face into a smile, but my eyes told the truth. They were flat and empty. My voice sounded like it was coming from down a long tunnel. I had no appetite. Food tasted wrong.

A few friends suggested that I might have postpartum depression, but I didn’t think so. That felt like a crutch, an excuse. Besides, I wasn’t crying all the time. I wasn’t crying at all. I was just sitting there, either numb or panicking, incapable of doing anything right. I wasn’t sick. I was useless.

I can’t do this. I won’t do this. These words ran through my mind day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute. Every time the phone rang, I hoped it was someone calling to rescue me. Friends came and visited, but they always left. “Take me with you,” I remember begging one of them. I tried to pretend I was joking, but I wasn’t.

I was feeling worse after a few weeks, so I called a psychopharmacologist I had seen a few years back. She was straightforward and told me that with the right medication, I would feel just like my old self. I didn’t believe her. My old self was gone — I was sure of that.

I went back to a therapist I had seen before my marriage, but she had become, over time, more a friend than a counselor. I was ashamed for her to see me in my current state. I went once and didn’t return.

Next I tried an old-school psychoanalyst. Dr. Freud, as my husband called him, was warm and reassuring, but he wanted to talk about my childhood and I wanted to focus on the present. By this point, Nathaniel was more than 2 months old. I feared that if I didn’t get better soon, I’d never bond with him. Also, my maternity leave was coming to an end. I needed to take a more aggressive approach.

A friend had given me the phone number of a postpartum-depression hotline, and I carried it with me for weeks before I got up the nerve to call. When I finally did, a kind woman assured me that I did have PPD, and that it was surmountable. The other doctors I had seen told me that too, but she was the first one I really believed. She told me she heard women say exactly what I was saying all the time. I had felt so alone in my dark, ugly thoughts, but she had personally talked to other women who had gone through exactly what I was going through. They had gotten better, and I would get better too.

The woman from the hotline suggested a therapist specializing in PPD. When I called her, she told me that the fact that I experienced guilt over my negative feelings about motherhood was a good sign. It meant I didn’t want to feel that way. And she told me she had also had PPD, and she had gotten over it and had gone on to have a second child. On my first visit, she gave me her personal copy of Brooke Shields’s book about postpartum depression, Down Came the Rain. After reading the book and with the therapist’s counseling, I started to feel better. I went back on the antidepressant I’d been taking before I got pregnant, which made a big difference.

And something else helped me too: a line from an article I read about Rosanne Cash. When describing her work ethic, she said, “Just show up. Just do it. Even if you feel like s— and you think you’re terrible and you’ll never get better and it will never go anywhere, just show up and do it. And, eventually, something happens.” That spoke to me. I felt like a terrible mother and I didn’t know what I was doing. I couldn’t figure out which cry meant “I’m hungry” and which meant “I’m tired.” I couldn’t get the baby wrap to work. I didn’t know how often to bathe him, or when to put him down for a nap, or whether to put him in pajamas or to let him sleep in a diaper. I was sure that if left alone in my care, he would die. But when my mind started with its refrain of I can’t do this, I won’t do this, I thought of that quote from Rosanne Cash. Just show up, I told myself instead. Just do it. So I did. And she was right: Something happened. I started to get the hang of it.

I turned a corner when Nathaniel was 3 months old and I returned to work. I love my job, so going back to it — and going back to my pre-baby routine — made me happy. Ultimately, I rediscovered my confidence, which had felt as if it had been put into a car, driven into the middle of the desert, and set on fire.

It took me a while to come to terms with what happened during the earliest days of my child’s life. More than once, I’ve found myself wishing I had known him when he was first born. And of course that’s foolish, because I was right there. But also, I wasn’t. To see us together these days, you’d never know. When he smiles my heart bursts, like fireworks, into a thousand tiny stars. I love nothing more than snuggling with him or reading to him. And I guess I’ll never understand exactly what went wrong, whether I was traumatized by the C-section, or if I experienced some sort of hormonal crash, or if people with my type A personality — those of us who like to do things perfectly on the first try, who like to be in control — are just destined for a certain degree of panic when we become mothers and lose control of absolutely everything. I thought I would fall in love with my baby the first time he was in my arms. But that didn’t happen. It couldn’t happen until the thing that broke in me when he came into the world was fixed. But I love him now, boundlessly and without reservation. And maybe in the end what matters most isn’t the moment we fall in love, but what we do with that love once it takes hold.

My Four Year Old’s Art Studio


Here’s my little artist. She loves to paint and asks me to paint several times a week. You’ll notice she is rinsing her brush in a ceramic cup. After getting them in and out of hall closet so many times I decided to keep them in the cupboard you see in the background. I put a painting shirt, art rags to dry her brushes on, the box of brushes and the cup in that cupboard. She can get the cup out and fill it with water; get out her towels and her paint shirt. That leaves less for me to do when she asks to paint. Her paint shirt was in the wash so she’s wearing an over the head bib made out of a dishcloth that she got from her grandma as a baby.

The acrylics below I got on Ebay.


The canvases I also bought on Ebay in bulk.


The Elmo drop cloth keeps clean up nice and easy and avoids paint on the rug. Notice the table she is working on. It was originally a train table that I made for her but now it is her arts and crafts table. It’s good because it is close to the floor so there is less for me to monitor when she is working on something.


“Humanimal” at the Open Eye Figure Theatre: Limited Time. You GOTTA Go!


Kevin Kling is AMAZING. He’s funny, smart, creative, thought-provoking and he’s a story teller. Add to that two amazing cellists and one out of this world singer/performer and you have yourself a night at the theater.

And not just any theatre but the “Open Eye Figure Theatre” in South Minneapolis.

Go online NOW to get your tickets. You will not be disappointed.


“Kevin Kling, nationally known storyteller and Artist-in-Residence at Minnesota Public Radio, returns this August to the Open Eye stage for the seventh consecutive year. Since 2007, Mr. Kling has delighted Open Eye audiences with work exploring themes of politics (Politico, 2012), religion (Joice Rejoice, 2011), fairy tale (Folks and Heroes, 2010), trauma recovery (Flight, 2009) and more.

This year he brings us Humanimal — a work that explores the lives of humans with their animals (or is it the lives of animals with their humans?). He will be joined by perennial collaborators Michael Sommers, Simone Perrin, Jacqueline Ultan, and Michelle Kinney to create an evening of story, song, and imagery.

Mr. Kling draws inspiration for Humanimal from the work of Jack London’s White Fang and Call of the Wild, knowing we are all either drawn to the wild or repelled by it. Humanimal follows the journey of the human/animal connection — beginning with its rough start, then moving through a period of mutual understanding and respect until finally, as so often happens, it comes down to “Who-Done-Who-Wrong” or “I will always love you”. 

This limited run is not to be missed. For those who know Mr. Kling’s work through MPR broadcasts or Fitzgerald Theater performances, Open Eye’s intimate 90-seat venue provides a rare opportunity to hear his stories up close, as if he were sitting in your own living room. Kevin Kling is a superb storyteller whose tales can revive a soul. In these tales, it just may be the animal that revives the human soul.

NOTE: This production contains adult language — some of the animals in these stories swear.  Consider this show to have the equivalent of a PG-13 rating.”

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