Children from vulnerable families can now enroll in programs that expose them to music at an early age, thanks to funding provided by the Victoria Foundation for the early childhood music program at the Victoria Conservatory of Music.
The funding makes it possible for between 350 to 500 children ages five and under to receive free weekly music classes during the conservatory’s academic year.
“This unique program provides an essential forum for children of different cultures to feel acceptance and belonging and to find an outlet for expression, define their identity and develop communication skills in a supportive environment,” said Dr. Johanne Brodeur, head of early childhood music at the Victoria Conservatory of Music. “These music programs are proven to stimulate socio-cognitive and emotional development, as well as self-esteem — all critical to children’s successful development and growth.”
Participants are referred to the program by local daycares and preschools serving vulnerable families.
“In the ‘early years’ classes, the children are not learning how to play any specific instrument but rather learning through fun musical activities such as playing various percussion instruments, singing, moving around and playing musical games,” said Brodeur. “This music exploration develops essential listening, visual, memory, sequencing, motor, language and social skills. These classes also assist in readying the young children for kindergarten and enhance early development.”
The conservatory offers group classes to young children (and sometimes parents) from infants to five-year- olds. They are exposed to the many facets of music education in an atmosphere of fun and discovery.
Some classes are offered in English or French, increasing the chance a child will learn a second or third language easily.
According to Brodeur, research has shown that children exposed to music at an early age show improved social and cognitive skills, with increased self-esteem. They display superior cognitive performance in language, reading, mathematics, attention span, memory and creative thinking.
“The program gives the children a solid foundation as they prepare to enter the realm of formal learning within the school system,” she said.
Musical activities are based on age group, with very young children given shakers, ribbons, rain sticks, parachute and small drums while exploring elements of music, including sounds and songs.
Children age three to five typically employ xylophones, handbells, music pads, larger drums and wood blocks while learning to play small ensemble music as well as creating musical stories.
Children are taught to explore the sounds that become songs, or nursery rhymes that mirror the rise and fall of phrases in language.
The Victoria Conservatory of Music has been providing early childhood music programs for more than 30 years. The weekly music classes are held at both their downtown and Westhills locations.
The early childhood music outreach program was funded as part of the Victoria Foundation’s community grants program.
“We are most grateful to be able to offer little ones the gift of a lifetime,” said Brodeur. “It is truly the best kept secret in town.”
For more information, go to vcm.bc.ca/program-areas/early-childhood.