I can't begin to tell you how often parents approach me with concerns about their three-to-four-year-olds' participation in class. Here are just a few of the comments I hear over and over again:

  • "He always wants to move around the room. I'm worried that he's not learning anything and is distracting others in class."
  • "She used to participate with the others, and now she just runs around."
  • "He used to sing the songs in class, but now he just wants to listen."
If you've had any of these concerns about your own child, trust me, you're not alone. You're just seeing signs of some developmental changes that are normal at this age. Let me explain.

Learning Through Moving

Preschool children are experiencing a shift in awareness, becoming more cognizant of their surroundings. They are beginning to realize the world does not revolve around them, as it appeared to when they were two. This awareness drives many of them to start exploring movement through space in a bigger and more playful way, and they can do so with greater coordination.

You might notice, for example, that your child wants to dance or spin around at a time in class when everyone else is seated. This behavior is not a problem — in fact, we welcome it! Children learn naturally through exposure, experimentation, and play. They need to process all they are learning, and this processing often involves leaving the circle and coming back when the music or activity changes.

If this behavior sounds familiar, relax and enjoy watching your child explore this new awareness. She is still getting everything she needs to learn from the musical environment we are creating and the play we are modeling in class.

Listening Learners

Some parents notice a different kind of behavior change: instead of participating in class, the child wants to sit still and listen. This may frustrate you, but again, rest assured that it's another manifestation of growing minds.

At this age, your child is becoming a more careful observer and listener, able to compare melodies or patterns he is hearing to his own attempts at musical expression. Hang in there, parents! This important developmental period often comes just before a child "breaks through" and achieves basic music competence.

Too Soon for Formal Lessons?

Speaking of three-to-four-year-olds, many parents ask me if this age is too early to start piano or violin lessons. While each child is different, I can tell you that we strongly discourage starting formal music lessons before the child is developmentally ready.

So, how do you know when you child is ready? Here are five factors that must be in place for your child to have success with formal instruction:

  1. Basic music competence, defined as the child's ability to (a) sing in tune in any key and (b) keep a steady beat with her upper and lower body. The average age for basic music competence in the United States is five.
  2. Thirty minutes of solid focus. Formal music lessons require a tremendous amount of concentration. If a child is not ready for this, the fun will be taken out of music-making and it will become frustrating for both the child and the teacher — and for parents!
  3. Mastery of small motor skills. If your child has trouble with small movements with his hands, trying to play a musical instrument will be extremely difficult.
  4. Earnest desire. The child must really want to take lessons if she is to be successful. If lessons are parent-driven, chances are the child will not want to practice or continue, and a power struggle can develop between parent and child.
  5. The right teacher. Having a teacher who understands early childhood development is much more important than having one who is a great performer/musician. There are very few teachers who are both knowledgeable in how young children learn and experienced in teaching young learners, but it's worth the time and effort needed to find them. 

Please remember this is an age when children still need to play. They have such a short period of time left before they reach elementary-school age, and as parents it's vital that we not rush them.

I would like to close by encouraging you to connect more than you correct in class. Let your children play, explore, experiment, and mature in our developmentally appropriate classes. This class is for them and for you, and we want you to build lifelong musical memories together.

So take a deep breath and enjoy the watching the wonder and magic of your three-to-four-year-old enjoying class in her own way. Your child is going through a transition that needs love and compassion. I promise you that they are learning in class … and I promise you they will grow up faster than you think.

Have you noticed changes in the way your three-to-four-year-old enjoys class? Please tell us about your experience in the comments below — we'd love to hear from you!

Blessings and peace,

Ana

P.S. Remember, pre-registration for currently enrolled Prelude families is now open for our Winter Session, beginning the week of January 2. Register today to keep the magic going … and if you haven't yet joined the Prelude family, this is a great time to sign up for a free "try me" class at a location near you!