Research suggests that music education might enhance children’s cognitive development, improving reading, math skills and possibly even IQ. But music education doesn’t typically start until children are well into primary school. Musica, a cutting-edge organisation in Neerpelt, Limburg province, is challenging this status quo with an innovative program that immerses babies in music.
If they can dance before they can walk, they’ve been to Babelut
Musica has been expanding the bounds of traditional curriculum for several decades. After a careful review of music education research and practice, the organisation concluded that the most crucial period for musical development is between 0 and 9 years.
In Belgium, children usually start music education classes around age 8. “If we start them at age 8, it’s too late,” says Annelies Luyckx of Musica. “We have to start when they are just born – and even before.” Luyckx works with Musica’s Babelut initiative. Babelut – inspired by babelutte, the traditional candy, brings the sweet sound of music to Belgium’s youngest citizens.
Music-focused classes for kids up to the age of three are rare to nonexistent. Babelut has a series of workshops for singing with babies up to eight months old. A pregnant woman who participated in the class later expressed that one of the only ways she could calm her baby was to sing songs from the workshop. Other parents noted that their babies started to move and dance when hearing workshop songs but not when hearing the radio.
Babelut’s activities are also aimed at parents and other caregivers, including a series of courses for early childhood educators that emphasize “artistic care” – incorporating singing, dancing and musical games into the classroom on a daily basis.
There is still much to be learned about how exactly music impacts the brains of babies and toddlers, and one of Babelut’s objectives is to conduct further investigations. Luyckx says they have found that children develop musicality like they develop a language. Since babies can’t imitate words precisely, Babelut teaches songs without words, but rather short, musical phrases that encourage infants to play and experiment with sounds.
The Babelut Lab offers musicians and artists an opportunity to work with babies and toddlers in day care settings. Their findings influence and inform later workshops and productions. With Babelut on the Road, the organisation is taking its message and performances to other communities around Flanders.
In March 2011, in coordination with Theatre de Spiegel and Provincial Domain Dommelhof, Babelut will organize a five-day festival with international performances, exhibits, workshops and lectures.