COLUMBIA — Sixteen-month-old Olivia Chang sinks into her mother’s lap as her mother rhythmically pats her daughter's belly and squeezes her toes to match the beat of a calming chant.
Olivia and her mother, Christine Chang, sit in a circle with other parents also practicing gestures of intentional touch on their babies under the direction of Kindermusik with Brenda owner Brenda Haynes.
Kindermusik offers classes for kids to learn and grow in areas of language, music, physical and fine motor skills, social and emotional skills, and parent bonding. The international company creates curriculum and certifies teachers, but educators open their own businesses and run them as they see fit.
“Our main philosophy is that the parent is the child’s most important teacher,” Haynes says. “And our job is to try and help give them the skills to be a better teacher to their child.”
This particular one-hour class at the studio teaches newborns to 18-month-old babies and involves a variety of multisensory activities.
The tempo picks up a few minutes later as the parents and the older babies rise to their feet. The younger infants, secure in their parents’ arms, bob, dip and weave to a jazzy number.
“It’s all interconnected," says Marcia Machens, there with her 14-month-old daughter, Kathryn. "It gives her brain another opportunity to learn, so it has the connection of the music, but it also gets her body to move.”
And then come the scarves. The studio space explodes with color, streams of pink and green and yellow fluttering past wide eyes and excited shrieks. Haynes walks around with a pair of planks from a xylophone, letting each baby hit a few notes.
“We know that when kids experience learning that engages all of their senses — seeing, hearing, speaking and touching — that they learn better because all parts of their brain are working together and integrated at the same time,” Haynes says.
Seven-month-old Eoin Gray lies on his back and screams at the ceiling in front of his mother, Jacqui Crissey, a wide smile on his face.
“He loves to hear himself,” Crissey says. A graduate student at MU, Crissey says she cannot spend all day with her son, so she enjoys the class as something fun they can do together. She also likes interacting with the other parents.
“The moms coming in with those little babies are getting a lot of information from the other moms who have been through what they’re going through: sleepless nights, crying babies,” Haynes says. “And they’re also getting a chance to bond with their child in an environment where most babies are really comfortable and calm and happy, so it’s a nice sweet moment in a sometimes really chaotic world for a new mom.”
Machens recalls the first day she brought Kathryn to class.
“She smiled so big, and I just said ‘I can’t not do this for her’ because it’s a great way to give her a good beginning,” she says, “And it’s nice, too, because we learn so much about babies.”
Kindermusik’s tagline is “A Good Beginning Never Ends.”
“If we can give them a really good start in the first three years of life in this kind of atmosphere with the multisensory learning, we’re giving them the skills that are going to carry on into their education throughout their lives," Haynes says.