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Music for Holistic Child Development

This is a transcript of the Preschool Podcast, episode #42“Music for holistic child development”

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Hi, I’m Ron Spreeuwenberg, co-founder and CEO of HiMama. Welcome to our podcast about all things “early childhood education.“


On Episode 42 of the show we talk about music as a vehicle for holistic child development with Galina Zenin, founder of the Bonkers Beat early-years curriculum, from Melbourne, Australia. The curriculum focuses on integrating song and movement into daily teaching practices.

In our conversation we learn about Galina’s journey into early-education as she began her career as a professional musician and has successfully combined her passion for music with research and child development. Galina tells us about how she develops her pedagogical approach in her own kinder and runs wellness summits for educators and parents on how to use music as a teaching tool.

If you are a parent or educator who is interested in play-based learning that develops the whole child, then stay tuned for this episode of the Preschool Podcast.


Galina, welcome to the Preschool Podcast. It’s so great to have you on the show today.

Galina ZENIN:

Hi, Ron. Thank you so much for inviting me.


It’s our pleasure. So Galina, you have a focus on music programs for children in their earliest years. Why do you have this as a focus in your life, focusing so much on the musical aspect of early-childhood programs?


Well, that’s a really important question. But to explain to the listeners I have to say first of all that I’m a professional musician. I’ve been trained in music in Russia, in Moscow, and I started music myself when I was just a little bit over six years of age. So music has always been part of my life and I can’t even imagine a day living without music. So I’ve been teaching music to children since I was 16 years of age. And when we came to Australia of course I was taking the role as a music teacher, as a music director, as a music coordinator. But when I had our second child I realized that there is very little music in early-childhood education in Australia, and I just really wanted to bring music into children’s lives.

So, why? Number one, because I know the impact of the music on myself. And from the research I know that the music is very powerful for the children’s brain development, emotional and overall well-being. That’s the reasons.


Okay, wonderful. And so this also hits on a point that I am quite passionate [about], too, which is the importance of getting input from external experts. So you started off by saying you’re a musician by background, and I think that’s really important for people like yourself to provide input as an expert in your field even though your background isn’t necessarily early-childhood education. So that’s really cool.

So are there certain things that make music in early-years programs more or less effective based on how they’re implemented in the classroom? Is there their methodologies, or how does that work?


Well, if we look at the overall industry – let’s say in Australia – early-childhood educators are not trained specifically in music. So most of them, probably 95% of educators who study the profession, they never played instrument. They never sang in choirs or were engaged in any formal music classes. So that means early-childhood educators usually don’t have the experience and they don’t have confidence in rhyming music.

However, music in early-childhood and in early-years doesn’t have to be complex. And I think my focus and my passion and goal is to give this confidence and give practical tools to early-childhood educators, that they can start using music in their daily practice.

A really long time ago in Australia – I believe, because I haven’t been studying early-childhood in Australia – but I’ve been told that music used to be part of the course. When educators did deployments, if they a bachelor in early-childhood, they had to have some units of music, and they had to try different instruments. But not anymore. It’s not there anymore, Ron, and that’s very sad.

Yeah. I mean, it makes sense when you explain it, that would be part of your actual education because, like you said, the research shows that it is very helpful when it comes to children’s development.

Now one of the things you mentioned is that you try to do yourself is give confidence and practical tools to early-childhood educators. Let’s talk about both of those. So let’s start with the confidence – how do you get confidence as an early-childhood educator to integrate music into your programs?

Well there are a few different ways how we can achieve it and how I do it. But to give confidence anybody to anyone, people have to start doing it. So people cannot build confidence if they’re not trying or starting a new skill. So what I do, I provide educators very simple, very practical tools like TVs and video recordings, all of the songs which I created in a certain way designed to science curriculum. And then educators start doing these songs with children, and [the] more they do it, [the] more confident they become. And also in Australia I have a group of educators who ran [the] Bonkers Beat program, and twice a year we get gather for wellness summits. And during these wellness summits we actually physically all do together the musical experience songs and dances, and it becomes a very practical workshop for them where they can do it as children. And then of course with the video recording they always can go back and watch it again, either by themselves or with children and polish their skills and get more confident. So that’s very simple.

And so the second piece that you mentioned was practical tools, and you talked about a few things just there. Are there any other practical tools that you would add on to some of the things you just mentioned?

Well of course. There are a lot of songs which are printed out, and there are a lot of recordings for educators to listen to songs. But there are a lot of other practical tools which can help to embed it into curriculum, like documentation, ideas for art experiences to enhance creativity. Because I don’t see music as a separate subject. Ron, music for me, it is something which needs to be embedded into curriculum. So when I’m talking about practical tools, so that means we need to help educators to embed the musical experience into the curriculum.

And I’ll explain a little bit more why I’m so passionate about this. For many years I’ve been doing research, and I’m really passionate about some approaches or theories in early-childhood. And the very first one I was drawn to was actually Howard Gardner, and his philosophy and his approach and view on multiple intelligences is very, very profound. So I’m [a] very visual learner, and some people can learn kinesthetically. Some people will learn verbally. Some people will learn in different ways. So I believe we need to look at early-childhood education as a holistic approach, and we need to provide opportunities for the child to learn in different ways.

So music – music has lyrics. True? So when the song has the words, it’s really important to have a very strong message or inspiration for children because they will learn not only through musical context, they will learn through literacy, as well, and the lyrics are very important. So when it is a message about maybe safety or health or respect or environment, then we can embed some other experiences into curriculum to support that theme or support that message. So if it is a song about environment, we’re not just singing about environment – we do and we take actions to help the environment. And that’s how we see the child will learn much better, and will remember if they’re not just exposed to high quality music experience. But if they read about environment, if they do gardening, if they recycle, we use items in their daily kinder life, that’s how they will learn. And I believe this message will stick with the child for life.

So that’s a very interesting and important message, I think. And just to clarify – and correct me if I’m wrong – what you’re saying is that, if I’m an early-childhood educator I shouldn’t just sort of say, “Okay, kids, it’s music time. We’re going to have some time together to spend time on our music half-an-hour,” or whatever it is. It’s more of a seamless and ideally complete integration of music into your curriculum throughout the day or over time and not just sort of for a segment. Is that right?

Yes, that’s right. However it needs to be, of course, a balance. The lesson can include two or three different songs. And these songs… some educators ask me, “How do you choose the songs?” And I think it’s important for educators to understand that there is intentional teaching. So if there is something really important [that] educators believe the child has to learn – let’s say safety. So why not to bring a song about safety and enhance the curriculum with the focus on the safety?

However, there could be a really silly song, like “Monkey Dunk”, and it could be a really fun experience. And maybe children just come back from [the] weekend and they went to the zoo, and the children’s interest that saw monkeys, why not to bring a musical experience which supports [the] child’s interest? It could be brought into the music lessons for different purposes. But then it’s important [to] not just sing the song but to take the song a bit further and to say, “Who are monkeys? Where do monkeys live?” And, “Do you know how monkeys move?” Or, “Can you make the sound of monkeys? Oh, they live in a jungle! All right! So let’s look at the jungles around the world!” And can you see how from a very silly song we take the child on a really deep, meaningful learning journey?

And I think that’s important for educators to listen to children’s voices, but also to really understand that we as educators have [a] big role of sending important messages to children, and maybe to invite them to learn something we believe is very valuable for their future, for their life and their overall development.


That’s great advice. Another thing that you mentioned and as you were speaking about some of the ways we can integrate music into our programs is actions. So, do you see a connection to music and movement in particular?


Absolutely. Everything. There is no life if things are not moving. So the movement is crucial for gross motor skills, for fine motor skills. But we need to start, first of all, talking about the brain, because I think there are other subjects which I believe all the early-childhood educators across the globe need to have while they’re studying, or at least to have a personal self-education on is actually neuroscience. Because if we understand how the brain works – of the child, [in] particular, and our own brain – I think we start looking at things differently.

So the music is so powerful only because it actually stimulates both parts of the brain, and the action is connected to music. And when we do any – even simple finger play or gross motor action – we develop the whole, entire brain. And when it’s done with music, that impacts the frontal lobe, the backside of the brain, and the corpus callosum. Everything is activated, everything is connected, and every element of the brain is active and engaged. And that’s why it will have impact on the overall development. But movement is absolutely crucial for life and for the child’s development.


Wonderful. And you practice that yourself, I think, as well, right? You do some yoga, you have a strong interest in meditation as well? And I think it’s great that you’re kind of practicing yourself what you’re applying to children in their early years.

That’s right. We have a music program, but over [the] years I realized that the music is just a stone in the Bonker Beat philosophy. So we have actually seven stones in our philosophy, and as any building or any structure that we would like to build or create, I believe we need to start with a foundation. If there is no strong foundation the building, or if we will think of the child’s future – because we are building the child’s future in early-years – I think the child won’t be strong, or the building won’t survive any wind, any storm. So let’s start with the foundation.

And for me, personally, the bottom rock, the biggest, the strongest is music. But the second one is very profound, too: it is well being. And again, I put [a] big focus on mental health and mental stimulation, and yoga and meditation [are] definitely great tools to improve our mental health.

Look, Ron, I can share with you and the listeners that in Australia we have absolutely shocking statistics, currently. We’ve got every fourth child is diagnosed with some kind [of] mental disorder or condition. It could be anxiety, it could be stress, and it’s just very frightening. And we need to do whatever it is in our power to start teaching children. And the best way to teach children: actually do it, to impact and improve their mental health. And the yoga and meditation are wonderful tools to do that.

Hey, this has been a really, really cool conversation. If I’m a listener and I want to learn more about this topic or maybe get in touch with you and learn more about your work, where would I go?
We do have a number of different websites. The easiest point would be BonkersBeat.com. We have the landing page which will have three bottoms, and one is for Bonkers Beat Music Kinder. We’re located in Melbourne, in Australia. And one button would be for educators – the blue color. So people will click there, they will be able to actually subscribe to our Sing & Stretch Club. And they will receive some transitional songs for their children. If they are early-childhood educators of course that is great for their classroom.

And there is another button which will take them straight through into some songs and listen to meditation stories – a sort of fun website. I’m very happy to send you a couple of links and help listeners not to get lost in all our websites and landing pages, because as I mentioned before we’ve got [a] few programs which are kind developed over the years and sometimes it can be a little bit overwhelming. But the easiest way: BonkersBeat.com


Wonderful. OK, Galina, one thing that I wanted to say before we wrap up here: I’ve learned a lot from this episode, but in particular what I find really inspirational about your story is that you’ve taken what you’re really passionate about – music – and then, secondly, you’ve done the research. You’ve gone out and you’ve built out a really in-depth knowledge about how children learn, and brain development. And then finally, and of course very importantly, you’ve applied that yourself and are even taking that to others. So thank you so much for your innovative and research-based approaches to integrating music in the early-years environment. It’s been really wonderful having you on the show, Galina.

Thank you so much, Ron.

Ron Spreeuwenberg

Ron is the Co-Founder & CEO of HiMama, where he leads all aspects of a social purpose business that helps early childhood educators improve learning outcomes for children.

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