Musical Education for Young Children (with Elizabeth Nixon)

Musical Education for Young Children Elizabeth Nixon Clap for Classics Homeschool Conversations podcast interview
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This was such a fun conversation for me! I see Elizabeth each week on the computer screen as Isaac and I sign in for his Clap for Classics! live class on Tuesday mornings. Her musical enthusiasm brings loads of joy to our homeschool day. And it’s been fun to get to know her as grown-ups, too, through the joy of social media and Voxer.

That made it even more delightful to chat with her on Zoom all by myself, and I can’t wait to share this conversation with you all! We discussed why musical education is important for our little ones, the value classical music brings to the early years, and Elizabeth even shared some musical activities you can do with your kids today.

Plus, if you listen to the podcast you’ll get a sneak peak (well, sneak listen) to the brand new Clap for Classics! podcast, which I know will become a favorite with your whole family.

Be sure to check out all the other interviews in our Homeschool Conversations series!

Watch the video. Listen to the podcast. Read the show notes. Share with your friends!

Musical Education for Young Children Elizabeth Nixon Clap for Classics Homeschool Conversations podcast interview

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Who is Elizabeth Nixon?

Elizabeth Nixon currently lives in Connecticut with her 5 wonderful kids ages 5-15 and her Army helicopter pilot husband.   She is an Early Childhood Music Teacher and Course Creator, brand new podcaster, and Small Business Owner of Clap for Classics!!  When she’s not creating high-quality music education experiences for young kids, she loves to hike, go on adventures with her kids, and snuggle up by the fire eating cheddar popcorn. 

Amy: Hello friends. Today I am joined by Elizabeth Nixon. Elizabeth currently lives in Connecticut with her five wonderful kids, ages 5 to 15, and her army helicopter pilot husband. She is an early childhood music teacher and course creator, brand new podcaster, which is exciting and small business owner of Clap for Classics!. When she’s not creating high quality music education experiences for young kids, she loves to hike, go on adventures with her kids and snuggle up by the fire, eating cheddar popcorn. I have to ask, are you a pop it on the stove person, or in the microwave?

Elizabeth Nixon: Oh, no. I am more like buy it packaged and already cheddared for me kind of a girl.

Amy: Perfect. I love that. I gave the official bio intro there, but can you just tell us a little bit about your family and your yourself and then your background with music?

Elizabeth: Yes of course. First of all, thank you for having me. I’m really excited. This is my first podcast interview and I’m a little nervous, but I’m so excited and Amy is a friend and has been a really big support. Just thank you for having me.

Amy: I’m excited to hear.

Elizabeth: Good. Like I said, we’re an army family and so we move around lot and we love to just make the most of wherever we live, we’re never anywhere for more than three years or so. We’re enjoying Connecticut. I love being a mom, I’ve got great kids. I’m entering into teenage years and I have to say (knock on wood somewhere), I’m loving the teenage years. And then I’ve also got my sweet little Caboose Charlotte who shows up a lot in Clap for Classics! and we just have a ton of fun.

The kids, everybody’s involved in the family business, which is very fun. I want to mention too, that my sister Kathryn is part of Clap for Classics! and a big part of my musical world too. She and I started this company together and she lives close, two hours away. We also love spending time with her and her kids.

 I come from a family of four kids and a musical background. My musical background started when I was eight. I started taking piano and studied classical piano and classical voice through high school. Then in college I emphasized voice and got a degree in music with a vocal emphasis. Then from there just always found opportunities to use music, lots of music in church, directing choirs and singing and teaching on the side. Then about six years ago, I got really serious about early childhood music when I convinced my sister to start a business with me. It was when her first child was born and my last was born and they match up pretty close; they’re three months apart.

I finally convinced her that we needed to just start our own curriculum. I had been interested in teaching early childhood music and always done music with my kids, but wanted to do a little bit more formally and I could just never jump on board with any of the other programs that were already out there because I thought, I know that I can do this myself, but I need a partner, and so convinced my sister who is a professional pianist and a fabulous musician.

I was like, “You and I, we could create our own curriculum and bring our own spin to things.” That was how Clap for Classics! was born, which might not have quite been the question you asked me, but hope that gives a musical background to me. [chuckles]

Amy: Yes, definitely. I love how you were able to take something that you and your sister both loved already and find a way to make it a business with your friend (and your sister) and bring your kids along as well. It’s really fun.

The person listening to this podcast is probably already a little interested in music, but let’s imagine for a minute we’re talking to someone who’s just very curious. Why do you think that musical education is important, especially for young children?

Musical Education for Young Children Elizabeth Nixon Clap for Classics Homeschool Conversations podcast interview

Why is musical education important for young children?

Elizabeth: This is such a good question. I think right off the bat, we could go the scientific route. There’s been lots of studies and a lot of recent neat study about the effects of music education on young kids. There’s been studies that have proven that musical experiences in childhood actually accelerate brain development, specifically in language acquisition and reading skills.

As parents, we’re always wanting to get our kids off on the best foot. That’s, I think, such a fun thing to be able to say that music, these experiences and music connection, is going to help them in all these other areas.

Number one, that’s a great reason for it, but the other maybe more compelling and just more reasonable reason I think is all the other sorts of skills that we learn and that we practice and that we work on as we are teaching music to our young kids, because music is such a universal fun and universal part of most– Most kids are drawn to music.

I don’t know about you and your little ones, but if you put on music for a little kid, they’re usually dancing or bopping or there’s something inside them that is drawn to music. We are. We’re drawn to music, and so for little ones, we’re not working on like a formal education yet, we’re doing play, we’re playing and we’re learning so much as we play.

I think for me, music is so playful and then as we’re playing with music, we’re learning a ton, so we’re learning about music sure, but we’re also practicing gross motor skills and fine motor skills. We’re working on social development, emotional development and then obviously the cognitive and language skills and so many skills you’re working on, but to the child it’s just playing and it’s singing and it’s playing with instruments and it’s just fun. I think that’s a pretty compelling reason for parents to be like, “Oh yes, music. We should include this for these little ones.”

Then the last one that I did want to just mention too, is the parent-child bonding experience that can happen. Especially the way that I think a lot of us participate in music, we’re singing lullabies to our little ones, or at Clap for Classics!, we encourage parents a lot to be engaging with their child.

When you do that, as with really any play that you do with your child, you’re bonding and you’re nurturing that bond together, which is so important in those early years. I think music facilitates that as well, just really well.

how homeschool preschool

Amy: I still remember doing mommy and me classes with my own mom growing up, that was my early music. I started piano (I actually don’t even remember not knowing how to play the piano, because it was very young), but it was through a lot of those group situations, at least in those early years. I think it’s just so valuable to create an atmosphere of that music, where I just always thought of myself as someone who loved music and there’s a lot of value in that to introducing young children.

Music is something fun. It’s not just waiting until you’re old enough to go take your music lesson and try off your practice and it’s a very formal thing. Music is just something that’s a part of our life. It makes it really delightful.

Elizabeth: I love that. I love those early memories too. I think some of those early memories are really important. Like for you, you’ve always loved music, but it was because probably your parents at a young age, they exposed you to lots of those things and intentionally. Sometimes, I think it’s easy especially nowadays, music is super accessible. We can listen to it so easy, wasn’t as easy when we were younger. We had to go buy the CD, right? Or we had to have the cassette tape.

It’s so easy and accessible right now, but there’s so many things fighting for our attention that sometimes we do forget, I think, and it’s a good reminder that this great tool is here at our fingertips. Let’s give it to our kids, let’s not forget about it.

Amy: Definitely. I think a lot of times in those early years, especially my audience is primarily homeschool parents, and so in those preschool years a lot of people say, “Oh, you don’t have to do anything in preschool. You just like read and play and spend time together.” There’s such a lot of truth in that. On the flip side, especially if you have multiple children like I do, if you’re just like, “Oh, it’ll naturally happen,” like a lot of good things, we forget to take the time to really invest in the areas where we have a priority.

Just having a purposeful approach, not something that’s formal and is going to kill the joy, it’s still playful and delightful, it’s relationship focused, the interaction, but it’s like, “Let me actually make sure I get to this thing that I say is important to me because it’s just too easy in my life for the things I say are important, if I don’t write them down or put them on the schedule, I won’t get to them.” That’s just the way it is.

Elizabeth: It’s so true and it really does. Like you said, it takes just a little bit of intention, but it’s got to be a priority. That’s why this is a fun conversation because hopefully, we’re just jogging that memory of like, “Oh this is why it should be a priority.” If it hasn’t been, that’s okay, try it. Let’s try it, let’s remind ourselves. Even I have to be reminded too, to put on the music or to have the experience with my little ones to make sure they’re not missing out on that, so it’s a good reminder for me too.

Musical Education for Young Children Elizabeth Nixon Clap for Classics Homeschool Conversations podcast interview

Why is classical music valuable for young children?

Amy: Let me ask you specifically about the genre of classical music, because I know that’s something that is a big part of Clap for Classics!, which my little guy and I have been enjoying the past year. Why do you think that classical music is valuable for young children? Are they too little to really understand it or appreciate it and why is that something that you feel is important to include in this early music education?

Elizabeth: I love thinking about this question and this has been really good for me to try to articulate this idea better, but the first thing I want to start out by saying is that classical music is a huge part of our program and our curriculum, but we don’t ever claim that classical music is best or superior or is the only way. It is something that we’ve included because it’s been part of our past history, like I mentioned, something that we love and then we’ve found this value in it, but we’re not– I did just want to make that clear.

We’re not saying that it’s superior or it’s better or it’s the only way. There’s lots of value in all kinds of genres of music and sharing of a variety of music with your kids.

But to talk about classical music, one of the reasons why it’s so great for early years, I think too for all ages, is it is so open ended. It really sparks imagination and can excite imagination.

There’s also such a breadth of diversity within the classical music genre, so I think there’s really something for everyone. There’s something for every emotion.

That’s one thing that I tell my students all the time, is I love the variety. I can put on something that makes me feel calm. I can put on something that makes me excited, something that might– if I’m angry, maybe I’m going to go find some music that makes me feel angry. This gamut of emotion, I think that can connect kids well to that. Then just the texture and the tempo and all the different rich complexity of classical music, I think is just really good for young kids for like I said, imagination and just to have that open-ended experience with music. I don’t think I’m explaining that very well.

Amy: No, I think you are. That makes sense. Also, I think of classical music as just the many layers of complexity and not complexity in the sense of like, “Oh, it’s too hard to understand.” Because in a sense it’s very approachable. It connects to a very essentially human aspect of ourselves. That we can all listen to the same piece of music from little to professional musician and all appreciate the music in a different way, but because it’s so complex you can take it so many different directions.

You can talk about the rhythm or the color or someone who’s older can understand more of what’s going on in the music, but someone who’s little can just be like, “Oh, it was loud and then it was soft.”

Musical Education for Young Children Elizabeth Nixon Clap for Classics Homeschool Conversations podcast interview

Elizabeth: Exactly, and I was thinking about like a little not really analogy, but for your listeners and for your family. I know that you focus on the classics. I see you reading classic literature with your kids and you’re appreciating art and poetry. One thing I think is so great about music is that( not that all those other things you can’t introduce young because I’m sure you’re introducing those things young to your kids too), but music is the one of those that even a baby, you can put on for a baby and they’re going to get something out of it and they’re probably going to get more out of it than we realize and we don’t have to water it down.

There’s no abridged version we have to share with them.

We share the real piece, the masterwork piece with our babies and with our toddlers, and they’re able to experience it. I think that’s just so beautiful and I love what you said too. Just our littlest ones can appreciate and then our older kids are going to get something more out of it, but as we’re introducing it at a young age, we’re also going to be allowing them that time for it to be able to– something that they can grow– can grow with them.

They’re going to remember, they’re going to have those memories of, “Oh, I remember hearing this or something familiar.” Then that’s going to spark these positive associations, I think with the music as they grow and then they’re going to dive deeper into it. I love that about classical music and our approach to and I’m sure your approach with your kids too is that we don’t have to think that just because they’re little, they’re not going to appreciate this beautiful part of our culture and our history and we can give it to them.

What are some simple musical activities we can do today with our kids?

Amy: Oh, I love that. That’s great. Elizabeth, I had to ask you because you are always so creative and you are able to come up with these great, simple, very doable, manageable active for families with music. I wanted to ask for someone who’s listening and is like, “Wow, this is great.” They can turn off the podcast when they’re done and what is one simple musical activity they could do today with their kiddos.

Steady Beat Musical Activity

Elizabeth: I think that one of the best things you can do is the very fundamentals of music is steady beat. That’s one of the very first things we teach with rhythm and that is something that sounds, I don’t know, maybe sounds boring, but it’s not boring. [laughs] Just to take your listening one step further is to put on some music and just try to feel that beat and you can do it in lots of ways.

You can march, you can stomp, you can tiptoe, you can get some instruments out or some kitchen utensils to use as instruments and play with those things. If you have a baby in your arms, you’re swaying to the music, you’re dancing with them. You’re feeling the music through the air, really wonderful for little babies. You can get out of scarf and use that as a way to play with the music.

I would say the simplest easiest thing to do is just turn on a piece of music, find something that you love, because if you love it they’re going to have that positive feeling towards it as well too, so find something that you love and just put it on.

One question I ask my students a lot is what does this music make your body want to do? Let them think about that. What does this music make my body want to do? Let them feel because they’re probably naturally going to start moving to the beat.

Now they might not, they might be in an easy mood and be going crazy and that’s okay too, [laughs] but let them start to think about the music and how it’s affecting their body. That would be a super easy activity you could do. We’ve got– I was going to say too, we have a few Spotify playlists we’ve been starting to put together and one, we have a steady beat playlist. We can and link to it in your show notes if you want and people could go– that way you know whatever you put on actually has a steady beat, because a lot of classical music doesn’t.

Some of it’s going to be very rubato and different, but we’ve got a steady beat playlist. If you want to put that in it’ll be great to do some marching and starting to feel that steady beat, which is going to be a very good foundation for their music at education. Can I give one more activity?

Amy: Oh, definitely. Please do.

Freeze Dance Musical Activity

Elizabeth: The second one, which is just a fan favorite is freeze dance. Most of your kids probably already love this, but it’s a great way to sneak in some great classical music and just to have your hand on the pause button and let them move around, especially if you can find something and exciting, we like to do it to the flight of the bumblebee. That’s one of our fan favorites at Clap for Classics!, but turn it on and then let them be listening.

They’re working on their listening skills, they’re working on impulse control. You’re sneaking in that classical music and it’s just fun. That’s a really easy one that will be hit with your little one, is just a classical music freeze dance.

Amy: I love that and I could see this being a great thing even a nursing mom or a tired mom, she can just sit there with the pause button and let her kids get some energy out in the living room.

Elizabeth: Definitely and on the flip side, if you’ve got a little one who’s on the couch and really want to move, how fun is it for them to hit the pause button and the play button and for you to play and move and see what happens to them? I bet they would think that was very silly too, if they got to do freeze dance with mom. That could be a really fun little bonding experience.

Amy: Those are really fun ideas. I will definitely put the link to your Spotify playlist in the show notes and I would love to hear from anyone who listens and tries that out. I would love for them to let us know how that goes in their living room. This sounds really fun. I’m going to have to do that when we’re done.

Elizabeth: Okay, good. [laughs]

What Clap for Classics!! Offers for Our Homeschools

Amy: We’ve talked about some of these natural ways we can lay a musical foundation for our kids at home and I will just say, this was something I was really good at with my older children, like so many things when I had more energy and seemingly more time and I noticed that as I had more children, my younger children, it was harder for me to fit in the purposeful music time in their day.

I guess about a year ago is when Isaac and I started doing Clap for Classics! live classes and so I would love for you to just talk a little bit about what you guys do at Clap for Classics!, what the classes are like and what value that gives to a parent, maybe even someone like me who already loves music, or to someone who’s like, “Music sounds great, but I know nothing about it.”

Elizabeth: I have been realizing that it does feel like we have both ends of the spectrum for Clap for Classics! parents, which I love because I think there’s something for everyone that we offer. Clap for Classics!, so we provide high quality educational, entertaining, interactive, music experiences for young kids. It’s for ages zero to six. Isaac’s pushing that, and I will just mention, I love it, we get Grace hearing– big sister hearing the welcome song, and she’ll often come running in.

We do have quite a few homeschool families who the older kids will filter in, because I do think there’s some appeal for those older kids as well, which is so fun. I love seeing that.

The courses that we create consist of online instruction. We have short videos for each short little activity. Most of them are two to five minutes. They’re all within a theme. We have a whole section on Carnival of the Animals. We’ve taken this classical piece of music and we engage with the classical music in fun and memorable ways.

We’ve also added in original songs, folk music, lots of nursery rhymes into that course as well that lines up with carnival. We’ve got a really fun kangaroo song and a fun elephant song that goes along with the classical. All of our courses have the classical element, and then this other song, and we do lots of movement. We do instrument play, we’ve got some that are yoga to a classical music piece.

There’s a really great variety of experiences within each course. We offer the online course. You and Isaac have been coming to our live course too. We do have a live option where I teach once a week on Tuesday’s, a live class on zoom, and a lot of our parents like that because it’s something on the calendar they can count on it every week. I get to interact with the kids, which is really, really fun.

I get to know your kids a little bit. We chat, we answer questions, we’re learning a lot together. It’s a ton of fun. You also have those videos, so that you can go back and use them during the week or if your child starts singing a song they learned in class, and you don’t quite remember it, you’ve got it there to reference it. There’s lots of ways you can use our courses and parents are using them in lots of different ways, which I think appeals to a variety.

For you, you’re busy, you’ve got your older kids, you’re schooling a lot of times. You can turn it on. You can go work with the high schoolers. You know that Isaac’s learning his music and you’re popping in and out, or big sister’s there helping him, which is really great. We also have lots of parents who, like you said, I don’t know anything about music, but my kid loves music and I want them to have some experience.

For those parents, they’re sitting with their child and they’re learning along with them. That’s that really great parent bonding that’s going on where they can learn and they can be– It has taken the decision fatigue out for them. They don’t have to research it, they have to learn this song ahead of time, they can just sit down, press play, and know that they’re going to be having this really great musical experience with their child without any prep from them. That’s another benefit for another type of parent who wants that sort of experience for their child.

Clap for Classics! Online Music Class Joy Music Appreciation young children preschool toddler baby kindergarten classical music

Amy: It’s amazing how even these little kids, sometimes they’ll unmute and answer a question. These little kids are learning terms like forte, piano, and Presto and all of these different actual musical terms or learning about the instruments. I guess it was last year when Isaac was five, there was the Peter and the Wolf classes you guys did. Our family went to see The Nutcracker this past holiday season, our seat was right by the orchestra pit.

Isaac was so excited. He’s pointing to all the different instruments and telling me, “Oh, that’s this instrument. That was this animal in Peter and the Wolf.” Just that connection that he was making then when he got to see them in person. I was like, “How did you remember all that?” Just a little bit of introduction, really. These kids, they pick up on so much.

Elizabeth: Oh, they’re just like sponges, aren’t they? I love hearing stories like that because that’s why we’re doing this because there’s so much beauty in classical music. There’s so much to be appreciated, to be learned. These kids they do love it. It’s amazing. I’ve had parents say, I didn’t know my kid knew who Beethoven was, or who could say Tchaikovsky. They’re learning these names of these composers and they know what a composer is and they’re experiencing things.

I get such a kick out of it. It is kind of amazing that they can learn these things. They’re learning about rhythm, they’re learning about form, they’re learning all these things. They’re getting a great foundation if they want to study an instrument later, or they’re fine tuning their listening skills and they’re becoming the classical music appreciators of the future, who we desperately need as well. I think that’s one thing that really has motivated us as well, to continue in this program. We’re developing the appreciators of this beautiful music for the next generation.

Amy: I can’t remember who it was I heard say this. I wish I– If I think of it all, I’ll reference them in the show notes. The main gist of what this person had said was, don’t just focus on raising children who can play instruments or who can be the performers, but raise children who can be the audience. Music needs both sides, or it won’t work. That’s a really good reminder, too. Doesn’t mean your kid has to go be the next great violinist. They can just be the person who can appreciate the great violinist. That’s important too.

Elizabeth: It is.

The New Clap for Classics! Podcast

Amy: Okay. I am super, super excited about your new project, which is a podcast. I’m obviously a big fan of podcasts, but this is a podcast for our children. I’ve actually just listened to the first episode with Isaac, Grace and Sophia earlier this week. It was fantastic. I’ll definitely link it up here in the show notes and everything, but I would like you to tell us a little bit. What is going on in this podcast? Who is it for? What can parents and their kids expect if they listen?

Elizabeth: It’s geared toward kids two to six. We’re going to push that a little bit out. I think your seven, eight, nine year-olds are going to enjoy it as well. Basically, we’re taking the same type of content that we’re creating in our courses and we’re putting it in audio format. We’ll always have a classical music experience on every episode, but we’re not just putting on a classical piece and then saying, “Listen to this.”

We’re giving them something to do. We might be even talking over it, “Oh, do you hear the music changed here?” So that they can really have an experience with the classical music. There will always be that, and then one or two other little activities. Usually, a couple other songs to go with it that are reinforcing some concept. In the first episode, we introduced Forte the Lion. He is my co-host.

My husband is the voice of forte. He has graciously agreed to co-host the podcast with me, which I’m so excited about because he brings the humor and the silliness. I think kids really relate to him. That’s super fun and that’s made the project more fun for me too to have him in there. Forte and I, we’re teaching a musical concept to the kiddos and singing songs and it will get you moving. We’re trying to also adapt if you’re in the car, because I listen to a lot of podcasts in the car with the kids.

If you’re in the car, we give you options to just be tapping your lap or clapping your hands. If you can’t be moving around, that’s okay. We have gotten some good feedback already this week. I’m so excited about it. One parent who like you, she comes to the class and she’s participating in some of our courses. She says, “There’s something about it that I like almost more than– maybe not more, but it’s just in a different way because it’s just that auditory experience.” There’s no other distractions.

There’s nothing on the screen to look at. You have to just listen even more carefully to what’s going on. It’s just a different experience than the courses. Anyway, I think the kids will like it because Forte’s fun, the music is fun and you’re learning and I think parents will see very quickly that there’s a lot of education packed in there as well. Hopefully, turn it on often for their little ones to enjoy.

Amy: I could definitely see it being something you could play for your kid to listen to independently because you are walking them through what they’re to do. It would be a great screen-free option for some independent playtime or if the family is all in the car together, it could be something everyone can listen to at the same time and enjoy together. I’m really excited about this new project. I know parents are often– especially podcast-loving parents, are often looking for new podcasts for their kids. I’m excited for this option for them.

Elizabeth: Well good. Thank you.

What Elizabeth is reading lately

Amy: Well, here at the end, I’m going to ask you the question I’m asking everybody this season and that is just, what are you personally reading lately?

Elizabeth: I told Amy ahead of time. This question was stressing me out for a couple reasons. One I used to love to read. I still love to read. I used to read a lot more than I do and I always have books on my nightstand that are just right there. This year, I’m actually committing to read more. I’ve been doing some audible listening and I just finished this week to something just fun for me. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty, loved it. It was great.

Then I’ve also always usually have a nonfiction on the bedside table. I’ve got a book and I have it written down because I never remember titles. Freeing Your child From Anxiety. Working on just getting some more tools in my tool belt for my kids. It’s a mom book, but that’s also on my nightstand.

Amy: Well, great. I will put links to those in the show notes as well. Elizabeth, where can people find you all around the internet?

Elizabeth: Well, the podcast, first of all, Clap for Classics!, you can search for that wherever you listen to your podcast and then on Instagram @Clap for Classics. If you want to check out our courses or anything that we offer, you can go to www.clapforclassics.com.

Amy: Fantastic. Of course, you can find all of those things in the show notes for this episode at humilityanddoxology.com. Elizabeth, it was really fun to get to chat with you and see you on Zoom without Isaac around, as much as that’s fun too. It was nice to get a grown up chat this time.

Elizabeth: It was great. Thank you so much for having me. This was a lot of fun.

Check out all the other interviews in my Homeschool Conversations series!

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