Why Mixed Ages?

Sarah Weber, Katherine Weber, Elizabeth Weber, Mary Walsh, William Walsh.
/ Co-Directors of West Side Music Together®

WSMT: Thank you so much for agreeing to meet with us. First, how old are
your children and how long have you been taking Music Together? /

M and
K: We both started taking [classes] when our children were about 6 months
old. Now, William and Elizabeth are three, and Elizabeth's sister Sarah is
11 months. /

WSMT: You both are now in a class of mostly 1 year olds. Do
you or did you have reservations about your child being the oldest in the
class? /

K: To be honest with you, I did at first, going way back. When
Elizabeth was about 6 months old, I wondered if it was weird for her being a
baby with all these older kids running around. I wasn't really a skeptic,
but it was so different from what I thought it would be, and now I'm a total
convert. I so understand it. I have a much more natural view of childhood
and child development now that I have two. I see how they teach each other.
I see how they learn from each other, how Elizabeth gets to be a big kid,
and I see what that does for her and how she gets to teach her little sister
too. It's so normal and natural and I think that's what childhood is
supposed to be, with families and multi-age groups. It's been fantastic and
I've seen it work on both ends, both when they've been the youngest and the
oldest. /

WSMT: You were more of a skeptic when your child was on the
young side. Right? /

K: Right. /

WSMT: Do you take any other classes
that are mixed ages? /

M: Not really. I do take an art class with
different ages, but the age spread is probably not more than 6 months. In
Music Together, I always felt that it was great for William, because he
observed when he was little, and now he's running around while the other
babies are observing. It has come full circle, and it's great for him
because I think he can be kind of reserved, not intimidated, but reserved,
when he's around more boisterous kids. Now he gets to be the big kid and I
think he finds it so liberating. /

WSMT: When he was younger in class, he
didn't seem to want to venture off your lap for a long time. /

M: It takes
him a while to get comfortable with a situation. He certainly is comfortable
with this situation though, and I do think a lot of his comfort comes from
him being the older one now. He also really loves the younger children and
loves interacting with them. /

WSMT: Do you think your children are
benefiting as much from this class as they would if they were in a class of
all older children? /

K: I don't think Elizabeth is missing anything. In
some ways, she gets more attention this way, as the big kid in class. She
doesn't have to stand in line to get "secrets" [tonal game used in Music
Together class.] She can come right up and get one. In a way, there's a
little more of an opportunity for her to get to do the things that are at
her level, to really shine, because there aren't so many others trying to do
the same thing. She can get kudos for her dancing or for being a showoff if
she wants to. She can be a big fish in a small pond. /

M: Yes, I
definitely think William responds to that too! He feels more comfortable
about coming out in front of the whole group when some of the children are
younger. /

K: It is so great to have a program where I can bring my
children of different ages together. There are so few programs out there
which allow that. /

WSMT: Many people say that to us, but then some want
to separate their children so they can give them each individual time. /

K: I think having some of both [types of classes] is great. Ii is nice to
have "one on one" time with each child, but the time is going to come too
soon when Elizabeth is in school and the family activities together will be
fewer and further between. So I'm grateful for a class to which I can take
both, and that is equally engaging and beneficial for [their] different
ages. I'm not dragging Sarah to a big kid's thing where she's allowed to be
there but it's not really for her, and vice versa, Elizabeth is not just
sitting around at a baby thing. I really believe that each of them is
getting a lot out of the class. /

WSMT: Musical learning has nothing to do
with age. There are adults in the class that can be at the same place as a
child musically. Many of them have told us that their own musical competence
has improved through being in the class with their child. /

M: You've
always said that your child's primary role model is the parent. If so much
of the interaction is parent-child, why should it matter whether the
children are older or younger? They really do look to the parent .
Obviously, they're looking around too, but I think that because the
parent-child dynamic is such a huge proponent of the class, it is sort of a
moot point how old everybody is. /

K: Good point. And although they're
observing and learning from each other too, it really isn't a social
experience, it's a musical experience. /

WSMT: One of the big concerns
that parents call us with, is that they are afraid that their children are
regressing when they get down and crawl with the babies. We are one of the
only programs that doesn't divide by age. We do this for many reasons, but
the parents say that since nobody else has mixed age classes, why do we?
They want it to be more of a social experience. /

K: It's not set up that
way. This is about the music and the parent-child relationship. I feel that
this is straight out of your literature, but it truly has brought music into
our home. My husband and I both sang in the chorus in middle school, so
we're not totally without musical background, but neither of us is that
"musical." The idea of singing as an adult used to feel intimidating, and it
doesn't anymore. Although I wouldn't sing to a bunch of adults, I sing
constantly with the children, going around on the street with the stroller,
making up songs, making up verses to the songs we know. My husband does it
too and it has given our family kind of a music library to work from. /

And I think they are more receptive to other music after being in a Music
Together class. /

K: If we hadn't allowed Elizabeth to keep at it and
continue as a three year old, she, and we would miss the culmination of all
this. This is the time when she's really old enough to sing and put it all
together and invent songs on her own, which is so fun and special. /

It seems easier for the parents of a second child to realize all this.
Katherine, you have two children, but Mary has one. /

K: Well, Mary is
very enlightened. /

M: I see how it works with William. / K and M: We've
BOTH seen how it works. Let the skeptics call us if they have doubts! /

WSMT: Thank you so much for your time and thoughts. We know that your
insights will prove reassuring and valuable to many families who may be
concerned about the "age-mix" in their class. / /