MISSOULA — PLAY Piano Academy in Missoula hosts early childhood music education classes every week, focusing on play and movement while teaching kids language, motor and other life skills.
“It's just really good for their brain, it lights up their brain in a way that nothing else can,” says Elin Peterson, a music teacher at PLAY Piano Academy.
On Monday, Tuesday and Friday, Peterson leads a music class at 9:30 a.m. for toddlers and 10:30 a.m. for preschoolers. During the toddler class, parents participate by singing and exploring with their kids.
“The thing about parents doing it with their kids that I think is really cool is that studies have shown that children who participate in musical experiences with their parents, actually develop longer-term, closeness throughout their lives,” Peterson says.
Peterson keeps the class engaged by running through many activities throughout the 45-minute class, including reading time, a dancing circle, and even a quick nap break.
The preschool class is run similarly, but the kids are separated from their parents for the first 30 minutes. The kids also get to experiment with a few piano notes.
The toddlers and preschoolers learn listening skills while following Peterson’s directions for activities, and they learn language skills by memorizing songs and listening to Peterson sing.
“And what happens in these classes is not just music education, it's learning language. It's learning fine motor skills and gross motor skills and listening skills,” Valerie Young, co-founder of the PLAY Piano Academy, says. “It's all of these things combined, wrapped up in the joy of music.”
Young has taught piano for over 25 years and started the academy with her husband, shortly before the pandemic. She originally received a degree in music therapy, but has found a passion for working with kids.
“It's fun too, when your job is playing,” she says. “When your job is being a cheerleader, and being an educator. And working with young children, it's just so energizing.”
This summer, the piano academy expanded its space on South Avenue adding more room for the early childhood program.
Apart from Peterson’s class, Young teaches group piano to kids ages 6 years old through high school. She says the academy specializes in beginners.
For the parents of the young musicians, Peterson’s class offers their child a unique learning opportunity.
“Just the musical education part of it's such a big part of his development and ability to enjoy life,” Andrew Polifko, father of one of the toddler participants says.
Polifko and his wife both grew up learning an instrument and wanted to pass that on to their son. He says he loves to see his toddler have so much fun in Peterson’s class.
Kelci Kuntz’s daughter Ella, is her second child going through the program. Kuntz says she decided to enroll Ella because her oldest met lifelong friends in the music class.
“I think it's really helped Ella learn how to follow some directions and sit in a group with her peers,” Kuntz says. “And Elin has just been so wonderful and patient teaching her that since she was a year old.”
Overall, the early childhood classes at PLAY Piano Academy can give a child much more than a musical experience.
“We are developing a community around music,” Peterson says. “Where are you overall there when you're participating in music with other individuals, whether you're a child or an adult, you're creating a sense of togetherness, which is just really cool.”