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Friday, March 10, 2000

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Twenty-one-month-old Hannah Rzepka is fanned
with a scarf by mom Stephanie during a Kindermusik

Kindermusik: The music of children

Enhancing children's
development while
captivating their imaginations

By Pat Gee


Ten tots sit in a circle on the floor, an encouraging parent behind each one. All eyes are on Helen Chao-Casano, a diminutive woman who holds a huge teddy bear on her lap. Music plays from a boom box -- nursery songs this time, but sometimes classical.

Chao-Casano moves the teddy bear to the beat of the music, demonstrating exercises. The children sing along in high, sweet voices, copying the bear's motions. And for the next 45 minutes they continue doing that: singing, dancing and moving as Chao-Casano brings out a variety of props to teach and enthrall them.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
In another exercise, Hannah is among
several toddlers enjoying swing rides.

This is Kindermusik, or "children's music" in German. The program, which Chao-Casano brought to Hawaii three years ago, looks like too much fun to be mistaken for instruction. But that's what it is: a method, according to proponents, to develop the brain cells of children in a way that will help them do better in school and on the playground of life.

"Every child in this program is affected in a positive way and profits immensely," Chao-Casano said, relating what parents have told her.

Chao-Casano isn't trying to make trigonometry whizzes of the children, but the exercises they do may later help them master mathematics, science or other tasks requiring advanced reasoning skills.

According to a University of California-Irvine study, children with music lessons scored 43 percent higher on spatial-temporal intelligence tests, which prepares them for the complexities of math and science. Overall, the study said, music helps a child's cognitive, physical and social development.

Chao-Casano is one of nearly 3,000 independent educators licensed worldwide by Kindermusik International, a program that originated in West Germany 40 years ago.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
The tots get a little massage during a recent Kindermusik class.

She is a New York native who came to Hawaii to start a Kindermusik program as part of the Pacific Intercultural Academy, a music and drama school that works out of St. Andrew's Priory and the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu. Her program is the largest of a handful in the state, involving some 250 students from birth to age 7, and two assistant teachers, she said.

As its theory may suggest, the equipment used in Kindermusik is not your standard chalk and blackboard. In one of her most popular exercises, Chao-Casano twirls long, sheer, colorful scarves in circles or up and down to make waves. This simple activity draws squeals of delight from youngsters, enchanted by the visual effect.

A full range of senses is used in her lessons. For instance, in teaching the concept of "up" and "down," she uses mirrors to get babies to track motion, and instructs parents to use their faces and voices to match -- high tones to indicate "up" and low for the word "down."

To parents -- who pay fees ranging from $120 to $280, depending on the number of sessions and age level -- the program is music to their ears. Dean Matsumoto, a mortgage broker who works out of his Makiki home, has a schedule that allows him to take his 9-month-old son, Pohai, to class while his wife teaches. Their first child, who is 3 years old, has been enrolled in Kindermusik for two years.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Maya Schlack, 2, decides she'd prefer shaking her musical
instrument while perched on the back of her
mom, Shauna Candia.

Like most of the parents, Matsumoto hopes that stimulating his children through the program's "focused and structured" activities will help them develop. But the brain chart he points to on the wall has become only part of the reason for bringing them.

"They enjoy it, that's the bottom line," he said.

Lore Killeen of Waialae Iki has brought her 2-year-old daughter Reilly since last summer and plans to continue doing so until she reaches age 4. She read that children who are exposed to music at a very young age will do better academically, and noticed on her own that it also helps with memory and fine motor skills.

"Reilly really loves it," she said, noting her daughter "lights up" when she hears classical music, and moves her fingers like she's leading the orchestra.

"She told me, 'Music makes me happy.' "

George Brogan of Kahala started bringing his 15-month-old daughter, Kaile, about a year ago so she could interact with other children. He was concerned about her development since she "had problems at birth" -- she was anemic, had an abnormal CAT scan and suffered a few seizures.

Kaile needed a lot of therapy and her parents thought she could learn something from the "organized playtime" Kindermusik offers, since they were advised spending extra time with her would be beneficial. Brogan said he sees "a great improvement."

"She used to be shy, but now she's up and running around," he said. "She's more receptive to music. Her eyes light up when she hears it at home-- we play the same CD -- and I think it's helped her developmentally."

Chao-Casano appreciates the comments she hears. They are one of the reasons she loves her job.

"Every week there's some wonderful, special spark that happens" she said. "It's a comforting, nurturing place to explore music."

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