This is the third post in the four part “Nurture Series”
Learning how to ski last winter as a very late beginner-let’s just say over the hill and still not able to ski the bunny slope-was an education. We all know how much easier it is for young children to learn a new physical skill because they don’t over analyze what they are doing and are able to learn directly through observation in the environment.  “If I lean to the left I will go to the right?” is a tedious way to figure out how to move on skis. Imagine a baby learning to walk this way.  It is  much easier is to learn by seeing other people ski and follow behind.  I saw parents taking their children down the slop on their back, in between their legs, etc.  It all looked scary to me, but I am guessing these kids are going to learn to ski pretty fast.

Children love to put their hands on top of mine while I am playing piano in much the same way as they love to “ski” down the mountain by riding on their parents skis.  This step is the inspiration and motivation.

Playing piano involves learning a physical skill as well.  How can we help children acquire the skill of playing piano in a natural way without too much instruction or too little help?  The first step is to hear and see others playing piano.  The next step is to directly learn by copying without too much verbal instruction. In learning to ski this involves lots of falling down and getting back up.  Children learn to ski then by feeling, or learning through the senses. In learning language, babies first directly copy the sound that they have heard many times such as the word “mama”.  As discussed in the first “Nurture” post on Natural learning,  parents and teachers can sing and play the melodies the children are learning to provide the sound. This is totally different from telling the child what to play: “The note is D” or “Not that note!”

The children then learn the pieces through the experience of making music, through feeling the sound and how to do it physically. Instructions cause the child to over use their mental thinking  instead of naturally copying the sound as in learning a language.  When adults give too many instructions,  children feel that playing piano is difficult, and then resist the experience.

After  the child has the experience of copying sound, the teacher or parent can give direct positive feedback about what is being done correctly:  “When you moved your finger on the key, the sound was a ringing tone.” This statement correlates with the sensory input the child has experienced through direct learning.  It connects the physical movement with the quality of the sound through mental learning.

Integral learning connects the physical, sensory feelings, and mental concepts into a holistic experience that is motivating and fulfilling. The environment of sound and observation are the critical first components.  By singing, playing, and clapping the music with our children more often than giving verbal instructions, we are helping them learn through the experience of music.  By bringing awareness to the sound, the feeling and the physical aspects of playing piano, we are helping the child to enjoy the process of learning and practicing, and thus develop ability.

Dr. Kataoka’s book on learning through the senses: