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The Washington Times
January 11, 2000

Power of music makes it valuable in teaching

By Michael Farris
The Washington Times
January 11, 2000

Music is a powerful force in one’s memory. For example, I can still sing the entire original Rice-A-Roni jingle that has two choruses and one verse. Other singing commercials from the late ’50s and early ’60s are also firmly lodged in my memory.

But during our family’s recent Christmas celebrations, I saw a demonstration of the power of music and memory that made me realize how potent this medium can be in the mind of a child.

For each of our 10 babies we developed a certain bedtime routine unique to them. Peter, our youngest, had a stronger attachment to me at an early age than any of the others. Consequently, I regularly rocked him at bedtime. And when I rocked, I sang. I fell into a pattern of singing two songs that became his favorites—“What A Friend We Have in Jesus” and “Everybody Ought to Know.”

Soon, Peter wanted his mother to sing to him at bedtime as well. Starting during Christmas in 1998, Vickie sang “Angels We Have Heard on High” to Peter. It became his favorite from her, and she has sung it to him at least on 200 nights in the past year.

Our whole family sings Christmas carols regularly as part of our celebration. And, as you would surmise, it came time to sing “ Angels We Have Heard on High.” Peter, who will be 3 at the end of March, knew all the words to the same three verses of this carol that Vickie had committed to memory. Seeing a 2-year-old boy sing “ shepherds watch this jubilee” is flatly amazing.

This incident reinforced my view that home schooling parents would do well to include music as a regular part of your school activities. I strongly suggest that you pick a few special songs for emphasis, and drive them deeply into your children’ s memories.

I would start, of course, with some great hymns of the faith. “ Amazing Grace, ” “ How Great Thou Art, ” and “ Like A River Glorious” are three good examples of the kind of hymns that deserve to be buried deep into all of our memories.

It would be good to include a number about songs of America as well. Patriotic songs such as “ The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful, ” would head the list.

And there are a number of songs that were a routine part of childhood and have been a deep part of our culture. Sadly, they are on the verge of being lost. I have been surprised on several recent occasions to find that a number of people in their 20s have no recollection of ever hearing the songs “Home on the Range” or “O Susanna! ” We would do well to teach our children such songs to enrich our understanding of American history.

Of course there is a more professional side of musical instruction that is beneficial for children as well-piano or violin lessons, for example. We have required each of our children to take at least one year of piano lessons. If they like it, they continue-if not, they have at least been taught to read music, and we find other activities that they seem to enjoy. (Now, our 24-year-old married daughter teaches piano professionally to a number of students, including three of her younger siblings.)

But not every family has the built-in ability to teach piano lessons. Nor is this level of instruction the real essence of the point I am making. Every parent has the ability to sing “Angels We Have Heard on High” night after night while in a rocking chair. Every parent has the ability to sing “America the Beautiful” while sitting in the living room with their children.

A few months ago, I purchased a CD of old country ballads. I played it for my mother when my parents were visiting us from Washington state. There was one selection my mother said brought back real memories for her. When she was a child, her father sang that same song over and over to her family.

I urge you to sing to your children. Sing with your children. Give them songs that they will associate with you when they are grandparents themselves.

Michael Farris is the father of 10 home-schooled children and president of the
Home School Legal Defense Association

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