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Music for young minds

Incorporating music into everyday learning activities, the Infant and Toddler Music Curriculum Project created by a Frost School faculty member is helping to improve developmental skills in children—while also aiding the healing process of one injured child.

Frost School faculty member Joy Galliford works with children at the United Way School of Excellence, one of two sites that are taking part in her UM Infant and Toddler Music Curriculum Project.

Suffering brain trauma from a serious accident, 4-year-old GianLucca had barely uttered a word as he lay in a hospital bed for weeks recovering from his injuries.

Aurora Ojito, GianLucca’s teacher at Sagrada Familia childcare center in Miami, would go to the hospital often to visit her ailing student, always shedding tears at the sight of the boy who was once so full of life but had now become a child with so little to say.

“He liked to play and socialize with the other children,” Ojito recalls, “and he really loved music.”

That gave GianLucca’s caseworker and nurses an idea. They asked teachers at the boy’s school to send a CD of his favorite songs—ballads he enjoyed listening to during his participation in a University of Miami Frost School of Music program aimed at enhancing developmental skills in children through music.

When the CD arrived and the nurses played the song Hola, the boy smiled for the first time since his tragic accident and began to sing.

“It was the beginning of him coming back to our world, from wherever he was,” said Joy Galliford, the Frost School music education researcher who co-wrote the courses and penned the songs for the UM Infant and Toddler Music Curriculum Project, which is being tested at Sagrada Familia and one other Miami-area school. “It was a powerful moment,” Galliford said.

Galliford has gone to the hospital to see GianLucca four times, playing the boy’s favorite songs on the portable electronic keyboard she brings along. “He puts his hands on the keys and pretends to play while he sings,” she says.

The boy’s nurses and teacher, and his mother, who also suffered injuries in the accident, would sing along with him. She credits much of GianLucca’s recovery to the music program she helped create, saying the songs aided in jogging his memory when other stimuli failed to do so.

“We have had significant results in our study for the past two years,” Galliford explains. “But that’s research. This was real life, and the power that it had in bringing this boy back has been phenomenal. I believe music is just like life—something you do every day, like brushing your teeth.”

Incorporating music into everyday learning activities is at the core of the UM Infant and Toddler Music Curriculum Project. About 50 children at two early childhood care centers in Miami are enrolled in the 20-week program, learning numbers and the alphabet, identifying colors, and transitioning from one classroom activity to another—all with the aid of music. Galliford and other Frost School faculty members instruct preschool teachers in how to integrate music into the daily lessons of their students.

Galliford said study results have shown the program, which is now in the final year of a three-year $75,000 grant from The Children’s Trust, has improved children’s large muscle skills, cognitive thinking, social and emotional development, and self-help abilities.

“It’s been a tremendous help and creates a positive environment,” Ojito said of the program.

She and GianLucca’s other teachers are looking forward to the day he returns to preschool. They are planning a welcome-back party, complete with his favorite songs.

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