Learning music early

Greta Johnson teaches a Kindermusik class at her home in Norfolk on Wednesday.

When Greta Johnson began teaching Kindermusik 25 years ago in Norfolk, she had no idea it would take off like it did.

In fact, it wasn't even her plan to teach the early childhood program focused on music and movement.

Her thought was to offer piano and voice lessons after she left her job as a public school music educator in order to focus on her family.

But as parents with young children began approaching her, things changed.

"I had parents calling wondering what they might do to nurture their children who were 2 and 3 and singing and dancing with television all the time," Johnson said. "I had known about Kindermusik but hadn't really considered it, and then actually I saw an ad in a music educators magazine talking about it."

She then decided to attend a Kindermusik training session in Omaha and preceded to open a studio run out of her home in August 1991.

For Johnson, a music lover whose earliest childhood memories involved playing school and being the teacher, Kindermusik seemed like a natural extension of her interests. But it was as the program — which has always tried to nurture the development of the whole child through musical skills — began to refine its curricula with what the latest research shows to be beneficial for children, that she got hooked.

"I think at that point, my heart really latched on to it because I feel like I'm offering parents an educational opportunity as well as a fun musical opportunity," Johnson said. "If you join Kindermusik and enjoy playing with your child and you enjoy music, you really can't go wrong."

Community members are apparently hooked, too. Johnson started with 12 students 25 years ago and now has around 130 between classes offered for infants and babies, children ages 2 to 4 years, preschoolers, kindergarteners, first-graders and second-graders.

She offers 16 classes a week with Alyssa Hayse, who is the Norfolk Middle School vocal teacher, teaching three of them.

"I think parents understand the value of spending time with their young children here," Johnson said. "I think our Midwest values really encourage that. It's fun for the parents. It's fun for the child."

But it's also the growth that parents see in their children, Johnson said, that she thought encouraged them to continue with class.

"Parents see that the child loves it and it's educational and beneficial," she said. "So, I think those two things ‘sell the program,’ and help people fall in love with it. And I love it for that very reason, too, because I see that growth in the children, and then there's just a wonderful feeling in your heart when you see your child thrive and doing well, and you're having fun playing with them."

Johnson has seen children who cried the first 15 minutes of their first class begin to openly dance and play as the semester continues. She's witnessed babies who started the program in their mothers' laps begin to cruise around the room.

The benefits are also supposed to transfer to when the children start school.

Johnson's had parents tell her that they thought their children were better prepared for preschool because of Kindermusik. She's also had parents who feel like their kids were better able to excel at reading or math because of the class.

"They could be being really nice to me, or they could actually believe that," Johnson said. "But those are the types of stories that I hear from parents, and there is research that does support that. If parents validate that just with their own observations, then I think that's a good sign."

Kindermusik is designed to cater to whole-child development, improving cognition, language and literacy, math and logic, social and emotional skills, and physical, creative, and musical development.

In a nutshell, Johnson said the infant and baby class focuses on brain development, the 2- to 4-year-old class focuses on language and social skills, the preschool class focuses on creativity and inhibitory control, and the young child classes — which are for children kindergarten to second-grade — both focus on music appreciation.

Kindermusik has been such a success in Norfolk that it's the second largest program in Nebraska. Johnson's studio is in the top 5 percent of programs in the world in terms of size, which allowed her to be selected to attend a two-day training in Orlando in October.

It's all made Johnson grateful for the community support she's received.

"I do my best to make it a wonderful experience for families, but if they didn't believe that what they were doing for their child  was helpful or beneficial, they wouldn't be back and then I wouldn't have a business either," Johnson said. "So, it's kind of one of those things where I feel very blessed to have a community that values those types of experiences for their young children. I had no idea when I started that I would still be doing it in 25 years, but it's been a wonderful journey and I've loved every minute of it."