Three-year-old Annika will shake her bootie to commercial jingles. She’ll grab a friend or even a random child playing nearby and put a spontaneous dance show in the park. She’ll beg her daddy to boogie with her in the middle of a barbecue with friends. So it’s little wonder we, as her parents, felt the need to introduce Annika to pre-ballet at an early age.
At Annika’s Parkdale-based dance school, Tap Shoes & Tutus, ballet and modern dance teacher Heather Zimmer agrees that this early introduction is fostering an interest — if not love — of dance for our little girl. “It's an introduction to dance, not just ballet or jazz, but the relationship between body movement and rhythm work and creativity,” says Zimmer.
Music and dance teachers agree that introducing your child to a music or dance program early in life draws many benefits — besides tiring them out in hopes that they’ll still nap! It can spark and nurture creativity and build on both fine and gross motor skills. “The lifelong love for music and the joy that is derived from making music is a seed that can be planted in the child from birth,” says Sophia Grigoriadis, an instructor with the Clapping Land music program in Toronto’s East end. “The key concept here is ‘joy:’ For a young child, it is crucial that music be a fun and stimulating endeavour, one that engages the child's imagination, sense of exploration, burgeoning independence and exploding vocabulary and cognitive development.”
Boosting your child’s development aside, there are many other reasons to enroll your child in an early arts program. “Kids love music and movement — it’s a natural, almost instinctive, part of their development,” says Morwenna White, Marketing Manager — Student Recruitment at the RCM Community School. “Parents find it equally natural to sing, play music or move around with their children.”
While White cites many studies that have shown how music lessons improve memory, attentiveness and cognitive and social development right from the early years, she says “most importantly, it’s a great way for parents and kids to connect and lays the foundation for a life-long love of the arts.” Zimmer adds an even simpler reason: “Creative movement is great for children who need to get the bugs out.”
That said, she and other instructors note that parents need to keep their expectations in check and understand that signing up their child will not necessarily have them playing Tchaikovsky or performing grand jetes anytime soon. After all, pushing a child too early in dance, for example, can risk damage to soft, forming bones, which eventually can develop into full-fledged injuries. The purpose of these programs, say instructors, is to introduce and develop and foster an interest in music or dance.
So how do you find the right fit for your child? Parent recommendation is a good starting point, so talk to the moms and dads in your neighbourhood or at your child’s daycare or playgroup about their favourite programs. Qualifications are also key and instructors should be accredited with a solid dance or music foundation. (Although, as Zimmer notes, good accreditation doesn’t necessarily guarantee the teacher connects with young children.) Your child’s personality should also be taken into account. “If your child is active and needs an outlet for lots of energy, ballet is not the program for them; gymnastics or jazz may be a good fit,” says Nicole Garland, director of the Turning Pointe Academy in Toronto’s Leaside area. She suggests parents speak with the director of any program and ask where their child would be best placed before registering.
Finding and introducing a child to a program isn’t the only consideration parents need to make. They also need to be prepared to foster their child’s efforts if the program does take, says Steven Couldridge, manager of the music education department of the Music Instrument Group at Toronto’s Yamaha Canada Music Ltd. “An early start in the study of music means a commitment from parents. While regular practice is not always easy to do, it pays off in the long run so parents need to take a long-term approach to music study,” he says.
Looking to enroll your child in a class? Read on for a handful of programs around the Greater Toronto Area.
Rainbow Songs Music Classes (All across Toronto)
Parents and other caregivers are welcome at Rainbow Songs classes for children aged 0-5 years (divided into 1-2, 2-4, 3-5 year age groups). And if you like the music classes, your toddler-turning-preschooler may dig the Rainbow Dance for Boys & Girls (classes for 2-3 year olds, 3-5 or 4-6 year old classes) which involve fun items such as hula hoops, body bells, streamers and more. Contact for pricing. rainbowsongs.com
Musical Moments with Sophie Bell (Toronto)
Movements, playing instruments, rhyming, chanting and singing games are offered in this program for ages 3–5. Prices range from three-quarter-hour classes for kids age 3 for $408 (September-May) to $496 for one-hour classes for ages 4+. sophiebell.ca 416-484-7798
Musical Munchkins (Toronto’s East End)
While MM’s programs generally run for kids aged 0-24 months, it does hold birthday parties (a great way to introduce your child to music!) for children up to aged 5. There they can learn songs, play with instruments and puppets and more. musicalmunchkins.ca 416-419-4742
The Royal Conservatory of Music (Toronto)
A variety of classes are available through RCM including Toddler Moves (24-36 months), Young Explorers (3–5 years), the Smart Start program (0–5 years) or even the Royal Conservatory Suzuki Lab School (3–4 years). Prices range from $235-$380/14 classes. rcmusic.ca 416-408 2824
The Kingsway Conservatory of Music (Toronto’s West End)
Under the Early Childhood Musicianship program, beginners (age 3) explore music learning about melodies, beats and rhythm. Junior programs are also offered for ages 4–5. Prices range. kingswayconservatory.ca 416-234-0121
Sugar Beat Music for Children (Toronto)
At Sugar Beat, these 40-minute classes are offered to children as young as four months, but also zone in on toddlers with its Little Musicians program (ages 2–3) or a Stories and Songs program (ages 3–4) in which the parents/caregivers presence is optional. Eight-week sessions are $120 and siblings receive a $10 discount. sugarbeat.ca 416-767-5535
Clapping Land (Toronto’s East End)
Looking to break away from traditional nursery rhymes? While musician Sophia Grigoriadis offers programs for children as young as newborns, some of her programs such as Sound Explorers (ages 3 ½–5) introduces children to songs and music from different cultures. $135 for eight-week session. clappingland.com 416-220-8161
Yamaha Canada Music Ltd. (Greater Toronto Area)
In the Junior Music Courses, ages 3–4 can take the Music Wonderland program or ages 4–5 can take the primary course. Both introduce and help children develop basic music skills as well as the three elements of pitch, harmony and rhythm. Contact for pricing. yamaha.ca
The Martha Hicks School of Ballet (Toronto)
Kids ages 3– 6 can take the Creative Movement program that includes pre-ballet (ages 3–4), pre-primary (ages 4–5) or primary 1 (ages 5–6). When kids turn 7, more types of dance are offered such as hip hop, modern and recreational ballet. Prices for the year range from $595-$635 depending on the class. mhsb.ca 416.484.4731
Turning Pointe Academy of Dance (Leaside, Toronto)
Starting at age 3, Turning Pointe offers a number of programs including Petite Performers (ages 2–4) which includes dance, songs, crafts and stories; Tumblin’ Tots (ages 2–3) to get active little ones running and rolling; Tiny Toes (age 4) a regular dance program running the length of the school year and more. turningpointe.ca 416-696-7466
Canadian Children’s Dance Theatre (Cabbagetown, Toronto)
Classes start at the basic level for ages 2–3 with the Music and Movement program, involving rhymes and songs as well as movement. For age 3–7, Creative classes spur creative movement while developing coordination, posture and more. Prices range depending on the number of classes taken per week and the length of the class. ccdt.org 416.924.5657
The Conservatory of Dance and Music (Toronto)
For the preschooler set there’s “Baby Ballet” (ages 3 ½–5) which mixes movement, mime and pre-ballet exercises. Prices range from $165-$230/term (depending on length of class). theconservatoryofdanceandmusic.com 416.497.1793
Performing Dance Arts (Woodbridge)
This school, offering multiple styles of dance, kids ages 2–3 can start at the Dance in your Pants program while Pre-Dance classes are offered to ages 3–5. Note: children can also start acrobatics and tap classes at age three at PDA. Contact for prices. performingdancearts.ca 905-856-1030
Pia Bouman School for Ballet and Creative Movement (Toronto’s West End)
At this Parkdale-based ballet and creative movement school, the school offers two programs for the younger set: a Music and Movement program for those as young as 2 ½–4, while those ages 4-6 might move onto the Early Dance program. piaboumanschool.org 416-533-3706.
Tips on how to getting your child started in the arts
1. Know your child’s personality “Some children are always on the go and may be better suited to a music class that involves more activity and movement,” says Morwenna White, Marketing Manager — Student Recruitment at the RCM Community School. “Other children enjoy singing and might be keen on joining a choir, while others are curious about instruments. It can depend on attention span — learning an instrument, for example, requires a certain ability to focus.”
2. Ask questions about the school “Asking questions is vital when investigating a new activity for any child. I encourage all parents to make sure the program you are registering for is run by qualified staff with a good teacher to student ratio, and to ensure that facility is equipped appropriately for the program being taught,” says Nicole Garland, director of Turning Pointe. “It is also important for parents to know what the philosophy of the school/studio/program is and ensure it is what they are looking for when introducing their child to a new environment.”
3. Remember your role as a parent “Programs also vary in their expectations of the parent's commitment to the child's musical learning, and it is important for the parent to clarify what these are before registering,” says Sophia Grigoriadis, an instructor with the Clapping Land music program in Toronto. “Some programs even offer musical training for the parents, as well as activities or exercises that need to be done with the child at home between lessons.”