June 24, 2024

The New England Center for Children’s (NECC) music teacher Nadia Castagna, MMEd, continues to find ways to enrich the musical lives of NECC staff and students. In July of 2022, Castagna created The Littlest Musicians music class for staff families with infants and young toddlers. Beginning with just six kids on zoom, Castagna viewed the class as a learning opportunity, affording her the experience of working with babies, while the parents and kids she taught received a unique music class. Since then, Castagna’s class has blossomed into something even more spectacular: it now encompasses more than 40 children over two classes while bringing together members of the NECC community all the same. 

Castagna’s The Littlest Musicians classes are structured as “Caregiver and Me” lessons, allowing parents to sing and move along with their children. Together, they work on activities involving vocal production, moving, singing, instruments, jam sessions (making improvised music together as a class), and much more. The classes are held after work, making it easier for parents to attend classes with their children, as many classes like these usually run on weekday mornings or Saturday mornings, which are unavailable options for working parents and caregivers.

“The Littlest Musicians class is not only heartwarming, but it’s also unique in style,” Castagna said. “Having parents and caregivers join the class allows them to participate, learn the songs and movements, and allows them to carry on the learning and engaging at home with their little ones.”

Castagna explained that she uses the Music Learning Theory in The Littlest Musicians class, sharing that people learn music like they learn language. “We start in the ‘absorption phase,’ listening and taking in what we see and hear in class. Some students may only sit and observe for the first few classes, taking in what they see and hear. Many students will go home with their caregivers and sing the songs from class or do the motions to a song that they heard in class. This makes the family aspect of this class so important for the kiddos in class,” she said.

Castagna said that the next phases of the learning process go from “random responding” (such as babbling or vocalization) to “purposeful responding” (where the child will attempt to respond in some way to what is happening in class). “Eventually children will get to the imitation phase where they realize what they’re doing either matches or doesn’t match what is happening in class and it only builds from there,” she said.  

The class is open to staff children ages four months old to three years old (covering the span of the NECC daycare) and runs for 12-week semesters. “The class got so popular that I ended up adding the two NECC preschool classes during the school day, so now they can grow up with me from 4 months old to 5 years old,” shared Castagna. 

Last September, NECC began paying Castagna to continue running The Little Musicians class, recognizing its value as a free benefit for staff.  “I have had parents tell me this is the absolute highlight of their week and that they do countdowns to music class,” said Castagna. “I have also had some share that this class has given them an opportunity to connect with others in the NECC community in a way that they never imagined that they could.” 

Castagna’s work has shown how music and community can help students reach milestones, but this sense of togetherness has extended beyond this classroom itself. Emerging from Castagna’s original goal, she has created a music community that has strengthened NECC’s own.