The NZ Herald: Music is a child’s first language

By 1 February 2017 February 15th, 2017 News

Music can change the world because it can change people, U2’s Bono once said. Now a ground-breaking Kiwi business using music to help produce brighter children, is using Spark Lab – the ideas and innovation network – for advice to help it expand.

In musical terms, Lisa Tregenza’s business of developing children through music is rising to a crescendo – but she still needs some help from other ‘conductors’.

Tregenza runs Little Music Play, a clever application of music and its renowned effect on the intellectual, creative and social development of small children.

Her business, which involves pre-school children as young as three months old, has grown from class-based play-learning in Christchurch to a franchised operation (so far one licensed operator who has trained with Tregenza). She is also branching out to include older children in schools.

Little Music Play grew from the time she was pregnant with daughter Madie (now 9) and noticed the in utero effect of music on her unborn child.

The business, from small beginnings in 2008, grew as Madie did. Lisa (a highly trained classical pianist and music lover) played and sang to her daughter – and began showing others the benefits of listening to classical music, jazz, blues and her bespoke music written specially for children.

She opened classes at local Plunket premises before setting up at home and holding classes in local church halls and community centres.

“When I was pregnant with Madie, it was amazing,” she says. “She reacted differently to classical music and rock music – she went to a U2 concert – and it started me thinking.”
After Madie was born, Lisa began using music as an educational, motivational and entertainment tool – noting the effect it had on her lively daughter in terms of enhancing her development.

“We didn’t just use it at bedtime or for play; I found that when things got a bit crazy during the day [she also had twin identical boys Oliver and Elliott, now 8, giving her three children under 20 months], we used music to calm them – and me.”

Her classes involve live, interactive, musical experiences, with a wide variety of instruments and music genres, with a focus on the sung voice, body percussion, improvisation, music play and creativity – designed for babies and pre-schoolers through to five- year-olds along with the parents.

The learning programme weaves Te Whariki and the Early Childhood Curriculum through it.

“The great thing about working with music and kids is that there is lots of research behind it showing how music links to brain development. Music is a child’s first language – it is universal.

“The most important thing is it lights up the brain in a way nothing else can. It stimulates the neural pathways in the brain and the neurons and connects those pathways, so the children are able to take more in and benefit from it.”

International research claims music improves language skills, motor skills and overall IQ, plus preparing a child’s brain for enhanced learning. It is said to help with maths and literacy and boost creativity and confidence levels.

Tregenza speaks of positive feedback from “excited” parents who see the difference in their children. She also tells the story of a 7-year-old born without part of his front brain. He was never supposed to be able to play an instrument but his “phenomenal” response has seen him ready and able to play an instrument now.

“When I began doing this, I really wanted not just a business but something that really makes a difference – and that’s what people tell me we are doing.”

Now Tregenza is beginning to franchise the operation to extend its boundaries and has launched a membership section of the website where parents can download weekly musical tools tailored for children – so development of their child can be continued at home. In 2017, she is aiming to target older children in primary schools with a musical element to aid literacy lessons in schools.

But growing a business can also mean growing pains – which is why Lisa has sought advice from Spark Lab, the free innovation and ideas network for evolving New Zealand businesses where participants can discover the best communication tools, learn about social media channels and the simple, therapeutic ability of sharing struggles and successes with others of like minds and situations.

“I’ve got a pretty good background in business [she has a double degree in marketing and business administration and worked in brand marketing, among other things, in various businesses for many years] but it’s quite different when you start your own.

“The market changes so quickly and constantly that you can’t just trust your own judgement all the time – it’s good to be involved with someone outside the business so you can feel the pulse of things better. It’s very hard to be the expert and have all the answers – that’s why I turned to Spark Lab.”

Lisa also watched the recent Spark Lab motivational talks – a national tour involving 17 events and 25 speakers – on a video link and is interested in attending more locally.

“There’s a lot to be done [with her business] and a lot that can be achieved,” says Tregenza. “I still really want to make that difference and the next step in doing so is to get it in front of more people.”

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