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Not just child’s play

To 4-year-old Emma Kuralt, the classes are a dream come true. For nearly an hour, her mom and every other adult in the room acts just like a kid.

Everyone takes off their shoes and dances around the room. They sing, clap their hands and shake tambourines with abandon. Sometimes they get real silly and bark like a dog or roar like a lion.

And, best of all, everyone’s face is one big grin.

These are West Sound Music Together classes, which Heidi Steele teaches every Thursday in Port Orchard. They may look like just loads of fun, but Steele says don’t be fooled — they will enrich the lives of the children, and the parents who bring them, for years to come.

“We are not creating super babies, although music has been shown to help your child develop other skills, such as math,” she said. “We are just bringing music back to the home, and giving them their birthright.”

Steele believes every child deserves to learn how to sing in tune and keep a beat, which she said is the basic music competency the classes are geared to teach.

Targeted to children younger than 5, Music Together is a national program started by the Center for Music and Young Children, a nonprofit research organization dedicated to helping families bring music into their homes.

According to the local program’s Web site, the classes combine music and movement activities with an emphasis on interaction and play, encouraging participants to move freely around the room.

Steele opens each class with a “hello” song, greeting each child by singing their name one-by-one after they have gathered in a circle, most in their mother’s lap.

Steele said the classes learn a new song every week, but are sure to repeat old favorites again and again, including the “frog song,” which, with its simple, repetitive lyrics and matching arm movements, is an ideal first song.

“If you can stomach playing the ‘frog song’ again, it’s a really good thing for your child,” Steele tells the class, explaining that songs should not only be repeated often, but allowed to sink in as well.

“Try and be quiet a few seconds after the song ends,” Steele instructs. “That allows the last phrase to reverberate, and helps them learn. Between the songs, we want to hear some silence.”

Emma’s mom, Debbie Kuralt of Port Orchard, said she signed her daughter up for the classes to help her develop an awareness and appreciation of music she might not get otherwise.

“It tends to get lost in the schools,” Kuralt said.

At first, Kuralt said she would watch Emma hopping around and wasn’t sure the little girl was absorbing much.

“But she’s picking up a lot,” Kuralt said, explaining that her daughter sings much more often at home now, and is already requesting to play the piano — as soon as she’s old enough, of course.

Mom Marta Morris said she noticed changes almost right away in Marisol, her 13-month-old.

“She’s using lots of hand motions and signs,” the Manchester resident said, explaining that Mairsol often uses gestures at home that the class learned to mimic animals during one activity. “I noticed that when she hears a bird calling, she’ll start moving her hand like a beak, like we do in class.”

Morris said the class has given her a new vocabulary with which she can communicate ideas to her daughter.

“It’s given me lots of tools to use at home, even with parenting,” Morris said. “And I have gotten way more out of it than I thought I would.”

Another mom said her child had an even more significant breakthrough during one of the classes.

“She took her first steps during class,” said Port Orchard resident Heather Downing, of her 2-year-old daughter Madison.

Steele said she makes sure there is a mix of ages and abilities in each class, knowing older and more experienced children can encourage younger ones to improve their skills — even in walking.

Downing said it’s not jsut her daughter that has benefitted from the classes.

“It’s helped my voice, too, and I feel more comfortable singing around her,” Downing said.

Steele, who also teaches classes in Belfair and Silverdale, said she is grateful to be teaching this session in the new Cappella Choirs Music Center on Sidney Avenue, after losing the Long Lake Community Center temporarily to a fire early this summer.

“Word of mouth was spreading, and I was getting really good, warm feelings in the classes,” Steele said at the time.

She said the classes might return to the community center when it is reopened in a few months, but for now she is enjoying the relationship she has forged with another local program.

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