By Xiomara Alemán
Just 15 minutes after she came into this world, Verónica heard her very first classical harp concert in the hospital. After this first encounter with music, the newborn and her family members were invited to participate in Programa Nuevos Integrantes, an innovative project to support the early development of Venezuelan children from low-income homes.
The program began last December and currently works with 450 children, 300 of whom are less than a year old. At just 10 days old, the participants begin their musical training at the Centro Nacional de Acción Social por la Música (National Center for Social Action through Music), and then once a month they must attend with their parents or guardians. The format of the session is unusual; the babies are placed in a circle on the stage (as opposed to out in the audience), surrounding the musicians located in the center. The Conservatorio de Música Simón Bolívar (Simón Bolívar Music Conservatory) and the Academias Latinoamericanas de Música (Latin American Academies of Music) choose the repertoire for each class, which swings between popular and classical music.
The session also involves children playing with the instruments, discovering their sounds, and getting a handle on their shapes and textures. Each concert is followed by a talk where information is provided about the instruments, the materials they’re made of, and their particular history. The participants also have the opportunity to share their impressions and feelings evoked by the music. The session provides a space for communication in its many forms—oral, visual, tactile and auditory—which is rounded out with children’s songs selected by parents and teachers.
The educational program also includes home-based sessions with the adults. Every month, the parents receive a CD with classical and popular music appropriate for babies so that they can work with their children by singing to them and practicing what they learned during the session. However, music is not the only message. The initiative also provides education for parents on child care and nutrition, prenatal and postpartum check-ups for the mother, and information on the importance of the family and healthy living.
The program is coordinated by the Ministry of Health and Fundamusical Bolívar. To achieve program continuity, it is envisaged that children who are part of the program today will continue their musical education through the initial level of the National Orchestra System once they turn 3. In addition, there are plans to expand this program nationally in the coming months so that all children under 3 will have this opportunity.
It’s still too early to be able to assess the impact of this program, but the belief is that it will contribute to early childhood development and that its effects will be made evident through positive changes in the children, their parents and the community.
Xiomara Alemán works as a Social Protection Specialist at the IDB’s office in Venezuela. She specializes in issues related to early childhood development and youth at risk.