Music is said to be the universal language. Though people differ widely on the types of music they enjoy, it would be difficult to find a person who does not listen to some kind of music.

Despite this, most children have to wait until they are five years old, when they enter kindergarten, before they begin music classes.

Thanks to North Haven resident Christie Hallowell, Fox Islands children have the option of beginning to learn about music from birth. Hallowell teaches Kindermusik, which is the trademarked name for an activity that not only helps children develop music appreciation, but which also develops creativity, self-esteem, and emotional and social skills. In addition, it helps children learn language and literacy skills, listening skills and problem-solving skills.

Hallowell brought Kindermusik to North Haven in 1999 after taking her daughter, Leta, to Kindermusik classes in Camden.

“I was first introduced to Kindermusik in a parenting magazine article about preschool music programs,” she explained. “Kindermusik was the program being offered closest to my home. I was impressed. Leta learned about many aspects of music and positive group behaviors while happily and obliviously having fun.”

Though Hallowell had always been involved in music to some degree, she didn’t consider herself enough of a musician to teach music. However, with encouragement she looked into what the training involved and subsequently attended Kindermusik teacher training in Portland in August 1999. That fall she began offering Kindermusik classes to North Haven children and parents. “The more I learned about Kindermusik, the more I thought North Haven kids would enjoy and benefit from it,” said Hallowell. “There has always been a part of me that knew that learning to make music is an important part of an overall education. I’ve come to think this is even more important now that kids are so attracted to television and computer games for so much of the day.”

Kindermusik is based on the beliefs that every child is musical, every parent is their child’s most important teacher, and that music nurtures a child’s cognitive, emotional, social, language and physical development. Kindermusik originated in West Germany in the 1960s as a program meant to help children experience the joy of learning music before beginning formal music instruction.

Due to its popularity, the program was translated and adapted for American families in the 1970s. By the 1980s it was revised for a more culturally diverse audience and the English version of the Kindermusik curriculum and teaching method is now distributed worldwide. Each semester’s curriculum includes two units of themed, highly structured activities, as well as home materials such as CDs, books, and family activity cards or books.

Though Kindermusik classes were offered only on North Haven, says Hallowell, “each semester a few hardy families were willing to make the eight mile drive from downtown Vinalhaven up to the north end of the island.” Vinalhaven families broached the subject of Kindermusik being offered on their island, and by the fall of 2001 Hallowell obliged.

The social aspect of Kindermusik classes is a big reason many parents enroll their children. Mickey Campbell, North Haven resident, has enrolled three of her children in Kindermusik classes; Abby, 10, Zeb, 7 and Kaleb, 4. “There is no preschool or nursery school here, so I thought it would be a good opportunity for my kids to interact with other kids,” she said.

Yvonne Thomas, of Vinalhaven, has two sons, Liam, 4, and Byron, 7. Both have been to Kindermusik. Like Campbell, the structure of a set activity appealed to Thomas, “especially before preschool,” she said. “It was beneficial for them to be with friends, and for me to get to know the other moms.” Most parents recognize the benefits of early music education for children. Vinalhaven parent Tracy Littlefield has enrolled both of her daughters, Taylor, 6, and Ashlyn, 3, in Kindermusik classes since Ashlyn was an infant. She wanted her children to have a solid background in music before starting formal lessons. “I struggled with music in grade school,” she said. Because of Kindermusik, “both my kids have a good sense of rhythm. They might have struggled later on. It’s easier for them to learn now.” In fact, according to Littlefield, “Ashlyn picks up music much faster than Taylor, because she went as an infant and Taylor didn’t.”

Thomas finds that the benefits of early music education are far-reaching. Kindermusik classes have helped Liam and Byron with reading and math, as well as with reading music and learning to play instruments. “Both boys are into reading and books,” she said, “and there are always books that go with class.”

And Hallowell receives nothing but rave reviews from parents. “Christie makes it really fun,” said Campbell. “She’s a really good teacher. She taught kindergarten on North Haven for a few years, so I knew she would be good with Kindermusik.” Littlefield agrees. “You can tell Christie has everything well-planned and thought-out,” she said. “She’s a natural at teaching. The kids don’t even realize they’re learning.”

“We’re really lucky Christie’s the one doing it,” added Thomas. “She goes above and beyond. Christie’s a celebrity in my house!” Hallowell, on the other hand, is quick to praise the organizations that have helped her bring Kindermusik to island families. Because of her belief that classes should be available to everyone, Hallowell has solicited grant funding in order to provide full and partial scholarships to children whose families may not be able to afford the full tuition.

Since 1999, Hallowell has received thousands of dollars in grants from North Haven Arts & Enrichment, Fox Islands Concerts, and the MBNA Library Grant Program. Some of this money has been used to purchase additional equipment as well.

And if those organizations have any doubt as to whether their money is well spent, they should listen to parents’ testimony. According to Campbell, her children “will carry this with them forever. They have an understanding and a connection to music.” To put it more plainly, “Abby always says ‘I love music!'”