Music can have a profound impact on a person’s life, especially for children when they are encouraged to develop their musical skills at a young age. With research supporting the benefits of music on children’s vocabulary, relationship skills and skills for success, the creator of a program that teaches children to learn the violin and other stringed instruments continues to expand the scope of the programs.
Spring Sprouts program creator Ruth Meints continues to offer programs throughout Nebraska and the country.
“String Sprouts is a revolutionary program offering five years of affordable violin, viola, cello and bass lessons to children ages 3-6 in the Omaha-Council Bluffs area,” according to the website.
For children in the Scottsbluff area, the String Sprouts program offers free violin lessons, with the instrument and equipment provided free of charge to families. Classes are held at the Carpenter Center, located at 116 Terry Blvd. in Gering.
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Meints, who grew up in Scottsbluff, said it was important to bring this opportunity to his hometown in addition to the eastern Nebraska metro cities.
“There is research on children taking string instruments or any kind of music lessons between the ages of three and five, which is what this program falls under, and if you do that, it will have a lifelong impact on changes positives in your brain that lend themselves to reading readiness and vocabulary development,” Meints told the Star-Herald. “These types of academic outcomes can affect your entire time in school.”
Meints noted that rural areas don’t have as many opportunities as larger communities.
“Being a rural area, Scottsbluff and surrounding areas are considered underserved because there are no opportunities,” she said. “It’s really cool because every family can take the program at no cost to the family and we provide the instrument for all five years. You really can’t beat that.
Meints also said he contracted with an outside agency to conduct an in-depth study of the program related to youth vocabulary growth. The hope was to find that music had a very significant impact on vocabulary, which is represented by a score of at least 0.4.
“We ended up getting 1.6, which is four times the normal impact on vocabulary alone,” she said. “It’s amazing, so we’re digging into it like they suggested. If we get a large enough cohort, those are amazing results for a program like this.”
The Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center evaluated the program and the results showed a strong correlation between musical skills and phonological (language) awareness, working memory, vocabulary, and math.
This year’s program will start on Monday, September 12 and end on May 26, 2023. Places are still available. Families can visit tinyurl.com/SproutsSB to learn more about the program and to register.
Five-year-olds are given priority entry into the program, based on availability. However, if a child does not enter the program, they will be on the list and given priority for the following year.
Caregivers and families are asked to stay with the child during lessons as part of the program is for them.
“There’s a parent and caregiver education part that helps you find out what their child’s learning style is (and) what their motivational style is,” Meints told the Star-Herald.
Caregiver education offers a portion of lessons to teach them how to play and learn the teaching aid.
Every eight weeks there is a Sprouting Up program where children perform in a recital and receive a prize.
Research on the caregiver-child relationship throughout the program found that conflict decreased and feelings of closeness increased.
Ashley Hillman is the program teacher. Hillman also teaches orchestra at Scottsbluff High School and Bluffs Middle School as well as an adjunct string teacher at Western Nebraska Community College.
“Ashley is an absolute force of nature,” Meints said. “She has a fantastic school program and she runs our Sprouts program there and when the kids get into primary school they will benefit academically.”
The goal is for young people to have self-efficacy as skilled musicians and give them the opportunity to make the transition to cello or double bass.
“Parents get as much out of it as kids get out of it,” Meints said. “All they have to do is be prepared to practice five to ten minutes a day with their child. That’s all they need to be successful at first.