Mozart was a late developer of musical talents by UAE standards. He started playing an instrument when he was 3. Given the current boom in the UAE market for preschooler music sessions, these days many children are attending their first music class before they can walk.
But it was a different story a year ago, when Lisa Irwin, a British mum of three, was seeking out a music group for her youngest son Noah (2 years old at the time) and couldn’t find any near where she lived in Abu Dhabi.
So she turned to Facebook to see if she could drum up enough interest to set up her own music sessions. Irwin named it Music Monkeys after Noah, her own little “monkey”. Now, a year on, Music Monkeys offers 16 sessions per week, taught at three venues by three different instructors, including Irwin.
It is one of several businesses offering interactive music classes for youngsters and their carers that have entered the market in recent years.
The kids lead the way
What makes Irwin’s group unique is that it’s not a franchise. She isn’t following a set formula with materials sent from overseas. Instead, she’s drawing on her own creative instincts and what she’s learnt from working as a nursery schoolteacher.
“I didn’t want our classes to be just singing along to a pre-recorded CD, because you need to be adaptable. I create a teacher plan and every parent has a copy of the songs we are going to sing, but the children lead the way. It’s about having fun, and if they’re enjoying the music then they’re learning,” says Irwin.
The Mini Monkeys session for 1- to 2-year-olds is held in a cosy room at Irwin’s villa in Mangrove Village. Irwin manages to hold the children’s attention throughout the half-hour session with a sensory feast of bubbles, puppetry, tambourines and light wands, accompanied by variations of popular nursery rhymes sung by Irwin and the mums.
Alex, 16 months old, has been coming to the group with his mum Zoe for the past eight months and, on the day we sit in, is joined by his grandmother Pat, who smiles as she watches him interact with the other toddlers. “I never did things like this with my kids when they were young. I wish we’d had the chance,” she says. “It helps them socialise.”
Fun for everyone
The class goes smoothly, with lots of contented toddlers ready for a long nap by the end of the session. But things haven’t always gone according to plan. “One week I’d used my iPod for music for a barbecue we held at home, but I’d forgotten to delete the playlist. Halfway through the song we were singing, Walking in the Jungle, David Guetta started playing. I was mortified, but the mums started dancing,” says Irwin.
This weekend, Music Monkeys is providing entertainment for its first children’s birthday party.
Irwin is also holding meetings next week with local nurseries about conducting weekly music sessions for them. At her own son’s nursery, she recalls being frustrated by the lack of musical instruments put out for the children, something she hopes to change at other nurseries. “Kids at this age love music: give them an instrument and they’re happy,” says Irwin. “It’s really rewarding watching the smiles on their faces.”