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Can listening to classical music help kids keep calm?

Today’s fast-paced, on-demand world offers immense opportunity -- and plenty of distraction. Tuning out worries and remaining focused can be especially difficult for children, many of whom feel vulnerable due to circumstances at home and fears of violence at school. PBS station WVIZ/Ideastream profiles an educational program that combines classical music with meditation techniques to create calm.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Living in a fast-paced, on-demand world can be stressful. Although many of us try to cope with the distractions, that can be a tough task for children.

    From PBS station WVIZ ideastream, David C. Barnett brings us the story of an educational program that combines the music of the Cleveland Orchestra with meditative techniques to promote a sense of calm.

    It's part of our ongoing arts and culture coverage, Canvas.

  • David C. Barnett:

    Chase is a third-grader at Canterbury Elementary in Cleveland Heights. He loves it when his mom cooks up some breakfast for him before school, but that doesn't happen very often.

  • Student:

    Most of the time, when I wake up, she's gone to work. So, my dad has to get himself ready. He has to iron my clothes. He has to get my sister ready too.

  • David C. Barnett:

    But for the past year-and-a-half, he's been able to leave system of that stress behind when he gets to the classroom. Every morning at 9:00, students at Canterbury stop for a moment and listen to a few minutes of Cleveland Orchestra music.

  • Student:

    It's like when you're at home, it's cold outside and you're sitting by a fireplace. All this stuff that was stuck in my head, it goes away.

  • David C. Barnett:

    This exercise is part of Ohio-grown relaxation program called Mindful Music Moments.

    Chase's teacher, Jasmine Venson says the whole school does it at the same time.

  • Jasmine Venson:

    We play it over the loudspeakers, and every classroom kind of individualizes it their own way. Some classrooms have it where everybody is just centered and their eyes are closed. Others work on an activity while they're listening, but all classes participate.

  • David C. Barnett:

    The daily music segments are about four minutes' long in total, which includes a brief spoken introduction, followed by a three-minute musical selection.

  • Jasmine Venson:

    For the whole week, you listen to the same song, but there are different activities that are included each day of the week, whether it be listen to the music, or try to find the pace of the music, or try to align your breath to the pace of the music, different things like that.

  • Erica Wigton:

    We have kids coming from parents that are just trying to make ends meet, working third shift, single parents.

    So we try to make school like a special place. That's one of the reasons we feel mindful music is a great way to start the day, because it recenters everyone, including myself. We just take a deep breath, so we're not starting frantically in that hyper mode at the start of the day.

  • David C. Barnett:

    McKenna lives in Cleveland Heights with her mom. She's a K-pop and a hip-hop fan, but she says she kind of likes this classical stuff that she's been hearing in the mornings.

  • Student:

    I like it a lot. I just kind of want to calm down. I really have to rush to get ready. I have to eat breakfast really quickly. And so, when I get to school, it was like, uh, it's going to be a long day.

  • David C. Barnett:

    The program is currently in place at over 100 schools across the country. It's the brainchild of Cincinnati yoga and movement educator Stacy Sims, who also helps trauma victims relax.

  • Stacy Sims:

    I was at a school working every morning with refugee students, and I knew I could never spend that much time in a school day in other schools. But I heard the morning announcements.

    And it occurred to me that could be a delivery system for some sort of mindful moment for all. And I had the idea to pair it with classical music.

  • Joan Katz Napoli:

    And when you hear about it, the light bulb just goes off. And I thought, we have got to try that out up here, in Cleveland.

  • David C. Barnett:

    Joan Katz Napoli has run the Cleveland Orchestra's educational efforts for the past 24 years, working with Cleveland area schools to supplement their music programs.

  • Joan Katz Napoli:

    There are plenty of research studies that document the effectiveness of music to improve learning outcomes, to enhance brain development.

  • David C. Barnett:

    About 30 schools in Greater Cleveland use Mindful Music Moments in grades ranging from kindergarten through middle school, and that list includes both inner-city and suburban districts.

  • Joan Katz Napoli:

    There's no school that is immune from the stress and anxiety caused by school shootings of the last decade, for example.

  • David C. Barnett:

    Corrine has fond memories of the first time the music was played in her classroom.

  • Student:

    So, they said, imagine that you just won an Olympic. And it felt really good to imagine that.

  • David C. Barnett:

    And for the orchestra, there's the potential for a new generation of listeners. McKenna says the music has really grown on her, and it's almost a letdown when that three-minute morning dose is over.

  • Stutdent:

    I wish it would replay, because I just want to listen it.

  • David C. Barnett:

    Erica Wigton notes that there are many things that can help a school climate. She sees Mindful Music Moments as one strategy to make school less stressful, as the children are learning to cope with an increasingly frantic world.

  • Erica Wigton:

    Definitely a permanent program that we're going to continue to use every day, just because we want to start their day in a beautiful, calm way, so that they're ready to learn.

  • David C. Barnett:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm David C. Barnett in Cleveland.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What a lovely story.

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