Children's Health

FunikiJam: Music program helps improve kids' developmental skills

Broadway performers and professional musicians come together for FunikiJam, a program that helps kids sharpen their developmental skills through music from around the world


They call it “music exploration for the next generation.”

With rhythms from all over the world, FunikiJam brings culture into the classroom at The Symphony House in New York City.

“Funiki is a Japanese word, which translates into music; jam in the Indonesian culture means time – so we took two words from two different cultures and put them together to mean music time around the world,” said Brian Barrentine, founder of FunikiJam and professor of early childhood arts at New York University.

Families who come to New York from different countries spanning the globe have found their way to the FunikiJam program, discovering a way to connect through music, according to Barrentine.

But children, from newborns to 8-year-olds, are the target group that FunikiJam was created to help.

“Each activity in the FunikiJam programs is designed to target a specific developmental skill: fine motor skills, gross motor skills, dynamic balance, language, eye-hand coordination, social skills like taking turns,” said Barrentine. “So, it's woven into each show and each class that we do.”

Under the direction of Barrentine – a life-long performer himself – a crew of Broadway stars and professional musicians lead students in activities that explore a different part of the world each week. Through a blend of indigenous music and songs created by Barrentine, they teach kids about different cultures.  

Thirty-five-year-old Dareen Hakim started bringing her daughter Mila to FunikiJam classes when she was just 9 months old. She credited the program with nurturing Mila’s love for music and even teaching the ‘only child,’ now 20 months old, how to share.

“Kids can't really go to preschool until the age of 2 1/2, so from birth until then, it's just such a developmental stage for them,” Hakim said. “They're like little sponges; the more you can expose them to, the better.”

Young children aren’t the only ones who have benefited from the FunikiJam program, because the music also provides a way for kids with special needs to communicate with their peers.

“Children with special needs often find a way to connect with other students in this program that they don't find in everyday life,” Barrentine said. “Students that are challenged academically or developmentally can find a way to connect by playing a drum solo or shaking a maraca.”

The positive feedback from parents of kids in Barrentine’s classes has been so overwhelming, the FunikiJam crew decided to take their show on the road this summer with appearances throughout the country.

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