The life of Fairfield's Leslie Waddell, a professional flutist who plays regularly for the New Haven and Ridgefield symphonies, is grounded in music.

She teaches private flute lessons and operates Music for Little Hands in Monroe, which offers Kindermusik classes for children. The program has been so successful in lower Fairfield County, Waddell said, that she has expanded Kindermusik classes to two new locations.

Waddell is partnering with the Salem Lutheran Church and offering classes at its site on the Fairfield/Bridgeport line. To accommodate families living farther north, an additional satellite studio opened last fall in Southbury at the Southbury School of Performing Arts.

"The Monroe studio was full and we had a number of students travelling from a distance," Waddell said.

Waddell's Kindermusik program presently serves 170 students in Fairfield County. She also hosts classes at Bright Horizon, a preschool and daycare center in Trumbull, and the Pilot House, a resource center for special needs children in Fairfield.

The Kindermusik curriculum, founded in 1978, introduces children to music through fun activities that involve movement, listening and tactile learning skills. Although every child benefits from participating in Kindermusik, Waddell said there are many positive benefits for children with special needs.

"It's great for children on the autism spectrum," she said.

For example, a class called "Sign and Sing" has helped children with delayed verbal abilities acquire language skills.

"We've had amazing results," Waddell said. "The signing encourages vocal communication."

Describing "Sign and Sing" as "a class that's close to my heart," Waddell recounted observing one student with special needs communicate with their mother for the first time during a Kindermusik class.

"Children are naturally able to make the connection between the movements and the mind. And, we make sure to meet the children right where they are," Waddell said.

Michelle Aube, of Fairfield, said her two daughters, Noelle, 6, and Alyssa, 2, both began taking Kindermusik classes when they were 9 months old.

Noelle returns for Kindermusik's summer family programs, which accept students up to age 7, and Alyssa attends the weekly, 45-minute music classes.

"It's the greatest program that I've put my kids into," Aube said.

Of all the lessons and enrichment activities she's signed her daughters up for in the past six years, it's the only one that they've stuck with, Aube said. She cites Kindermusik's integration of "mind and body experiences" as a plus.

"It's an intellectual, brainy program but the kids don't know that," Aube said. "There's a lot of fun and they're dancing and singing. It's tactile, too. They play instruments."

She said that her daughters both celebrated their second birthdays with parties at Waddell's music studio.

During the Kindermusik classes, children learn discipline and interpersonal skills in a relaxed and enjoyable environment, Aube said. They also learn how to follow simple directions, she said.

"When the music stops, they have to stop," Aube said. "You can bring this into your everyday lives at home. After learning how to stop in Kindermusik, kids tend to listen better when parents say stop at home."

Children up to the age of 3 attend classes with a parent. Parents of older children are invited into the Kindermusik class at its conclusion for a special sharing time. The curriculum includes a home study package, and families are encouraged to augment children's learning by doing these activities. Aube said she appreciates the family's involvement in the program because it strengthens the bonds between parents and their children.

"For me personally, it's a way to meet other moms, too," Aube said. "I've already met women from Noelle's classes that I feel like I'm going to be lifelong friends with."

For more information about Kindermusik, call 888-852-9772.