Just play it … and they will hum
I haven’t got a musical bone in my body … how can I possibly help children develop their own musical creativity?
In order to ascertain how the kinder teachers integrated music with other elements of their programs, lecturer in music at North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa, Mignon van Vreden, has been exploring the teaching practices of local kinder teachers. Her research has led her to conclude that “experiences related to music, in this case the tone colour, design and materials of an instrument, provoked a specific thinking pattern. This inspired and stimulated the pre-schooler to apply his new knowledge to create something new: a musical instrument”.
Van Vreden describes her observing children’s learning from music, whilst engaged in an activity that took place during unstructured free play. To her, it emphasised the value of children’s learning through their own self-directed play.
In this case, the pre-schoolers’ experience of music in a formal setting, getting ready for a musical concert, had inspired another activity, that of making a pretend instrument from building blocks, which was different from the original activity. According to van Vreden, it is something that should be explored further in early childhood, through looking at the sufficiency of opportunities for unstructured free play.
Van Vreden explains: “Teaching and learning from music cannot always be predetermined by a specific teaching method or musical activity. Instead, teaching and learning from music often occur spontaneously, after learners have been given opportunities for free play, where they can explore new musical knowledge in an informal way. When this manifests, music imitates these activities and creativity is kindled”.
The active role that pre-schoolers play in their own development, through interactions with their environment during play, enables their play to serve as a creative expression of their physical, cognitive, social and emotional self. This is where the educator can use their intentional teaching to support them by creating opportunities for children to acquire essential skills and values that give meaning to their lives.
Van Vreden puts forward the idea that it is difficult, if not impossible, for the educator, through a specific teaching method or structured musical activity, to predetermine children’s learning from music. To her, it is more of a reaction to teaching and learning related to music that can only surface when there is an awareness of how learners spend their time, when they are provided with adequate opportunities for unstructured free play.
According to Neryl Jeanneret, Associate Dean, Research Training and Head of Music Education in Arts Education in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, and George DeGraffenreid, Chair and Professor of Music Education at CSULA, kinder teachers develop their understanding of their learners through their daily interactions with them, and what they learn about the children should be applied to creating opportunities where they can further observe the children’s unprompted and continuous play.
It follows, then, that it is not always necessary for the teacher to be an expert facilitator of music integration, but rather to be alert and receptive to unexpected instances of learners’ integrating music into their own learning, especially during free play.
The mountain of irrefutable proof that music is valuable for young children makes the integration of music into their daily programs, a must. Not being a great singer, instrumentalist or composer need not deter any educator from firstly introducing the children to a musical work, such as a song on a CD or a dance routine video clip, and then taking cues from children in how they use this music in their free-play. It sounds simple and, in practice, it’s even simpler – just play it!
As well as promoting intrinsic and unique qualities in young learners, including the development of creativity, social skills, expression, cognition and coordination, music has been shown to:
• animate learning activities,
• create a positive learning environment and atmosphere,
• emphasise elements within a specific topic or theme,
• enrich the imagination,
• facilitate a multisensory learning experience,
• focus attention,
• improve concentration span and memory,
• increase predictive anticipation in children,
• influence mood and disposition,
• inspire, motivate, and add an element of fun to the learning situation,
• make connections between disparate elements of learning,
• promote co-operative group work through the development of pro-social behaviours,
• provide alternative forms of literacy,
• relieve stress,
• stimulate thinking, and
• inspire educators, too.
The integration of music across the pre-school curriculum offers educators a pedagogical approach to teaching and learning, which brings together ideas, actions and attitudes. For both educators and learners, being surrounded by music is a life-enhancing experience.
Music stimulates young minds and touches young hearts. The educator’s constant and careful observation of young children’s expressive outlets, during unstructured free play, provides them with a window on young children’s creativity during the most unexpected moments, and with valuable opportunities to deepen their future learning through the use of music.