Children need opportunities to play, for it is through play that they develop socially, musically, kinesthetically, and cognitively. When playing, children are in the driver's seat; they make the decisions about what they want to do and when. As a result, each child will engage in play in a unique way, fulfilling his or her unique needs.
Music activities, when structured in a developmentally appropriate way, can facilitate play and provide rich opportunities for children to interact socially and learn. There are some simple caveats that can facilitate children's social, musical, kinesthetic, and cognitive development during music activities.
1. Do not expect correctness or even participation. Although it can be disconcerting when a child is not participating in classroom activities, we serve children best when we do not force participation. Children know what types of interactions are the most helpful to them at any point in time. Sometimes they need to watch and not do, as just watching is fully engaging them at the time. So, relax and know that a child who is watching may be learning every bit as much as a child who is fully participating in an activity.
2. Include "down time." When we are making music for the children, they will usually attend to us rather than to one another. Therefore, in order to encourage play, we need to provide unstructured time, even if it is only for a minute or two between repetitions of a song. It is during the down time that children have an opportunity to explore and engage with other children and the adults, and this engagement is what facilitates social development. Equally important, it is also during those times that children respond musically, giving us windows into their levels of music development.
3. Allow children to interact in multi-age settings. Children learn more from one another than they do from us. This is particularly true of younger children when they have the opportunity to observe and interact with older children who are more socially, musically, and cognitively adept. For this reason, children are served best when we do not segregate them according to age. So, mix it up a bit and include a wider range of ages in each class.
4. Be sensitive to the cues that children are giving you. The behavior of the children in your class can communicate information upon which you can build to enhance play and learning. If a child hides behind a parent or avoids eye contact, give that child more space in which to explore. If a child who is usually engaged seems "tuned out," move on to a new activity including a prop
that is especially compelling. The more sensitive and flexible we are in our guiding
of music activities, the better we can facilitate growth and development.
The more I learn about how children learn and develop, the more I see the need to let go of the controls and hand them over to the children. If we are aware of what the children are telling us with their actions, if we provide them with time to explore, and if we provide them with good models, they will help us know what we can do to facilitate their learning and to help them develop social, musical, kinesthetic, and cognitive skills.
Submitted by Cynthia Taggart, Professor of Music, Chair of Music Education, School of Music - Michigan State University
Published in ECMMA Perspectives - "Social/Emotional" Issue
Volume 2 Number 3 Summer 2007