The Importance of Musical Play
By Nancy Howe, Matt Linden, and Kitti Pecka, Two’s Head Teachers
Music brings pleasure. Music fosters play. So it’s no surprise that musical play figures largely into the activities at Bing, where play ranks as one of our highest priorities.
Two-year-olds engage in interactive play after they have become comfortable in the environment, have established a bond with individuals and have acquired enough vocabulary to communicate their ideas verbally. Music fosters all of these conditions in the classroom. A survey of the musical activities of Bing’s Two’s classrooms reveals the power of music in the lives of children.
The children in TTh AM Two’s built a sound sculpture along the fence in their yard, and in doing so illustrated that musical instruments wait to be discovered in unexpected places. For example, many babies discover the great “musical” possibilities of the pot lids in the kitchen cupboards. Inspired by Charlotte’s father, Mark Applebaum, PhD, a Stanford music professor and inventor of musical instruments, the children turned over metal pots and pans and plastic buckets used for sand play, leaned old-fashioned washboards against the fence, hung pot lids for gongs and cymbals and used wooden spoons to create a range of sounds on these found-object instruments. There is a unique joy in watching two-year-olds achieve their first group participation experience. Their recognition of peer response and pleasure in joining together in activities that suit their stage of development is palpable.
In the MWF AM Two’s classroom, two children, Sean and Langston, formed a tight bond at the beginning of the year. Their contagious joy for music brought others into their fold, their participation in musical activities strengthening their bond and connections to the other children in the classroom. For the youngest children in preschool, musical activities are often chosen and led by the teacher. Teachers facilitating small or large groups encourage participation most effectively with music and movement. Many teachers also lead music interactions with large, colorful songbooks such as This Old Man or Five Little Ducks. The bright illustrations and predictable rhythms and patterns help to engage children in the interactive musical process.
Because everyone can contribute at the same time in their own preferred manner and degree, musical activities bring coherence while providing individual expression. Over time, children make more and more contributions. In fact, often the most beneficial music play originates from ideas the children bring to the activity. In the Two’s classrooms, making music together is by far the children’s preferred activity. The teachers, who have a wealth of musical expertise, provide the children with basic music training that can launch a lifetime love of music.
At Bing, we have the good fortune of having a full-time music specialist, Beth Wise, who brings music to the Two’s classrooms even when she’s working with other children. Beth will often lead a musical parade of older children out to the fence bordering the Two’s room. There, the older preschoolers serenade the Two’s with familiar songs. Beth facilitates musical interaction between the classrooms, and by doing so, creates a strong sense of community.
Parents are another wonderful resource for music making with young children. This year, several parents shared their musical talents, interests and hobbies. Oliver’s father, Peter Levine, led parades around the yard. He played the trumpet and the children followed behind with tambourines, triangles and drums. During the winter and early spring, Mark Applebaum played the piano and bass performer Saul Sierra, Sara’s father, collaborated on the bass as children danced with colorful silk scarves. Preetha Basaviah, Sahana’s mother, celebrated Dewali with the children and we danced to Indian music. Parent and enrollment administrator Svetlana Stanislavskaya, Anton’s mother, brought in her accordion, as well as several smaller toy versions for the children to explore and accompany her in playing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
Lili M. Levinowitz, PhD, a professor of music education at Rowan University of New Jersey, Glassboro, writes, “Early childhood is…the time when children learn about their world primarily through the magical process of play. The substance of play in very young children is usually comprised of the environmental objects and experiences to which they have been exposed. If the music environment is sufficiently rich, there will be a continuous and ever richer spiral of exposure to new musical elements followed by the child’s playful experimentation with these elements.” At Bing we strive to provide the children with positive musical experiences, and expose them to as many forms and styles of music as possible.
By engaging in these activities through play, they are free to experiment with movement, beat, rhythm and other elements of music that help to enrich their interactions in the classroom.