On a Monday morning in spring, twenty preschool children age four to five come into the music studio with palpable energy. They park their shoes and socks along a wall in a neat row, then gather in a circle to sing, move and play. After a quick echo-singing tune up, we begin a familiar greeting song, adding large macro-beat movements, then switch to body percussion patterns that lead into a partner hand game. Partners then promenade side by side around the circle, varying verses in the song. We join in one large circle and the participants decide how we’ll travel—tiptoe to the right, stomp to the left, skip to the right, slide to the left. After this vigorous beginning, the children sit on the floor as I introduce hen and rooster puppets and recite a short poem, Mrs. Hen:
Chook, chook, chook-chook-chook,
Good morning Mrs. Hen,
How many chickens have you got?
Madam, I’ve got ten.
Four of them are yellow, four of them are brown,
Two of them are speckled, the nicest in the town!
There goes Mrs. Hen,
With all her little chickens, that number up to ten!
We repeat the rhyme a couple of times as a finger-counting game, then out comes a basket of ten brightly colored eggs, distributed to half of the group. Children receiving eggs immediately discover a small chick inside (small and medium pom-pom balls hot-glued together with eyes and beaks added). Two other children volunteer to take the hen and rooster puppets; we count the yellow, brown and speckled chicks, who line up between Mama Hen and Papa Rooster. Children without puppets choose maracas or tambourines to play. Then, after a few proud rooster crows, the entire group parades around the studio, chanting the rhyme. We pause so everyone can trade – instrument players get puppets, vice versa—and there is just enough time for a grand finale parade. Instruments are carefully collected by children helpers, puppets put away. A circle game begins the end-of-class transition as each child takes a turn (Circle Round the Zero and Bluebird are favorite choices), after which he/she struts, flies or flaps to pick up socks and shoes. Then out the door to join their classroom teachers, who take them to their next class or activity.
Sharing baby chicks!
In one forty-minute session, these children have sung (mostly on pitch by now), moved to and played a steady beat; worked interactively with one another, shared, negotiated and taken turns with props and instruments; talked about handling baby chicks gently; engaged in vocal and dramatic play, followed directions and made choices; processed order and sequence of singing and chanting games; begun memorizing an age appropriate rhyme; echoed musical pitch and rhythmic phrases; made smooth transitions in and out of the studio. Most of all they were completely engaged, eager and happy.
It is no secret that young children learn best through hands on activities. They make effortless connections when hearing, seeing and touching combine with movement—aka sensorimotor development. Recent research has indicated that individuals participating in music show activity in every part of the brain.1 It is also evident that musical play helps to order and organize thought processes and memory. Initially, a two or more step singing game is difficult for three and four year olds to master. They are messy and somewhat confused at first, especially if English is not their first language. Frequent repetition of singing games helps them to internalize the steps and process, which eventually become immediate and effortless responses within the song. Active singing and listening link word meaning with gestures or motion. These skills then transfer to other areas of learning.
In addition, ongoing research and observation of our preschoolers by graduate students from a nearby university indicate that the happiness and success children experience through musical play (and other arts activities) boosts their overall sense of self-esteem and joy; reduces stress and anxiety. Children learn important life skills such as kindness, cooperation, self-regulation and patience. Most of all, music allows children to be creative, expressive beings—freedom for the soul!
~ Martha Glaze Zook
1 How Playing Music Benefits Your Brain More than Any Other Activity, by Maria Popova, from website posting: brainpickings.org/2015/01/29/music-brain
also online: Music And Brain Activity – Image Results
When I began teaching in an experimental arts-based preschool program in 1993, initiated in 1990 by Robert Capanna, the Executive Director of Settlement Music School, a well-known and long established community music school, my colleagues and I were given the task of creating an arts/academic integrated and age-appropriate curriculum. It was to be based on best practices as defined by the National Association of the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and include daily classes of music, visual arts and dance/creative movement. The school, located in south Philadelphia, was adjacent to a low-income housing project whose residents were not making connections with the school nor enrolling any of their children. Mr. Capanna’s desire was to reach out to this population,, encourage families to enroll their 3-5 year olds and become part of the larger school community. The school’s Board and administration supported Mr. Capanna’s vision wholeheartedly – believing it could prove the beginning of lifting these families out of generational poverty and blighted, crime-infested housing project.
Thus began a lengthy process of research, collaboration, trial and error that produced a program which continues to flourish in its 27th year. Early on, the program became a Head Start affiliate so it could receive government funds to satisfy about a third of its annual budget. Private funding supplied the rest. The initial population of students was 100% low income. As the surrounding neighborhood changed over the years, more affluent families applied for admission. A sliding scale of tuition was instituted. The ratio is now about 80-85% low income population (tuition free), 15-20% paying. Our families are increasingly diverse racially, ethnically and religiously. South Philadelphia now includes growing immigrant populations from India, southeast Asia, Mexico, north African Muslim countries, eastern Europe. Languages include Spanish, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Indonesian, Arabic, French, Turkish, Serbian, Ukrainian and more. We also serve a significant number of children with special needs that include physical/intellectual disabilities, Downs syndrome, ADHD, autism spectrum, and other behavioral differences.
The value of early childhood education is receiving increasing support and recognition—very good news for those of us who work in the field. However, funding high quality programs, requiring higher levels of teacher education and salaries are ongoing challenges. An arts-based program such as ours is expensive to operate and thus rare. Efforts are being made to engage local and state officials as well as funding sources to recognize the lasting positive impact of arts education in early childhood.
Martha has been teaching Early Childhood Music and Movement at Settlement Music School since 1988. She received a Bachelor of Music from Ithaca College and a Diploma from The Curtis Institute of Music. After a career playing French horn, including 10 years with The Philadelphia Orchestra, she returned to music education and received graduate certification in Orff-Schulwerk teaching. She has taken master classes in arts integration, advanced Orff-Schulwerk composition and curriculum development. In 2008 she was named to the Settlement Music School 100 distinguished Honorees. In 2013 she received recognition from The American Center for Music and Movement Education.
Ms. Glaze Zook developed music curricula for the Kaleidoscope Preschool Arts Enrichment program, Children’s Music Workshop and for the infant-toddler/parent program Music Playshop at Settlement Music School. She advocates for early childhood music education, has presented at local, state and national conferences for early childhood and music educators, including AOSA. She conducts ongoing teacher training and professional development workshops for music educators. She has contributed articles to music education journals and collaborated on teaching projects in Peru.
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