Plato remarked as early as 300 BC that music was the most powerful educational aid. This could also be said of play. Children have a natural inclination to sing and play, and these activities form a vital part of their development. The main goal of singing and playing is enjoyment. Through play children express themselves. Play and music are related activities, and are important for the child's development as a well-rounded adult. Play and music are important vehicles for the development of children's mental capacity and intellect and form the basis of language building. There is also a link between music and the development of mathematical skills. Research on the use of Baroque music has shown that when this type of music is played when children are concentrating, memory could improve by up to 26%. Baroque music stimulates both the right and the left hemispheres of the brain, and this helps to develop concentration. Concentration games in this period can promote cognitive development. Pretending is a serious business for children, and imitation and mimicry could thus be used to great effect by the early childhood educator. Music can also contribute to a specific mood. With the aid of records of operas and orchestras, groups could match body movements to music and mimic the singers and the orchestra. Children could also learn adult roles through music. In the early childhood phase teachers should help children to feel emotionally secure and to take some risks. This leads to greater self-confidence and a better self-image. Play and music can also help the child master his physical sell Coordination can be improved with games that aid muscular development. Because of its universal character, music is a social activity that promotes togetherness between individuals, cultures and nations. Awareness and acceptance of people of other races and cultures can be developed through play and music. In this way unity in a rainbow nation like South Africa could be furthered. When children of different cultures play and sing together they forget about race and culture. Music and play are instinctive emotional outlets in all cultures and can be used therapeutically or to claim children. It could also be used to stimulate or vitalize lethargic children. Through play and music children can create an imaginary world in which a child can master skills that would have been impossible otherwise. Play and music can also stimulate a small child's creativity. Children have a natural inclination to explore through play. The possibilities and potential of play and music are endless for the early childhood teacher.
Plato remarked as early as 300 BC that music was the most powerful educational aid. This could also be said of play. Children have a natural inclination to sing and play, and these activities form a vital part of their development.
Babies and small children find music and play almost inseparable activities (Bridges 1994:36). Maxim (1989:304) points out that children in the early childhood phase enjoy playing games that they associate with music. According to Lay-Dopyera and Dopyera (1997:396) many children first relate to music through movement. Many children's songs lead to games such as Jack be nimble, Jack be quick and Jumping Jack jumps up and down (Bridges 1994:42). Maxim (1989:289 and 292) adds: "Just watch preschoolers as they play-they sing or hum spontaneously." He also refers to some children's urge to hum whilst they are playing. A girl may for instance sing a lullaby whilst she is rocking her doll.
The importance of these sometimes neglected aspects
Play and music are related activities and are important for the child's development to a well-rounded adult. It is therefore very important that music and play should be included in the early childhood curriculum.
There are a myriad of definitions of play. However, it is difficult to distinguish play from nonplay. While most people intuitively know play when they observe it, play is not clearly definable and there are no definable criteria to determine which activities are play and which are not (Spodek & Saracho 1994:262).
Although early childhood educators understand the unequalled dimensions of play, some of them unfortunately still question its place in the curriculum (Maxim 1989:220). Similarly, some educators do not understand the importance of music in the curriculum. Often teachers even let pupils do their homework in the periods that are assigned to class music while they occupy themselves with other activities such as completing the attendance register. Maxim (1989:221) gives a possible reason for this sad situation, namely that teachers "consider academic learning to be of primary significance for the early childhood program and regard anything that falls short of direct instruction a waste of valuable time".
Sometimes parents can be the culprits because of ignorance. Riley (in Maxim (1989:221) gives an example of some parents' warped conception of the value of music and play: "If Johnny was to get ahead he must not delay learning. He could play on Saturday." Such opposition to play and music could be the result of people's dedication to a work ethic, or of the fact that the advantages of such activities cannot be observed distinctly and immediately. The importance of contact with parents and meetings where parents could be informed about the importance of these activities should therefore not be underestimated.
Why do small children sing and play?
The main aim of singing and playing is enjoyment. This could lead to intrinsic motivation, because children like these activities. Through play children express themselves: they explore, rehearse, practice-a natural way to learn, assimilate important knowledge and make sense of the adult world. The teacher should keep this in mind when he or she plans learning experiences.
Play music and the development of children
1. Mental capacity and intellect
Play and music are important for the development of children's mental capacity and intellect. They also form the basis of language building. Games accompanied by songs in a second language can extend the vocabulary of the child in that language.
There is also a connection between music and the development of mathematical skills. Singing games such as Counting rope jumps could help a small child to understand how to count. Although music and movement occur spontaneously in children, the process is not so simple as it seems, because it involves a capability to distinguish the various components of music (Maxim 1989:289).
Research on the use of Baroque music has shown when this type of music is played when children are concentrating-for instance during a game-memory could improve by as much as 26%. Through its alpha rhythms, Baroque music stimulates the right and the left hemispheres of the brain, and this helps to develop concentration (Swanepoel 1998[b]:12).
There is a definite relationship between Piaget's cognitive stages and the development of music competency (Schickendanz, York, Steward & White 1990:156). A psychologist of Randburg in South Africa is of the opinion that the use of suitable music can have a positive effect on small children, especially children from two to six years old, when the front brain lobes are growing the fastest. Concentration games during this period can thus enhance cognitive development (Swanepoel 1998[c]:12).
2. Learning about the adult world through pretending and mimicry
Pretending is a serious business for children, and imitation and mimicry could thus be used to great effect by the early childhood educator. With the aid of records of operas and orchestras, groups could match body movements to music and mimic the singers and orchestra. In this way small children learn and experience the music together with the "real" singers and the orchestra. Through play and movement children demonstrate what they hear: an excellent way of becoming aware of the rhythm and character of music, and a dynamic way of learning. Children could also learn adult roles through music, for example by playing the mother's role when rocking a baby and singing a lullaby.
Almost all early childhood institutions have some dolls, household furniture, plastic food, cleaning equipment, dress-up clothes for girls, and tow cars, steering wheels and trucks for boys, so that these children can act out their images of adult life (Spodek & Saracho 1994:262). Maxim (1989:237) points out that small children base their dramatic play first on their parents and then move on to other adults such as doctors, nurses, fire-fighters, police officers, pilots, dentists and truck drivers. Thus they move from the home situation to the wider world.
In the early childhood phase teachers should help children to feel emotionally secure and to take some risks by encouraging, motivating and praising them. this leads to greater self-confidence and a better self-image.
3. Mastery of the physical self
Play and music can also help the child to master his or her physical self, which helps to improve self-confidence and leads to a better self-image. Coordination can be improved with games that aid muscular development. Moving to different kinds of music help children to understand what they can do with their bodies (Maxim 1989:289). Songs with words about tigers, spiders, bears and kittens are appropriate for movements that young children can identify with, such as running, balancing, stretching and crawling. An example of such a song is I'm a great big tiger.
Schickedanz et al (1990:155) point out that respiration and circulation could be improved by singing, whilst coordination and fine motor skills are involved in the playing of musical instruments.
4. Development of social roles, particularly in multicultural situations
Because of its universal character, music is a social activity that promotes togetherness between individuals, cultures and nations. It is sometimes called "the universal language". Music and play could therefore contribute to the building of interpersonal relationships. Sociodramatic play or pretend play can also be used to achieve this, because when children are engaged in sociodramatic play, they act out roles as they see and understand them. This includes complex socio situations that involve the reconciling of players with differing needs and background experiences, and contradictory views and cultures (Spodek & Saracho 1994:276 and Lay-Dopyera & Dopyera 1993:377). Typical games from children's own cultural groups could also be played.
Awareness and acceptance of people of other races and cultures can be developed through play and music. Early childhood educators can provide information and teach children songs which introduce them to songs and music of other races and cultures. This could lead to greater unity in a rainbow nation such as South Africa. When children of different cultures play and sing together, they forget about race and culture.
The lyrics of songs are very important in a multicultural situation. The teacher should make a special effort to ensure that the words of songs do not hurt the feelings of children of certain races or cultural groups.
Children develop feelings of pride and identity when they hear the music of their own group and background, for instance folk music (Maxim 1989:289). Folk music is the purest form of music and could be called "mother music" (Swanepoel 1998(a):12).
5. Development of the affective aspect
Music and play are instinctive emotional outlets which enable people to express their feelings and relieve tension in an acceptable way. Music and play may also contribute to a specific mood. the way in which children express themselves through music and play could reveal much about their feelings and thoughts to the sensitive teacher (Schickedanz et al 1990:154). It is a way of communication, although children do not intend these activities to communicate feelings and impressions. Music and play could therefore be used in a therapeutic context because they could provide valuable insight into the thoughts and feelings of children.
Play and music could also be used to calm children, the teacher could tell children that they must pretend that they are potatoes lying under the ground. A song like Kumbaya, my Lord is excellent for this. The Bulgarian psychotherapist Lazan of has shown that Baroque music helps make children more tranquil. Classical music is very effective in making children more tranquil because of the relatively high notes, for instance, the string instruments (Swanepoel 1998(a) and (b):12.
On the other hand, certain types of play and music such as bouncy jazz could stimulate or vitalize lethargic women. Music and sound can influence the brain waves positively or negatively and could be utilized by the positive manipulation of inter alia or delta brain waves (Swanepoel 1998(c):12).
6. Development of creatively
Play and music create an imaginary world in which a child can master a myriad of skills and develops an understanding of his or her environment that would otherwise have been impossible. Play and music can also stimulate a small child's creativity, and small children often make up their own musical instruments while they are playing. For example, a large box may become a drum, a tin may be used as a banjo or a violin, a pot could be tapped rhythmically with a stick, or the opening of a balloon can be adjusted "while the air escapes in a squeaking rhapsody" (Maxim 1989:268).
Pupils' creativity could be developed by letting them move in the way the music makes them feel. Making up new words for a song by the teacher and her pupils could contribute to pupils' enjoyment and creativity. For example, during a cooking activity a teacher could sing her own words to the tune of Clementine (Maxim 1989:291):
Cut the carrots, Cut the carrots, Cut the carrots, one by one, Our soup needs lots of carrots, Isn't this a lot of fun?
The same song could naturally be sung when the child pretends that she is her mother who is cooking her family a meal and imitates her mother's role as an adult.
Creative play involves a variety of musical activities designed to encourage inventiveness, imaginativeness and freedom of thought and expression (Maxim, 1989:261). A small child could even be encouraged to invent his or her own music, providing that he or she has previous knowledge, experience or skills to build on. Creative children are often those who take delight in music and play rather than in academic endeavors. Teachers and parents should encourage this creativity because creative thinking is an invaluable cognitive vehicle which allows children to stimulate each other's ideas and thoughts (Maxim 1989:236) and teach one another.
Hildebrand (1997:340) stresses that children are natural musicians-children also have a natural inclination to explore through play. According to Maxim (1989:261), "Any play episode is also a learning episode." Maxim (1989: 261, 289, 291, 292 and 307) suggests the following guidelines for music and playing:
* Enjoyment of play and music episodes should be the main aim. It could bring a sense of well-being and joyfulness to both teacher and child.
* Furnishing the physical environment with enough play material is the first step in stimulating spontaneous play.
* These activities require a lot of thought and planning. Children's level of development and their interests should be borne in mind.
* Opportunities for spontaneous, self-directed play should be offered. For example, melodious tunes should be sung when it is time to play. Although spontaneous expression should be encouraged, children should not become overdependent on the teacher for ideas or approval.
* Enough space is of pivotal importance for playing, while comfort is important for music.
* It is not essential that the teacher should have a good singing voice. She should let go of her musical inhibitions and enjoy the activities with her pupils. She should see herself as a participant and not as a performer. She could also make effective use of records.
* A responsive, encouraging teacher who knows how to interact with small children and how to stimulate them is very important.
The possibilities and the potential of play and music are endless. There are numerous ideas and activities which can be tested, but also many responsibilities for the early childhood teacher.
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CH van der LINDE Department of Primary School Teacher Training University of South Africa Republic of South Africa Pretoria 0003 South Africa