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«A Thesis Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in partial fulfillment of the ...»

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In addition, Benjamin Bloom, in his book Developing Talent in Young People (1985), commented that professional musicians and athletes looked back on their childhood experiences in that particular area and saw that they had good experiences that created interest in a particular area. They remember their childhood teachers as nurturing and fun, who created an interest that they sought to pursue as they grew. Bloom characterizes this phase of learning as the romance stage, where children develop a love of a particular activity. All successful musicians and athletes could look back on positive experiences during the romance stage, which led them toward the precision stage of learning before progressing to the third and final stage of learning, the integration stage. Most importantly, though, was the fact that moving too quickly through the romance stage of learning diminishes interest and drive during the precision stage. Since a child’s musical interest diminishes with age (Bowles, 1998; Denac, 2008), as educators, our job should be to make music fun and exciting so that children will develop a love of music and be interested in further pursuing the field throughout their childhood.

Since both music and play are a part of a child’s life, the two can be combined to create an active musical play environment. Olga Denac pointed out that “When asked to choose their favorite music activities, most preschool and school children chose playing an instrument, since it enabled them to take active part in the educational process” (2008, p. 442). A child’s natural response is to be actively involved in music and music making, so those responses should be encouraged on a regular basis (Neely, 2001; Campbell, 2000). In her research, Donna Brink Fox noted that The National Association for the Education of Young Children proposes that children learn through play and that they learn through positive social interaction with others.

Music is woven into social encounters and relationships, into routine home and classroom

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Richard Addison describes how important experiencing activities are for children when he stated, “if ‘hands on’ experience is nowadays a buzzword for adults, how much more important must it be for children!” (1991, p. 212). Furthermore, he mentioned “that many children are being crippled musically by being deprived of the opportunity to play with musical materials in the same way that they play with other play objects” (1991, p.212). Give a child a train, and he finds a way to make it run across railroad tracks or fly through the air. Give a child a pair of rhythm sticks and he will experiment with them to create different sounds, play “air drums,” and create new musical experiences for himself. McCaskill suggested, The child is naturally rhythmic, and from early infancy loves music and rhythm. He likes to express himself in music and is able to do it with an ease and abandon which are beyond adult attainment. He ‘does what the music says’ through a wide range of activities from running, skipping, stamping, marching, clapping, and dancing, to ‘flying,’ and dropping to the floor, completely relaxed, eyes closed, when the music becomes a lullaby” (1943, p. 1089).

Furthermore, as children experience musical activities, the need for corrections and criticisms should not exist (Berger & Cooper, 2003). Children should be encouraged to enjoy musical free play so that they can have a personal experience with music. (Berger & Cooper, 2003; Smithrim, 1997). In fact, Kathryn Marsh discovered that “there has been an increasing realization in recent years of the importance of informal sites of music teaching and learning for the development of children’s musical attitudes, competencies and understandings” (1999, p. 2).

As we encourage children to learn, we also must be aware of their ability to learn. Much research has been completed on how children learn and at what age children’s intellectual growth is at its greatest (Manins, 1994; Romanek, 1974; Turner, 1999). Donna Brink Fox remarked that “early education experiences significantly impact the long-term direction of children’s

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fundamental cognitive activities have social foundations and remain quasi-social forever” (Dimitriadis and Kamberelis, 2006, p. 193). His learning theory encouraged educators to be aware of the learner’s zone of proximal development, defined by Vygotsky as “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (1978, p. 86). The most effective teaching and learning processes occur during this zone of proximal development, when the learner moves past the current level of competency, moving “learners into the nearest reaches of their incompetence (not too far) and should help them become competent there. As learning continues, the leading edge of the reaches of incompetence keeps moving on” (Dimitriadis and Kamberelis, 2006, p.

197). Kemple, Batey, & Hartle (2004) spoke to this in his research as well. He discussed Jerome Bruner’s theory of scaffolding, which refers to the continuum of supportive structuring that more competent others provide as a child masters a new strategy or skill” (p. 32). As educators, we can use musical play to teach basic music concepts using simple terms. As children learn and develop, we can add new terms to that concept, building upon their knowledge. By introducing music at a young age, children can begin to learn musical ideas without having to know the full meaning behind the concepts. Thus, as terms are presented later in life, children will already have a basic understanding of its meaning. For example, giving children the opportunity to march to the beat during a “Little Gym” class teaches them the idea of steady beat, without giving them the terminology behind the idea. Later, in musical training, children will know what a steady beat feels like, and will then be given the opportunity to

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foundation of the Kodály pedagogy (Kodály, 1964).

Robin Wes, the founder of The Little Gym, realized the benefits of children’s play and has sought to build upon these benefits through the classes he offers. Children are given the opportunity to experience music in a fun and exciting way. They are given hands on experience with musical instruments such as shakers to use during circle time. By providing these activities, a child’s curiosity is peaked and he is given an opportunity to be creative with the instrument.

The Little Gym was opened so that children could experience these types of opportunities on a weekly basis, a safe place for children to learn and grow. In their book, “Gymboree: Giving Your Child Physical, Mental and Social Confidence Through Play,” Joan Barnes and Susan

Astor stated the following:

These preschool years are the period when our children are most dependent on us, their parents, and when we have the least amount of outside help. In other words, we are our children’s chief instructors during what may well be the most important part of their education (1981, p. 2) As others have discovered, Barnes and Astor realized the importance of the familial relationship in the development of the child (Brand, 1986; Gordon, 1997; Fox, 2000; Johnston, 2005). In addition, De Gratzer (1999) found that parents realized an improved and enhanced relationship with their children when participating in a music program together. Therefore, a child not only benefits from the class itself, but also from the social interaction he has with classmates and parents that attend with him.

The purpose of this research was to explore how music is used in classes at the Little Gym, as well as the benefits children gain from the usage of music in classes. Data collection

was guided by the following questions:

1. How is music used in the classes offered at The Little Gym?

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The following chapters will explore the values and benefits associated with the use of music in Little Gym classes and possible applications for the use of music in early childhood learning situations. In Chapter 3, the site and context of the Little Gym is discussed while Chapter 4 reviews the method used to conduct this study. Chapter 5 examines the findings and discussions of the research and Chapter 6 explores the conclusions of the research.

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Located on a main thoroughfare in a large metropolitan area is a large sign advertising the location of “The Little Gym.” Nestled in the back of a group of businesses, the outside of the Little Gym looks very similar to a typical office building. However, once you open the door, you are likely to see children playing, eagerly awaiting the beginning of their Little Gym class.

When you enter the Little Gym, you walk into a waiting area. To your right is a large couch and an oversized chair, surrounding a train table full of toys. There is also a door that leads to the party room, where children often enjoy birthday parties and other events held there. Immediately to your left is a brightly painted storage unit for shoes and other personal items; shoes are not allowed to be worn by anyone in the classroom. In front of the storage unit are two rows of four chairs, where parents often sit while waiting for their children to finish their classes. To the left of the storage unit is the registration desk where a Little Gym employee usually sits, welcoming parents and children as they enter. Surprisingly, the waiting area smells clean and fresh, despite the presence of dirty shoes and sweaty children! The main office is set off to the extreme left, through a separate door usually closed to participants. The entire front wall is lined with clear glass windows where parents and other observers can watch the children during class, without being overly intrusive. Every once in a while you will notice a parent waving or gently encouraging his or her child.

A door located in the middle of the front wall leads to the gym classroom. The walls are painted bright colors of purple and green, inviting the children to come in and play. During a typical Parent/Child class, children are swinging from the uneven bars to the right, testing their confidence on the balance beam to the left, and crossing an obstacle course between the parallel bars in the center. Ms. Kristal is stationed at the bar to the left of the door, helping children with

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the focal point of the room, the big red mat. This mat, which takes up half of the classroom, is the gathering spot for the children at both the beginning and ending of class. As class continues, the children flock to the back closet which contains a number of fun items used during various classes: sports equipment, balls, parachutes, hula hoops, and a variety of other manipulatives used to create excitement and draw interest to class activities. During the Parent/Child classes, the children know that if Ms. Heather or Ms. Kristal head toward that door, something fun is about to happen. A parachute may appear, or a bucket of balls may be emptied.

A one time observer of a typical Little Gym Parent/Child class may think that the class is loosely structured and children are allowed to run around with very little instruction. And, to some degree, that is the case. However, the class is specially designed to allow for optimal enjoyment and exploration. After just a few classes, children begin to understand the sequence of events and their attention is drawn to the various activities as music plays an important role in the flow of the classes. Transitions from one activity to the next, as well as sequencing of events are both made easier through the use of music.

On most days, the teachers greet me with a smile and “Hi guys,” as I walk through the door with my two boys. Immediately, one of my sons races to play at the train table with other children while the one attending class that day takes off his shoes and places them in the cubby, ready and waiting excitedly for class to begin. The lobby is full of bubbly excitement as one group of children waiting for class lines up at the door and a second group of children exits the classroom and congregates in a circle on the floor waiting for their stamps, their reward for attending class. Stamps are given on hands, feet, and even little tummies! The room is full of

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children get geared up for the next activity.

The Little Gym opened its doors in 1976 with a focus on children’s growth through play.

Founder Robin Wes wanted to create a learning environment where children were free to learn and grow without the pressure of competition. In fact, “he created an environment filled with the spirit to achieve rather than the pressure to win” (http://www.thelittlegym.com). The Little Gym became a franchise in 1992 and has since opened more than three hundred gyms worldwide.

The Baton Rouge Little Gym has been owned by Heather West for the last ten years. Ms.

Heather, a kinesiologist herself, was looking for a way to further her career when she was given the opportunity to purchase the gym. She looked at this new business as a way to continue using her specialty, as well as provide for children and their families. The teachers at the Baton Rouge Little Gym all have different backgrounds, including college students who love working with children, those with a background in health care wanting to use their knowledge to help children and their families, as well as teachers committed to continuing the traditions of the Little Gym.

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