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And, as Ms. Heather noted, many of the instructional songs including the clean up song and time to sit by the wall today sound similar, but the words are different. The children are familiar with the tune and listen to the different words. In fact, I have never observed a class where children did not listen to the words of the teacher-sung instructional songs and react immediately. Elaine Stroud mentioned that learning through music is beneficial to her children. She stated, “All their instructions are set to music. So they get up and they move to the rhythm. And they have to listen to the music to know what instructions to follow. So, I think that’s beneficial.” The music directives are used differently in each class. As in the Parent/Child classes, the Pre-Kindergarten classes use warm-up music to prepare them for class. During this music, the children are directed as to what to do next. Ms. Kristal said that the “warm-up music is not supposed to be the lead, but we’re helping them to kind of understand what the music is telling them to do. The music directs everyone what to do, but there should never be a point where the music is doing all the work…” In other words, the music gives the spoken instruction, but the instructor and the parents should be demonstrating what the music instructs for the children. The Dance classes use music as one of their biggest tools.
music that’s just not directional. It’s just music.” The music is instructional, and the children pay close attention to the words so that they can properly participate in class. In fact, in observing the classes, I found that the spoken was less effective in instructing children than the music.
Parents have also noted the importance music has to their children in the transfer of skills from classroom to home. Elaine Stroud mentioned that she often incorporated the clean-up song at home. She said, They have a cleanup song that we would sing at home, they have a bye bye song that we would lay on the floor, “Bye Bye you big bugs, we’ll see you,” whatever, so yes, we incorporated those at home as well. I thought it was a good idea. I saw it there and just modeled it home, not necessarily so she (Alexis) would do better in the class, just because I saw it work there so we tried it at home.
And, Elaine Stroud’s belief in the use of music is so strong that she uses it on a daily basis with her son during home school lessons. She discussed how she uses music during a typical day.
Keith is in kindergarten and he learns through music. One of the programs that we use to teach him is called Readeez. And it sets all his vocabulary and his language learning to music, so everything has a song. We learn about money through songs, we learn about words, the meaning of words all through song.
Polly Strickland also uses music to teach her children and understands that music helps the children remember more than if they had just heard something through spoken word.
That’s how they learned phone number, address, that’s how they learned to spell their names, a lot of their reading sounds. We always make little rhymes, so anytime that Stacey’s studying, anything for education, we always make rhymes and put it to music.
Blacking (1995) observed that families often use music in teaching children important aspects of society. Additionally, Campbell (2005) found that engaging in musical play is typical for all children. Since music and learning to follow directions is a large part of a child’s life, it only
Music as a Means of Enhancing Imagination and Creativity Activities at the Little Gym encourage play, first and foremost. Children are free to play and create without restraint during the entire class. In addition, during the Parent/Child classes, children are not scolded for leaving a group activity to experiment with a piece of equipment.
The children are free to use their creativity, while the music is used to enhance their imagination.
During the warm-up, the instructor will turn on the song and then help direct the children in certain activities. In one class, the participants formed a circle and followed directions that included walking, running, and pretending to be an animal. The children may be asked to be a kangaroo and jump across the mat, or they may be told to be a bear and crawl on their hands and
knees. Ms. Kristal described the use of imaginative music as the following:
[In] Parent-Child classes, we take them through, a lot of imaginary play like we did for the learning unit. The theme we are doing is animals. We are using the animal sounds.
And then we are working on movement. Instead of someone just saying “I want you to jump,” they have to actually be these things. Like, we’re doing the pirate thing today, so they’re going to be Jake and the Neverland Pirates and Peter Pan and we have to take them from the Little Gym into this whole new dimension and the music helps us. It’s a tool to get there. And, so basically, us just giving them a story line isn’t as awesome as putting on the music and it really takes them to that place.
During the warm-up music, the words of a song may instruct a class to walk like a bear. While the teacher may demonstrate the action, the sound of the music takes the children into a forest listening to the sounds of nature. Ms. Kristal even described the fact that the music could be enough to help take the children deep into their imagination, but the actions of the teachers help take it to a different level. The children are encouraged to bring the music alive through their actions.
children. The opening song of all of the Parent/Child classes uses shakers to help bring the music alive. Children use scarves to interpret the sounds of the music they are hearing. At the end of every class, children drum on the floor using their hands as the instruments. Kristal
describes the use of the manipulatives as follows:
We use shakers, at the end we do the drums with our hands, sometimes we’ll bring out, like if it’s animal week, we’ll bring stuffed animals and stuff like that to help with the music. But, that’s again, really bringing the music alive. Using the tools that we have to really do that. We do rhythm sticks, we do the parachute with the music, we do stretch rope with the music, again there are a lot of cognitive benefits there, but they also get to be in a group setting working with their peers, learning how to play in a group kind of thing.
The Little Gym definitely capitalizes on the opportunity to allow children to play with musical manipulatives in unstructured ways. For instance, in one class, the teacher passed out a pair of rhythm sticks to each of the children. The music instructs the children to do the following: Tap the stick together, tap the stick to the sole of your foot, tap the sticks on the floor, saying “tap, tap, tap, tap,” encouraging the children to tap to the beat of the music. The music further instructed the children to tap their sticks together, tap them high, tap them on certain parts of the body, and use one stick like a hammer and one stick like a nail. Further, the music then suggests that the children should roll the sticks across the soles of their feet like a rolling pin. This use of manipulatives not only encourages children to concentrate on the beat of the music, but also to use their imagination to make the sticks into different items, such as hammers and rolling pins.
The Dance class uses music to enhance the imagination more so than any other class.
The creative movement exercises include the idea of dancing a particular way or mimicking a particular animal. For instance, the teacher may ask the class how to demonstrate the way a
music is during the class.
We do a lot of creative movement in dance, so what we do is we just put the music on for them at that point, dance is more of a background for tap and ballet. It’s just to kind of keep them in rhythm with the music, if we put on, like, fast paced songs for tap to keep them going, we put on slower songs for ballet, kind of mellow them out, but in between we do creative movement.
The use of manipulatives and imagination during musical play are cognitively beneficial to children. A variety of educational studies have shown that early childhood experiences have a great effect on cognitive development. According to Bloom (1985), 80 percent of a child’s intellectual growth occurs between conception and age eight, suggesting that the services of the Little Gym are beneficial for development. Music educators have begun to stress the need for early musical experiences (Romanek, p. 129), and, as previously noted, children benefit from playing with musical instruments in the way they would play with other toys (Smithrim, 1997, p.
18). Music educators would do well to allow free play with music instruments so as not to stifle creativity. The Little Gym introduces music to children in a way that is exciting and stirs creativity among them, allowing them to have a positive first experience with music. Zur and Johnson-Green (2008) established that children benefit from expressing themselves through musical activities. They commented, Parents, therefore, might expand the ways in which they think of children’s music making to include spontaneous songs, chants, rhythmic creations, and movements.
Adults who understand their children’s music making as a meaningful and necessary aspect of growth and development may help children develop their expressive capabilities (p. 298).
It would appear that the structure and content of the Little Gym classes are doing just that, fostering creativity through the use of music.
During interviews, both parents and instructors felt that music used in the classroom benefits the children. Parents and instructors discussed a wide range of benefits, including music as a means to focus, music as a means to transfer skills, and music as a positive distraction.
Music as a means to Focus Attention When children enter the classroom, they are often excited and running around the classroom. Children are easily distracted by all of the interesting equipment in the classroom and could have difficulty focusing during the class. However, the music directs the children toward the activities and helps them to focus on their tasks. Theresa Williams, mother of Anna (age 2) said that the music helps to draw Anna into the activities. When Anna comes into class, she runs around and plays. Theresa Williams commented, “she’s so active, too, I mean, you’ve seen her, you know, she likes to climb and run a lot. So, music does distract her away from that a little bit.” She continued by saying that music actually helped her to focus on the activities rather than play. When Anna hears the opening song, she stops swinging from the uneven bars and runs to the red mat. The song definitely draws Anna away from the equipment and into circle time and helps her focus on the task at hand.
Shelby Brown, mother of Cameron (3 years) and Alyssa (19 months), noted how important the warm up music is at helping her children participate in class. She described the warm up songs as “…actually telling them what they need to be doing. You know, like sometimes they play the whole song, sometimes they don’t… it helps keep them focused on what they should be doing and whatever that skill is that they’re learning.” She further described the use of music during this time as a way to “keep(s) them stimulated, I think it keeps them interested, they’re not just listening to, yes, they are listening to the teacher’s voice, but they
by stating that she feels that the music helps to provide structure to the class.
The warm up music is especially helpful for Alyssa, who has difficulty joining the class.
Shelby Brown describes Alyssa as clingy and shy when entering class. But, the music helps her focus on the activities, rather than the nerves of being in the environment.
Karla Luther, mother of Addison (age 2), described the musical experience in the
classroom as the following:
I definitely think the benefit of it is it kind of gets them excited to me, at the beginning when they get started and it’s fun and kind of loud, I think that gets them wanting to participate and excited about class. I do think that they turn that down a notch but they use it as a background, a little background for them, and that keeps them, I think calm, not just like dull and where they don’t want to do anything anymore, but even keel which I think brings them down a notch from the beginning where they are running around and playing and listening to the music loud and doing what the music says. So I definitely think that it’s a super, a super great technique to use with toddlers.
The music helps the children focus on each activity, according to the level at which the music is played. Polly Strickland also believed that the music helps the children focus.
I think it helps them remember what they’re doing, for sure. And I also think that when they’re singing the songs with them, they’re all listening and paying attention and staying in their place, versus just the teacher standing there talking to them, because of their attention span at their age.