Alas I'm not much of a musician myself ... given a choice, I will listen to National Radio rather than a music station ... and faced with an array of musical instruments I just freeze. This makes doing music with kids a little bit intimidating.
"Get to know the (musical) equipment well yourself. Try out all the instruments and find what different sounds you can make. Be alert for spontaneous music play ...' Maureen Woodhams, Making Music With Children.
Playcentre, Montessori and Steiner/Waldorf all have very different approaches to musical education for preschoolers ... and given my own dunce status I hesitate to assume any authority here. So, as always, comments and debate always welcome!
"Become attentive to what the children are doing musically, both in focused music sessions and in their general play. This may involve stopping being active yourself so you can spend a few minutes just watching and listening. Children often chant or sing a pattern of words or a snatch of tune, especially during solitary play... musical interactions, like conversation, often occur while adults and children are doing something else together and are a joy when you start to notice and extend them." Maureen Woodhams
In a Playcentre, the 'music area' will usually be well resourced with a range of musical instruments - shakers, tambourines, drums, ukuleles, perhaps an old piano. There will usually be a CD player and a collection of recorded kids music ... which will often play loudly during the session.
Adults are encouraged to recognise when children show an interest in the music area, and play along side them, exploring the different instruments, dancing and singing.
"The provision of an attractive display of musical instruments and objects ensures that children have independent access to some music experiences whenever they choose. It also ensures that when a play interaction takes a musical turn, or an adult sees a way to extend a child's learning following a music interest, some materials which might support this are directly to hand. Maureen Woodhams
As in all areas of play, Waldorf education is concerned with protecting and nurturing the senses, so in this instance it’s the sense of hearing. As children's hearing develops, they need first of all to hear real, living, human sounds - voices of course, and clapping rhythms are often considered very appropriate. The pentatonic scale is recommended for the early years -this has five pitches per octave and sounds lighter and more 'floaty' somehow.
You won't see many, if any, musical instruments in a Steiner/Waldorf kindergarten. Carrie was very kind to share some excerpts from 'In a Nutshell' with me that explain why.
"Because we prefer to offer the children open-ended play materials- that is, materials which can be used in many different ways, according to the child's needs of the moment - we also do not provide many of the traditional rhythm toys. However, some teachers do have bells, gourds or perhaps a drum or pentatonic xylophone available in the classroom.....It is important that these instruments produce a good quality sound, and in the case of the xylophone, that the notes are in tune. The children may play freely with these instruments, as long as they treat them with appropriate care and the sounds do not become disruptive to the mood of the classroom" Nancy Foster, In a Nutshell
You might say that if Steiner/Waldorf is concerned with protecting the senses, Montessori is concerned with perfecting them. I think no where is this more obvious than with music.
In the Montessori 3-6 programme, children are given materials to encourage them to listen carefully and learn to differentiate not only different sounds, but different pitches too. Games such as sorting objects by sound, recognising pitch using glasses of water, or the Montessori bells encourage this precision.
Making a joyful noise
Of course, what these three very different approaches have in common is seeking to encourage and develop a sense of musical appreciation in our children (so they can be groupies too!). I love the idea of teaching listening skills in Montessori, I love that the Steiner approach doesn't abuse a child's ears with tinny poppy kiddy music, and I love that Playcentre lets kids really have fun and enjoy music in all its wonderful guises. After all, banging pots and pans in the kitchen is as much a music lesson as anything else! Children love and deserve the opportunity to listen to live music where possible, and to experiment with making their own music too.
So, a few fun ideas for bringing music into your pre-schoolers home!
- sing all the time. Have special songs for special times of the day, and lots of songs just because. Don't worry that you can't sing in tune, honestly, your child won't mind!
- make lots of 'ad hoc' instruments. Bang pots, put small objects in glass jars (with supervision), fill glasses with water and tap them with spoons.
- play silence games ... encourage your children to listen to the quieter sounds around them.
- take your children to see live music - buskers, brass bands, folk bands playing at the markets ... start asking about where you might be able to find real instruments being played