Early Childhood Music and Movement Association

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The Parent Connection

The Parent Connection focuses on music learning during those miraculous years during which every child is a prodigy – early childhood. As a parent, grandparent, music teacher for 40+ years, music teacher educator, and early childhood music and movement specialist, Dr. Townsend brings a broad perspective to ideas and issues affecting parents and families.

Dr. Townsend has headed the music teacher education program and directed the instrumental program at Maranatha Baptist University since 1996. In that capacity, he teaches early childhood music and movement classes daily at the university's Kiddie Kampus, teaching infants through 4 year old children.

 
 
 
 

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily promote official policy of ECMMA.

Convention Reflection: Too Many Toys?

10 Comments

Seldom, anymore, do I experience something in music education that truly perks up my ears and causes me to stop and think – long and often. Most of what I hear anymore at conferences and conventions amounts to tweaks to deeply-developed habits that have served me and my students well through the 40 years that I have been teaching music. I am thankful for each tweak, and I look forward to the next one, but one of the presenters at this past week's GIML convention caused me to sit up and notice. Obviously, by this post, he has my attention.

THE LONGEST TITLE
Andrea Apostoli, Founder and President of AIGAM (Music Learning Theory in Italy), presented a session with perhaps the longest title of any session in music education history – Emperical and Observational Reserach: Establishing a Musically MeaningfulRelationahip with Children in Preparatory Audiation – How Props, Words, and Repsresentative Games Can Take Us Far Away from MLT Purposes.

In short: Too Many Toys, Words, & Games?

I have gradually come to know Andrea through the years. He was a young man at one of the early certification workshops that I attended at least ten years ago at Michigan State University. Four years ago, we talked again when he and I both attended the first-ever International Gordon Conference in Dayton, Ohio. He had grown in professional stature in his native Italy, and many were beginning to take notice of his exceptional research with preborn children and music.

Now, we were together again at a Gordon conference, and I realized that he has gradually become an internationally respected early childhood music educator and researcher. I hope he will be able to participate in our ECMMA Interntaional Convention next year in Green Lake, Wisconsin. (I hope you will too.)

BACK TO THE POINT...
You can tell by the title of this post that he challenged me to rethink what I am using, and how I am using it, to interact with my young music students - most of whom are between infancy and four years old, except for the college kids. (I will not yield to the obvious temptations offered by that last clause.) (-:

He did cause me to rethink some very basic strategies in my classes. Do we too easily grab a prop in class, substituting kitsch for feelingful interactions with our children? It is hard to refute that most children in America have FAR too much stuff interrupting and managing what should be natural play. Even the music we choose often tends to focus their attention away from music and onto the extra-musical, rather than encouraging our children to absorb and reflect – yes even a four year old, and yes, even in infancy.

BUT WHAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE?
Ironically – music. Pure music... without words... without games... without toys... with only the interaction of a musically moving provider with a musically energized child. We, as providers, sing without words, moving as though we were directing a great symphonic orchestra or playing a great grand piano or pipe organ, and interacting with one child at a time, face to face, spirit to spirit...

Connecting purely with the musician within each child.

I will enter every class this year wondering if the toys I bring or the words to my songs or the circle games I choose are really best for this particular group for this particular day. Yes, the external props and games are useful for engaging the child and for eliciting responses, but when do they become too much, and when do they inhibit the responses that we are seeking to encourage within each child?

My classes may become more with less. My pre-service teachers may now see a purer paradigm when they observe my model. We may all gradually become more the musician and less the actor.

No answers right now... Just reflection... And isn't that what every presenter of every workshop hopes to achieve?

I am grateful for Andrea this evening. And thank YOU for thinking through this with me...

Comments

Linda Emmanuel Aug 06, 2011

I have often had the feeling that the props I use in class, including instruments, can be a substitute for content.  It is easy to design a fun activity around a fun toy or instrument and lose sight of what the role of props, in my opinion should be.

When used well props will increase the musicality of a class experience rather than being the main focus.  I know that I have been relying too heavily on props when the children are more interested in what toy I will bring out next than what song we will sing next.

I certainly wouldn’t call myself a hard-core Gordonian but there is something to be said for letting the music speak for itself without the distraction of gimmicks. Its more work but definitely more rewarding for both teacher and student.

Rick Townsend Watertown Aug 06, 2011

I wish you could have seen Andrea’s videos of his classes. He and his teachers have a wonderful interaction with the children - even toddlers - at times seeming like there is a counterpoint with the children.

I am not really an advocate for “no toys” or “no words,” but usually present about half my songs and chants without words - typically with bean bags or scarves to help the children express the music.

Thank you for your thoughts, Linda.

Marilyn Lowe Aug 12, 2011

I, too, loved Andrea’s presentation. My work with piano students of all ages (and with early childhood music) has led me to use fewer (if any) props. I feel successful when I can engage a class totally by using musical events and audiation. Children do like to, and can, “think” music and express it through singing, chanting, movement, and at the keyboard. The internalization of music is evident as time passes and children become successful, confident improvisers and performers. BRAVO ANDREA! I am so proud to be a part of the Italian MLT program, as I return again to Rome in the fall (I have been going to Italy since 2004) for a three-day Music Moves for Piano conference for which 41 teachers have already registered!

Thanks to you, Rick, for this wonderful article. Marilyn

Andrea Apostoli Aug 12, 2011

Thank you so much Rick for your so nice article about my presentation.
I am touched…

Andrea

Rick Townsend Watertown Aug 12, 2011

Marilyn and Andrea,

Best wishes for a wonderful Music Moves conference this fall.

Movement Matters Aug 25, 2011

Thanks for these reflections - it assuages my own feelings of inadequacy! Props tend to be afterthoughts for me - but when I do use them, I prefer very general objects. A scarf. A pair of sticks. With more personal items, like stuffed animals, you run the risk of upstaging the music and movement. Kids tend to revert to whatever they usually do with stuffed animals, and they can stop listening.
The other guideline I use for my props is that the objects need to inspire children to extend their music and movement capabilities. When a child makes a sound or a movement that they would not have made without the prop, the prop is successful!
For example, a scarf can inspire a child to reach higher, or make new shapes in the air, to feel the scarf as an extension of his or her arm. Watching the movement of the scarf while listening extends the sensory language of the music itself. Scarves can also be social toys, allowing children to touch each other in safe and interactive ways.
And scarves are something that kids can probably find and play with at home, too! A scarf is simple. It’s cheap. It’s general - it doesn’t have a face. There is no cartoon or video game about it. So the imagination can operate unimpeded.
Most of my props are like that - scarves, balls, sticks, drums, etc. Boomwhackers are very multipurpose! I even use pool noodles. All are general forms that can be used in many ways.

Riccardo Nardozzi Aug 31, 2011

I introduce myself. I’m an italian teacher of music education in AIGAM. I’ve been trained by Andrea Apostoli, my teacher. 
I wished to be in the Conference in Chicago, like listener, but in the end I had some problems with my organization, so I couldn’t, and I was sad for this. But…reading the article of Rick Townsend, I fill myself with joy!!! Thank you very much, your words pay off daily efforts of a lot of teachers grin
I take advantage to greet M. Lowe and to thank her, too.
And, obviously, thank you Andrea.

Riccardo Nardozzi Aug 31, 2011

I introduce myself. I’m an italian teacher of music education in AIGAM. I’ve been trained by Andrea Apostoli, my teacher. 
I wished to be in the Conference in Chicago, like listener, but in the end I had some problems with my organization, so I couldn’t, and I was sad for this. But…reading the article of Rick Townsend, I fill myself with joy!!! Thank you very much, your words pay off daily efforts of a lot of teachers grin
I take advantage to greet M. Lowe and to thank her, too.
And, obviously, thank you Andrea.

Riccardo

Riccardo Nardozzi Aug 31, 2011

I introduce myself. I’m an italian teacher of music education in AIGAM. I’ve been trained by Andrea Apostoli, my teacher. 
I wished to be in the Conference in Chicago, like listener, but in the end I had some problems with my organization, so I couldn’t, and I was sad for this. But…reading the article of Rick Townsend, I fill myself with joy!!! Thank you very much, your words pay off daily efforts of a lot of teachers grin
I take advantage to greet M. Lowe and to thank her, too.
And, obviously, thank you Andrea.

Riccardo

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