SING THE SILENCE, DANCE THE STILLNESS
Recently a friend was describing his youngest child as “challenging.” As educators and parents, we have all taught—or parented—this child. This is the child who chooses non-compliance first, questions everything, throws tantrums when challenged, and gets upset when life is unpredictable. I mainly just listened to my friend, but my educator brain was thinking, “How could early childhood music and movement activities benefit this child?”
We should remember: children’s behavior often tells us exactly what they need. So what does this “challenging” child need? It may seem like simple attention, but digging deeper, I start to observe that these behaviors show a yearning and need for control, predictability, and safety in their environment.
Unfortunately, the world is often an unpredictable place, with many things out of our control. The one thing we often can control is our own reaction.
Early childhood music and movement activities do offer young children excellent training and development in learning to control their own bodies and reactions. From this foundation of self-regulation tools, children can feel more direction in their interactions with a changing world, may feel calmer in assessing their environment, and have more confidence in their ability to cope.
Activities offering targeted help in these areas are those that focus on stillness and silence. Odd to think that we teach silence and stillness in a music and movement class! But as Pico Iyer points out in The Art of Stillness, “movement makes richest sense when set within a frame of stillness” (p.15).1 Acoustic ecologist, Gordon Hempton, describes silence as “presence” and says “real quiet is not the absence of sound but an absence of noise.”2
With very young children, simple “start and stop” songs give ample opportunity to feel this basic level of control and to experience stillness. Since you can do these activities with stationary or locomotor movement, with and without props and instruments, the possibilities are endless.
Focused listening is another activity that develops the ability to calm the body and use the senses to assess the environment. Activities such as identifying nature sounds, listening to soundscapes and forming mental pictures, and purposeful movement to sound stories, all require children to pause, listen, and then take their action clues from what they hear. Sitting or lying still while listening to a sound story or to music teaches children they can hear and experience many thoughts and emotions while maintaining calm in the body.
Taking children outdoors to hear a “concert in nature” trains children to listen to their environment, to focus outside of themselves. We cannot control what sounds arise in an outdoor setting, so with these activities children can sit still, safely participating in the natural world even when they do not know what will happen next.
Movement activities that explore weight, flow, time, space, and awareness of others, all contribute to that sense of choosing when to move, when to react, and how to wait. How to be still, how to move slowly, and how to remain in one’s own space contribute to calmness and control. These activities give children opportunity to master their movements, control their impulses, and have greater command of their reactions.
A child’s behavior will tell you what they need. And sometimes they just need to sing the silence, dance the stillness and move into quietude.
1 Iyer, P. (2014). The Art of Stillness. New York, NY: TED Books/Simon & Schuster.
2 Hempton, G. (2014, December 25). The Last Quiet Places. Krista Tippett On Being Podcast. Podcast retrieved from http://www.onbeing.org/
Diana Greene is a free-lance pianist and early childhood music and movement specialist. She teaches pre-school aged children and trains classroom teachers through the Musikgarten Foundation’s Music for Learning Program. She has a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree in Music and holds Level II certification with ECMMA. Diana serves on the ECMMA board as 1st Vice-President: President-Elect.