Submitted by Kaja Weeks, DIR®-certified Music Educator
From waking to breakfast, market to park, yard to supper and bath—a flowing stream of music can accompany a young child through the day. Professor Lori Custodero of Columbia University shared research in 2006 examining toddler/family singing practices which shed light on music usage. Families handily use music to uphold traditions, cultural and religious rituals; parents and children also have a natural propensity for attaching singing, chanting, and moving to all manner of daily routines, “making the ordinary special”; and from the mill of all these experiences children extract the grist to create their own spontaneous musical play, continuously re-created in the here-and-now.
Engagement with spontaneous musical play provides countless opportunities to make meaning of the music itself and of life. Processed through each child’s unique sensibilities and within a span of growing contexts (crib, home, family, yard, neighborhood, community, culture, etc.), children use music to integrate their bodies, emotions, minds and social relations. It is for this reason that parent play-partners, truly welcomed and useful, do well to relinquish the “director’s chair,” allowing the child to originate ideas, organize, and “own” the music and its meanings.
By dovetailing upon children’s enactments of the world (perceived through their eyes, ears, and imaginations) adults foster motivation and mastery. A tambourine can be a crown – supported perhaps by songs of kings or queens, or by a courtly drum roll while a marching, crowned toddler practices her sense of balance. The jingles on the tambourine will soon find their way to more conventional use!
What else promotes fruitful musical home play?
- Intricately linking musical play with developmental stages of childhood (including adjustments for unique profiles). For example, a child discovers joy in combining earlier-solidified gestures with first words and mother matches with singsong chants, characteristically rich with alliterative, rhyming sounds and simple actions. Here – with the time being just ripe – multiple domains are linked. Tunes, words, rhythms and hand/arm motions are absorbed; mutual attention is cultivated; facial, prosodic and gestured signals form elongated two-way communication; and musical, affective, kinesthetic, and cognitive memories are made.
Providing indoor and outdoor musicmaking environments for expansive sensory input and motor output; a wide variety of simple instruments and natural objects; incorporation of non-musical toys, the mainstay of children’s culture. Regarding toys, child and ethno-music researcher Patricia Campbell notes in her book, “Songs in their Heads,”
“…the musicking they [the toys] triggered among the playful children was astounding…children made and moved to their own music or recalled familiar songs based on the experience in which they were engaged…spontaneous, effortless, and reflective of their experiences and thoughts.”
- Leaving time for music to unfold within daily routines.
- Embracing a varied repertoire for singing and listening.
While home is where music is processed in ardent detail, early music instruction or intervention that is aware of the breadth, depth, and power of home play can offer a true symbiotic partnership. Enriching repertoire, modeling musical and creative singing-voice and body, clarifying the effect of musical elements embedded in everyday songs, and honoring family cultures and traditions will connect strands of music from within individual children, to family, and to the wider music-making community.