I smile when I hear a group of preschoolers giggling and can feel the excitement as I enter the classroom. The cause of the animated mood is a musical concert for young children that the learners attended the previous day. A demonstration and explanation of musical instruments preceded the concert and clearly had an impact on one little boy. “Come and have a look,” he beckoned me. We sat down next to a creative construction of colourful blocks in different sizes laid out in a neat row on the carpet. “Look at my marimba!” he smiled proudly. With enthusiasm, he picked up two thin twigs and started to play on his handmade musical instrument.
The vignette describes learning from music – with the accent on from. It narrates an event that occurred early one morning during data collection for a multiple case study in a preschool classroom in Potchefstroom, in South Africa’s North West Province. The purpose was to explore the teaching practices of Grade R teachers and to ascertain how they integrated music with the three Grade R subjects: home language, mathematics and life skills. Grade R is the final year of children’s early development before entering formal schooling.
This was the only example of learning from music in the case study that resulted in a conceptual framework for music in Grade R.
I concluded that experiences related to music, in this case the tone colour, design and materials of an instrument, provoked a specific thinking pattern. This inspired and stimulated the preschooler to apply his new knowledge to create something new: a musical instrument.
The activity took place during unstructured free play. It emphasises that the value of learning through self-directed play should never be underestimated. This aspect of teaching and learning is where music inspires another activity (creating an instrument from building blocks) that is different from the original activity (a musical concert for preschoolers). It should be explored further in early childhood through sufficient opportunities for unstructured free play.
Teaching and learning from music cannot always be predetermined by a specific teaching method or musical activity. Instead, teaching and learning from music often occur spontaneously after learners have been given opportunities for free play, where they can explore new musical knowledge in an informal way. When this manifests, music imitates these activities and creativity is kindled.
Yolanda Huijsamer explains the active role that preschoolers play in their own development through interactions with their environment during play. She defines this type of play as a creative expression of a young child’s physical, cognitive, social and emotional self. This is where opportunities are created for children to acquire essential skills and values that give meaning to their existence.
I therefore propose that learning from music can seldom be predetermined by an early childhood teacher through a specific teaching method or structured musical activity. It is rather a reaction to teaching and learning related to music that can only surface when there is an awareness of how learners spend their time with adequate opportunities for unstructured free play.
Neryl Jeanneret and George DeGraffenreid remark that preschool teachers gain knowledge about their learners through their daily interactions. This knowledge should be applied to create opportunities where teachers can observe unprompted and continuous play. Therefore, a preschool teacher does not always have to be a facilitator of music integration but must rather be receptive to unexpected moments when learners integrate music in their own learning, especially during free play.
Researchers and practitioners in the field of music education have unequivocally proven the value of music for the young child. Music promotes intrinsic and unique qualities in young learners, including the development of creativity, social skills, expression, cognition and coordination. The value of music for preschoolers supports, motivates and promotes the integration of music into their daily programmes.
Music has been shown to create a positive learning environment and atmosphere. It also:
energises learning activities;
changes the brain waves;
improves attention span and memory;
facilitates a multisensory learning experience;
enriches the imagination; and
promotes group work through the development of cooperation.
Music inspires, motivates, adds an element of fun to the learning situation, emphasises units with a specific topic, influences mood, connects disparate elements of learning and makes other forms of literacy available to everyone.
Inspires teachers too
Integrating music across the curriculum proposes a pedagogical approach to teaching and learning by integrating thoughts, actions and attitudes. The effect of being surrounded by music is an enriched life for preschool teachers and learners alike.
The power of music to stimulate young minds and touch young hearts is never to be underestimated. A constant awareness of young childrens’ expressive outlets during unstructured free play will zoom in on creativity during the most unexpected moments and deepen future learning opportunities related to music.