The child's first encounter with music is usually the mother singing, which he can even hear before birth. Even in the womb the child absorbs all the music he hears around him. In virtually all cultures, the mothers and caregivers sing lullabies to the baby. This is the beginning of the child absorbing his musical heritage.
Rhythm is vitally connected with the child's earliest life. The beat gives the music structure. The child's first exposure to rhythm is the mother's heartbeat while in the womb. He will also experience other rhythms, including breathing, walking, speech, and singing. This is why babies are calmed by soothing rhythms of walking, patting or rocking. The children pictured above on the left are experiencing rhythm by using the 'shakers'.
As children get older they absorb the joy of music in daily life. In both our Primary Casa and Toddler Community, children enjoy singing and making music daily. As the child develops musically, he goes through the same stages as language development, with the first stage being a listening stage. Just as the child's first verbal attempts are nurtured, we must nurture the child's first musical attempts.
Refining motor skills is an important part of the Toddler Curriculum. Part of what we do during music includes teaching children to move consciously - one of the greatest gifts we can give to our children. Being in control of one’s physical self is the key to success in all future social and educational settings. Simple games, where we name and explore a specific body part and how it moves, are the first step for our children as they work to gain control of their bodies.
The chants or songs that are often associated with these activities are appealing to the children because they usually contain multiple repetitions, such as “arm, arm, arm, arm” or “head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes”. Children enjoy the repetition of the speech as well as the movement as they strive to gain control and finally mastery of their body movements.
Body Awareness activities that focus on the child’s hands are commonly known as Finger Plays. Children delight in the rhythmic speech that usually accompanies touching and manipulating each individual finger, making the finger play beneficial to your children in terms of both their movement and listening development, and they have the added benefit of increasing your child’s vocabulary.
Here is an easy one to use anytime and anywhere:
· Touch each finger on one hand starting with the pinky
· As you touch it, say the child’s name
· When you get to the pointer finger, slide down to the thumb (as if your tracing) with your finger while you say a very exaggerated ”Whoops”. As you land on the thumb say their name again – then just wait for their smile and go in reverse!
"Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny…Whoooops, Johnny
Whoops, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny!"
Music in the Primary Casa
Above, the girls are working with Language Cards to learn the names of the instruments in the orchestra. This is an exercise in vocabulary for the younger child; for the older child it is also a reading exercise. The photo on the right illustrates a Cultural Folder. This material is part of the Primary curriculum and serves as a jumping off point for stories and information about people from all over the world. The folder pictured shows examples of music from all over North America.
In offering music to the Primary class, we use the principle of 'isolation of difficulty'. This means that we introduce different elements of music in isolation. Some of these elements include: pitch, rhythm, intensity, timbre (the quality of sounds from different instruments), melody, harmony, and music related to cultural subjects - nature study, geography, and art. The names of the instruments of the orchestra are another element, as well as exposure to names of classical music and composers.
The Bells are a Primary material which gives children the opportunity to train their auditory sense from an early age. The bells give the child the opportunity to focus on an isolated pitch. They also allow for manipulation of the material. The bells are set up as a diatonic C scale, which is the basic measure of music in western music. The work with bells gives the child a very valuable foundation. With this foundation, she will expand her knowledge of music with great ease as she learns to write, read, and compose music, sing, move to different rhythms, and listen to different genres of music. We want to make sure that we give every child the opportunity to have his or her life immensely enriched through a greater appreciation of music.
In addition to all the daily music work done in both the Toddler and Primary rooms, we are blessed to have Ms. Julie as part of our staff. As our Toddler Teacher, Julie recently completed her Montessori training. She holds her Bachelor and Master's degrees in Music Education from UGA School of Music. In addition, she has received the Musikgarten training for preschool age children and is a certified Suzuki cello teacher at NATE. The Suzuki philosophy has many similarities to Montessori. Once a week, Ms. Julie works with the Primary class using the Musikgarten curriculum. It is a lovely complement to the work the children are doing daily in class.
In today’s world, spoken language is not valued. Email, text messages and IMs have taken the place of phone calls and face-to-face communication. I-pods, apps, and MP3 players have taken the place of family sing-alongs on road trips. While this may lead to more effective communication and fewer tantrums in the car, there is a down-side to consider: the greatest source of energy for the brain is the sound of the live, spoken (or sung) voice.
We all want the best for our children, and often that means buying an expensive item – the fastest computer, the best quality musical instrument, the latest, most up-to-date software, etc. Isn’t it amazing to think that one of the most effective things we can do for our children is to feed their brain by engaging them in conversation and storytelling!
Written by Julie Cutcliff and Stefanie Graper
We are an AMI accredited Montessori school growing daily in spirit & intellect!