Getting more for music!

Creative Skills Manager Heather Armstrong goes further than simply giving music the thumbs up; this month’s blog not only outlines why music is so important for our under 5s, it also highlights the developmental benefits and challenges us all to get singing and playing together!

Baby play xylophone in the grass

We all want children to grow up healthy, happy and successful. We want them to learn to speak, to read and write and count, we want them to be able to play with other children without thumping each other. We want them to be able to listen and learn and thrive, and if they’re growing up in difficult circumstances, then as far as possible we want to protect them from the worst effects of poverty and stress. We value children as people in their own right, and we want to feel connected to them, and have good relationships with them.

One of the best ways to help our children with all of those things is to sing and play music with them.

It’s hard to understate the importance of music in helping children grow up to be healthy, happy and successful. A staggering amount of research has explored the impact of music in the first years of life – music and singing has been proven to help support and accelerate brain development, improve social skills, speech (link http://www.futurity.org/babies-music-language-1147832-2/), literacy and numeracy, improves bonding, and can even help children with their concentration and ability to regulate their own emotions.

Studies that look at how best to insulate children from the negative effects of poverty, like the Growing Up in Scotland report (link https://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/Images/PreBirthToThreeBooklet_tcm4-633448.pdf ) , and the EPPE/EPPSE study with Dr.Siraj (link https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/183318/DFE-RR128.pdf) found singing and rhymes (along with other shared creative activities) to be an important aspect of high quality home learning environments, which improve children’s life chances.

Research looking specifically at music in early years found some of the best results were when parents and children explore music playfully, together, at home. (link: https://theconversation.com/jamming-with-your-toddler-how-music-trumps-reading-for-childhood-development-49660 )

“The team found that informal music-making in the home from around the ages of two and three can lead to better literacy, numeracy, social skills, and attention and emotion regulation by the age of five”.

This is a simple message that can be shared with parents, and can be carried over into ELC practice too – instead of planning or buying in highly structured music sessions, practitioners can be supported to use informal, playful, musical moments as part of your day.

And if you’re feeling stressed? Studies have proven that singing helps adults reduces stress and improve mental health, too. (link http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/16/singing-changes-your-brain/ )

How to Start

I’d be missing a trick if I didn’t suggest taking advantage to Bookbug training when it’s in your area, or taking some time to check out the Play, Talk, Read website which has loads of great ideas. Starcatchers’ classical music experience Hup, for babies age 0-24 months, is at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this month and is a masterclass in how beautiful music engages even the tiniest tots. Best of all, the relaxed performance style means you can see the reactions of the babies as the audience shares the space with the performers.

At Starcatchers, the Creative Skills Programme I manage is all about child-led, open-ended, playful approaches to the arts that give young children the chance to express themselves, and if you work in Aberdeen, Dundee, Fife, Glasgow, Inverclyde or Midlothian, there will be opportunities to take part in the Creative Skills Programme in your area in 2016-17.

In the meantime, here are a few ideas to make music and singing even more creative.

And on that farm she had a….storm trooper?

Songs like Old MacDonald are great for giving young children opportunities to make fun decisions and develop their own identity as someone who can communicate and influence the world around them. When my daughter was only a few months old we had a glove with different animals on each finger, and I would sing the verses changing the animal depending on which finger she grabbed.

You can use the same technique letting a child choose a toy, or even turning the pages of a picture book – if you have farm animals that might be a good place to start, but a lot of fun can be had trying to think up noises for a farm with a dragon or a shoe or an umbrella. Older children may only need a pause after “And on that farm she had a……” to give them the opportunity to choose the animal, or other random character/object they want.

Level Up Challenge: Change the destination! Old MacDonald had a beach, or a space station, or a handbag. Change the name! Young MacArmstrong anyone?

Get Outside and Move About

As I mentioned in my Arts Outdoor blog, taking musical instruments (or indeed pots and pans and a wooden spoon) outdoors can be a great way to explore different volumes without developing a splitting headache. The different noises natural materials like sticks and pebbles can make can be explored and used to accompany songs and rhymes.

Even something as simple as moving to the beat as you sing can give language development a boost, as babies and young children will have physical movement as well as sound cues to help them identify patterns of speech (need a reference for this). Songs that encourage big movements (like Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, The Hokey Cokey and Three Little Men in a Flying Saucer) might feel a little cramped in your own home, but can come into their own when you have more space outdoors.

Level Up Challenge: Invent your own movements! Row, Row, Row your boat can hit the rapids at any point (jiggle your child on your knee for choppy water) or go down a waterfall (tip your child upside down).

Musical Combinations

Music can be combined with other kinds of creative play – movement is perhaps the most obvious one, but music can also enhance and influence visual arts activities and play a great role supporting imaginative play, too. The BBC’s Ten Pieces has resources designed for primary and secondary children, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0276mfp, but some of the same principles can be adapted and simplified for working with younger children.

Level Up Challenge: A previous Creative Skills participant used these music resources to inspire a visual arts project that developed over several weeks, giving young children the chance to experiment, discuss and revisit their work.

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