While we can’t sing
It was a very different Nativity (last!) year being unable to sing, but it was still a lovely one. We worked around it and helped the children dance and perform their version of the greatest story ever told.
Singing During a Pandemic
There have been various arguments over recent months with regards to singing during the pandemic, both officially and unofficially on early years forums. Those of us who realise the importance of learning through rhymes and song in the early years, will quite possibly, feel very conflicted (at least I do!). As much as I understand the reasons why, I can’t help but question all the missed opportunities for learning, as singing and rhymes are a vital teaching tool, particularly with the youngest children. Their use is particularly missed during transitions and when helping children learn and follow the routines. In fact, this situation has highlighted how natural it is to sing, how often we usually burst into song in Nursery, and just how hard it is not to! It is often only when you cannot do something, such as singing, that you notice how children voluntarily engage in song as they play. Plus, through singing, we build relationships and, quite importantly, have fun together.
It is argued that children learn best through activities and experiences that engage all the senses. For example, music, dance, rhyme and songs play a key role in language development. However, as with all the best early learning experiences, the use of rhymes and song can promote development across multiple domains. So, this has led me to delve deeper to broaden my own knowledge and understanding of the importance of rhymes and songs, and to explore how to utilise singing further to support specific developmental goals, if, and when things return to normal.
Start from the very beginning……
During the first three years of life, musical experiences support the formation of essential brain connections. Even from birth we begin to develop social and emotional skills. One of our first musical experiences is often received in the form of a soothing lullaby as we are gently rocked to sleep. We are taught how to calm down which supports our development of self-regulation. We are already listening to and learning language, developing an attachment and experiencing movement to support our growing spatial awareness. We discover our world and use our memory to link music to experiences that we can often find comforting.
As toddlers, through songs, we begin to learn about feelings and the words we can use to explain and describe our emotional experiences. It’s amazing what can be learnt through a random rendition of ‘If you’re happy and you know it’! Thinking about it, this song also involves actions and movement, plus you learn about body parts too! An all-rounder!
How often have I been witness to the Nursery marching band? Possibly too often! I always acknowledge the learning about rhythm and sound but the whole process of a marching band involves a lot of cooperation. It is a team effort to choose instruments, choose a song and follow each other along. This is where first relationships are built through positive peer interactions (most of the time)!
Through such activities we also encounter our first experiences of turn-taking and sharing….but I want the drum! This difficult skill, if age appropriate, can be developed through call and response songs or rhythm games, plus we practice our listening and attention skills which are also enhanced as we discriminate the different sounds made by different instruments and our own voices.
Let’s get physical……..
With singing, comes movement, whether it be clapping along, following actions or generally creating our own moves! These movements develop our fine and gross motor skills, balancing skills and bilateral coordination or crossing of the midline (crossing the middle of the body to perform a task on the opposite side, i.e. left arm/leg reaches to right and vice versa). Without such a skill we would not be able to learn how to climb, play the piano or even write across a page. By forming words, we enhance our mouth muscles; through finger plays and holding instruments we coordinate and extend our fine motor skills; and our gross motor skills are developed through dancing, jumping and stretching. Our brain of course is also exercised when coordinating all these moves.
Through music and movement, we learn to follow patterns and rhythm which in turn develop our mathematical and symbolic thinking skills. The repetition of counting songs further enhances these skills by learning number sequences and patterns, along with early reading skills, where we anticipate lyrics and learn that rhymes and stories follow a sequence. We listen and learn new vocabulary and new meanings, distinguish between sounds and modify words to familiar songs. The addition of puppets and props then builds on our ability to use symbols through pretend play. We also learn about ourselves and each other by hearing different musical styles from our home, developing our cultural awareness and continuity between our home and the setting.
I could probably go on and on but the overwhelming benefits gained from singing are abundantly clear. Thoughtfully planned experiences can support so many developmental areas, so as practitioners, maybe we currently need to think outside of the box. Many settings may not be able to sing in the current climate, but there is always music and dance, which do not necessarily need words to help us express ourselves and communicate feelings. Music itself is a powerful educational tool, so if music be the food of learning…..play on!