“Mrs Julie Wylie is recognised nationally and internationally for her contributions to musical play therapy.

Mrs Wylie founded the New Zealand Musical Parenting Association 22 years ago. She is the founder of the music programme and senior music specialist at the Champion Centre for children with special needs at Burwood Hospital, Christchurch. She has presented music workshops and papers internationally in China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Australia, the United Kingdom, Lithuania, Estonia, and Finland. She has received awards for her music leadership and international awards for her music resources. She runs her own music school, Julie Wylie Musical Play, for mothers and young children from babies up to eight years. She is a director for an international online training programme in Musical Play and Play Therapy. In 2006 she was instrumental in developing the Diploma in Early Childhood Music with the Institute of Registered Music Teachers New Zealand. Mrs Wylie has been a member of a number of organisations including the Society of Music Education, the New Zealand Society of Music Therapy, and an examiner for Registered Music Teachers New Zealand.”

Source: https://www.dpmc.govt.nz/honours/lists/qb2018-mnzm





Media Library


Infants respond to music from birth, especially loving, relationship based music interactions with their parents. Long before birth, the infant has been listening to the musicality of the mother’s voice – the ebb and flow of the pitches, phrases and timing, as well as the rhythms of the mother’s heart beat, sounds of her digestive system, and movement of her body. Research shows that the newborn infant can distinguish elements of rhythm, pitch and melody. Sound, rhythm and movement play vital roles in the physical and psychological development of the foetus. These elements contribute to laying the foundation for the emergence of a musical, social infant who is born to interact, play and learn as a social being.

It is no surprise then, that the study detailed in the link below, reveals how infants respond to highly expressive, emotional interactions that incorporate rhythmic, physical movement, gestures and visual aspects. Such relationship based, playful and expressive musical play, provides numerous opportunities for synchronous movement and the sharing of a flexible, musical pulse which allows infant and parent to adapt their movements, gestures, tempi, musical form, pitch and contours of sounds. Parents universally have found that lullabies help to relax, soothe and comfort both them and their tired infant, especially if they are rocking, patting, or stroking the baby with deep pressure touch, or bouncing or walking the infant around the room. Musical play helps to build strong bonds of love and a secure relationship, which is vital for laying the foundation for a positive start in life.

© Julie Wylie, 28 May 2018






Saturday afternoon’s workshop for Music Education Canterbury was a wonderful opportunity to share ideas about using musical play to arouse or calm children, while opening up an imaginative, magical world of possibilities. Celia’s music room at the Christchurch School of Music (CSM) was a beautiful space to work in and we had so much fun exploring the elements of music with pitch games, chime bars and a range of props, including the rainbow ring, scarves, bean bag frogs and bubbles.

We are so excited to be providing professional development workshops and ongoing support for early childhood centres and primary schools. Teachers really enjoy our research based approach and the emphasis we place on reflective practice. Regular reflection enables teachers to notice changes in how children are using the elements of music in their own creative play, both inside and outside in the playground.


We have been enjoying working with teachers and children from James St. Pre School in Redcliffs, Christchurch. They are participating in an eight week programme which includes weekly musical play classes designed to suit the different ages and stages of development of their children from toddlers, middle years and older children about to transition to school.

The aims for this musical play programme are:

  • To enhance children’s natural musicality.
  • To use music for arousing or calming.
  • To develop a sense of music community.
  • To develop musical singing, saying, moving and playing.
  • To promote tuneful singing for children and staff alike using scale songs in relation to counting and body awareness.
  • To promote musical play in all aspects of the curriculum and to help teachers feel confident and competent in singing instructional songs and using music throughout daily routines.
  • To reinforce and follow the children’s own music ideas in their own play, thus building self esteem and communication.
  • To help establish rhythmical play, steady beat, understanding of weight, time, space and energy.
  • To use a range of props in group music sessions such as natural materials,  poi, rakau, parachute, rainbow ring, maracas in ways that help children to listen, wait, take turns, follow sung instructions and enjoy musical play as a group.
  • To include a training PD evening for teachers so that they learn how, why  what music does in relation to children’s emotional, physical, cognitive, social and psychological development.

Reflective practice is a vital part of helping teachers to listen, watch, wait and understand how children naturally include the elements of music in their own play. Such musical play promotes brain growth and development and joyful relationship based  music interactions. Music can then underpin every aspect of the curriculum.



Babies are born musical and respond to and begin to anticipate and sing matching notes of the ascending five notes of the C major scale when their parents sing “Up, up, up, up, up” as they lift them up, and the descending five notes of the scale as they bring them back down and cuddle or lie them down, while singing “Down, down, down, down, down”.

From birth a beautiful pitch massage song can be sung using deep pressure touch as the parent sings the following on each of the ascending five notes of the major scale:

Feet, feet, feet, feet
Knees, knees, knees, knees
Tummy, tummy, tummy, tummy
Shoulders, shoulders, shoulders, shoulders
Head, head, head, head
Feet (Slide voice down to the first note and repeat the song if the baby is still watching, listening and engaging).

This song is regularly sung in our musical play classes and then developed as a scale and percussion song as children stamp their feet and pat their knees, tummy, shoulders and head in time to the words above.

The film clip below shows Frances, and her 3 year old daughter Rose, singing the song to baby Elsie as they massage her. We hear great pride in Rosa’s voice at the end of the clip, as she exclaims “I did it!”.

Once the children are familiar with the five-note song that is sung in the young child’s pitch range (usually around the notes Middle C to A) and singing in tune, we then start to sing up and down the octave/eight notes middle C to high C, which are the notes found in the box of chime bars.

We then progress to the song “Playing with Numbers” (Track 8 on Julie Wylie’s CD “Magical Musical Play”). This echo song helps children to listen and sing the echoes: 1 1 1, 1 2 1, 1 2 3, 3 2 1, Feet are number one, knees are number two etc.

These photos taken in a class on Tuesday, show how children are watching, listening, copying the actions and learning the notes in relation to their bodies.


On Tuesday we sang the song very slowly without the CD recording. When we then did the song with CD backing, one of the children Audrey, who is very musical, asked if we could sing it more slowly again so that she could “practise”, learn and follow the actions.

Many recordings of children’s songs are too fast, have too many words, and are often not within the young child’s pitch range. These are important considerations when playing music to young children. Often recordings of children’s songs are not pitched at the young child’s emotional level and are more suited to older children.

Audrey wants to be able to master the singing and the actions. I reassured her that we will sing the song slowly lots of times until everybody feels confident, and only then, will we do it again with the recording. We then played the same song using chime bars, singing and playing up and down the C major scale.

When children are able to sing and play in time, this develops their musicality, creativity and self-confidence. This is evident in the beautiful photo of Jake below and in his mother Jen’s comments.

“I thought I’d share this with you after reading the latest newsletter. I just love the look of delight on Jake’s face at the sound and feel of the guitar. He asked his Uncle Brent if he could have a go at playing.

I’m loving how Jake carries the musicality from Julie’s lessons into his life. And I particularly like the range of beautiful instruments the children are introduced to.”

This is a lovely example of how musical play empowers children, opening up an imaginative, magical world of possibilities.

© Julie Wylie, 2 May, 2018


Following on from the previous blog, here are some beautiful video clips of Elsie and her mother Frances, enjoying musical play, as they sing and improvise together. Their songs are full of musical expression, including use of teasing, humour, joy and love. They play around with sounds, matching each other, using loud and soft, fast and slow, and high and low.

At 14 weeks (clip 4), Elsie’s singing is becoming increasingly structured, with a sense of timing, rhythm and use of pitch. She and her mother sing on the same notes and copy each other. Their music interactions are like watching tennis players. Elsie sings to her mum, and her mum sings back to her, with distinct turn taking occurring. Their songs have pronounced pitch contours, they are slow with lots of repetition, and include accented sounds that each player picks up on.

© Julie Wylie, 16 March 2018



Music is the baby’s first language and from birth, babies learn to take turns communicating. Trevarthen suggests that “in healthy families, a baby forms a secure attachment with her parents as naturally as she breathes, eats, smiles and cries”. But it takes two to tango, and beyond meeting her unique needs, her parents “dance” with her hundreds of times, day after day. This dance of interaction develops secure attachment, which naturally occurs when her loving “parents have frequent attuned interactions with her, notice her physiological/affective states and respond to her fully and with great sensitivity” (Trevarthen, 2016).

In the film clip below, Elsie enjoys the language of music. Long before her birth, sound, rhythm and movement have been part of her life in the womb. She was born a musical play partner, able to recognize her mother’s voice, ready to interact and enjoy all of the social interactions with her mother and family.

In this clip, notice Elsie’s intense eye gazing at her mother, her concentration, the use of gestures and movement, and the timing of the joint musical interactions. Elsie takes turns to sing and her mother naturally sings in time and in tune with her musical offerings. Both mother and baby are in tune and in synchrony, enjoying each other’s company. There is a strong sense of playfulness and love.

Elsie takes the lead and her mother follows her. Their sung interactions are within Elsie’s pitch range. Both mother and daughter are interacting and improvising in the same way that jazz musicians play. This involves listening, watching, waiting and having a sense of wonder about what will happen next in the musical conversation. There is much use of timing, repetition and rhythm, as well as matching of pitch, movement, gesture and facial expressions. Obvious joy is reflected in their song. The sung questions and answers show a strong sense of musical form, with a clear beginning, middle and end.

Frances is picking up on all of Elsie’s signs of human feeling and emotion, which promotes sympathetic affection, love and strong attachment. Mother and baby are totally involved in each music moment and there is a strong sense of warmth and joy. Through the turn taking and sing song quality of their play, Elsie’s musical communication will lead to her gradual acquisition of words, spoken phrases and understanding of what it means to communicate using words and language. Musical play provides the timing, phrasing, sentence structure and form of language.

“From birth, a contented and lively baby can entertain with “projects of moving” that are felt by mother and father to be interesting “stories” and the baby can imitate expressions of others and exchange them with variation in dialogue”  (Trevarthen, 2016). Elsie and her mother take joint pride and joy in their musical play, which provides stimulus and regulation for the developing brain, sympathetic regulation of rhythms, sung narrative, and an ongoing dance of interaction. This is laying the foundation for sympathetic, intimate family life, development of self-confidence, joyful, playful exploration, joint, inventive discovery, regulation, and wellbeing for parent and child.


Bjorkvold, J.R.  (1989) The Muse Within Harper Collins. New York.

Trevarthen, C. (2016). Sharing joyful friendship and imagination for meaning with infants, and their application in early intervention. Chapter two in Acquarone, S. (Ed). Surviving the early years: the importance of early intervention with babies at risk:  Karmac Books.


Musical Play and the Neurosequential Model

Musical Play is based on an understanding of neurological development, as per Bruce Perry’s Neurosequential Model (see above). It recognises that: “One of the most powerful sets of associations created in utero is the association between patterned repetitive rhythmic activity from maternal heart rate, and all the neural patterns of activity associated with not being hungry, not being thirsty, and feeling ‘safe’ (in the womb).”

“Patterned, repetitive, rhythmic somatosensory activity…elicits a sensation of safety. Rhythm is regulating.”

(Perry: Rhythm Regulates the Brain – http://attachmentdisorderhealing.com/developmental-trauma-3/)

According to Perry, the core elements of a positive developmental, educational and therapeutic experience are:

  • Relational (safe)
  • Relevant (developmentally-matched to the individual)
  • Repetitive (patterned)
  • Rewarding (pleasurable)
  • Rhythmic (resonant with neural patterns)
  • Respectful (of the child, family, and culture)

(Perry: Rhythm Regulates the Brain – http://attachmentdisorderhealing.com/developmental-trauma-3/)

Key Points about Musical Play:

  • Musical Play is the child’s first language and is based on an innate understanding of calming, regulating, joyful, relationship based play. A newborn baby responds to the nurturing, playful, soothing musical qualities of the mother’s voice (see the beautiful musical interaction between mother and baby Elsie, aged 7 weeks, in the video clip below).
  • It is a natural part of the life and culture of children and there is no right or wrong way to play.
  • It brings everyone together in the moment, opening up a world of emotional connections and building a strong sense of community.
  • It helps children to understand and use the elements of music in their own play.
  • It follows the child, encouraging a child-centred approach, fostering self-esteem, thought and creativity.
  • Through musical play, children develop the ability to listen, watch, wait and wonder. A sense of wonder is the child’s key to learning.

The Aims of our Musical Play Programme are:

  • To enhance children’s natural musicality.
  • To use music for arousing or calming.
  • To develop a sense of music community.
  • To develop musical singing, saying, moving and playing.
  • To promote tuneful singing for children and adults alike, using scale songs in conjunction with counting and body awareness.
  • To help parents and teachers feel confident and competent singing instructional songs and incorporating music into daily routines.
  • To reinforce and follow the children’s musical ideas in their own play, thus building self-esteem and communication.
  • To help establish rhythmical play and steady beat, as well as an understanding of weight, time, space and energy.
  • To use a range of props in group music sessions such as natural materials, scarves, the parachute, the rainbow ring and maracas, in ways that help children to listen, wait, take turns, follow sung instructions and enjoy musical play as a group.


Musical play and exploring the natural environment go hand in hand. Outdoor play awakens the senses and is important for healthy brain development. Natural learning environments help children’s aesthetic, creative, imaginative and sensory development. Through outside play, children naturally tune into the sounds of nature, marvelling at the colours, shapes and patterns with a sense of joy and wonder. Nature provides a rich and diverse environment for children to learn about themselves, each other and the world, through play.

Julie’s song “Down at the Beach” from her CD Teddy Bears’ Tango, is an example of a song which facilitates sound exploration with natural materials. Children discover that shells, stones and driftwood can all be used as instruments. This song can be used as a starting point for helping children to tune into the sights and sounds of nature and followed up with treasure and sound hunts outside.

The pictures below show two brothers going on a bear hunt after the younger brother enjoyed “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” at Julie’s musical play classes.

Ideas to Try

  • Lie on the grass with children and look up at the sky. What do you and the children see in the clouds?
  • Go on a treasure hunt outside to collect natural materials and identify what sounds you can hear. You could sing “We are going on a nature hunt. We are going on a nature hunt. What will we see? What will we hear? We are going on a nature hunt” to the tune of “We are Playing Music” (see below). Note down what the children hear, keep the treasures they find and use the experience as a starting point for writing songs and stories together.

© Julie Wylie Musical Play, 2018


My philosophy of Musical Play is based on thirty years of Musical Play experience in my Julie Wylie School of Music, working with young children aged 0-8 years and their families, and through a lifetime of parenting, being a grandparent and working closely with highly experienced therapists in an Early Intervention Programme at the Champion Centre. Musical Play is the child’s first language. The newborn responds to the nurturing, playful, soothing musical qualities of the mother’s voice.

Our work in Musical Play is based on our experience and understanding of neurological development.

The brain is hierarchically organised from the bottom to the top, from the lowest part: the brain stem and the lower brain, as per Bruce Perry’s Neurosequential Model below.


The cerebellum right at the bottom of the brain is the time keeper of the brain, controlling movement such as foot tapping, dancing and playing an instrument. It plays an important role in emotional reactions to music. Our lower brain develops early and is functional from birth. It is involved with the regulation of all our primary body functions such as heart rate, breathing, digestion, temperature and regulation. Music helps with calming and regulation because it is an intuitive language of the emotions. We don’t have to think in order to process music. It can provide a calming, regulating environment of sound. The lower brain systems function without any conscious thought, but they respond to stress by speeding up our heart rate and breathing, slowing digestion, making the body ready for action. When we are highly aroused, it is harder for us to access higher levels of the brain. Music can calm stressed systems through the use of soft singing, rocking, patting, use of slow tempo and specific use of the elements of music.


Music is a language of the emotions. It helps us to become calm and regulated by matching our emotional level and either arousing or calming us, thus allowing the midbrain to integrate incoming sensory information from the environment and from our own body. It is also where the limbic system is situated. The limbic system controls our emotions and memory and is involved in every action or plan that we undertake. When a child’s lower brain is calm, regulated and more organised, they are able to develop emotional connections and relationships with their families and those people who are close to them.


The upper part of our brain is the cortex, where thoughts and plans are formulated and language and reasoning are possible. When the brain is over-aroused we cannot think clearly. When children are anxious or over-aroused, this affects their overall learning. Young children simply cannot calm or regulate themselves. Use of specific songs and music, plays a vital role in the calming and regulation of stressed systems.

The C major scale with the notes C,D,E,F,G can be used to help children to become aroused, as we sing up to the fifth note G, and for example, sing questions just using this fifth note, thus keeping children in a state of suspense and the brain in an interested state of arousal, before coming back down to the calming tonic or home note C. We can sing “Up, up, up, up, up……down, down, down, down, down” with corresponding hand gestures, so that children can learn the pitch directions from a sensory perspective. Use of these five notes fits into Perry’s “Neurosequential Model” “Applying Principles of Neurodevelopment”.

“Rhythm stirs our bodies. Melody or tonality stirs our brains. The coming together of rhythm and melody bridges our cerebellum (the motor control, primitive little brain) and our cerebral cortex (the most evolved, most human part of our brain)”, (Levitin, D).

The elements of music are used in very specific ways within Musical Play to match children’s energy levels, to build joyful, musical, regulated, relationship based music interactions between parent and child, and parents and their children, within each Musical Play group.

Reference: Levitin, D, J. This is Your Brain on Music (2006) Dutton, Penguin Books, London, England.

© Julie Wylie Musical Play, 2017


(From https://www.wired.com/2011/01/the-neuroscience-of-music/)

Why does music make us feel? On the one hand, music is a purely abstract art form, devoid of language or explicit ideas. The stories it tells are all subtlety and subtext. And yet, even though music says little, it still manages to touch us deep, to tickle some universal nerves. When listening to our favorite songs, our body betrays all the symptoms of emotional arousal. The pupils in our eyes dilate, our pulse and blood pressure rise, the electrical conductance of our skin is lowered, and the cerebellum, a brain region associated with bodily movement, becomes strangely active. Blood is even re-directed to the muscles in our legs. (Some speculate that this is why we begin tapping our feet.) In other words, sound stirs us at our biological roots. As Schopenhauer wrote, “It is we ourselves who are tortured by the strings.”

We can now begin to understand where these feelings come from, why a mass of vibrating air hurtling through space can trigger such intense states of excitement. A brand new paper in Nature Neuroscience by a team of Montreal researchers marks an important step in revealing the precise underpinnings of “the potent pleasurable stimulus” that is music. Although the study involves plenty of fancy technology, including fMRI and ligand-based positron emission tomography (PET) scanning, the experiment itself was rather straightforward. After screening 217 individuals who responded to advertisements requesting people that experience “chills to instrumental music,” the scientists narrowed down the subject pool to ten. (These were the lucky few who most reliably got chills.) The scientists then asked the subjects to bring in their playlist of favorite songs – virtually every genre was represented, from techno to tango – and played them the music while their brain activity was monitored.

Because the scientists were combining methodologies (PET and fMRI) they were able to obtain an impressively precise portrait of music in the brain. The first thing they discovered (using ligand-based PET) is that music triggers the release of dopamine in both the dorsal and ventral striatum. This isn’t particularly surprising: these regions have long been associated with the response to pleasurable stimuli. It doesn’t matter if we’re having sex or snorting cocaine or listening to Kanye: These things fill us with bliss because they tickle these cells. Happiness begins here.

The more interesting finding emerged from a close study of the timing of this response, as the scientists looked to see what was happening in the seconds before the subjects got the chills. I won’t go into the precise neural correlates – let’s just say that you should thank your right NAcc the next time you listen to your favorite song – but want to instead focus on an interesting distinction observed in the experiment:

In essence, the scientists found that our favorite moments in the music were preceeded by a prolonged increase of activity in the caudate. They call this the “anticipatory phase” and argue that the purpose of this activity is to help us predict the arrival of our favorite part:

Immediately before the climax of emotional responses there was evidence for relatively greater dopamine activity in the caudate. This subregion of the striatum is interconnected with sensory, motor and associative regions of the brain and has been typically implicated in learning of stimulus-response associations and in mediating the reinforcing qualities of rewarding stimuli such as food.

In other words, the abstract pitches have become a primal reward cue, the cultural equivalent of a bell that makes us drool. Here is their summary:

The anticipatory phase, set off by temporal cues signaling that a potentially pleasurable auditory sequence is coming, can trigger expectations of euphoric emotional states and create a sense of wanting and reward prediction. This reward is entirely abstract and may involve such factors as suspended expectations and a sense of resolution. Indeed, composers and performers frequently take advantage of such phenomena, and manipulate emotional arousal by violating expectations in certain ways or by delaying the predicted outcome (for example, by inserting unexpected notes or slowing tempo) before the resolution to heighten the motivation for completion. The peak emotional response evoked by hearing the desired sequence would represent the consummatory or liking phase, representing fulfilled expectations and accurate reward prediction. We propose that each of these phases may involve dopamine release, but in different subcircuits of the striatum, which have different connectivity and functional roles.

The question, of course, is what all these dopamine neurons are up to. What aspects of music are they responding to? And why are they so active fifteen seconds before the acoustic climax? After all, we typically associate surges of dopamine with pleasure, with the processing of actual rewards. And yet, this cluster of cells in the caudate is most active when the chills have yet to arrive, when the melodic pattern is still unresolved.

One way to answer these questions is to zoom out, to look at the music and not the neuron. While music can often seem (at least to the outsider) like a labyrinth of intricate patterns – it’s art at its most mathematical – it turns out that the most important part of every song or symphony is when the patterns break down, when the sound becomes unpredictable. If the music is too obvious, it is annoyingly boring, like an alarm clock. (Numerous studies, after all, have demonstrated that dopamine neurons quickly adapt to predictable rewards. If we know what’s going to happen next, then we don’t get excited.) This is why composers introduce the tonic note in the beginning of the song and then studiously avoid it until the end. The longer we are denied the pattern we expect, the greater the emotional release when the pattern returns, safe and sound. That is when we get the chills.

To demonstrate this psychological principle, the musicologist Leonard Meyer, in his classic book Emotion and Meaning in Music (1956), analyzed the 5th movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131. Meyer wanted to show how music is defined by its flirtation with – but not submission to – our expectations of order. To prove his point, Meyer dissected fifty measures of Beethoven’s masterpiece, showing how Beethoven begins with the clear statement of a rhythmic and harmonic pattern and then, in an intricate tonal dance, carefully avoids repeating it. What Beethoven does instead is suggest variations of the pattern. He is its evasive shadow. If E major is the tonic, Beethoven will play incomplete versions of the E major chord, always careful to avoid its straight expression. He wants to preserve an element of uncertainty in his music, making our brains beg for the one chord he refuses to give us. Beethoven saves that chord for the end.

According to Meyer, it is the suspenseful tension of music (arising out of our unfulfilled expectations) that is the source of the music’s feeling. While earlier theories of music focused on the way a noise can refer to the real world of images and experiences (its “connotative” meaning), Meyer argued that the emotions we find in music come from the unfolding events of the music itself. This “embodied meaning” arises from the patterns the symphony invokes and then ignores, from the ambiguity it creates inside its own form. “For the human mind,” Meyer writes, “such states of doubt and confusion are abhorrent. When confronted with them, the mind attempts to resolve them into clarity and certainty.” And so we wait, expectantly, for the resolution of E major, for Beethoven’s established pattern to be completed. This nervous anticipation, says Meyer, “is the whole raison d’etre of the passage, for its purpose is precisely to delay the cadence in the tonic.” The uncertainty makes the feeling – it is what triggers that surge of dopamine in the caudate, as we struggle to figure out what will happen next. And so our neurons search for the undulating order, trying to make sense of this flurry of pitches. We can predict some of the notes, but we can’t predict them all, and that is what keeps us listening, waiting expectantly for our reward, for the errant pattern to be completed. Music is a form whose meaning depends upon its violation.

Homepage image: Kashirin Nickolai, Flickr.


Reflections and Insights from the Dyspraxia Conference: The Other Side of the Looking Glass


Recently I was very fortunate to attend the Dyspraxia 2017 Conference, which was organised by the Dyspraxia Support Group of New Zealand, whose National Office is based in Christchurch (www.dyspraxia.org.nz). This year the theme of the conference was “Moving Forward: Living Positively with Developmental Dyspraxia/DCD”. Julie Wylie was one of the presenters and she led a workshop about “The Positive Power of Musical Play” and also presented a joint workshop with her colleague Alex Gosteva, entitled “The Positive Power of Musical Play and Play Therapy”.

One of the workshops I attended at the conference was called “The Art of Science and Therapeutic Play” presented by Julie Frew, who is very familiar with Julie Wylie’s work and referred to it at various times throughout her presentation. When Julie Frew spoke about the way she uses singing in her work as an Occupational Therapist to connect with, engage and motivate children to do tasks they might otherwise not be motivated to complete, it dawned on me that singing provides the perfect opportunity for children to practise speech in a playful, engaging and non-threatening way. Recently I’ve noticed that my 4 year old’s speech has become easier for other people to understand and this coincides with his newfound love of singing.

When I discussed my observations about my son’s speech clarity with Julie Wylie, who is doing a wonderful job of fostering his love of singing, she reminded me about the movie “The King’s Speech”, which tells the true story of how King George VI overcame a stammer with the help of the unorthodox methods of the Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue. “One of the treatments used on the King was getting him to sing the words he was having trouble speaking.” (The King’s Speech: the real story, Nigel Farndale – www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/8203371/The-Kings-Speech-how-Lionel-Logue-cured-King-George-VIs-stammer.html). Lionel Logue was certainly onto something!

During the conference, several teenagers who have Dyspraxia spoke very articulately about how it has affected different aspects of their life. A quote from one of these teenagers, Alex Iggo, which was shared in a PowerPoint presentation by the Occupational Therapist Emma Ratcliff, who worked with Alex when he was younger, really struck a chord with me. It said, “You’ve only looked one way through the looking glass, but we have looked the other way”. As I reflected on this statement, as well as something Dr Susan Foster-Cohen had said earlier in the conference, along the lines of “Children make change when they are ready to make changes”, I had a glimpse of what it might be like for my 4 year old to know that he needs help with his speech, while at the same time, for very valid reasons, not being motivated, right now, to do the speech therapy homework that could help him.

As parents and professionals, all the things that might help a child to take steps in the right direction may seem obvious, but I believe we must always remember that we are “looking from the other side of the looking glass” as we try to find the best ways to help a child take the risks required to learn and embed new skills. I am so grateful that my son has discovered a joy of singing, because singing is such a powerful mechanism to facilitate language development and self expression.

In the words of Julie Wylie, “Musical play is our first language. It supports speech language development through timing, phrasing and musical form. Musical play takes out the stress of having to concentrate on all the aspects of making the sounds and words. The steady beat of songs, chants and clapping games helps the brain to become attuned to the pulse. This pulse provides moment by moment support. All songs, chants and rhymes have a steady pulse which is driven by rhythmic patterns of words and sounds. The brain really responds and tunes into these rhythmic patterns which keep the brain continually alert and curious about the ever-changing musical information. In language, the presence of pattern is very evident, especially in nursery rhymes and poetry. Consider how every word when divided into its syllabic rhythm, displays its pattern. For example, “I like o-ran-ges, I like to-ma-toes”.

Pulse or steady beat paces, drives and causes an anticipation of pattern. Pattern embellishes, teases, drives and causes the anticipation of the next beat. We can play these rhythmic patterns on our bodies or on a drum, and we can move to the rhythm of words and phrases. Rhythmic pattern is one of the most important elements in the pacing and learning of spoken language. Vocal activities in song, and the production of nonsense sounds and imitation of sounds, help to organise language articulation, breath control and auditory sequencing.” (Reference; Berger, D.S. (2002) Music Therapy, Sensory Integration and the Autistic Child. London. Jessica Kingsley Publications p.116).

To finish, here is a link to an article featuring another of the very articulate teenagers who spoke at the conference, Adam Hodgson. While the article was written a few years ago now, I believe it provides very valuable insights into the life of a person with, in Alex’s own words, “learning differences”, as we consider life “from the other side of the looking glass” http://i.stuff.co.nz/national/education/7818865/National-standards-belittle-people-like-me.

Victoria Boyd

© juliewyliemusic.com, 2017


This month I was invited to be a keynote speaker and presenter at the ACECEA conference in Sydney. As part of the conference, we were invited to visit Early Childhood Education Centres to look at the way they have developed beautiful outdoor learning environments.

Features at all these centres included inspirational natural learning spaces that give the children many opportunities for creating, imagining, risk taking, problem solving, experimentation, hypothesizing, researching and investigation. Within all these centres, the children have a real sense of connection, ownership and stewardship. “If we want children to be passionate about nature, they need to be involved with nature”.A child led us through a gateway to the Macquarie College Early Learning Centre Bush Garden, with tall gum trees swaying gently in the breeze. She proudly showed us a square construction of four logs that she described as a picture frame that we could have our photos taken in. She showed us a construction covered in green shade cloth that looked like a trampoline. When I asked what they used it for, several children told me that this was the place where they lay together to watch the clouds in the sky and the branches of trees swaying in the breeze, and that if I looked very carefully at the ends of two tall branches I would be able to see the nests that birds had just made and that now the birds were sitting on their nests waiting for the eggs to hatch. “We like to lie together and make up songs and stories about what we see and do you know that clouds keep changing and that a cloud elephant can go sailing by and turn into a dinosaur as the clouds change? We see lots of things in the clouds”.All the children were totally absorbed in their creative play. A branch had been cut off a tree leaving a short low V shape that was perfect for a seesaw that two children were constructing. They carried a short log and placed it in the V, only to find that the log was not long enough for their seesaw to move up and down. They enlisted the help of two more children to help them carry a longer log and together they positioned the log in a way that could help them all to get on their wonderfully constructed seesaw.There was a big hill with a narrow concreted water-course. Several boys were busy with engineering and construction using sticks, small logs and mud. They were very engaged and settled and were exploring different ways of using the water to create dams and rivers. Right alongside, was a group of little girls playing in a very simple log hut. They invited us over to come and have tea. They had a big bowl of mud and added bowls of water to get the mud to the right cake consistency. Flowers were added for decoration and we were given a plate of cake each, and told that it was ‘delicious’.In another area, a teacher was collaborating with children as they looked for caterpillars. They were using a powerful magnifying glass to examine all the details of the caterpillars. Such play inspires a sense of awe and wonder at the miracles of nature.

Newsletters, photos and children’s drawings are sent regularly to families, illustrating highlights of the children’s play. Parents tend to stay longer watching the children as they chat to each other. There is a real sense of timelessness and freedom. There are no time constraints on the children’s play.Play is building memories, laying the foundation for creative thinking, imagination, agility, conservation, co-operation, compassion and self-confidence. Play in the outdoor environment awakens the senses and is important for healthy brain development, causing the brain to release feel good chemicals like serotonin, adrenalin, glutamate and dopamine, that orchestrate nerve development, neural pathways and alignment all over the brain.

These busy, productive children are learning about the world and how to interact with nature and with each other in a caring, co-operative, co-creative way. It is giving them a strong awareness of where others are in relation to themselves. Their play teaches them social skills, to be courageous, to learn rules, to establish boundaries, to care for others and to lead and to follow.

Natural learning environments help children’s aesthetic, creative, imaginative, spiritual and sensory development. Through play, they naturally tune into the sounds of nature, marveling at the colours, shapes and patterns with a sense of joy and wonder. They develop the ability to dream and turn their dreams into reality. Literacy, numeracy and communication can become a natural part of co-operative, collaborative play with the support of their teachers.Providing natural learning environments such as these for children is a social investment that promotes a caring, loving society, nurturing the scientists, environmentalists, artists, musicians, creative thinkers and problem solvers of the future.

© Julie Wylie Musical Play, 2017