This is the way we Sing and Play: Effective Musical Play in the Early Childhood Centre

Tuesday 3rd November 2015
– Julie Wylie

One of the most wonderful music programmes I have seen in an Early Childhood centre involved children and staff who explored and created music together. When I arrived, the children were playing a ‘bonging sound line’ which was a line suspended from two branches of a tree. The children regularly brought interesting sound objects to hang from the line such as shells, driftwood, a mesh bag full of little stones, chestnuts and acorns, wooden objects, metal objects such as spoons, a small pot, etc. The children and teachers were listening, playing and exploring together, creating patterns and interesting sounds. They were listening intently and one boy was keeping a steady beat on the hanging pot with a wooden spoon. Each day the children would help to change the sound makers, hanging new materials and using beaters to tap and hit the objects they had found.

Inside they also had a ‘Sound Table’ covered with an exquisite tie dyed muslin cloth created with the help of the children. The ‘instruments’ on the table were found on a group nature walk and included baskets with autumn leaves chosen because of their interesting colours and sounds, pine cones and a xylophone made by children and teachers had a sound box and different lengths of driftwood arranged like a xylophone to create low and high sounds. The beaters for this were small lengths of driftwood. Boxes of objects the same and different were used to play listening games and match the sound.

The teachers were committed to creating a music programme that helped children to listen, interact, create and understand the basic elements of music so that these became a natural part of each child’s play. The whole early childhood curriculum was woven through the use of singing, saying, moving and playing. I heard children and teachers singing questions and answers to each other at the dough table, outside in the sand pit, and other areas. Songs and games supported literacy and numeracy. The teachers and children would have discussions about what they could hear, and every day there was a quiet listening time built into the programme. Sometimes, especially in the spring and summer they would sit outside and listen to the wind, birds singing in the tree, or identify sounds they could hear in the environment. Sometimes these sounds were incorporated into songs or stories. Photos were taken of sound makers such as a big truck and a digger working nearby. The children would contribute ideas to the song about the big blue truck and the digger. The photos then became part of a song/storybook which was shared regularly. They listened to recordings of birds and 1 learned to recognise the bird song of black­birds, sparrows, bell birds and other New Zealand native birds. They listened and danced to a variety of musical instruments. They would go on a sound hunt, listen to and paint in time to music, dance to a variety of music using ribbon rings, scarves, poi and other relevant props.

Creativity flourishes in a nurturing environment in which children can explore, listen, play and have their creative offerings valued by the teachers and children. One little girl lined up five little sausages she had made at the dough table. she sang up the five notes of the scale as she pointed to each sausage: ‘One, two, three, four, five little sausages, all in a row’. She then sang one, two ,three, four, five, she beamed as she sang back down the scale: five, four, three, two one. The teacher smiled and copied the song. Soon all the children at the table had joined in this beautiful little song.

The keys to a child’s learning are:
1. Being calm and alert (controlled by lower brain)
2. Being in happy engagement with people who love them (controlled by the mid­brain)
3. Forming memories (including language) through experiencing the world (controlled by the mid­brain and upper brain.

Musical play activities offer children many opportunities to learn through supporting all three of the above. Predictable enjoyable musical play activities engage the whole brain: calming the lower brain, engaging the mid­brain and stimulating the upper brain. Teachers, parents and caregivers are key players as they encourage and play alongside the children.

An effective music programme includes:
● Use of nursery rhymes, rhyming stories and poems that provide both calming predictability and ideas for the upper brain to engage with. Don’t be afraid of repeating songs and stories many times, as children learn through use of repetition. Once children know a song well, they can then begin to use this song adding their own words. This is the way children start to create their own songs.
● Singing a description of what a child is doing moment by moment. Use the nursery rhyme tunes. Here is a new version of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” describing what the little girl was doing at the dough table. ‘I can see you roll the dough, making sausages all in a row, one and two, three, four, five, one and two, three, four five, now you’ve finished rolling the dough, five little sausages all in a row”.
● Use steady beat games with clapping, stamping, patting. This consistent beat gives a regulating heart beat rhythm. Use of predictable rhythmic activities through steady beat engages the lower brain and helps children to be calm and settled.
● Match the children’s energy levels when taking a music session. If they are full of energy , begin with faster songs and activities, gradually slow down through use of slow songs and stories. If the children are tired and lacking energy, start with a slow song, gradually building in faster songs and activities, then bring them back to a calm, regulated state.
● Use musical questions that hold the children’s attention. “What can you see?” “what can you hear?” “How will we move?” “Will we play fast or slow?”
● Use lots of repeated patterns. Clap the pattern of the words eg. “Humpty Dumpty Sat on the Wall”. Rhythmic patterns keep the brain interested and alert.
● Sing simple echo songs. Sing songs from other cultures.
● Songs can be created for all daily routines and help children to listen, understand and follow the beginning, middle and end of each step of an activity.

When you sing with enthusiasm, the children will join in. Make sure you don’t use too many words, Keep the songs simple. Have quiet listening times. Explore, communicate, play together. When the staff work as a team using music with the children you develop a creative, stimulating, musically nurturing environment.

Music can arouse or calm, it can structure the moment. Musical play celebrates childhood, helping staff and children alike to enjoy mutually pleasurable, reciprocal play with babies and young children. Musical play weaves all the strands of learning. When you play musically with the children you are helping to lay the foundation of music for life.

For more information about musical play and to see and hear some of Julie Wylie’s award winning music resources visit Julie’s Facebook page – ‘juliewyliemusicalplay’ and website: