Monday, 26 September 2011

Learning Language Through Experience

Good teachers know children learn through doing;
and when we attach language to the experience children gain understanding; 
and when that language is repeated, rhymed, slowed down and enjoyed it is practiced; 
and when it is shared with others our social skills develop.  

These are just some of the reasons why music is a powerful learning tool.  By creating songs around topics which are important in a child's world we can increase their learning experience. 
Learning road rules, remembering to brush your teeth or imagining you are a tiger can all be part of a musical experience. 
For more ideas have a listen to Stay and Play which has just received a GOLD award in the United Kingdom for excellence in early childhood education. 

Friday, 17 June 2011

Ken Robinson on Creativity

Does our education system nurture or undermine creativity?  Do our children need creativity?  Sir Ken Robinson is an entertaining speaker who makes a serious argument for the value of nurturing creativity in education systems. If you have 20 minutes you can set aside, make yourself a coffee (or whatever) and watch this video.  It is exceptional. Even if you have seen it before it is worth re-watching.   It was posted in 2006 and the message is even more relevant today.

 This is a new way of clapping for this little man today!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Drumming for Free

Kids love drumming.  There is something primeval about the need to bang something to make a sound.  It offers a child a satisfying experience involving lots of senses, control over his/her environment and fosters an exploring mind.   - And it doesn’t have to cost money!

Children enjoy exploring the sounds of different objects.  Often more fun is had from drums which are invented or discovered, from household objects or junk.

Drumming has two main benefits:
  • Playing a semi-flexible surface with the hands helps children explore a sound source directly through their own skin.  When a child drums with his hands he gets immediate feedback on the relationship between touching the surface and the resultant creation of the sound.    The child also receives sensory information about the pressure he needs to use to make the sound, and how that pressure changes the volume of the sound.  For these reasons children should first explore possible sound sources with their hands.  The child will also probably want to explore with their mouths too, so make sure the object is safe for them to do this.
  • Exploring different sound sources helps a child understand our world and helps develop an enquiring mind. Once a child has explored an object with his hands, and possibly drummed on it, add some (gentle on the ears) beaters; wooden spoons are ideal, or use short lengths of doweling or driftwood.  At this point children need to develop sufficient eye-hand coordination to aim the beater on to the surface of the “drum”.  This is more difficult than feeling the impact through their fingers but a child will find satisfaction in exploring the different sounds he can make by hitting different objects. 
Help the child explore by collecting a variety of containers from packaging and your recycle box. ALWAYS MAKE SURE THE OBJECT IS SAFE FOR YOUR CHILD TO HANDLE.  Drums can be discovered from a variety of materials from egg cartons to yoghurt pots, plastic plant pots to shoe boxes. 

In a large bucket, box or laundry tub collect a mixture of containers.  Boxes are great: Cardboard, plastic or smooth wooden boxes will work, in fact any box which is rigid enough to hold its shape once it is hit. Plastic ice cream boxes are ideal.  Play them with the lid on, so they stay in shape.  

Buckets make ideal drums, as well as large smooth-edged tin cans, (You might want to restrict the beater to wood or plastic as metal on metal is pretty hard on the ears!) 

The large storage container itself can often be the favourite drum. Large plastic containers and even sturdy boxes make an excellent bass and of course double as the storage unit.

Don’t limit your child to hollow “drum” sounds. Many kitchen sounds are fun to bang, stir and scrape.  One of my son’s favourite sounds when he was small was one he discovered by placing two wire care racks on top of each other at a bit of an angle. He then hit them with a metal fish slice.  The bouncing sound created was somewhat like brushes on a cymbal.

Let your children explore the sounds.  Join in with them and scrape, tap, stir and bang the objects.  Play some recorded music and jam along together.  Then save all the objects in the large container, for use another day.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Encouraging Singing

One of the most beautiful sounds in the world is the sound of a small child singing.  But how do we encourage children to sing?  Here are some useful ideas...
Parents and teachers often wonder how to encourage children to sing.    How can they give the gift of singing to their child when they may not feel confident in singing themselves?  In a society where there is so much recorded music there is less call for people to make the music themselves.  Are we forgetting how to sing? 

Consider the Zimbabwean proverb:   
If you can walk you can dance, if you can talk you can sing. 

Apart from the profoundly deaf, we all have the capacity to sing.  We just need to learn to drive our voice, and focus our ears.  Here are some fun ideas to encourage singing with children. 

  • Stories: when you read stories to your children look for any opportunities to make sound effects with your voice.  Encourage your child to join you in making the sounds.  When children make high and low sounds with their voice (animal noises, machine noises etc) it helps them explore what their voice can do and how to create those sounds.  This exploration is necessary before children can sing in tune. For example:
-     The Hairy Maclary stories have lots of different dog/cat noises.  Make these at different pitches with your voice.
-     Use different voice pitches for different characters in a story.  E.g. Goldilocks and the three bears.  Papa Bear can speak in a low voice “Who’s been eating my porridge?”, Mama Bear in a mid range, and Baby Bear in a high voice. 
-     Stories with tractors, trucks, and helicopters give great opportunities to make engine noises as you and your child read the story.

  • Sing the machines in your house.  With your child, try matching the pitch of the vacuum cleaner!  The vacuum cleaner is a good one because when it is turned on it rises to a stable pitch level and stays there.  This gives children a chance to listen and match the pitch.  It then falls in pitch when you turn it off. 
  • Sing the cake mixer (if you have time to bake!).  My old Kenwood mixer would rise up the scale as we turned the numbers on the dial.  My daughter used to love controlling the dial and singing the sound of the mixer as we baked.
  • Sing the hair dryer.  Most hair dryers have 2 speeds.  Hum the different pitches.
  • Singing conversations:  Use just two notes initially.  The so-me interval is a good beginning.  If you can’t think of the notes just think back to your childhood and hum “I’m the king of the castle,” then you’ll get the tune.  Sing conversations such as “What do you want on your toast today?”, “Would you like a glass of milk?”, “Which story did you choose?”, “Where are you hiding?”.  Encourage your child to sing the answers.
  • Sing the stairs. Whether it is a full flight of stairs or just a few, sing and count them as you go up and down.
 Have fun singing and vocalizing interesting sounds with your kids...
...and the very best thing is that your child doesn't care if you are a rock star or not. She will just enjoy the smile on your face and the fun you are having together.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Music when you are young helps when you are old!

Did you know music study as a youngster helps the brain when it gets old? We now have research to prove it.
There has been a lot of research done on how children who study music do better in school than those who don't but this is the first research I have seen which relates early music study to old age.  Even if the person had not played an instrument in decades the benefits still remained.

The following article was printed in the New Zealand Herald 23rd April, 2011. It is fascinating.

Hours spent practicing the piano as a child could pay off in more ways than one, scientists have found.  Not only will it lead to you mastering the instrument, but it will also provide a boost to your brain decades later, it is claimed. 
Even if you no longer play into adulthood, it will keep the mind sharper as you enter old age.  The researchers found that pensioners who had piano, flute, clarinet or other lessons as a youngster did better on intelligence tests. 
“Musical activity throughout life may serve as a challenging cognitive exercise, making your brain fitter and more capable of accommodating the challenges of ageing.” said lading researcher Dr Brenda Hanna-Pladdy at the University of Kansas Medical Centre.
 “Since studying and instrument requires years of practice and learning, it may create alternate connections in the brain that could compensate for cognitive declines as we get older.”  The study, published by the American Psychological Association in the journal Neuropsychology recruited 70 healthy adults aged 60 to 83 who were divided into three groups based on their levels of musical experience.  The musicians performed better on several cognitive tests than individuals who had never studied an instrument or learned how to read music. 
While much research had been done on the cognitive benefits of musical activity by children, this was the first study to examine whether those benefits could extend across a lifetime, said Dr Hanna-Pladdy, who conducted the study with her colleague Alicia MacKay. 
The three groups of study participants included individuals with no musical training; with one to nine years of musical study; or with at least 10 years of musical training.  All of the participants had similar levels of education and fitness and did not show any evidence of Alzheimer’s disease.  All were amateurs who began playing and instrument when they were about 10. 
More than half played the piano while about a quarter had studied woodwind instruments such as the flute or clarinet.  Smaller numbers performed with stringed instruments, percussion or brass.  The high-level musicians who had studied the longest performed the best on cognitive tests, followed by the low-level musicians and non-musicians.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Developing Lateral Thinkers

Can we support lateral thinking in music?  
In the light of our fast changing world, we can’t do things as we have always done them.  We need to think outside the box.   - and experiences in music and movement can help.  We need to help children to think for themselves and come up with of new ways to solve old problems.  

Thinking outside the box also includes using imagination, visualization as well as problem solving.  We can build these skills, and lateral thinking attitudes, through music.

Sir Ken Robinson, in his talk entitled Do Schools Kill Creativity reminds us that children starting school this year will retire in 2071.  What will the world look like by then? We can't imagine the world in 5 years time, so how can we imagine what the world will look like in 2071.  

Our children won't be living in a world as it is today, so it would be irresponsible for us to educate them to only think as we have done in the past.  When we look at the changes which have happened on our planet even just this year we have seen disasters, food shortages, major nuclear challenges, as well as the fast changing technology and communications we have witnessed over the last 20 years of the internet. 
How can we prepare children for such a fast changing world?  

The answer is not to give them the answers but to help them think for themselves, to think outside the norm and to come up with new and different solutions.   These attitudes can start when they are very young.  There are often many different "right" answers and many different ways to look at a problem.
For example: How can we clap in a new way? 
How can we stretch up tall in our own way?
 How can we play our instrument differently?
Music is an interesting medium for giving children opportunities to think creatively.  In our classes we look for opportunities to help children think of new movements, actions, sounds, or rhythms; to imagine themselves as spacemen, rabbits, or giants to develop imagination and visualization, helping children put themselves " in another's shoes" and thus understand a situation from a different point of view.

 -and we can have so much fun doing it!

For an interesting talk on creativity listen to Sir Ken Robinson's talk entitled Do Schools Kill Creativity?

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Why do we cross our hands over at Kids Music Company?

Have you ever wondered why at Kids Music Company we often use our right hand to pat our left knee, or our left hand to pat our right knee during a song? 
Why do we pat our shoulders or our knees then cross our hands over; or clap with our hands back to front; or pat our head and toes at the same time. 
Why do we stamp our feet while we make circles with our hands?

Why do we make a point of doing activities which cause our hands to cross the centre mid-lines of the body, or have different actions going on in different parts of our body?

If you have ever wondered what this was all about, and why it is important please read on…

It is all about developing a sense of mid-line.  So why is mid-line development important?

There are many actions in day to day life which require a child to cross their centre mid-line: reaching for something on the opposite side, putting on a shoe and sock with both hands, washing opposite arms, as well as actions required for sports, music and dance.  A child who has a well-developed sense of mid-line is better coordinated and more comfortable in their own body, but a well-developed sense of mid-line is also important for building brain connections.     

The body has three mid-lines: the imaginary line which runs down the centre front of the body separating the left side from the right; the line across your waist area which separates top from bottom; and the line down your side which separates front from back.  When a child coordinates actions which cross all three mid-lines he/she is building connections across all areas of the brain.  The more connections a child has, the faster they can think. With practice, these connections become reinforced, making information processing in the brain more efficient.

As you are probably aware our thinking brain is made up of two hemispheres, left and right.  Each hemisphere has different functions:
The Left hemisphere looks after
The Right hemisphere looks after
Numbers, letters, spelling, vocabulary, logic, lists, analysis,
Understanding the meaning of words and numbers in context, rhythm, colour, imagination, ‘seeing the whole picture’

By helping children develop connections across the left and right sides of our body we are helping them access both sides of their brains, which is important for school work.  Think about what is required in order for a child to write a story.  He needs to have imagination and visualisation which are right brain functions, but he also needs the vocabulary and understanding of spelling to be able to write the story down.  His left and right brain must work together.  By building connections through physical movement we help integrate those brain areas to give your child greater success in school.

Mid-line even effects eye function.  A child with poor mid-line crossing also has difficulty visually tracking a moving object from one side to the other.  This makes reading difficult as the eyes tend to wobble on the centre line and lose their place. 

So when we look for ways in our classes to shake a hand at the back, while one is shaking at the front; or pat or left knee with our right hand we are doing a lot more than just having fun.  When we cross all those mid-lines just imagine the buzz going on in the brains of our children!!

Some Specific Kids Music Company mid-line songs include
Let’s Jump
(Mango Tango CD)
Draw A Circle
(Mango Tango CD)
Sounding Really Good
(Mango Tango CD)
Criss Cross
(Splish Splash Splosh CD)
Join The Fiesta
(Splish Splash Splosh CD)
Stretchy Cord
(Break Out)
Walk To New York
(Break Out)
Check It Out
(Break Out)
A Clown In The Circus
(Break Out)
Cross Over
(Stay and Play CD)
Pukeko Stomp
(Pukeko Stomp CD)