Engaging Children in the Classroom with Music and Play

Classroom students learn to follow rhythm and vocal pitch while exploring new language skills and enjoying the play state evoked by Education Through Music movement games.

Classroom students learn to follow rhythm and vocal pitch while exploring new language skills and enjoying the play state evoked by Education Through Music movement games.

Paul and I are delighted to offer this guest blog from Laura Walter, a workshop leader for Education Through Music (ETM). Laura, a dear friend and fellow advocate of learning through movement and play, first told me about ETM in 2003. Paul and I have since enjoyed exploring in ETM like-minded thinkers and movers, focused on providing play and cross-lateral experiences (walking, skipping, hand-crossing) for self-actualizing learners within a community-building setting. We soon realized that this was the same program that author and educator Joseph Chilton Pearce had recommended that we look into. It turns out that Pearce had recommended the Brain Gym® work to the ETM group, as well, including both programs as experiences he favored for the developing child. We love to play song games with our family members and ETM and other friends, and highly commend this enlivening program. —Gail

When I clap the rhythm to a song, the children listen with close attention and are always delighted to try figuring out which one of the songs we’ve sung together it could be. They eagerly offer ideas and together sing parts of the songs in order to settle on the answer. Then we all leap to our feet to play the corresponding song game as we sing the song.

These young people love singing in canon, and taking turns leading the Solfege hand signs in three parts while listening to how beautiful the combined parts sound. The classroom teachers comment on how interesting it is that, when the children come in to music, they’re attentive and ready to learn. In ETM, all of our motivation is intrinsic: the singing and the playing for its own sake . . . the sound for its beauty. Thus the children come along easily, with regard for each other and regard for the music.

ETM integrates singing with critical thinking games to teach the fundamentals of pitch and rhythm. Through weekly music activities, the song games help students discover skills of pattern recognition, social interaction, and working as a team.

As our society moves into more and more distractions, play and song can bring attention systems into greater focus. Teachers have particularly remarked on how those children who learn better in nontraditional ways, often through movement, are completely immersed in and captivated by the song game activities. Our program lets all participating children feel successful. They all sing and interact, as in this short video.

Patrons of the Ojai Music Festival enjoy a surprise interactive demonstration of ETM led by artist-in-residence Laura Walter and participating students from Ojai schools.

Some of our classes include special-needs children. A boy I’ll call Marco is one such child. He is nonverbal, moving with assistance or very slowly. With his automated talking board, he can touch a response to a question. On many days, the classroom children will choose Marco to have the next turn, and cheer for him as he runs around the circle at his own pace to participate in the game.

When one of the special-needs children is called on to offer an answer, the other children wait patiently to hear it, no matter its possibility of being correct. The kindness in the room is palpable. This is one of the hallmarks of arts education.

At the end of one year, one of the teachers mentioned to me that her class had played and sung ETM games every morning, to set the tone of their day. I told her that many teachers feel they don’t have the time to do that. She said, “They don’t have the time not to do it.”

ETM in a classroom greatly diminishes discipline concerns and impulse-control problems. When we sing and play with such joy, our brains are wiring connections for a productive and successful life.

Laura WalterLaura Walter is the Bravo Education Coordinator for the Ojai Music Festival. She has served on the faculty of Westmont College for more than 20 years. Laura has taught at Wright State University and Miami Valley Music Academy, and has been a featured guest lecturer at the Dayton Philharmonic. Formerly the Executive Director of The Richards Institute of Education and Research, a nonprofit group, she continues working with teachers and children, especially atrisk youth, using interactive play to develop motivation, intelligence, literacy, and emotional stability. She is the regional coordinator of Education Through Music and leads workshops for teachers to incorporate the arts into the current STEAM philosophy. Her students have gone on to successful careers as musicians, doctors, scientists and major symphony conductors. 

For more information see http://www.ojaifestival.org/education/bravo-program/ or www.richardsinstitute.org

 

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