It is interesting to see the ways children react to the sound of music. From infants to adulthood, we see the effects that music can have on us. Pica (2000) noted that there are numerous studies done to determine the way music changes our emotions and even improves our health. How does music affect us? Is physical development a crucial part of young children's growth? Are children's moods affected when they hear music? Will their physical capabilities be challenged when they respond to the various types of music? There are similar and differing views on the implementation of physical and music education. The various views to the above questions will be explored and discussed in the following paragraphs.
Wiles and Bondi (2007) had put across that health and physical education are closely related. Generally, when a person consistently leads an active lifestyle, it will be noted that the health of that person will be better as compared to the less active. Thus, many schools will implement physical education as part of their curriculum. Along with physical education, some schools, especially preschool centres, physical activity sessions are accompanied by music.
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What is the first thing that comes to our minds when we hear about physical development? Pica (1999) said that one will usually link physical development with children and movement. He went on to state that the best way for children to learn and retain information will be through hands on experiences. As young children are naturally curious, it is common to see that in many early childhood settings, the contemporary method used to ensure more effective learning will be through doing, more than just listening. Taras, as cited in Pica (1999) added to this by saying that physical activities, when included in children's daily lives can help them comprehend things more easily.
As Hannaford, cited in Pica (1999:1) had put it, "movement activates the neural wiring throughout the body, making the whole body the instrument of learning." Bearing this in mind, physical activities should be encouraged in young children's lives.
Waller (2009) implied that there is a link between physical and health and that a child who is less active in the early years is not very likely to be involved in sporting activities when at an older age. Physically active young children tend to be healthier physically and mentally. According to the UK guidelines, it is recommended that children have at least sixty minutes of physical activities per day in order to achieve good health and The National Health School Standard (NHSS) advocates having two hours of exercise per student, per week. Pryke, as cited in Waller (2009) pointed out that these exercises should be made enjoyable. Physical activities that involve music and movements that are suitable for the children's age will engage children meaningfully and allow them to grow in their self esteem in a fun way.
Waters and Begley, as cited in Waller (2009) discovered that children who are more confident and have good development of physical skills are more popular among their peers. Dombro, Colker and Dodge (1998) added that healthier children have more energy to discover and learn about things that surround them. Therefore, the importance of developing children's physical abilities should not be belittled.
Besides confidence, other aspects of development are also improved along with good physical skills. A Roman poet, by the name of Juvenal observed the people around him and realized that those who were physically fit were more intelligent (Harvey, 1994).
Jim Lavin, as cited in Cooper, Hilary, Sixsmith, Chris (2003) noted that physical development is about body coordination and control of the movements, as described in the Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage (DFEE/QCA 2000). He agreed with the idea that the ability to master good coordination and control will foster children's self-esteem. Therefore, it is good to have more opportunities provided for children to work out different movements.
Children in the two to three years of age, though physically unstable, are already moving about eagerly and will not cease to explore various movements repeatedly in an attempt to have more practice (Charlesworth, 2000). It was also implied that children of the same age do not have identical skills. According to Charlesworth, big blocks, climbing structures, balancing equipment and ramps can be used for physical play. While children try out their skills on the various equipments, music can be used in the background to enforce movements.
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Lewis and Catherwood (1996) had put across the idea that it is necessary for the fundamentals of gross motor skills to be achieved in order to proceed to the next level. That is to say that gross motor development is progressive and therefore, they argued that children who are provided the appropriate support in learning will progress faster, this affecting not just the physical aspect but also on other areas growth.
Zelazo, as cited in Lewis and Catherwood (1996) stated an example that if support is given to a baby who is attempting to walk, it will result in the baby becoming more motivated to do so independently when given the chance to try. Similarly, children learn faster in the other activities that require physical skills. For young children who are already walking on their own, providing music as a source of support can be beneficial. With action songs, children are guided in a relaxed atmosphere to work out the muscles in the different parts of their body.
As physical activity is necessary for children's gross motor development, Worthham (1994) suggested that a mixture of both formal and informal learning, in and out of the classrooms will give children the chance to try out new skills and further develop their capabilities. The environment is a factor to developing good motor skills. The classroom environment should allow children to feel comfortable towards learning (Rubin and Merrion, 1995).
In a longitudinal study done on four children, it was observed that physical environment and human environment affect children's development, including the physical aspect (Burton L. White Jean Carew Watts,1973). When there is limited space, children might be constraint to smaller movements and thus, not be able to move about as freely as they would like to. Thus, learning will be compromised.
Young children are generally curious beings. Worthham (1994) pointed out that children of very young age move around a lot and they are developing their fine and gross motor skills. According to her, the two to three year-olds are constantly trying out new challenges to achieve new skills. Worthham has emphasized the need for adults to match the children's development to the learning opportunities that are provided for these young preschoolers in order for them to gain good confidence and become willing learners who strive to excel. This attitude will follow them through to their later years, enabling them to respond positively when they are faced with challenges and are expected to achieve certain results.
How do early childhood practitioners and adults at home engage children to develop good physical skills in a fun and interactive manner?
Besides discussing the benefits of young children having good physical development, this piece of literature review also sets out to explore how music can aid them in developing in that area. Pica (1999) suggested that music and movement are interrelated and that whenever children are given the chance to move to the sound of music, such experiences can help them to remember and learn better.
There are different styles of implementing lessons. Smidt (1998) pointed out that children learn about things around them through interacting and experiencing. Katz and David Elkind, as cited in Smidt (1998) do not agree with complete formal learning at a very young age as it stifles children's creativity, causing them to be over reliant on adults instead of being independent learners. It was emphasized that though learning objectives can be met within a short time, the children's long term learning should also be considered.
In the words of John Dewey, as cited in Wiles, Bondi (2007:183),
"The aim of education is to develop the power of self control in each student. The primary source of control does not reside in the teachers, but with the studentâ€¦.
Developing experiences for students, and activities that will guide them, is the task at hand."
In order to motivate young children to move physically in a relaxed atmosphere, there is a need for music to be introduced. With the aid of music, children can be left on their own for short periods of time to explore with different movements independently. Some structured lessons can also be conducted as a guide to children's physical development.
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It will be interesting to discover the ways that people learn to enjoy music. Green, as cited in Lines (2009) informed of a project which was centered on music, conducted in secondary schools in UK, the students learn well through informal settings and achieved the objectives of self learning through intrinsic motivation. Lines (2009) however warned that we should not rule out the fact that young people can learn through formal settings as well. It will be interesting to discover how children of very young age respond naturally to music before and even after they have been through some guided lessons. Very often, young children are exposed to action songs. It is important to note that besides action songs, music can also motivate young children to move along in an expressive manner.
Though informal learning can be beneficial to the learners, Harvey (1994) on the other hand explored the benefits children can derive from schooling at a very young age. He interviewed the parents and found that children at the very young age, who were exposed to learning which is intentionally arranged by their parents, continued learning throughout the later years. Results showed that the parents were more involved too.
Lloyd (1990) supported the idea of structured learning by stating that only elaborate preparation by the teacher can lead to creative movement experiences.
However, there is a contrasting view that music and movement can be learnt and enjoyed in an informal way too. In a survey which was conducted on young Singaporeans' preferences on the list of activities which they will indulge in during their free time, it has been noted by Chew, Jiun and Tan (1998) that one of the top choices is enjoyment of music. Interestingly, it was reflected that a high percentage of young people who took part in this survey chose listening to music over all the other rest of the activities listed, which include shopping, watching programs on television, etc.
It has been reviewed that some music has been known to affect people in a negative way, whether consciously or otherwise. Tricia (1994) explores the possibility of rap music influencing people to turn violent. In the same way, she noted that there were some critics who viewed hip hop music as influencing speech and singing. Therefore, it is crucial to be selective in the music that we expose young children to. Goldmied and Jackson (1994) warned about careful selection of music and reiterated that tapes with bad quality and inappropriate sounds should be avoided. They did not fail to point out that very young children love music and do not tire of listening to the same piece of music many times, even moving their bodies to the music that they hear.
A wide variety of music can lead to more in-depth exploration in the physical aspect. Children can learn to be more receptive and in turn, more expressive with their body movements.
For some, particular types of music can be unpleasant. However, on the whole, if the type of music is cautiously selected, it soothes the ears and will even urge us to move our bodies according to its rhythm. In that, our physical ability is challenged.
Pica (1999) asserted that in music, tempo can be used as a way to encourage different pace of movement. For example, the concepts of the music terms- 'accelerando' and 'ritardando' can be taught to children. The above music terms refer to moving from slow to fast and from fast to slow respectively. This will enable young children to work out their muscles in a progressive manner and also enables cooling down at the end of each session whenever necessary.
Pica (1999) had also discovered that young children can easily understand the mood of each song and be affected by it. He went on further to state that children are more sensitive than adults in this aspect and also more willing to express their feelings using their body movements.
It has been pointed out by Goldschmied and Jackson (1994) that very young children, even unborn babies can respond to music and had reported that it was found out by a researcher- Moog (1997) that children before the age of two prefer instrumental music the most. It is only after the age of two that children begin to like action songs. Regardless of the age, both types of music can be introduced to the children simultaneously.
Edelstein, Choksy, Lehman, Sigurdsson, Woods (1980) also suggested in one of their strategies in teaching music, to allow free or structured movements according to the beat of various tempo. The tempo can be created using musical instruments or be observed in an instrumental piece of music. For example, marching to the beat of the drum or swaying to the rhythm of a piece of slow music can enable children to work out their movements. Children will gain confidence in a non-threatening atmosphere when they are provided the opportunities to exercise their bodies using this method.
As physical development can be positively encouraged when accompanied by music, it will be beneficial for music to be introduced at the very young age. In the process, formal and informal learning must take place at the same time so that children are guided through lessons to unleash their potential and not be derived of the opportunities to explore physical movements as well as to enjoy carefully selected music at their own pace.