One of our favorite songs, We Are Drops (The Hawaiian Unity Song), from the Parent Appreciation Dinner, 2014.
Defining the Music Curriculum
by Mercedes Paine Castle
During my Montessori training the topic of singing and music were discussed as being important. Songs were shared, but there wasn’t a framework for an actual music curriculum. When I founded All Roads Learning Community in 2003, I knew that I wanted music to be an essential part of our curriculum. After alI, I was a hippie with a guitar – I love music and I love singing, and I know that music is a great way to communicate big ideas like ‘love’ and ‘peace’. I knew that I would communicate my love for singing and music effortlessly to the children I worked with, that my feelings would be absorbed on an unspoken level.
The seeds of my music curriculum were singing and playing the guitar for the children. I tried playing my favorite adult songs for them, and they quickly lost interest. I discovered that I would have to become more purposeful in my choices. As I learned more and more about how children interact with singing, music, and rhythm instruments, I began to seek out and introduce new songs to my group. My experiences blossomed into a music program relevant to the interests of children with songs that incorporate movement and our grounded in traditional folk heritages.
I sing and play with the children in the Toddler Communities and the Children’s House as the ‘specialist’ once a week for thirty minutes. As we continue to grow the music curriculum for Portland Montessori Collaborative, we are guided by the following notions:
Singing and Language Connection
Singing and language development are undeniably linked. Research indicates that infants and young children respond to the pitch of a song and timbre of the singer’s voice. Singing has great value in language development.
In her book The Genius of Natural Childhood, Sally Goddard Blythe, a consultant in neuro-developmental education and director of the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology notes, Singing traditional lullabies and nursery rhymes to babies and infants before they learn to speak, is “an essential precursor to later educational success and emotional wellbeing”, argues Blythe in a book. “Song is a special type of speech. Lullabies, songs and rhymes of every culture carry the ‘signature’ melodies and inflections of a mother tongue, preparing a child’s ear, voice and brain for language.” Singing helps the infant learn the qualities of their native language in a way that only singing can.
Singing and Brain Development
Singing activates the whole brain. Research shows that multiple areas in the frontal lobe are engaged, and that the melody of a song is processed in one center of the brain while the words are processed in another. It is not hard to imagine then, that singing has a positive effect on language development, speech and comprehension an order of magnitude above speech alone.
Singing and Peace Education
In her book, Understanding the Human Being, Dr. Sylvana Montanaro advises pregnant mothers to sing a special song to their unborn child, one of many acts that lay a foundation for the adult-child relationship once that child is born. Research indicates a strong level of recognition when the newborn is exposed to a familiar song, singing engages and evokes strong emotional response, and is a foundation for peace education. Dr. Montanaro advises singing to infants as a way to expand our emotional connection with a child and enhance language development.
Singing songs strengthens a child’s knowledge not just of pitch and melody, but also language comprehension. Songs are a way to communicate themes such as love, friendship, nature, and cooperation. Developing language communication and self regulation skills are necessary components to peaceful behaviors. Not only do the songs we sing support a vision of peace, so does the simple act of singing itself.
Our Music Curriculum
Research shows that there is a stronger connection between infants and live music, as opposed to recorded music. Infants may not know that the recorded music is ‘talking’ to them, therefore the focus of any music curriculum will include adults singing to and with children. Because children will familiarize themselves with vocal tone color, and attempt to match the adults’ timbre, teachers are encouraged to model good singing habits and enunciate the words of songs.
Our curriculum is rooted in the idea that children are driven to become a person of their place and time. The music that is a framework for this orientation, that is a reflection of the infant’s place and time is folk music. These are the songs that are noted as ‘Trad.’ or ‘Traditional’. These songs that have been a part of the infants culture for so long that we’ve forgotten the author because they now belong to us all. They give us a sense of cultural place. Their themes are timeless and so they are always part of our times. Pete Seeger, and his book, ‘Rise Up Singing’ are integral in developing an authentic engaging music curriculum. Elizabeth Mitchell and Dan Zanes are great resources for re-imagining and reinvigorating traditional songs.
These are components of the Portland Montessori Collaborative Music Curriculum
- Actively discovering songs we like to sing and sharing them with the children.
- Find a time to ritualize singing, develop a routine around this event such as a gathering and find a way to include the children. We never force an infant or toddler to remain in a gathering.
- Support the children in their participation by offering diverse rhythm instruments to be used by the children.
- Utilize songs that invite movement, such as ‘The Wheels on the Bus’, ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’ or make up movements to familiar songs.
- Find books that are pictorial representations of songs. When we read the book, we sing the lyrics.
- We record and distribute songs that define the culture of our classroom and school for the children to take home. This strengthens the connection between school and home.
If a teacher plays an instrument, they introduce it to the group and orient the children to the names of the parts of the instrument and any special points of interest around the instrument. This may lead to follow up questions like, ‘Where does the sound come from?’ or ”How do we make the sounds change?’
Building Upon the Previous to Round out the Children’s House Music Curriculum
- Walking on the line activities.
- Introduce call and response songs.
- Make up songs to soften transition times, as a point of interest to keep children on task.
- Pay attention to what songs the children like or request, perhaps use this interest to springboard into a longer project (see the Fox Project).
- Introduce the subject of how notes designate time through eighth notes, quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes and work on rhythms that employ these different time designations though clapping, rhythm sticks or chanting.
- Introduce do-re-mi scale and hand signs for each note.
- Call attention to high and low notes. Encourage children to play with their voices as they once did in infancy but now with a different purpose.
- support spontaneous singing and dancing with time and space to engage in such activities.
Music serves as a beautiful framework for inquiry based learning, and curriculum may spontaneously emerge and expand. Our peace curriculum is rooted in music and singing, and reminds us of both our past and our future. Best of all, singing is good fun.