This piece was written by member Joanie Calem. She has been creating music and teaching people of all ages since 1983. She teaches music classes in and around Columbus, Ohio.
For many people, negotiating social cues and being part of a human community do not come easily; understanding how to be a member of a community is a set of skills that must be learned. Small children are developmentally self-absorbed and self-centered, learning that one cannot talk whenever one feels like, that we must consider other people’s feelings, that one cannot just impulsively act on a whim, all of these are skills that we learn in a group situation. For many toddlers, participation in music classes is their first experience of a focused, group lesson; music is the perfect medium to share the fun of being part of a community! Even the most shy children, even children on the autism spectrum, who often struggle with social interactions, thrive in a musical – social environment where songs and musical activities are guiding a social interaction.
Nearly every song that I share in my music classes contains an element of encouraging young children to be part of the classroom community. Starting a class with a “good morning” song, where each community member is acknowledged by name is a simple yet powerful example of community building. Soliciting the children’s suggestions for ideas to insert in “zipper songs” (songs that incorporate new ideas to enhance the topic) lets children know that their ideas are important, and others ideas are important as well. That isn’t always an innate understanding for young children!
Incorporating movement into music classes also gives children the chance to explore body space: many children do not know where they are in space, and they need to move in order to learn this important skill. There are likely to be crashes and mistakes: that is how we learn!
One of my favorite ice-breaking, movement and music, community building songs is the old folk song, Ride Away On Your Horses. The version I know starts with the children “riding” their horses, then stopping to say hello to each other before “riding” off again. It is always very touching for me to watch them reach out to new people in the context of the song! For some it is easy, for others it requires a stretch, for all it is a way to meet new friends.
Though we live in a highly electronic, sedentary era in the USA, children still delight in the opportunities to play games that involve music and movement simultaneously. Children love to dance together, and no iPod or video can replace the fun of dancing with another human being who is happy to be with you. For all of us working in the world of children’s music: may we never under-estimate the joy and power of providing music for children and their families!