Music play is play!

I firmly believe that the best way for young children to learn music is through free, hands-on self-directed play.  Formal music lessons can be wonderful for older children but for young children nothing beats exploration and free play.

I made this poster about music play and I think it explains my beliefs about young children and music very well.  It got quite a few shares on Facebook and it seems to have struck a chord with people.

Poster about music play for children.

Let me expand a little on what I mean by “Music play is play!”:

Play is the fundamental way that children learn and make sense of their world, and music play is simply one of the many forms of play. But what is “play”?

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A Defence Of Homework – The Kind That Works

“Ban homework before third grade; support children’s play”.  That was the banner headline from an article from The Christian Science Monitor that got quite a few shares recently on Facebook. And a fair amount of exposure through Twitter too.

Bored child doing homework with Alfie Kohn quote

How much learning is happening here?

Image source: Kelly Arnold of Better Learning Solutions

The article’s author, Bonnie Harris, makes a heartfelt plea to ban homework for young children because the ever-increasing load of homework is eating into the time that they have for that most vital of learning experiences, free play.  How much time less for free play, and how much time more for homework?  The figures are staggering:

A study done by Sandra Hofferth of the University of Maryland found that from 1981 to 1997, American kids ages six to eight spent 25 percent less time engaged in free play and 18 percent more time in the classroom. Their homework time increased by a shocking 145 percent. Her updated research in 2003 shows play time continuing to decline and study time increasing yet another 32 percent!

Free play is vital – it’s how children learn resilience, personal competency, social skills, problem solving and a myriad other things that research shows are the best predictors of future academic success.

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The Secret of my Success – Bart Hopkin!

Over many years people have asked me about how I come up with the crazy instruments I build. Surely I must have a phenomenally creative mind.  Um, no.  I just look at other “real” instruments and think “what’s the simplest possible way to make a version of this, preferably one that is incredibly cheap and extremely hard to break, and that very young children will be able to play successfully”.

I’m very proud of my instruments – I think they are pretty darn wonderful, and other people seem to think so too, especially the children I work with – but they are not complex.  My over-riding design principle is KISS.  If I cant build it simply I don’t build it at all.  If I can also make it from recycled junk that’s a bonus.

People also assume that I must have wonderful manual arts skills, that I am a trained woodworker and metal machinist.  Nope.  To be honest, my skills are very limited.  I’m not proud of this, but I failed woodwork and metalwork in first year high school, and I think of myself as a self-taught wood-butcher and metal-hacker. OK, I had a lot of experience working with PVC pipe when I used to be a professional gardener, but a 5 year old child can cut PVC pipe just as well as I can.

Nor do I have a state-of the art workshop with milling machines, band saws, thicknessers, router tables and the like. I mainly work with manual hand tools of the simplest kind.  In fact the only power tools I use are:

  • a cordless drill
  • a drill press
  • an angle grinder;
  • an electric jigsaw
  • a 1/3rd sheet electric sander
  • a hand-held electric planer

You could outfit my entire workshop by going to any major hardware store with $1000 and come away with plenty of change.  Indeed there is not one of my instruments that actually requires power tools to make – they just save a lot of time, but if necessary I could make them just with hand tools.

So, if I don’t have enormous creativity, nor great manual skills, nor a flash workshop, how did I learn to make such great instruments?  Two words:

BART HOPKIN

Picture of Bart Hopkin

Bart Hopkin – he’s the man!

Before I came across Bart Hopkin’s work and his wonderful books I had come up with a few very simple instruments.  After Bart Hopkin – the world of weird and wonderful instruments was opened up for me.

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Facebook & Timeline for Pages – Rant Starts Here

OK, let’s get totally off-topic here, and let me rant about Facebook.  Specifically, the new Timeline format for Pages.

Timeline has been out for a while now for personal profiles and now it is being rolled out for all Pages too.  So if you have a business or a fan Page you will be “upgraded” to the Timeline format by the end of March.  Or, if you wish you can elect to make the switch early.  I chose to switch early – here’s what my Child’s Play Music Facebook Page looks like now.

Looks nice – far better than the old look

Before I get into the rant: there’s lots to like about Timeline.  Graphically the new layout is far more appealing, navigation is easier, and in most respects administration is improved – the ability to change dates on posts is particularly welcome, as is the new Messaging system. But …

Although Timeline is being touted by both Facebook and many commentators as giving Page administrators greater control of how posts are displayed and formatted, I don’t agree: in some ways it’s much more limited.

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Copyright, Pinterest and Child’s Play Music

Debbie Clement of RainbowsWithinReach has a very interesting blog post about intellectual property today.  Most of it I had never considered, and it drew my attention to another post about intellectual property & Pinterest at Corkboard Connections.

So, in the spirit of those two posts, here are my rules for Pinning images from this blog and web site:

I’m entirely happy for you to Pin my own images; no, I would LOVE you to pin my images.  All I ask is that you credit me and this site in your notes to the Pin.  Simple.

Um, not quite that simple.  Because there are two types of images here:

  1. My own images, where I own the copyright, or images that are copyright-free and in the public domain.
  2. Images where someone else owns the copyright, but I have permission to use the image.

It’s easy to tell the difference; any image that is credited to another website is NOT MY IMAGE, or is not in the public domain.  I always provide a link to the original source, and I always have permission from the copyright owner to use the image.

So, if you want to Pin one of those images: don’t. Or at least, not from here. Follow the link to the original location of the image and Pin it from there. Preferably ask permission from the copyright owner or at least check out their rules about sharing images.

To make it absolutely clear: check out the two images below.  The first is my own image; you can tell because I don’t give a link or source for it.  You are welcome to pin it.

Picture of Alec Duncan with homemade instruments.

No link, no source: it's my image, go right ahead and Pin it!

The next one is NOT my own image; you can tell because I DO give a link and source for it.  Please don’t Pin it from here – go to the original source.

Child playing outside musical instruments

Link & source: it's NOT my own image, please don't Pin it from here.

 Source: let the children play

 Please respect these rules – it’s just common courtesy.
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Like this post? Make sure you check out the rest of my web site!

And you can find Child’s Play Music on Facebook

And check out my Pinterest boards, too!

You might also like these blog posts:

The Best Playground in Perth – The Naturescape

Music in ECE: Yes, You Can! Part One

Water Play, Music Play & Children: A Natural Combination

Let Me Play! (Trust Me, I’m Learning)

This poster exploded onto the early childhood pages on Facebook yesterday.  Within hours of Jeff from Explorations Early Learning, LLC posting it to his Wall shares hit the hundreds and as I write it’s been shared over 1,800 times (possibly much more – some Pages have been sharing the image without attribution to Jeff and his Page). [Update: it’s now been shared almost 5,000 times as at 3/10/12, and it’s also available for purchase from Jeff’s website]

I am 3 - let me play poster

Source: Explorations Early Learning, LLC

It seems to have struck a chord; the vast majority of comments have been along the lines of “I love this!”, “so true!”, “yay!”, “amen!”, “I want to give this to all the parents at my centre/preschool!” and “I want to give this to all the teachers at my child’s centre/preschool!”

And those last two comments are, of course, the point.  Because learning through play is something that is increasingly getting lost in the relentless drive towards academic programs for preschoolers, and unrealistic expectations of children’s behaviour and needs.  More so in the US (where Jeff is based) than here in Australia, but even here many preschool programs are less play-based than they used to be.

There is a tendency to push the curriculum downwards – what would previously have been expected of Year One students is now increasingly being taught in kindergarten, and what would have been taught in kindergarten is being taught in preschools. Worksheets and standardised testing are supplanting construction play and home corners.  Outdoor play is being replaced with desk time.  Children’s needs are being overruled by society’s demands.

And this goes against 100 years of solid research into child development and how children learn.  Academic preschool programs that focus on direct instruction are worse than useless: they are actively harmful to children’s development in both the short and long term.

Similarly, programs that have unreal expectations of children’s behaviour – programs that require 3 year olds to sit still, to keep their hands to themselves, to stand in line, to be patient – are setting children up for failure.  Children with perfectly age and developmentally appropriate behaviour are being labelled as problems.  Children are being punished with time-out or other aversive systems for behaviour that is not only normal – it is desirable!

Everything that children need to learn comes through play, and developmentally appropriate quality programs that provide extensive opportunities for learning through play provide the best environment for children to flourish.

Now understand: I am not arguing that preschool programs should be a free-for-all, in which children are merely left to play without adult support and guidance about behaviour. Again, the research is unequivocal – such laissez-faire programs are ineffective at best, and harmful at worst.

But unless we as a society recognise that young children need extensive opportunities to learn through play, that academic direct instruction models are harmful to them, and that their “undesirable” behaviour is normal and developmentally appropriate, we are are failing them.

The adverse outcomes will be felt for generations; we must not allow that to happen. Play and play-based learning must be nurtured, it must be at the heart of every educational program whether that is child care, preschool, kindergarten or school.  As professionals or parents we need to stand up and defend play; to capitulate to the forces that oppose play is to fail both our children and society.

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This post has been featured on It’s Playtime at let the children play

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Like this post? Make sure you check out the rest of my web site!

And you can find Child’s Play Music on Facebook

You might also like these blog posts:

The Best Playground in Perth – The Naturescape

Music in ECE: Yes, You Can! Part One

Water Play, Music Play & Children: A Natural Combination

14 Blokes Who Blog About Early Childhood – make that 27!

Males who work in the early childhood field are rare.  I mean, really rare.  Under 2% of the workforce seems to be the generally accepted figure. And males who blog about ECE and/or childhood seem to be even rarer.  When I started researching this post I knew of just 7.  Thanks to Donna and Sherry at Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning and Greg at Males in Early Childhood I now know of 14. Make that 29 blogs by 27 authors!

The standard is astonishingly high.  They range from classroom blogs to blogs about the nature of play & childhood to the politics of early childhood education to parenting and points in between.  There’s something to be learned from all of them.

This was originally going to be a really long post describing each blog, with links to favourite posts, & photos, bios, yada, yada.  All my blog posts seem to end up as major essays and this was no exception.  Time to fight back!

So here in random order are the 14 29 blogs (no, really random, I used this random list generator, at least for the first 14 – the rest are in the order I became aware of them).  Just go and read them, OK?

Males in Early Childhood

You can also find Greg on Facebook at his Males in Early Childhood Education Page.

ABC Does

You can also find Alistair on Facebook on his ABC Does Ltd Page.

Rethinking Childhood

You can also find Tim on Facebook on his Rethinking Childhood Page.

Brick by Brick

You can also find Scott on Facebook at his Brick by Brick Page.

Literacy, Families and Learning

You can also find Trevor on Facebook on his Literacy, Families & Learning Page

Marc Armitage

You can also find Marc on Facebook at his Marc Armitage at Play Page.

Identity crisis? No, I’m a male nursery teacher!

You can also find Mr Shrek on Facebook at his Mr Shrek Page.

The People Garden

You can also find Noah on Facebook at his The People Garden Page

Jeff’s Blog

You can also find Jeff on Facebook at his Explorations Early Learning LLC Page

Look At My Happy Rainbow

You can also find Matt on Facebook at his Look At My Happy Rainbow Page

Sand and Water Tables

You can also find Tom Bedard on Facebook at his Sand and Water Tables Page.

Rusty’s Blog

You can also find Rusty on Facebook on his EarthPlay Page

Teacher Tom

You can also find Tom on Facebook on his Teacher Tom Page

Hopkins’ Hoppin’ Happenings

You can also find Brian on Facebook on his Hopkins Hoppin Blog Page

crayons, wands, and building blocks **NEW**

You can also find Sergio on Facebook on his crayons, wands, and building blocks Page

Enabling Environments  **NEW**

Marc doesn’t appear to be on Facebook, but he’s on Twitter @marc_faulder

@ko **NEW**

This is an anonymous blog.

Enrique Feldman **NEW**

Enrique does a monthly blog post at PreK & K Sharing but does not currently have a regular blog of his own.

You can also find Enrique on Facebook on his Living Like a Child Group.

Former Child **NEW**

I don’t know if Dan Hodgins is on Facebook

Mr Forest Schools **NEW**

I don’t know if Mr Forest Schools is on Facebook

My Hullabaloo **NEW**

My Hullabaloo is no longer being updated, but is still up. Matt’s new blog can be found at mattBgomez

You can also find Matt Gomez on Facebook on his My Hullabaloo Page

Bill Corbett’s Blog **NEW**

You can also find Bill on Facebook on his Cooperative Kids Page

Not so much a blog as a website, but there are some great articles and information from Adam Buckingham, a man who does exactly what the website title says: turn trash into treasure in amazingly creative ways for early childhood settings.  I don’t know if Adam is on Facebook.

A Man in Child Care **NEW**

You can also find David Wright on Twitter @ Mr_Paintpots.  I don’t think he’s on Facebook.

Jim Gill’s Words on Play  **NEW**

You can also find Jim on Facebook on his Jim Gill Page

Lighting Some Fires **NEW**

This blog appears to have been removed. I’m not sure if Liam McNicholas is also on Facebook

childcaresurfboatcrossfitdad **NEW**

You can also find Tony on Facebook on his Tony Kee- Childcaresurfboatcrossfitdad Page.

If you know of more blogs about early childhood by males pop the link in a comment and I will add them to this post.  Thanks!

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Like this post? Make sure you check out the rest of my web site!

And you can find Child’s Play Music on Facebook

You might also like these blog posts:

The Best Playground in Perth – The Naturescape

Music in ECE: Yes, You Can! Part One

Water Play, Music Play & Children: A Natural Combination

Music in ECE: Yes, You Can! Part 2: Singing

As an early childhood educator you are the single most important component of your children’s play & learning environment.

What you do – how you structure the environment, what program choices you make, what you value, how you interact with children – sets the tone for all the learning that takes place.  And that is equally true for music in early childhood.

But as I said in Part One, many early childhood educators feel less than competent when it comes to music.  I’m here to tell you that you ARE competent – but you may not FEEL competent.

So let’s get you feeling competent, because the research shows it’s your confidence that counts not your musical abilities.

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The Best Playground in Perth – the Naturescape

You would almost think this is a natural bush waterhole – but it isn’t.  It’s part of the new Rio Tinto Naturescape in Kings Park, Perth Western Australia.

Headwaters of Paperbark Creek

Headwaters of Paperbark Creek

This post is one of two simultaneous posts; the other is by fellow ECE blogger Niki Buchan of Precious Childhood.  We visited the Naturescape together and decided to release our blog posts at the same time.

We haven’t consulted at all with each other about the contents of the posts so it will be interesting to see our different takes on the Naturescape.  One thing I’m certain of: Niki is a much better photographer than I am but we share similar views on the importance of nature play and on supporting risk in play.

What’s this Naturescape thing, then?

The Naturescape (shh, don’t call it a playground) is a fantastic addition to Perth’s play opportunities for children of all ages. Entrance is free.

Opened in October 2011, the $10m, 60,000 sqm area is described as a place which  “invites children to immerse themselves in a natural environment doing what comes naturally – building cubbies, wading through creeks, climbing rocks, playing hide and seek and collecting bush treasures.”

It was opened by the Premier, Colin Barnett, who said: ”This is a wonderful playground area for children, a return to the old days where you can walk in the creek, play in the wetland, climb trees, get dirty, get your hands wet, even probably skin your knee.”

And in a first for me I find myself in complete agreement with Premier Barnett.  This is a wonderful playground! I have no hesitation in calling it the best playground in Perth.

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Music in ECE: Yes, You Can! Part One

Is anybody out there feeling a little less than totally confident about your own ability to provide a vibrant music program in early childhood settings?  Worried that you don’t sing well enough or you aren’t a good enough musician?  Not sure what a good music program looks like, let alone how to implement one?

I’m betting there are quite a few hands going up out there.  Because you are not alone: research shows that music is the single most-feared subject area for educators.  More than math, more than science – it’s music that we feel inadequate about.

So if you are one of the people bashfully raising your hand – this five-part series is for you.  I’m hoping to take you from:

I can’t to I can! 

From fear to fun!

How much fun?

This much fun!

Two girls having fun playing a metallophone

Looks like fun to me!

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