Early Years: Tune Into Listening

Personal, Social & Emotional Development

We explored...

· How music may make children feel.

· If we could use music to explore emotions and feelings.

· If music could support relationships and friendships.

· If music could support social interactions.

We found...

That music not only helps form connections between children and other children but that it can also help support relationships between adults and children. Children were encouraged to be expressive and share their opinions, thoughts and feelings with practitioners and the practitioners involved felt that this strengthened and supported their relationships with the children.

We found music to be a powerful tool in helping a young child to settle into the nursery environment. On entering the nursery a two year old was very anxious and was crying. Julie played Let it Go, the child soon stopped crying and joined in with other children to dance and sing. Julie then went on to use other songs from the Frozen sound track and the child continued to interact with other children. As well as this we also found that children who do not normally play together were holding hands and moving together - the music seemed to create a connection between the children. This is something we found in both Allens Croft and Hillfields Children’s Centres.

Amie worked closely with one young child who finds it challenging to express himself.

Amie played eleven different tracks to the child aged three and used a variety of cards displaying emotions – happy, sad, angry, excited, scared and tired. She asked him “how does it make you feel?” The child’s answers are listed below alongside excerpts of the music that were played:

1. I Got Rhythm by George Gershwin – he was not sure

2. Henry (Madagascar) from African Playground - he pointed to happy

3. One Step Beyond by Madness – he pointed to happy

4. Lay me down by Sam Smith– he said “This is different. What we sing in the car.”

5. Odd Man Out by Jools Holland– he danced around

6. Mr Bojangles by Jon Holt –he skipped past this track

7. Paranoid by Black Sabbath – he pointed to tired

8. The Blue Danube by Strauss – he pointed to happy but was then unsure

9. Music for 18 musicians by Steve Reich– he said “What is this? Feels tingly.”

10. Lightning by Phillip Glass – his body tensed up

11. Zorba the Greek by Mikis Theodorakis – He needed to move at this point, he began to run in circles and pulled Amie to join in with him.

This proved to be a useful experience as it enabled the child to respond and refer to emotions and feelings which is something the child usually finds challenging.

How does music make children feel?

Music can be very emotive and the music played in settings could have an effect on children and how they feel. You may agree that music can impact our mood – both positively and negatively. How much is this however considered in Early Childhood education?

Asking children “Is this happy music?” or “Is this sad music?” as part of a listening activity can be a great starting point for listening with children to help them focus their listening and attention. However, it may be more complex in terms of how music actually makes children feel and the emotional impact that it can have.

We found that a four year old was particularly moved by Pachelbel’s Canon in D. When we played this music to a group of children one child looked very sad. It turned out that from the age of 11 months whenever she heard the music it had moved her to tears. This does not necessarily mean that when we see children tearful or appear to be sad that they are definitely feeling sad. Some people are often moved to tears whilst listening to music, music can also make the hair on the back of our neck stand up - music has the ability to move us - both physically and emotionally. As educators we need to be mindful of this.

Social interaction and connection

We found...

That on many occasions music brought children together, children interacted with each other that had not done so before and music created a connection.

Lianne observed three children aged three responding to Don’t stop Me Now by Queen. The children marched and moved to the music together. It was unusual to see these children playing together so the music appeared to bring them together.

Amie also found that during a music session one particular child who did not usually interact, smiled and offered his hands to dance with other children, the music supported him to interact with others.

Amanda found that a shared interested of the Frozen soundtrack seemed to develop confidence in children and supported social interactions within a group.

The music may not have been the most important aspect within the above situations but it appeared to help children connect and interact. The children may have developed an incredible sense of well-being and confidence by simply singing and dancing with others. We felt that perhaps music could be used effectively when children enter a setting and particularly if you have a new cohort of children starting together in September. Music can be used to support transitions and can create connections, familiar interests between people can offer a common ground. When meeting people for the first time it is not uncommon amongst adults to strike up a conversation about musical tastes. It can often be an important topic of discussion for some people and can to some extent play an important role in who we are and our identity. Perhaps we can draw upon this in the Early Years? We should not assume that all children enjoy listening to nursery rhymes or ‘children’s music’– we should try to find out what they do like and explore ways of using this knowledge effectively.

This finding has become so important to the staff at Hillfields that now during home visits the staff ask parents:

“What music do you listen to at home with your child”?

With the information that they gather they are exploring ways of using music and the audio environment as a tool to help children settle into the setting. The staff write down albums/artists/tracks that the children listen to at home and create a playlist based on this to use within play sessions so that the children and parents enter a space with familiar music. They are continuing to explore the impact on the settling of children and the partnership between parents and staff.