Relationships and Music

Relationships and Music
By – Máire Corbett

We all know that  relationships are fundamental to what and how children learn. This is a key cornerstone of Aistear. Indeed, supportive, warm relationships are vital for the wellbeing of all humans! Have you considered the role music can play in building relationships?

Music enhancing the enjoyment of language

Music is a tool, unfortunately sometimes overlooked, that we can use to support the development of relationships. We build relationships through language, sometimes spoken, sometimes non-verbal and absolutely…sometimes sung. In their book ‘From Lullabies to Literature, (Birckmayer, Kennedy & Stonehouse, (2008), say, ‘Being sung to is an intimate language experience, which, when done regularly can enhance an infant’s enjoyment of language and strengthen the attachment between child and caregiver.’ In her book ‘Sounds like playing’, Marjorie Ouvry (2004), describes the holistic approach of weaving music through the curriculum. She gives examples of how music can support creativity, language and literacy and even how concepts like rhythm support an understanding of ratios, fractions and proportions. She refers to Colwyn Trevarthen who discusses musicality in the relationship between adults and children. He talks about the predisposition to coo and speak in rhythms and melodies from birth.  I think we all recognise the tendency we have that when we see a baby, our tone of voice changes and the words we say are spoken in a sing song way: that’s our natural, innate instinct towards musicality. When a baby is unsettled, we intuitively hold them close and hum or sing soothing words as we reassure them that they are safe. Sophie Brickman described it thus (Guardian article 31.02.2022) ‘Cradling a child and singing is like a one-stop-shop for bonding and connection.’

The power of music for babies

Babies respond to music from their earliest days. Even before birth they can hear music and other sounds and can be observed to respond to these sounds after they are born. Ouvry (2004) says, ‘Babies can hear in the womb and neurological research tells us that music (and movement) bridges the two hemispheres of the brain, with language and conscious thought on one side and intuitive and emotional thought on the other (Odam 1995). So when practitioners use children’s natural delight in and knowledge about music, they are supporting the development of the whole child.’ One friend noticed her newborn stop and listen as the theme tune of a familiar TV programme came on. Another was amazed to discover that her unsettled baby became calmer when she played an album she had listened to a lot while she was pregnant.

Music is for everyone

However, music can often feel like something we can’t do because we think we don’t have a good voice, or play an instrument. Not true! Children don’t mind if we are off key when we sing. We can play music on a playlist, exploring all genres of music and even if we don’t play an instrument, there’s every chance that a parent or a family member of a colleague or child will. If you are asking someone to visit the setting and play an instrument it is important to let the children have a go at making music as well as listening to it. I think it is important to avoid music being just background noise and that when we use music, we use it purposefully. Encourage children to move to music. Watch how children move instinctively to different kinds of music: a rousing Sousa march or a ballet piece by Tchaikovsky or folk-dance music from the countries of origin of the children in the group. When playing outside listen to the birds chirping and see who can identify the various birds by their distinctive songs (there’s an app that can support you!). And draw children’s attention to the rhythm of wind or rain and maybe explore how that can be recreated with materials in the environment.

Lullabies of the world

We will soon be launching our new Early Childhood Ireland member resource called ‘OWLET, lullabies of the world’, developed in partnership with Mother Tongues and supported by the RTÉ Toy Show Appeal. It was interesting to see Marjorie Ouvry discussing the powerful role music has for passing on cultural heritage. She refers to the fact that playing songs and music from the home cultures of the children can help children feel welcome, accepted and valued.  She mentions a setting that played lullabies in the home area, that were familiar to the children. As the children played these lullabies soothed the dolls (and the children).  Recognising the power of music and particularly lullabies to sooth, create connection, build relationships and support cultural heritages, the OWLET resource features: a playlist of 10 lullabies, in 10 different languages, an illustrated children’s book and an e-resource for educators. More details will be announced shortly.

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