Time to Transition: The Connection between Musical Free Play and School Readiness

By Zur, Sara Stevens; Johnson-Green, Elissa | Childhood Education, Annual 2008 | Go to article overview

Time to Transition: The Connection between Musical Free Play and School Readiness


Zur, Sara Stevens, Johnson-Green, Elissa, Childhood Education


From the time we are born, and even in the womb, we experience the pulse and rhythm of our culture. These musical elements have been called "cultural microrythms" (Condon, 1982), and are considered to be the beginnings of our musicality (Stern, 2000; Trevarthen & Aitken, 2001). As we develop and grow, this musical beginning remains at the core of our being (Dissanayake, 2000) while we react to and learn from the sounds and patterns of the world around us (Bauer, 1979; Custodero, 2002). Children also develop an understanding of local culture through their play, which is based in the rhythm and pacing of life (Bjorkvold, 1989). As children play, they simultaneously develop concepts about time (Bauer, 1979). Our sense of personal time develops in relation to the cyclic activities and relationships that exist within the surrounding community.

Enculturation, or the gradual acquisition of the norms and everyday practices of a group, occurs through family interactions (Bornstein, 2002). Families often use music as a way to teach children how to behave according to the precepts of society (Blacking, 1995). Beginning in infancy, musicality exists at the core of family interactions and forms the basis for social and emotional communication throughout the life span (Dissanayake, 2000; Papousek, 1996; Trevarthen & Malloch, 2000). For many families, musical parenting practices permeate daily life, facilitating routines and providing social interaction necessary for healthy attachment (Trehub, Hill, & Kamenetsky, 1997). Because of its social nature, music also may lie at the heart of family coherence, which is integral to a healthy upbringing and critical for mitigating the stress inherent in transitions.

As infants develop through preschool years, the ways in which families use music change, moving from intersubjective, emotional regulation and facilitation of transitions through daily routines to educational strategies (Custodero, Britto, & Brooks-Gunn, 2003; Custodero & Johnson-Green, 2008). As children get ready to transition from preschool into their formal schooling years, expectations move from learning in social interaction to a focus on the academic (Bjorkveld, 1989).

In addition to family use of music, musical exploration and expression are abundant in the daily lives of children (Moorhead & Pond, 1941, 1942) and are the central elements of children's play (Bjorkvold, 1989). Children create unpracticed, self-generated musical expressions, which occur naturally to them (Campbell & Scott-Kassner, 2006). Specifically, children's spontaneous vocalizations may include standard songs; rhythmic or melodic variations of standard songs; and/or free-flowing, introverted humming, singing, or chanting (Young, 2002). Musical behavior also may include moving in a rhythmic way (including hopping, skipping, jumping, etc.), or using objects, toys, or instruments to explore or communicate sound (Littleton, 1998). This spontaneous music making has been researched and discussed in myriad ways. Moorhead and Pond (1941, 1942) noted that children make music constantly, inextricable from daily life, as speech, movement, and singing merge as outward manifestations of inner processes. Marsh (2005) studied musical games on school playgrounds in a variety of different cultures. Her findings point to a universal phenomenon wherein children personalize learned music to fit norms that exist in their local culture or school culture. Campbell's (1998) studies of children's spontaneous music in schools specifically reveal that children sing, chant, hum, and explore rhythm throughout their day, even as they walk the halls, work on class projects, or eat their lunches.

Considering the core role that music plays in children's lives, we asked ourselves two questions: 1) How does music function in significant transitions? and 2) How might the timing and scheduling of adult-structured school settings affect children's spontaneous music making, which is implicated in healthy development? …

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