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Guest post

The Importance of Music and Movement

Guest post by Helen Battelley

We only need to stop and observe young children to see how movement is embedded within the very core of all early childhood development. Physical activity broadens our capacity to grow and is essential to a child’s optimal development.

However, living in a global pandemic has changed the way children access movement play. During 2020 and 2021, children had fewer opportunities for physical play with play parks, extra-curricular clubs and leisure centres closed. Research indicates many young children’s physical activity levels and play experiences diminished during lockdown, particularly for those living in urban areas alongside minority ethnic groups (The Sutton Trust, 2020; Ofsted, 2020).

Why is music and movement so important in early childhood?

Musical play and movement play with music are significant forms of play and are used in all cultures. There is an abundance of evidence to support the role of an infant’s innate response to rhythm and sounds in establishing early communicative abilities. Introducing young children to rhythm and musical experiences is keenly associated with developing language and reading skills, and the ability to perceive and produce rhythm. In 2005, a fascinating study carried out by Phillips-Silver and Trainor tested infants’ movement responses to auditory encoding of rhythmic patterns. The study identified babies and infants had the ability to feel rhythm in their bodies, presenting a physiological response to music, further reiterating music is an intrinsic part of our being and a powerful tool for motivation.

The benefits of musical play are seen in a wide range of children’s developing abilities, including those related to social interaction, communication, literacy, emotional understanding, memory, self-regulation and creativity (Kirschner and Tomasello, 2010). We can observe the power of music in our own lives, by seeing how certain songs evoke memories and responses. My go-to song to uplift and motivate me is ‘Chain Reaction’ by Diana Ross!


How can we best support young children in a post-COVID world?

Primarily, we will need to be available and aware of the potential challenges each individual child may have encountered and allow time for children to develop relationships and social skills above all else.  Ensuring your provision is developmentally appropriate is essential. The components of DAP (Developmentally Appropriate Practice) are:

  • Child development and learning pedagogy
  • Each child as an individual and unique
  • The cultural and social contexts of each aspect of a child’s environment
  • Moving away from a ladder of progression mentality and adopting a more holistic approach, and an interweaving of the developmental processes 

Simple activities that you can do with children

Start with simple, fun activities which can be further developed at home. For example, you can make a paper fortune teller and add a physical activity or action rhyme behind each number i.e. 10 star Jumps. Children can progress to make their own fortune tellers, promoting agency over the activity and encouraging their own creativity. Here is a link that shows how to make a fortune teller. Once created, simply add your activity behind the numbers.

Combine ideas with movement

Ideas that are communicated in parallel with actions (e.g. gestures and actions) are remembered better because general memory ability is enhanced by physical exercise (Madan and Singhal, 2012).

The more elements used within an activity will determine the vividity of the memory, triggering our auditory and visual memory which will be enhanced if we use gestures, a third component.

Here is an example of gesture associated rhyme.

Discover music with children

Listening to music together can be a shared, inclusive experience and promotes social bonding. Try creating some simple activities using music for motivation or as a rhythmic tool. Here’s an idea: Play Bjork’s ‘Oh So Quiet’ and invite children to travel around the space. When the music is quiet, encourage them to travel slowly (e.g. creeping or tiptoeing) and when the music is louder suggest they make larger and noisier movements (e.g. stomping, skipping or jogging).

Click here for an activity to introduce young children to musical instruments.

 

How does movement play support child development?

Anthropologists and the World Health Organisation suggest prolonged periods of sedentary behaviour (e.g. sitting) in early childhood reduces the ability to learn from experiences and produces developmental delays. Higher levels of physical activity during early childhood are associated with improved health outcomes, whereas sedentary behaviour is associated with poorer health outcomes.  Prolonged periods of sedentary time and a lack of socio-dramatic play are also associated with an increased risk of loneliness, social anxiety and depression in children and adolescents.  We must evaluate how much time children are spending in sedentary positions and make changes and choices to reduce that time.

 

As parents or educators, we can often feel the need to rush children to the next milestone. But children need time and space to develop relationships and connections to become feeling and thinking human beings. And they mainly learn through first-hand experiences: through interaction with their peers, objects around them and the wider environment. To support early language skills children must experience diverse vocabularies and language rich environments of stories, rhymes and actions songs before focusing on literacy outcomes (Pascal, 2018). The more diverse experiences a child encounters, the further learning potential.

Sources

Ofsted (2020) COVID-19 series: briefing on early years, October 2020. Available here.

Pascal, C., Bertram, T., Cullinane, C., Holt-White, E. (2020) COVID-19 and Social Mobility. Impact Brief #4: Early Years. The Sutton Trust. Available here.

Phillips-Silver, J. & Trainor, L.J (2005) Feeling the beat: movement influences infant rhythm perception.

Kirschner, S. & Tomasello, M. (2010) Joint music making promotes prosocial behavior in 4-year-old children. Evolution and human behaviour.

Madan, C. R., & Singhal, A. (2012). Using actions to enhance memory: effects of enactment, gestures, and exercise on human memory. Frontiers in psychology3, 507. Available here.

Pascal C., Bertram T. and Peckham K. (2018) DfE Review of Evidence on EYFS Early Learning Goals, Teaching Content and Pedagogy in Reception Year. DfE: London.

Helen Battelley is an internationally renowned Early Years consultant, trainer and author. Helen is the Founder and Director of Music + Movement, which delivers dance and movement workshops for children and CPD for practitioners.

 

She is the author of 50 Fantastic Ideas for Songs and Rhymes, a dip-in collection of rhymes, action songs and funny verse that come with tips and fun ideas to make the most out of the song. Find out more about Helen’s work here www.musicandmovement.org.uk and follow her on Twitter @musicandmove

 

 

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5 books on Supporting Children’s Mental Health

It is becoming more and more important to understand children’s mental health.

It is too easy to assume that children have no worries because they don’t need to pay bills, go to work or care for others.

The statistics are alarming. For example, one in eighteen (5.5%) preschool children have been identified with at least one mental disorder (1). But knowing there’s a problem and knowing what to do about it are two very different things.

So I was delighted to read five very helpful, but very different books this month, all published by Featherstone (part of Bloomsbury Publishing)(2)

  1. What’s going on in my head? by Molly Potter

A beautifully illustrated book, written using language that is ideal to share with even the youngest of children, this book starts with how emotions link to general health. Molly goes on to give some meditation ideas for children; asking for help; friends and thinking habits.

There is much to enjoy about this book. The many different scenarios and the variety of solutions are particularly useful – addressing the vast majority of everyday situations that children may find themselves in, from friendship problems to school and parents.

There are three full pages of guidance for parents and carers at the back, which condenses the advice, including resilience and emotional literacy.

There are two great books in the Featherstone ’50 Fantastic….’ series that I’ve chosen for their help in supporting children’s mental health.

<!–more Keep on reading!–>

2. 50 Fantastic Ideas for Emotional Resilience by Jillian Harrison-Longworth

Jillian notes at the beginning of her book that children do not learn to be resilient by osmosis, they need to be taught some skills directly. Her 50 Fantastic activities are perfect for this.

The 50 activities are 10 in each of the 5 key characteristics of emotional resilience: routines; self-esteem; confidence; perseverance, and co-operation. These activities look deceptively simple, for example, drawing together or talking about your own reflection in a mirror, which means you can pick up the book and use it immediately.

However, to get the most from these activities, I would suggest treading about each of them all the way through, including the top tips, to ensure you understand the reasoning behind each activity.

3. 50 Fantastic Ideas for Mindfulness by Tammie Prince

This book has some excellent meditation and mindfulness activities. Most of them require no resources or very simple resources that you are already likely to have, such as pebbles, mirrors or leaves.

The activities are mostly about the process as children use their natural mindfulness to stack stones, flower breathe or smell the roses (or other flower scents).

The book ends on some ‘mindful teacher’ ideas for practitioners and educators. Although I think practitioners could easily use the ideas intended for the children for their own mindfulness as well. For example, the first activity, Just Breathe, changes ‘energy from tension to relaxation’ simply by using a breathing technique. Easy, useful and very effective.

4. A sense of Place: Mindfulness Outdoors by Annie Davy

This book on mindfulness is a more in-depth book, with references to seminal work and some interesting research references. Chapter 6 on mindfulness pedagogy is particularly interesting and includes focusing on the breath, nature’s breath, fire and finding a ‘sit spot’.

A sit spot is described as a place where adults can sit quietly and notice the invitations or affordances that nature offers for learning – as well as the impact this can have on everyone’s wellbeing.

The 3 part structure of this book – Setting the scene; Learning through the senses, and A sense of place – makes this an easy book to access, whilst still discussing some complex ideas and concepts.

5. Let’s Talk about When Someone Dies by Molly Potter

Hopefully, this is something that, as parents and practitioners, that we don’t have to encounter too often, but there may be occasions when it is necessary.

As with Molly’s other books, this is beautifully and sensitively illustrated throughout, with clear advice.

Molly includes some pages on different types of funerals, as well as how children may feel or the questions that may come up. This is an excellent book for practitioners and parents who would like to discuss death with children in a clear and non-euphamistic way. It would be ideal to have in the staff room or office, ready in case it was needed to help support children through difficult times in their lives.

So, five very different books, but as a group, they cover a lot of angles when supporting children’s mental health as a matter of good practice.

It is also very encouraging to see ever more recognition that the practitioner’s own mental health is valued in these books as well.

You can purchase these books on the Bloomsbury website here: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/superpage/featherstone/

or from Amazon here:

What’s Going on in my head by Molly Potter

50 Fantastic Ideas for Emotional Resilience by Jillian Harrison-Longworth

50 Fantastic Ideas for Mindfulness by Tammie Prince

A sense of Place: Mindfulness Outdoors by Annie Davy

Let’s Talk about When Someone Dies by Molly Potter

(1) https://files.digital.nhs.uk/A6/EA7D58/MHCYP%202017%20Summary.pdf
Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017 Published November 2018 by NHS Digital

(2) Disclaimer: I was sent one or more of these books from the publishers for free. You can be assured that the reviews are fair and honest reflections of the contents.

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