THOMAS MOORE: I was born in a small town in North Carolina. Our home was filled with music and song. We'd follow our parents into the cotton fields and continue the singing there. In our community, music was a way to celebrate our achievements and to cope with the difficult times.
My background and experiences led to my studying at the Manhattan School of Music. I have always loved working with children, and I found opportunities to do so as often as I could throughout my years as a student. After graduation, I decided to pursue my masters and doctorate degrees in early childhood education at Indiana State University.
The more I worked with children, the more I wanted to be a spokesperson for children and teachers. I think teachers are among the most important people in a community.
ECT: Why is music important to children?
TM: As I observe children, I notice that music is something they are comfortable with from the very beginning. You can watch an infant kick her feet and move her hands all over the place when she hears music. If you play soothing music, a baby will drift off to sleep. If you play loud music, you see children reach for their ears as if trying to stop it. Generally, a child will move and sway when she hears music she really connects with. I remember how music soothed and calmed me as a child when I felt agitated. My parents' singing also calmed me.
ECT: How can music help in today's early-care and education classroom?
TM: Music helps adults and children build relationships. It builds those bonds that we try so hard to establish in the classroom. Learning happens when children feel like a family, and music helps to bring that family feeling into the classroom. Through music, a teacher helps children develop language, cognitive, social, and emotional skills. Children also develop physical skills as they dance and create their own movements to music. There are so many things that happen with music. A lot of emotional needs of children are met through music as well.
We need to give children the opportunity to express themselves through music, to sing their own songs and clap out their own rhythms to familiar tunes. When a child moves to music, we should support her creative expressions rather than suggest that she is a great dancer. The child's movements tell us that she is comfortable with music, that she enjoys dancing, and that she can be creative with her body. Also, a child who is reluctant to dance and move should not be compared to the child who moves about freely. Let's find ways to encourage individuality, not competition.
ECT: What strategies would you suggest?
TM: I think adults should take time to think about their musical abilities. Children need to see adults who are open to music and to experiences in general. When we sing with children, we open ourselves to each child. It's a way of acknowledging that we are all human. Singing with children is also a way of sharing power A 4-year-old singing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" has just as much power as an adult when they sing the song together. Once, when we were singing "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," a child sang, "and on this farm he had an aunt." I said, "I never heard that before." The child giggled and said, "Well, Thomas Moore, I just made that up!" That was a very powerful thing! The child created something original!
Children also enjoy and learn from "call and response" songs. The leader sings a few words of a song, and then the listener responds. This going back and forth has an echo effect. Children respond to the words and to the melody.
Repetition is also very important. Whether through dance or singing, repetition works very well with children. When singing, we should keep in mind that simple melodies are the easiest to repeat and remember. If I want to get the attention of a group of children, I sing a familiar song. This not only gets their attention, but calms them down as well.
ECT: How can teachers without musical backgrounds offer more music in their classrooms?
TM: Well, first we need to create a safe environment for the musical experience. Think of a child playing with a ball. We can introduce a child to basketball and the techniques of dribbling. Or, we can give the child the ball and let her experience it by rolling it around. It's the same with music. As teachers, we are responsible for providing experiences that are comfortable yet stimulating, and that meet the needs of our particular group.
I've learned that it's easier to introduce music to children if you were comfortable with music from an early age. The music is not outside of you, it's inside of you. But keep in mind, a teacher doesn't have to be a good singer or musician. Just being a good teacher and taking advantage of opportunities to explore music with children is enough.
ECT: What can teachers do to encourage parents to use music with their children?
TM: We need to encourage parents to sing to their children. They can share simple songs such as "Mary Had a Little Lamb" before bedtime or change the lyrics of familiar songs to fit their family circumstances.
We need to inform parents of the value of singing to their children, including the bonding that occurs when music is shared. They also need to know that children can often learn and retain information more easily when that information is presented to them musically.
Finally, we can let parents know that music offers a sense of comfort and security to young children in this confusing world and creates a bond among members of the entire family.
ECT: It sounds like we could all use more music in our lives.
TM: Absolutely! Teachers should let themselves sing more and enjoy music throughout the day. While driving home, put on some music you really like or sing some of your favorite songs. Try to find ways to sing with your own family members. Look for ways to sing with others in the community. You might try community or church choirs, synagogues, or mosques.
Music has been a plus for me in ways I could not have imagined. For example, in my work as an advocate for young children, music connects me to people who have little contact with children and therefore little knowledge about the early childhood profession.
When we take full advantage of what music can do, we find that it provides a solid base for learning, a commonality among people, and a foundation for building relationships.
Thomas Moore, PhD, is an early childhood consultant, keynote speaker, workshop leader, and children's recording artist. He is co-author of the teacher resource book Where is Thumbkin? (Gryphon House, 1993) and has produced many recordings for children. Dr. Moore holds a BA in music and voice from Manhattan School of Music and an MA and PhD in early childhood education from Indiana State University.