Enabling the Arts to function as a transformative experience in early years education

Volume 2, Number 2 - December 2009

Editoral

Murray Schafer (b.1933) once said that for a child at five “art is life and life is art.” However at six, “art becomes art and life become life. They will then discover that ‘music’ is something that happens in a little bag on Thursday morning while on Friday afternoon there is another little bag called ‘painting.’” (1975: p. 15). Here Schafer highlights an essential of early years pedagogical practice. In the early childhood setting, a child can engage in ‘art’ as a transforming experience of making and play. This aspect of children’s experience is the focus of the first He Kupu ‘special edition’ on Arts education. The areas of Arts included in this edition are: visual art, music, dance and drama. As the context is early years education naturally these boundaries are seen to overlap and complement each other.

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Peer-reviewed Papers

Singing in early years educational settings conventionally follows an adult- led model, in which the adult introduces and leads the activity offering little opportunity for children to become active contributors to song-singing. Taking two examples of three-year-olds singing known songs in their own way, supported by familiar adults, a description and analysis of how the children used the songs to position themselves in their own worlds of relationships is presented. This leads to a discussion of the purposes and aims of song-singing and ideas around the general theme of playing with songs. Some alternative principles on which to develop song-singing pedagogy in early years settings are offered.

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The increased scrutiny of visual arts education in early childhood settings in Aotearoa New Zealand is attributed to inspiration for teaching and learning drawn from the pedagogy of the early childhood centres in Reggio Emilia, Italy. This paper argues that engaging with the pedagogy of Reggio Emilia can enhance approaches in this New Zealand by provoking teachers to examine existing practices in the context of visual arts education. It is proposed that this requires teachers to resist a replication of Reggio Emilia pedagogy and to re-conceptualise visual arts education as a means for children to represent their encounters with each other both within the local and wider context of New Zealand.

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Play is complex, contradictory, and sometimes chaotic. It has been described in such contrary ways as: both work and fun, pleasurable, purposeful and also without purpose, intrinsically motivated, yet socially and biologically driven and without predetermined outcomes (Lemke, 1995). Children playing together are engaging their emotional, cognitive, physical, social, spiritual selves in ways which transcend boundaries between these traditional psychological domains. Feelings, thoughts, and bodies are connected, and may be perceived and represented aesthetically in children’s play where “aesthetic experience encourages consciousness to engage in a form of reflection that does not restrict it in any way. This highly unusual experience opens up for consciousness new and previously unrealized possibilities” (Bubner, 1997, p. 169).

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In the 1980’s dance educator and author Diane Lynch-Fraser wrote Danceplay (1982) which was followed by PlayDancing (1991). These two titles on, ‘play’ and ‘dance’ reveal the paradox of dance, seen as an area that requires discipline and play that is time to ‘muck about’ and have fun. How can these two ways of being or behaving complement each other?

The idea of dance as fun, as opposed to a discipline, reflects the perceived marginalized status dance has in education. Having fun can be dismissed by educators to ensure that dance is viewed as a bona fide area of learning. I believe however that dance and play can make complementary partners, especially during the early years. The question is: how can these two disparate entities achieve a partnership and why should such a relationship be important? This article addresses the connection between dance and play, while noting the challenges this presents for early childhood educators.

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For some, the transition from early childhood to primary contexts is a major change and a disturbing time for children and their families. This article discusses issues relating to transition and the child’s voice, with a focus on the role that music plays in enculturating children into the new learning environment. The article is contextualised within the narrative of an imagined boy, Joseph, who is about to start school. Two classroom settings are described and critiqued, and contrasts between the two are discussed. Relevant literature, including Te Whāriki and the New Zealand Curriculum, supports the discussion, with a focus on the socio-cultural paradigm and its contribution to music and learning.

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Commentary

There are two avenues through which to engage young children in musical experiences and learning in early childhood centres: self-directed play and the more formal group time play. Both are important and valuable. The crucial element that must be at the centre of both avenues is play. Play is learning for the young child - it is their work, and they can work very hard! By looking at the world of sound and its fascination from the young child’s point of view, we can, as early childhood educators, help to stimulate the child’s natural interest in sound and music. By sharing experiences and ideas, and by exploring sounds ourselves, we can value and encourage the child’s musical play in an everyday context.

There are many ways that early childhood teachers can support a child’s playful music learning. The bonus for educators is that we find ourselves on the receiving end of a constant stream of invention and new ideas from the children. Children’s natural musical behaviour includes the spontaneous invention of rhythms, chants, patterns and variations of known songs (Lum & Campbell, 2007). These can be acknowledged and shared with other children, or used in planned activities. In this way children, through play and group music, create a cycle of innovation and creativity. An individual child’s innovation can then be re-introduced to the larger group, extending the musical ideas in the free play.

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Contributors

Dr Susan Young, Lesly Pohio, Dr. Sophie Alcock, Adrienne Sansom, Robyn Trinick, Lucy Bainger

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