Monday, February 23, 2015

We Value PLAY

It's March, and if you live in a snowy place you might be feeling the effects of cabin fever by now.  Your family needs to have some fun and movement- the good news is you'll get it this week in Let's Play Music class!

At Let's Play Music, we value PLAY.  We believe that fun, spontaneous experiences heighten enjoyment and create magical discoveries.

Play is how children figure things out; play is HOW they learn.  Fred Rogers states it perfectly: "Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning.  But for children, play is serious learning.  Play is really the 'work' of childhood."

Four Reasons to Play
Kids learn best when they're playing, but why?  Here are my top four reasons with an explanation of how you'll see play shape our classes.

1. Play gives children the opportunity to try out new ideas in a safe environment. When "it's just a game", a student has freedom from evaluation and judgement. During games, it's easy to embrace mistakes with a laugh, because they are a built-in expectation.  (Read the post on the learning process to see why embracing mistakes is so necessary!) 

I think of many games, like Frog in the Middle. I am secretly giving students practice finding and matching a beat, aurally identifying melodic patterns, and matching and singing pitches. The students love this "practicing" because it's so silly! They are excited to take a turn showing off their dance.  They don't worry about performance tests, but they DO strive to master their moves and hand signs so the game will be better each week.

Every LPM game has a secret agenda, but to avoid damping the fun, I don't tell students about it during class. (Watch for next month's post on being sneaky.)

It makes sense that all of us are willing to try new things when we're unafraid of punishment for not being perfect.  In making music, we have to start somewhere, and it's far from perfection.

2. During play, children practice human values: cooperation, sharing, turn-taking, and conflict resolution. I recently heard a lecture from a child psychologist who would gauge these skills by timing how long children could sustain a group game.  One child would invent parameters for the play, "Let's play house", but others would inevitably add suggestions, "no, superheroes!" When the children could compromise, resolve conflicts, and be flexible, then they could keep the game going instead of giving up ("mom! we're bored!") or losing participants ("forget it! I'm not playing with you!"). Play time is an opportunity to practice interacting with others. "Okay, let's be a superhero family and we can pretend to go on a trip."  

By now you've caught on that Let's Play Music classes are about more than just teaching your child to do something.  Let's Play Music is about teaching your child to become something.  Our game-oriented class gives opportunities to practice these skills.

When I play the games like Circle Left, with my class, they work because everyone participates in making the circle rotate.  I offer each student a turn to decide how we will march/fly/skip/dance.  I remember one class when a student flopped to the floor during a game, upset about some offense.  Another classmate also stepped out of the game and gently went to him. "Oh, are you sad? Will you come back to the game? We would all like if you come be part of our circle. Will you come with me?"  My heart swelled as Sylvi reached out to her classmate. Her focus on considering everyone showed that she was practicing these skills.

3. The child at play is self-motivated and actively engaged.  Too-common are the stories from adults who took a few piano lessons as kids but for some reason didn't stick with it. Was practicing drudgery? Were lessons like a lecture? Were you wondering when it was going to start being fun? Did you wish going to lessons was as fun as going to Let's Play Music!?

I know your child will practice every day if it's part of your daily routine, and if he's looking forward to a weekly prize, or if he knows he doesn't get screen time until it's done.  Each of these extrinsic motivators has a definite place for establishing the practice habit early on, but what will happen when you take those motivations away someday? (I, for one, am planning on having my kids move out someday.)  

Our long-term goal is to help students discover the fun and joy and playfulness that can be found in making music, so they will eventually be self-motivated, intrinsically-motivated, to continue with practice and music studies when they graduate. Yes, making music takes focus, effort, and WORK (so does mastering the final level of Super Mario Bros). This brings us back to the fuzzy line between work and play: when your child can find the PLAY within the WORK, he'll have the motivation to stick with the training.

We don't pretend music-making is not hard work, but we do find every opportunity to highlight the silly and fun potential.  The process of finding joy in the work of music is sometimes a long, slow, road. So we keep our eye on the goal and make sure to help students recognize the joy whenever we can.

4. Play provides opportunities for fine and gross motor development. This truth applies to all of the playtime activities your child enjoys.  I'm thinking about the countless hours my own daughter spends dressing and undressing her baby dolls: definitely lots of fine motor practice there!

Moving around doesn't just improve motor skills; mounting scientific evidence from neuropsychologists and neurophysiologists teaches us that movement is crucial to learning.  Experiential, active instruction is most likely to lead to long-term memory of new concepts.  Playing a game in which you run to the magnet board, add your skip or baby step, and dash back to your seat helps you internalize the concept more strongly than if your teacher just showed it to you.

Not surprisingly, physiological stress reactions can negatively affect learning.  When your mind is in "playtime" mode, you are physiologically relaxed and ready to learn at your best.  Physical movement helps the brain perceive events and information in a non-stressful way so is learned more easily. Teaching via physical games is a winning strategy we use in Let's Play Music class!

Stages of Play

Finallly, one more big difference between Let's Play Music and other options is our group class format.  Parents sometimes wonder if their child would be better off with a private teacher right from the beginning.  Now that we know children learn through play, classes are formatted to accommodate the style of learning and playing at this age, and that translates into playing with friends.  
How do children play at each age?

Ages 0-2 : Solitary Play: Plays alone, starts to interact with adults. 

Ages 2-2.5: Spectator: Observes other children and copies them, enjoys repetitive motions.

Ages 2.5-3: Parallel: Plays along-side other children (not necessarily with them), copies actions of other adults and children. Play is imaginative.

Ages 3-4: Associative: Starts to develop cooperative play, starts to develop friendships, shows interest in 'why' and 'how' things are done during play.

Ages 4.5-6: Cooperative: Thrives in small-group play, enjoys cooperative games, enjoys learning and applying rules and demonstrating mastery.

When music theory is taught via silly group games, our students are set up for success.  Learning with a group of 5 friends is easier and more engaging for them than having a teacher one-on-one.

Our Teachers Model Play
Check out these Let's Play Music teachers using playfulness to enhance teaching:

Sarah McKay in Marietta, OH, introduced the song BINGO to her class, and realized they needed a few moments to treasure the joy of pretending to be doggies. After a moment of play, they had laser focus for learning the rhythms.

Michelle Bellingston in Pittsburgh, PA, helps her daughter find easy and playful ways to make practicing fun, like putting on a show for her stuffed animals.  

Marie Guthrie in Mesa, AZ, finds ways to sneak learning into playtime with her family.  During the popular card game, Sleeping Queens, they sing melodies from our Royal Problem puppet show when a dragon card is drawn!

Ann Cue in Madison, WI, makes sure parents have fun and play along, because kids love it!  When it's time to put on silly "root-finding glasses," moms get to dress up in style! Finding the roots of the chords has never been sillier or more successful.

The Results are In

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has identified the importance of playful learning in supporting children's development.  They also note the importance of joyfulness in learning- not typically assessed as an outcome of programs, but identified for its importance. When children find something fun, they learn more effectively.

If you are excited about PLAY and its role in your child's education, be sure to register for Let's Play Music classes, and then perhaps enjoy some additional reading:

The Power Of Play: Learning what Comes Naturally, by David Elkind.
Smart Moves, Why Learning is Not All in Your Head Carla Hannaford 
Play=Learning: How Play Motivates and Enhances Children's Cognitive Growth, Dorothy Singer.
Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Stuart Brown
A Moving Child is a Learning Child, Gill Connell
Playful Learning: Develop Your Child's Sense of Joy, Mariah Bruehl.

Stay tuned as we focus on one of our CORE VALUES each month. Our classes are patterned and structured differently from other programs; you'll understand why as we explain what we value.

-Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music teacher

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