This week on The Center, our podcast on preschool, we ask “Why Do We Sing?” We sit down with music therapist Jocelyn Manzanarez and look at the benefits of singing to children, the importance of play, and how to get over stage fright.
(Recording from a classroom)
Oh, I know, I love something a lot. The Greatest Showman.
Oh yeah, do The Greatest Showman for me.
(Child begins singing. Fade into actual music from Greatest Showman.)
Hey everyone, you’re listening to The Center, brought to you by Greentrike. This week, we’re getting into music. Now, news flash, music is good for children. And you already knew that. So why are we talking about it? I think we get focused on playing Mozart in the womb and piano lessons when we talk about music and children. But, I want to narrow the conversation down to one instrument, an instrument so ancient it’s wrapped up in our genetic code. I think we need to dive deeper into singing.
(Audio of teachers singing around the center.)
The level of singing that happens in a preschool is…I mean, just ask a preschool teacher. Ask Ms. Lisa.
Oh, gosh, I sing so much, I even sing when I’m picking them up for the diaper (sings), so maybe…half? I should record myself sometime (laughing).
Stand in the middle of a preschool and you’ll hear songs about washing hands and gummy bears and tying shoes and eating turkey pasta and…everything, it’s nonstop. Children clearly respond to singing. And, you know that! That’s not news! But, it’s one thing to watch a professional teacher sing a song,it’s another to join in. I’m embarrassed to play this but, while I was trying to record teachers singing I got called on to join in for Wheels On The Bus, and uh…
(Audio of Shaun singing with a class. He sounds very awkward and shy.)
I’m know I’m a little lost in the noise, but can you hear how nervous I sound? Singing is really vulnerable. It’s hard to really open up, especially if you’re not a good singer, but so much of a child’s development depends on that opening up. And it doesn’t depend on, you know, some professional singer opening up. It depends on *you* opening up, as a parent, and a teacher. And that can be hard. So, I invited music therapist Jocelyn Manzanarez over to the Center to talk about the benefits of singing to children, and help me and anyone else with some performance anxiety over singing. She’s the owner of Musically Minded, a group committed to music education throughout Washington.
So, I don’t know, maybe 500 years ago, our western civilization became very concert based. We built these concert halls. And when that happened, we split into two group: we’re either the listener, or the performer. But up until that point, we all participated! And it was no big deal, you didn’t even judge it. Like when you brush your teeth this morning, did you judge how you brushed your teeth?
Yes, but that’s just how I am. No, no, I’m kidding.
No! When you drive your car – well maybe I did today – but when you drive your car, do you judge how well you drove? Do you go and analyze it and critique yourself? You don’t, it’s not a judging event. But what’s happened with music is it’s become a judging event because we listen to these amazing artists who practice and practice hours on end and that’s what they’ve dedicated their lives to. And then we judge ourselves against them? And then we’re not very good so we say “ok I’m going to be a listener, and we’ll have those other people be the performers. And when we start to do that, we take away what’s uniquely human: The ability to make and appreciate music. And so as society gets into our heads like that the older we get, I mean, at 5 years old you’re probably already having your child say to you “you don’t have a very good voice”. And that hurts. But, if we stop singing with that child after they’ve said that, then all we’re doing is bringing that to the next generation. So that’s why, and I know we’re going off on the middle school piece, but it starts there, is this attitude of Listener V. Performer. Let’s just first talk about the brain and how it processes music.
So, when we hear music, it’s coming in all sorts of different ways. Let’s think about the melody; that’s gonna be processed in one part of the brain. We’ve got the tempo processed in another part of the brain. The lyrics processes in yet another part of the brain. Music is the one human experience that lights up the entire brain. And that’s pretty impactful, and I think when we think about that 12 month old, and how she or he is going to wash their hands, what’s happening is we’ve caught their attention. And, they’re receptive to language. They are understanding. Three months not so much, but 12 months they’re receptive. They may not be able to speak it, but they’re receptive. They can’t say the words, but they can go “alright they’re singing about washing hands, I’m gonna go do that”. Now, that singing also has that pitch to it that is something that sucks us in because it’s joyful and it’s different than speech. And that’s another ticket that I want to help teachers and parents understand, it’s joyful and it beats the heck out of LETS WASH YOUR HANDS, COME ON, GET OVER HERE, IT’S TIME TO WASH YOUR HANDS. Over and over again, instead when you’re singing it, and you’re repetitive with it, the child is hearing it over and over again, the brain is busy processing, and that transition over to the sink to wash it becomes easy because they’re hearing it over and over again, even if they’re on their way to the sink and the see a toy a ball something they want to grab, while that song is being sung over and over again, it BOOM – it redirects. SO theres so many parts to what happened when that child went over the the sink to wash their hands. Now what also can happen is in the lyrics, that song can be giving directions to the children on how to wash their hands. And that’s something that we want to teach! Because we want to teach them how to eventually be independent. How to get the soap, how to scrub our hands together, wash them off, dry them again. And that process would be pretty boring if you said that over and over again in a boring or mean tone. Instead, when it comes with play, it comes with fun, and when we bring it to the table like that, we immediately get buy in. That’s the magic that music can bring, and you can use it all throughout the day, whether it’s getting shoes on, getting dressed, getting ready to sit down to eat. It’s those auditory cues that helps children know what’s coming next, because they don’t control a lot in their world. So if we can help them find ways to feel in control, and know what’s coming next and not be so unexpected, it helps them be calm, and be easier to be around.
So it’s recognizing that social/emotional is where we all have to start, and that, to me, is where education starts? And what is play? It’s an emotionally charged experience where we’re enjoying ourselves, and that, to me, is why music is such a fantastic way to teach children. Because it inherently brings up the joy in the classroom, and everybody is attracted to it. I talk to so many who “oh my baby just loves music she loves to dance he loves to play the drums”, and the thing is, we have to get to that right away. And we’ve got to make sure and continue to foster that, because that can be the vehicle! The musical play can be the vehicle to teach across the curriculum. And teaching teachers and parents how they can use music all throughout the day to reach these goals that we want them to do is really, for me, the piece we want to share with parents. These ideas that anybody, regardless of talent, can do.
I think what we need to understand is what does play mean? Play is academics, it’s interaction, it’s learning numbers and sounds etx, it’s just the vehicle. It’s changing the way we view that word. If you want to call it work, if that feels better, call it work. But work is play. It’s that switching of the idea of “oh they’re just playing they’re just doing nothing” then as educators, we need to come in and get them to understand what that means. SO the child is in an environment where they’re having fun – that’s huge. We want to roll with that emotion piece, because once we get them hooked with a positive vibe, this feeling that they want to come back, we’ve got them. Now it’s a matter of delivering opportunities for them to go in different directions. We want you to learn your letters. Now, how can we use the vehicle of play? I think that’s where the piece comes, sometimes teachers get tongue tied in trying to explain to the parent who’s, maybe he’s an engineer, she’s a lawyer, and so she doesn’t have this early childhood education piece to understand what’s developmentally appropriate, she just knows she wants her child reading by the age of 4 because that’s what ABC Mouse says. But the fact is, all of these things have to come ahead of time, so as an educator we need to speak to that and explain it. Get it to a place where these adults can feel good, they can feel comfortable and confident. I know, I know your child’s not reading right now, and we’ll help them through some of the steps to help them get there, but we’re not going to force it. We’re gonna make it fun, and when we do so, research says when children learn in that fun exciting environment, they want to continue to learn! But, it also says that when they look at kindergarteners who are put in a very academic based school, by 3rd grade they’ve lost their love of learning. And when you think about the impact that’s gonna have on the adult you turn out into the world, you gotta decide, which way do you want to go? It’s the short term versus the long term outcome.
Children who are rhymers are readers. So, I don’t have research on this, but a really amazing author says this in her book, her name’s Mim Fox(?) and a lot of people know this from her children’s books, but she says “children who know 8 nursery rhymes by heart by the age of five are more likely to be in the top reading group at the age of eight.” Because, when you rhyme, you understand how to manipulate language. You can hear it! You are able to identify words that maybe have parts of the word that came before it, you can read those words by yourself. But what I want to emphasis is that it doesn’t start by teaching your kids rhymes at four. It starts the day they’re born. And that’s some of the fun play you can do with your baby and your toddler and your three year old, is to have them hear these rhymes over and over again in a fun, play based way so they want to come back, you’re bouncing them on your leg, can – remember how we were talking about how the emotional piece is so important to learning? You’re bringing in that fun part, you’re bringing in that connection, the child feels good about being there, and now you bring on the learning. And so, having them memorize poems when they’re start being able to speak, they have all these poems embedded in their head, well know when they’re starting to read, now they’ve got this bank of words that they can pull from. So when they come to a word that they’re trying to sound out, it starts to sound like a word that they’ve banked. Maybe it’s pumpernickel because their mom did that poem, um (poem), and she’s heard that word pumpernickel, and she starts to sound out pumper, and she’s got it in her head. Pumpernickel. And that is why we want to start talking and singing and reading to our children from the day they’re born or before.
I have a feeling this is related, but so many songs in the preschool are “in the tune of” ____, and these songs are a hundred years old. Are those tunes just a vase to throw rhymes into?
Yeah, so what that does, it’s called a piggy-back song. So, it’s anytime you take a traditional tune and changes the words for it. So for us as adults, it really gives structure, so we maybe want to have the child wash their hands or do this or that. Go to a song that you know really well, like (singing) London Bridges Falling down, falling down, falling down, take the tune and change the words, you’ll have a songggg. And when we start to do that, we’re not only using the power of music, we’re catching their attention, we’re lighting up the brain, they’re processing the words, they’re not off fooling around because now we’ve caught them, they’re over here listening to us, but the cool thing is we’re teaching them that little strategy too. For me now, one of my favorite songs that I clearly just seem to say whenever, is the tune of Lady With The Alligator Purse, um, but the tune is (singing), well I’ll go around and I’ll start singing that song and my daughter, who’s 11, who’s heard me singing nonstop, I’ll hear her later singing that song but changing the words to it. I planted the seed, she watered it. Plant seeds.
How can we move parents away from thinking that it’s the tablet? Or the computer game? Or the phone that’s going to teach their child these skills they need. I want them to recognize it’s them. They’re their #1 child’s favorite toy. They’ve got so much to offer. And music is really just a gateway for them to feel like, “ok, I can do this, I can sing a song, I can bounce my baby on my lap and say this funny poem that my grandma taught me.” And then I want to tell them what they’re doing for their child, because it’s not just play.
Alright that’s it for this episode of The Center WAIT DON’T TURN IT OFF. I want to talk to you really quick. This is our third episode, but we could use some feedback. What stories do you want? Where would you like to see this going? Would you like to be interviewed? What’s your favorite color? If you have anything you’d like to say or share, please leave a comment on our iTunes page and go ahead and leave your rating as well. I know that’s a lot to ask, but it really does help. If you want to find out more about Jocelyn and Musically Minded, you can find her at musicallyminded.net, and on facebook.com/musicallymindedseattle. I’ll go ahead and throw those links in the bio. Thanks so much to Jocelyn, Ms. Lisa, and all the great singers we have at the center. Music this week was by Chris Hoegan, E’s Jammy Jams, and Dan Lebowitz. I’m Shaun Parker. We’ll see you next time, on The Center.