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Art to Heart

Music with Preschoolers

Music activities have many benefits for young children, from contributing to the development of coordination and language to developing social skills such as cooperative behavior, says music specialist Martha Glaze Zook. In the classes she teaches at Philadelphia’s Settlement Music School, Glaze Zook focuses on developing basic musical skills such as the awareness of the steady beat, what it is, and how to keep a beat in many ways.

From there, she moves on to teaching an understanding of rhythm patterns, tonal patterns, and melodic patterns. “My goal is to bring them all together and to have the children really feel competent singing, dancing, moving, and playing instruments in a way that is powerful and very satisfying to them,” she says.

A Sound Start

A single class session may include a variety of activities, beginning with the children in a circle—a “natural gathering point,” Glaze Zook says—for a warm-up session. “Sometimes we stretch, sometimes we sing a greeting song. We might sing about the weather. I have them make up new verses, what day it is or whatever. That gets them thinking about ideas they have or something new to put in the song.”

The purposes of the warm-up are to get the class organized and to get the children’s singing voices going. The warm-up also includes what is called “body percussion,” Glaze Zook says. “Body percussion is a way of keeping the beat with the hands clapping, patting. Sometimes we include the feet with stomping—all of those things that help children get that musical skill working.”

The Beat and Beyond

After the warm-up, the class moves on to the day’s main activities. Glaze Zook works with organizing concepts. When Art to Heart visited, the month’s organizing concept was groups, so the class worked with groups of different instruments, such as xylophones and maracas, and explored group games and activities. Another organizing concept she was working with was the senses. So she used a small snake puppet in class, going around the circle and stroking each child’s cheek with it—“just a little sensory experience,” Glaze Zook says.

Older children may play hand rhythm games—“another good tactile way of keeping the steady beat, cooperating with a partner.”

To help children find their singing voices, she gives them lots of opportunities to sing. The class might also do silly voices or puppet voices that “help them get into that beautiful quality singing voice” as well as one-on-one singing activities like the “Hello” and “Goodbye” exercise shown in the Art to Heart program.

Exploring and Making Music

Other activities might include exploring sound—such as asking children to make different kinds of sounds (clicking, rattling, scraping) so they can learn to categorize them—or games with rhythm sticks or simple instruments such as xylophones. “I can’t think of any child who doesn’t love to get out the instruments,” Glaze Zook says. “They’re a great draw. They’re fun, they’re interesting, they make cool sounds. Plus, we get a whole bunch of instruments together and we have a band or orchestra. So it makes the whole program that much more interesting, engaging, and full of learning.”

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