Music in the Environment

By Joel Batson – Tōtara Teacher

Recently I have been reflecting upon my previous life experiences with music: singing with my family, listening to Mum sing and play folk songs on the guitar and flute, nursery rhymes, spiritual songs and my early experiences with instruments such as the piano, the guitar and drums.

I consider just how important those experiences were for my formation as an adult; being able to function and be ready to process the environment around me and make choices that have effects upon others.  And I consider I have been blessed.  You may ask what these things have in common with each other?

I am coming to see more and more, through experience and my own research (see anything by Lorna Lutz Heyge and Montessorian Audrey Sillick), just how much early music experiences have to do with the formation of the child as an individual and how (even in those pre-natal months) these encounters with the world of music help to prepare the individual for learning.

Experiences such as the early singing or chanting (possibly of folk songs or nursery rhymes) of the mother, father and/or other significant adults from when the child is in the womb up until the age of three or so, have such a tremendous effect on communicating with the child such things as human connection, a sense of belonging, integration into the family environment and even the transfer of culture from adult to child.

Singing with and to, playing rhythm games, and making up inane rhymes and joyful tunes – these all help prepare the child for learning and receiving what the world has to offer them, and indeed, what they have to offer the world.

So, should I be getting a specialist to do this with my child?  Possibly, if you’re wanting your 3-year-old to be NZSO material only!  Realistically my answer is no – you are the best person to give these early experiences to your child.  You, the significant adult, are best able to communicate the joy of life to your own child.

If we all did this a little more with our children, rather than being scared of stuffing it up or singing out of tune (because that actually doesn’t matter for real, heart music), I can’t help but imagine what a different place we’d help create.

I realise I have focused a lot here on talking about the early years.  You may be saying “Well, it’s too late for that!”  In some senses, once the child gets past certain sensitive periods in life, the full potency of those periods can never be fully recovered.

But I sincerely believe it is never too late to begin doing music with your child.  Any such activity can only help to increase both your child’s and your own sense of joy in life.

Grace and courtesy in the primary school

By Tania Gaffney–Deputy Principal Primary

As ākonga enter into their primary years they become a much more social being; they are also testing limits and are developing their independence.  As a result of this, grace and courtesy becomes very social, a negotiated construct within the community, yet still guided by the adult.

Standing alongside grace and courtesy is another term you will hear in the Montessori community–‘freedom with limits or responsibilities’. The limits or responsibilities are often the grace and courtesies that we need, to be able to get on in society–in this case, our school or class.  Mario Montessori Jr. said of freedom, “One can only speak of a true community when each member of the group feels sufficiently free to be himself or herself, while simultaneously restricting his or her own freedom for the sake of adjustment to the group. It is in seeking an optimal solution to this tension between personal independence and dependence on the group that the social being is formed.”  We can all struggle with this at times! Each area of the school plays its part in helping the child develop him or herself socially.

In primary, ākonga are emerging into independence for the first time, pulling away from adults in their lives and wanting to be with their peers more; looking outside of themselves for the first time, but often with a foot in both camps–self and others., Interactions therefore can be fraught as children begin to figure out and negotiate how they will be with each other. “What Freedoms will I insist on?” and, “What shall I adjust?” or, “What grace and courtesy will I use for the sake of my friends and classmates?” They (and in fact, many people) don’t always get it right especially at the beginning of this journey which is when we need to sit down, talk and negotiate to find a way through.

Much of what we do in the primary years is helping the child, both overtly and covertly to develop their grace and courtesy, e.g.

– setting up and negotiating the class rules at the beginning of the year;
– discussing etiquette around lessons or eating or setting up your work space;
– small role plays by the teacher or children about the many different aspects of class life (humour is often used at this age);
– regular class meetings where issues are discussed and solutions found;
– setting up the community jobs; and
– even when telling stories, we may be expressing gratitude for those that have gone before us.

A great persuader to using your grace and courtesy or thinking about your responsibility in the class is your peers–far more than the adult’s influence. This is why whenever possible so much is done in the social setting at the primary age.