Shared singing with a close carer is an important learning resource

PIP Going for a Song

Shared singing with a carer with whom a child is securely attached is an important learning resource, says Anne O’Connor…

Orson (age two) is sitting at the table with his mother. He is fascinated by spiders and loves singing songs about them, especially if they are scary. He is very familiar with the rhyme ‘Insey Winsey Spider’ and there is a toy spider on the table in front him.

He focuses on mum’s face and mirrors what she is doing with her fingers. He sings along, and although some of his words are indistinct, he is engrossed in behaving as a ‘singer’. The words with most emphasis and repetition are the ones he is able to sing accurately. Mum and Orson maintain eye contact all the time and their facial expressions both show high levels of involvement.

1 It might be hard to believe for some of us, but we are all born musical. The urge to sing is innate and babies begin to experiment with their voice from their earliest sounds.

Being sung to is something that most of us experience very early on in our lives, because singing to babies seems to comes easily and spontaneously – and is rewarded with smiles and rapturous attention, regardless of whether or not we have sung in key and can remember all the words. This seems to be common in all cultures, and because it is universal we can assume that music and singing have important evolutionary and biological links with human learning and development.

Our brains seem to be wired to respond to music, even when there is profound hearing loss. This seems also to be linked with the instinctive way that adults often speak to babies and young children, which is known as ‘parentese’ and is recognisable by its ‘sing-song’ inflection and pitch. The high-pitched sound and its specific acoustic qualities seem to be just right for a baby’s ears.

2 Some researchers have suggested that songs and rhymes (together with story and dance) can be seen as ‘tools for thinking’ (Egan 1988; Rogoff 2003) and that children often use them to help make sense of the world and as part of a thought process.

Even as adults, we sometimes find ourselves humming as we go about a task or ponder a problem. We can see the same thing in the work of the pre-schools of Reggio Emilia in Italy. Here they talk about the ‘hundred languages of childhood’ – the many different ways that children make sense of the world and translate an idea from one ‘language’ or mode of representation, to another. This is what Orson is doing as he makes links with the ‘hands on’ toy spider in front of him and the words, melody and actions of the spider in the song his mother sings with him. His brain may also be connecting with other spider experiences he has had – in stories, in pictures, on the television, as well as the real-life version. The Reggio approach seeks to recognise and makes good use of all these different creative possibilities for representation, in the firm belief that it supports learning and development.

 Going for a Song

Article written by Anne O’Connor and published in Nursery World ©

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