The importance of free exploration of sound
While I am all for concentrated, focused practice on an instrument, and tailored instruction to meet those needs, this post is a shout-out for musical playtime in an environment stripped of expectations or special exercises. Learning is child's play, and I love it when sound itself can be explored. Let's look at a few examples of how such an environment can be created.
One of the things I have been thrilled to see as a music educator and parent is how new playgrounds themselves are incorporating musical instruments into their design. Metal chimes are one of the most common instrument because they are sturdy and can handle the weather better than others, although I have seen plastic and wood percussion as well. If there is an instrument at one of your local parks, I encourage you to play with it yourself next time you go to the playground. That is one of the best ways to invite your children to explore making music. I have often seen the chimes neglected at the park, but after playing Twinkle, Twinkle, nearby kids will come lining up for a chance to play.
If you get a chance, the Rotary Park in Moab, Utah is one of the best percussion playgrounds I know of.
Children's Museums are another place where musical play has become a common theme. The Treehouse Museum in Ogden, Utah that we used to frequent has an entire section devoted to hands-on musical play, and I've heard similar things about many others. Two museums I would really love to visit are the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad, California (located right next to Legoland), and the Cincinatti Children's Museum. Remo Saraceni, most famous for his walking piano featured in the movie "Big", created many of the exhibits there. He's one of my heroes.
Instrument Petting Zoos
This is one that takes a little more resources and funding to pull off, but I've seen more and more petting zoos pop up in recent years and I think they're awesome. Sometimes they hosted by a group of music teacher volunteers who bring the instruments that they teach, allowing children to try out not just percussion, but also strings, woodwinds, and brass. One of my favorite examples of a petting zoo was pulled off by a music teacher during a parent-teacher conference. How cool is that? As a homeschooling parent, I would love to attend something like this and throw it out there as a fundraising idea for public school music teachers (or anyone else!) who may have the resources to pull something like this off. Make it available to the community and they will come!
Musical Playtime at Home
So far the examples I've shared have all involved buckling the kids up and taking them somewhere, but musical playtime can (and should!) happen at home too! From homemade percussion contraptions made of buckets and pans, to musical toys in the toybox, there are lots of ways to encourage free-time music exploration. Just having a piano and allowing the children to fiddle around on the keys (no pun intended) will foster musical growth.
So go out there and play!