A study exploring preschool children’s musical play, definitions of play, means of musical play, play routines, play companions and the role of the adult in children’s play.
The present study explored preschool children’s musical play focusing on the role of the practitioner through the analysis of data collected by questionnaires and interviews with children and teachers in early childhood centres of Athens, Greece. Based on Froebel’s notion of the importance of children’s development through free play, the study aimed to investigate the teacher-learner interactions and the level and nature of teachers’ input in children’s play.
Themes revealed and discussed include definitions of play, means of musical play, play routines, play companions and the role of the adult in children’s play.
Findings demonstrate a misunderstanding on behalf of the teachers of some basic aspects of play, like freedom, as well as contradictions between children’s and teachers’ understanding and practices. Although practitioners acknowledge in theory different issues related to play, they do not always encourage free play in practice and they usually adopt the role of an observer instead of a partner. Children’s voice for more free play is reinforced, as well their need for a higher level of adult involvement in their play activities.
Many educators have emphasised the importance of play for children’s development and wellbeing from different perspectives: to facilitate educational goals by allowing children to apply their knowledge and examine their ideas (e.g. Froebel, 2005), or as a means of emotional and cognitive development (e.g. Vygotsky, 1933; Piaget, 1962). Froebel (2005) describes three types of play: i) ‘imitations of life and of the phenomena of actual life’, ii) ‘spontaneous applications of what has been learned at school’, and iii) ‘spontaneous products of the mind’ (p.303). Music has a place in all the above types. During the first years of life musical play mainly develops in various forms of vocalisations, singing and movement. Children incorporate a variety of music elements into their play: rhythm, melody, timbre, tempo, dynamics, as well as patterns of phrasing, repetition, opening and closure. Dramatic, role and pretend play, play a substantial role in children’s development, and are widely adopted by early childhood curriculums (Fumoto & Robson, 2012).
Musical Play and Creativity
Duffy (2006) discusses the common characteristics that creativity and play share, among them the ability ‘to explore new ideas’, ‘to cope with uncertainty’, to discover multiple solutions (divergent thinking), to create and recreate (pp. 24-25). In addition, play enhances skills essential for creativity, such as flexibility and problem-solving ability. Intrinsic motivation can promote creativity and flow experience (Csikszentmihàlyi, 1997, Custodero, 2011) and children’s early attempts to be creative in music are process oriented. However, the flow experience can easily be affected by the adults’ nature of intervention (Custodero, 1998). Play is by nature a creative process, especially when it develops within conditions that allow free expression and spontaneity.
The Adult's Role in Musical play
Self-initiated musical play can be promoted when children are allowed a free educational environment that offers plenty of stimuli. A school environment that encourages autonomy and flexibility can facilitate not only children’s play processes but also the development of their creative thinking (Koutsoupidou, 2008; Koutsoupidou & Hargreaves, 2009), which is a major goal of education. According to Froebel, play allows children ‘to think flexibly, to adopt what they know, try out different possibilities and reach abstract levels of functioning’ (Bruce, 2004, p. 132). Froebel (2005) argues about the importance of children’s development through free play acknowledging the child’s ‘desire to seek and find the new, to see and discover the hidden’ (p. 105). A child’s perception of the new and the interesting may well differ from that of an adult (Kangas, 2010). The adult-child interaction as component of play activities may have a positive effect on skill development in different cognitive domains. In a Vygotskian perspective (Vygotsky, 1978) based on the zone of proximal development, it becomes apparent that the practitioner needs to take an active role in the play and learning process to help children develop their full potential. Adults at school settings can promote creative play by ensuring a rich play environment in terms of stimuli, resources and materials (Tarnowski, 1999).
Aims, Methodology and Design
Littleton (1998), when discussing children’s musical play, expressed her desire to ask young children about their own experiences and feelings regarding musical play. An attempt to investigate the children’s perspective was more recently made by Marsh (2010), yet not particularly on musical play. In addition, there has been inadequate research exploring preschool teachers’ perspectives regarding play in early years education and the different roles they can adopt as educators. To fill the gaps in the literature the present study addressed the following questions:
- What are early years practitioners’ perceptions and practices regarding musical play?
- How do early years practitioners consider their own role and input within children’s play?
- How do children (aged four to five) understand musical play and what do they believe about their teachers’ role/s when playing?
The study consisted of three phases. Phase A (teacher survey) aimed to explore the nature of musical play in Greek early childhood settings through questionnaires addressed to preschool teachers (N=50). Phase B (interviews with teachers) served as a complimentary approach to the survey and focused on children’s musical play during their stay at early childhood centres, as observed by teachers (N=8). Phase C (interviews with children) aimed to investigate children’s understanding and practices of musical play within the school setting (N=11). Quantitative data of Phase A were coded and statistically analysed. Data of Phases B and C were transcribed and analysed using thematic analysis.