Sep. 14, 2012 Driving down the road, Lisa Huisman Koops, from Case Western Reserve University, bursts into song.
"I see a red car. What do you see?" Her young daughter in the back seat sings her reply.
The Koops' car is more than transportation. It's what the assistant professor in music education calls a music play zone -- a dedicated space where children can make music.
But music play zones aren't just physical places. They can be times of day or emotional moments in life, accompanied with instrumental or vocal music. They can be as simple as moments, like singing, "Heigh Ho! Heigh Ho! It's off to work we go" as children pick up toys.
"Through musical play, children can develop tonal and rhythmic skills, express musical ideas, create compositions, and connect and develop various musical building blocks, both individually, with peers and adults," Koops reports in an article accepted for publication in the fall issue of Perspectives: The Journal of the Early Childhood Music and Movement Association.
In her article, "Creating Music Play Zones for Children," Koops offers ways parents and teachers can help children make music and develop a lifelong love for the art.
Koops came to these methods by working with a group of 12 preschool parents and their children, from newborns to age 3 in her music and movement class at The Music Settlement, and then in "Music Play Zone" classes with the same children as 4- to 6-year-olds. She analyzed videotapes of class and home activities to see what encourages or inhibits children from participating in music activities.
Even in hectic lives and busy schedules, parents can integrate music into daily life by providing age-appropriate, dynamic and safe environments and motivation to be musical, Koops says.
A music play zone can start as a space on a blanket, and over the years develop into a teen's room equipped with technology to record or compose.
Spaces don't have to elaborate or fixed. They can begin as a happy burst of a playful tune, like the one Koops had with her daughter on the way home, a moment to quell tears when comforting an upset child, the spontaneous and raucous banging out a rhythm on pots or pans, or a formal space filled with noisemakers from toy keyboards, microphones and instruments (horns and shakers), and CD and MP3 players.
Like parents modeling reading, Koops found the same is true in learning music: "Children learn that 'musicking' is a natural part of our lives."
No operatic skills needed. "Even if mom or dad sings out off key, it's okay," assures Koops. "Children learn they do not have be perfect or polished to enjoy singing or playing an instrument."
For parents, it isn't just learning the latest Barney hits, but sharing their music interests, from classical to jazz to religious.
Through her research in music education, Koops has set out to make music more meaningful for children and empower parents with ways to make it happen.
Over four years, she worked with parents on creating these fixed, emotional or temporal spaces. Teachers in the classroom also can adopt these music spaces in the classroom.
One family did a variety of musical exercises. Some were incorporated into the family's routines and others were free, unstructured musical playtime for children to experiment.
Koops advises parents to take "cues from what your child likes."
She says some children like to make music alone, while others like to be in the middle of a family sing-along. Some children are conductors, even at a young age, and like to direct the music activities as part of their development.
Parents need to balance participating in the activity from taking control away from the child, she says. You know you've possibly done the latter, she says, if the child loses interest in the activity.
But the message she hopes that parents and teachers take away from all of this is that music is important, and it starts young, Koops says.
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