The Child As Curriculum: A Framework for Early Childhood Practice
In the Fall of 1998 we began a concentration in early childhood music for graduate students at Teachers College. The curriculum includes courses such as "Young Children's Musical Development," which addresses current research with a special focus on the natural music making capacities of the young child; and "Designing Musical Experiences for Young Children," where appropriate guidelines and strategies for teacher / parent interactions are explored. Since we have many music students with performance degrees, we also offer a class called "Instrumental Pedagogy for Young Children," which applies constructivist principles and techniques (including exploration, improvisation, and composition) to the process of teaching children to play an instrument.
Among the most rewarding experiences is our work with children from 7 months to 5 years of age at the Rita Gold Early Childhood Center on the TC campus. With three groups: infants; toddlers;and preschoolers, our conceptual framework is the same -- The Child is the Curriculum. Once a week my students and I visit each room for 30-45 minutes. The caregivers are very much a part of the experience; participation on the part of the children is always voluntary. With the younger groups we have developed a repertoire of songs, chants, circle games, and familiar recordings for movement. Scarves, small rhythm instruments, books to sing, plastic microphones, and any classroom objects of interest that particular day become part of the music making. The sequence of activities (or play episodes) is determined by the children -- whatever they seem interested in becomes the musical material of the moment; episodes may last for 10 seconds or 10 minutes.
With the preschool group, our experiences are more structured. We enter the environment with a plan of how our time might be spent and it inevitably changes based on the significant life-themes of the day. Each constellation of children presents a different set of cognitive and affective needs; Children move, sing, and play instruments to demonstrate their understandings; they also improvise and perform their own scores depicting these elements. Every class involves some dramatic narrative involving class members or musical characters we invent. Our singing and moving repertoire involves a myriad of styles and genres.
Reports are collected from caregivers and parents and each class is videotaped for later analysis and reflection; several students are working on case studies of individual children. What we know is that music is meaningful in these children's lives - both at school and at home. Caregivers and parents are aware of their children's musical behaviors and are encouraging children's active engagement. Through study, research, and practice we are creating important contexts for college students to learn more about young children's music making and how to nurture lifelong access to the artistic process both in themselves and in the children they will teach.