Faculty Focus is an ongoing series, featuring articles written by Heartwood’s own panel of experts. This installment comes from Children’s House assistant Lynda Dawson.
Every human group loves music. Each creates its own music, just as it does its own language. Each group responds to its own music by bodily movements and accompanies it with words.
None of the animals have music and dancing, but the whole of mankind, in all its parts of the world, knows and makes up dances and songs.
~ Maria Montessori, “The Absorbent Mind”
Whether you believe you are musical or not, music is part of being human–it belongs to us just as language belongs to us. Who doesn’t feel the shared connection of witnessing a live concert together or singing in unison with a group of friends?
We can all speak our native tongue because we were surrounded by people speaking it when we were in the young “absorbent mind” period (as Montessori calls it) of 0-6 years old. And we are all capable of making music—it just depends on whether we happen to be surrounded by people making music with us and encouraging us to be musical when we are in our formative years.
Learning the Language of Sound
Maria Montessori believed that art and music belong in the Montessori classroom just as math and language belong there, equally as part of our cultural birthright. She developed lessons and materials to help children absorb music sounds and symbols in the same way they absorb letter sounds and symbols.
Montessori felt the first step in music is to engage the child’s love and appreciation of it, so we bring good music into the routines of our classrooms every day. We sing songs together, do small and large movement along with songs and rhyme, “walk on the line” with music to develop gross motor skills, and play basic rhythm instruments with the children.
This fosters a love of music as well as a “conversational” ability which can be taken even further with some of the thoughtful materials Montessori developed to help children make the connection between the symbols of music notation and the patterns of the sounds and rhythms we make.
A Movable Alphabet of Music
A set of Montessori bells allows a child to strike a note, listen, match and recognize pitch in the correct sequence of notes for a C major scale. Wooden discs shaped like notes with do, re, mi etc. printed on them can be placed at the foot of each bell according to their pitch so the child becomes aware of notes as symbols of sounds.
Scale-boards, combined with the note discs like a “movable alphabet of music,” allow children to teach themselves the notes in the scale on the treble and bass staffs. And once an understanding of the musical alphabet starts to develop, the children can begin to place the note discs on the staff boards to purposefully compose and read melodies, and then play their own compositions out loud on the bells to hear what their musical sentences sound like.
Embracing A Cultural Birthright
Exposure, curiosity, lessons, experimentation and freedom to work independently with Montessori’s music materials can bring about a spontaneous and joyful understanding of the language of music.
I truly believe we are all musical; it is part of our human legacy, and the key to unlocking this part of ourselves is how much time and effort we spend in joyful curiosity exploring the world of music first-hand and from the inside out.
Lynda says, “I’ve been teaching with Becki in the Children’s House at Heartwood since 2016 and I love coming to work every day. Montessori philosophy is in perfect alignment with the way my husband Jamie and I live and the way we raise our daughters: Claire spent ages 3 – 6 at Heartwood and my daughter Ella started at 18 months old. Prior to my work in the classroom I was a touring bluegrass and Americana artist. I am still a songwriter and perform on occasion around town and teach at the PineCone bluegrass songwriting and jam camps in Cary each summer. I also have an original children’s album called Seeds To Sow released by my mom-musician duo Little Root. Beyond teaching, music and family I love yoga, knitting and my morning cup of tea.”