Image courtesy of Alec Duncan, ChildsPlayMusic.com.au
In the same way that children learn through ample free exploration and play with blocks, dramatic play and story props, or building materials, they learn about sound and music as well. For most, making music is a social activity to be created and enjoyed with others.
Outdoor music spaces are much more than music making!
Not only can music making provide a means of personal expression and community building, it offers many opportunities to engage in creative problem solving, pro-social skills, and collaboration. Ideally, outdoor music spaces should involve a good deal of advance discussion and planning before it is introduced as an option for exploration. This process encourages careful listening, communicating ideas, and follow through.
Whether you can include students in the planning process or need to develop this on your own, use these questions to guide your planning:
- What would make this space an activity to be enjoyed repeatedly?
- What songs might they like to sing and play in such a space? Ask students to help you make a Playlist to get them started!
- What movements could accompany the music?
- What rules are needed to ensure safety, turn-taking, proper care of materials, and fun? Rules are ideally created as a class to encourage understanding and empowerment to use the space as intended.
- What kinds of instruments might work for this?
- Engage students in brainstorming ideas for appropriate material, what they might do with them, and where you might find the supplies.
- Where could that happen outdoors?
The planning process with children fosters a positive, considerate community learning environment!
Introducing Outdoor Music
Before introducing the materials, let the children provide a review of any rules that have been set for safe use of materials, where the space will be maintained, and proper storage of materials when they are not in use. Otherwise, let the children’s exploration be the guide for how materials are used. Address safety concerns as they arise, either individually or as a group. Adjusting expectations, use, rules and materials as you observe children engaging in the music space is to be expected and encouraged!
- While it is ideal to observe student engagement in natural sound and movement creation, you may enhance their experiences by drawing attention to their expression with a few well-timed questions:
- That’s an interesting sound. How did you make it?
- What other ways could you accompany your song?
- That sound/song makes me feel like ____ (jumping, hopping, skipping, etc). What does it make you feel like doing?
- What happens if two (or more) of you play the same song together? The same song starting at different times? What does it sound like when you play different songs at the same time? What do you think sounds best? Why?
- How does it sound when ___ plays ___ along with you? Why?
- What other things could we add to our sound wall? What else is outside that could be used here, too?
- Can you “sing” a song without using any words? How?
- ___ wants to try using the ___. Can you show them one way you have used that? (Child demonstrates). ___, can you show him a new way to use ___?
While the opportunities to create and express through sound are endless, and the children will generally find their own methods of making music, here are a few suggestions to get them started:
Surround Sound: Natural and man-made sounds are everywhere, all the time. Encourage children to be still and listen briefly. Ask them to identify various sounds they heard, and then recreate them using the materials you have. Have them repeat (echo) any noticeable beat or rhythm they hear (i.e., wind flapping a loose piece of plastic, the constant k-k-k-k-k of a jackhammer).
Guess the Sound: Record the children making music for 5 minutes. Once inside, replay the recording and ask students to try to identify the varying sounds. What items were used to create that sound? How was it created?
Sound Illustrations: Provide a book that includes many animals, natural or man-made sounds in the storyline. As you read, invite children to create the sound effects using the instruments on hand.
From Noise to Joy!
Not only are the opportunities unlimited for making outdoor music and learning about sound, so are the social, emotional and brain benefits. In creating sounds and songs with peers, children naturally.
- develop listening and communication skills
- improve turn-taking, patience and cooperation
- increase working memory and focus
- extend and control self-expression
- gain self-confidence
All while having fun connecting more neural pathways from the combination of physical, auditory and expressive areas of the brain. As a universal language, this kind of music making is easily adapted to the needs of all learners of all languages. Let outdoor music making create joyful noises for all of your sound engineers this summer!
Duncan, Alec. Take the Music Outside and Play.
Scholastic. Outdoor Activities: Movement and Music Making
Picture Books about sounds:
Beaumont, Karen. Wild About Us!
Brown, Dan. Wild Symphony.
Goldsaito, Katrina. The Sound of Silence.
Mills, J. Elizabeth. The Spooky Wheels on the Bus.
Rosenstock, Barb. The Noisy Paintbox: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art.
Odanaka,Barbara. Smash! Mash! Crash! There Goes the Trash!
Underwood, Deborah. The Loud Book!
Books for children about the science of sound:
Pfeffer, Wendy. Sounds All Around.
Trumbauer, Lisa. All About Sound.
Waring, Geoff. Oscar and the Bat.
Recorded music to inspire outdoor music making:
Putamayo Kids. Animal Playground.
Putamayo Kids. World Music CD Set of 7.
Sing Along Stories (4 books & CDs of familiar songs).
Lisa Heintz, M.Ed., is an educator with over 25 years of experience supporting learners from toddlers to adults, and owner of Little Songbird: Songs for Learning, a site that provides quality children’s music and book recommendations for PreK-grade 3 educators. She stays “green and growing” by volunteering in community and school projects that focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, as well as with the Children’s Music Network. She is fascinated by birds of all sorts, loves cats, and is the proud mom of a son who is a shining example of what intentional teaching and parenting can do for children with disabilities. Connect with Lisa at Lisa@LittleSongbird.com.