Music rules in special creative and experimental ”play zones”

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 is what the assistant professor in music education calls a music play zone—a dedicated space where children can make music.

Music play zones aren’t just physical places, however. They can be times of day or emotional moments in life, accompanied with instrumental or vocal music. They can even be 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 reported in her article, “Creating Music Play Zones for Children,” published in the fall issue of Perspectives: The Journal of the Early Childhood Music and Movement Association.

Her article offered ways in which 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, ranging from newborns to age 3, in her music and movement class at The Music Settlement. She continued her research in “Music Play Zone” classes with the same children as 4- to 6-year-olds. She analyzed videotapes of class and home activities to discover what encourages or inhibits children from participating in music activities.

Through her research, Koops aims to make music more meaningful for children and empower parents with ways to make it happen—starting with the parents getting involved. Like parents modeling reading, Koops found the same is true in learning music: “Children learn that ‘musicking’ is a natural part of our lives.”

So even with hectic lives and busy schedules, parents can integrate music by providing age-appropriate, dynamic, and safe environments to be musical. A music play zone doesn’t have to be elaborate or fixed. It can start as a space on a blanket and, as the child grows, can develop into a teen’s room, equipped with technology to record or compose.

Further, spaces can be created from a happy burst of a playful tune, a moment to quell tears when comforting an upset child, or even the spontaneous and raucous banging on pots and pans.

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.

Koops advises parents to take “cues from what your child likes”—some children like to make music alone, while others like to be in the middle of a family sing-a-long.  Other children are conductors, even at a young age, and like to direct the music activities as part of their development.

Parents simply need to balance their own participation with taking control away from the child, she said. Parents should know they’ve possibly done the latter, she said, if the child loses interest in the activity.

But the main message she hopes parents and teachers take away from her research is that music is important, and it starts young, Koops said.