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Diving Deeper - Physical Skills - By Taryn Wright

"You are the music while the music lasts" TS Elliot

This is a quote that has always resonated with me. I think we all know that feeling our favourite music elicits. The music takes over and there's that irresistible pull to tap, twirl or dance and a invigorating surge of energy that goes with it. It's a challenge to sit still when music comes on, as is demonstrated so wonderfully when we see babies bopping along to the beat and often perfectly in time.

The fact is there is a natural musician and dancer in us all. We are born with a predisposition to move to music. There is a great deal of research into music and movement, but in short it stimulates the cerebellum and pleasure centres of the brain. The cerebellum plays a role in co-ordination, timing, balance and precision and, when stimulated, enhances learning of physical skills. Studies have found that the more babies move to music and match the beat, the more they smile. The conclusion, music makes us happy and being happy makes us move.

So what could be better than to pair music and movement to assist in children's physical development? Using them in tandem provides a great reciprocity where our musical development is enhanced by movement and physical development is enhanced by music.

Mini Maestros classes are loaded with physical learning opportunities. Here's a brief insight into some of the ways in which our classes encourage children to learn through movement.

Finger plays are a great way to develop body awareness and motor control. Finger plays can be simple such as "This Little Pig" where you wiggle your child's finger/toes to assist in rhythmical awareness and body awareness, or like Tommy Thumb where children gain finger awareness independently. They can be even more complex as in Eency Weency Spider where children learn more advanced finger control and perform a variety of actions in the context of a story.

Percussion instruments are an integral component of our classes. For the younger children they provide opportunities for grasping and using larger movements of the arms and hands. As children get older they start to use instruments in response to contrasts such as loud/soft, fast/slow, thus learning how to adjust motor control to an external stimulus. Ostinati or rhythmical patterns add a new level of complexity in our 3 - 4 year old classes. Then the program introduces tuned percussion (chime bars) which provide further physical challenges for children to master. Pincer grip, hand-eye coordination, precision in motor control and crossing the mid-line of the body are among the skills learned during our 4 - 5 years chime bar activities.

Action songs and body percussion can be used to develop all kinds of gross and fine motor skills, and to internalise a sense of musical beat. Our body is the first musical instrument we encounter and by internalising beat children can learn to coordinate movements and interact with their environment in a purposeful way. Repetition is essential for children to master these skills and practising in a musical way ensures they enjoy the learning process. Our welcome songs are great examples of body percussion and actions. A ritual opening to the class, the welcome song is an energising beginning and provides opportunities for children to explore and practise their developing motor control.

Body percussion and partner work are also features of our classes that refine children's motor skills. Hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness are learned through interacting with with a partner, as is cross lateral movement which is so essential in developing neural pathways that help both sides of the brain coordinate in cognitive and physical ways. This is essential for tasks such as writing, reading and tracking with the eyes and even putting on socks and tying shoelaces. Simple songs and rhymes that encourage crawling are also a great stepping stone for crossing the mid-line. For example "I spied a spider" in our babies classes and acting out "The Old Grey Cat" for the older children.

This is just a glimpse into the ways in which music can enrich the physical learning of children. Our Mini Maestros teachers are always happy to explain the purpose of our songs and activities, so feel free to ask if you would like to know more. Most of all remember - we're all born natural musicians and dancers, so put on the music at home and get moving.

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