It’s summer! Time to enjoy being outside and taking in the sights and sounds of our world. An early morning walk through the neighborhood provides a great opportunity to expand appreciation of sound. The intermingling songs of the birds are the background music for the walk. Careful listening reveals the variety of unique songs sung by birds. Listen for the back and forth conversations. Does a woodpecker always make a burst of seven sounds? As the rest of the world awakens, other sounds join the chorus. Listen for voices, dogs barking, cats meowing. Find other sounds of nature such as water running and man-made sounds such as passing cars or trucks. Walk near a lake and listen for insects, frogs, fish jumping, and ducking quacking. A busy farmer’s market or even a shopping mall provide completely different sound experiences. The sounds around us are often just a backdrop; a Sound Walk provides a time to zoom in on sounds of our environment.
American 19th century artist, Village by the River, late 19th century, National Gallery, Washington, D.C. Suggestion: Talk about sounds that might be heard if you could step into this painting. Compare these with what you heard on your Sound Walk.
Take time to listen, discuss, and perhaps locate the sources of sounds that you hear. Use your voices to imitate sounds. Extend this exploration of sound by creating simple sound-makers. Place a small handful of dried beans, rice, or pennies into small plastic containers (old-fashioned film canisters are perfect) with tight-fitting (or glued shut) lids to eliminate a chocking hazard. Talk about the sounds. What makes louder sounds? What is causing the sound? How are they different from each other? For younger children, make two of each type of sound-maker so that children can “match” the sounds. This game focuses and develops listening skills. Get out the pots, pans and various strikers, such as a wooden spoon and a metal spoon. How does the choice of a striker affect the sound? How long can you hear the sound after striking the pan lid? Such questions not only promote conversation, they help children attend to what they are hearing.
Suggestion: Encourage your child to imitate the sounds made animals, cars, rain, thunder…
If possible, share some traditional instruments with your children. Play instruments to accompany singing or to play a beat for marching. Try having the children shut their eyes while you play a sound on one of the instruments. A child then selects the instrument heard. Connecting sounds to their sources becomes a game. A variation on this is to have the children shut their eyes while you play a sound from different locations in the room. Listeners point to the location from which the sound was made. This engagement with sounds deepens interest in sound sources and sound production.
In many communities, summer is a time for free, outdoor concerts. This is a great opportunity for the whole family. Younger children are free to dance, move or even conduct the ensemble with or without a parent/grandparent’s help. Recently, Mary’s 21 month-old grandson was absolutely spellbound by street performers; he was glued to the scene for 45 minutes. When he got home, he “converted” his toy guitar into a violin in order to continue his new choice in music! Keep the interest building by playing more violin music to build those listening skills. Yes, music helps to increase children’s attention spans and expand their horizons.
Early experiences with music and sound build a love of music that can contribute to expanded brain development. Through Boston Children’s Hospital, Nadine Gaab and her team of Harvard University researchers have just released results of a preliminary study of musicians and non-musicians (ages 9-12 and ages18-35) related to their development of “executive skills,” especially cognitive flexibility, working memory and processing speed. Neurological mapping of their brains showed that the musicians won. See http://www.plosone.org/article/fetchObject.action?uri=info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0099868&representation=PDF
The simple beginnings outlined above begin building a relationship with sound that can lead to a lifelong engagement with music as well as to increased brain function. Arts Integration isn’t limited to what happens in classrooms. When we shine a spotlight on the arts within our daily lives, we are engaged in a form of arts integration. We urge you to “think arts” in your summer interactions with the children you love.
Enjoy the Sounds of Summer!
Mary and Susan