Summary

Involves the various skills, knowledge, vocabulary and personal characteristics that enable a child to move on to formal learning situations.

Any and every activity or experience has a contribution to make.

Some children need special help and attention.

They will only benefit from this if it is made enjoyable.

The child who constantly fails will go on failing unless the adult grades activities to ensure a reasonable degree of success.

The child who never fails is being under-challenged. He will be bored.

Adults can encourage the necessary repetition by providing the same activity in different forms.

Home-made equipment is often very effective — but it must be produced to a high standard.

Careful presentation and grading of activities may be all that is necessary.

If more than this is needed use commonsense and tact. Consider each child as an individual whose needs are constandy changing.

If outside help is necessary find the right person to give the right kind of help for each individual child – this is what deprivation and handicap compensation is all about.

Every child should get his share of adult attention. Those who need most should get more.

An adequate ratio of adults to children is vital.

There are many opportunities within the daily round to expand language, conversation and vocabulary.

Some special activities and projects are more valuable from this point of view than the end product they produce.

The effect of widespread and successful nursery education is inevitably going to be felt in the early years in infant school. 9. Music for Young Children

Many adults when asked about music say that they are un-musical, cannot sing, are tone-deaf, did once try to play an instrument but gave up, or ‘ I enjoy it but know nothing about it.’ A foreigner taking all this at face-value might well imagine we live in a culture in which only very few people have music available to them. In fact never before has there been such a variety of music – we can turn on a radio, television set, record player or tape recorder, either choosing the type of music ourselves or accepting someone else’s choice. The efficiency of modern electronic and amplification systems sometimes makes turning the knob unnecessary as other people’s music envelops us willing or no. It must be only the totally deaf or the very determined who escape hearing music. As at least one student in every group says, ‘It all depends on what you mean by music’

If we start from where the very young baby starts and think about what music means to him we can see there is no need for the defeatist, apologetic attitude so often assumed by adults. Even a young baby will be interested by a simple song with soothing words and melody. As he grows older he may learn about tone, pitch, rhythm, harmony and counterpoint or he may not. He listens now because it is a pleasant noise. If at the same time as singing someone holds him close and makes him fee] warm and comfortable his general feeling of well-being makes the noise more pleasant and meaningful and the next time he hears singing he is even more disposed to enjoy it.

Starting from this very basic definition, pleasant noise with pleasant associations, appreciation of music may well start in the first week of life. Babies soon learn to recognize the sound of food being prepared when they are hungry, the door being opened when they have just woken up and feel lonely, the noise of a rattle or bell being shaken to amuse them when they are miserable. When they are old enough to engineer noises for themselves they experiment for long periods. Most mothers at some time have been driven almost beyond endurance by the nine-month-old child banging a wooden spoon on a tin lid or an older child deliberately banging bricks together. Gentle attempts at distraction by offering a rattle or something quieter are totally disregarded. At that particular point in time that is the ‘music’ which interests him and he makes it over and over again until he is sure that this particular sound is going to happen every time. He may gradually notice that rectangular bricks make a different noise if he uses different surfaces to bang together, that a wooden spoon and tin lid make a big crash but the same spoon hitting an up-turned plastic bowl does not sound at all the same. He will not be able to think of it as a ‘hollow’ noise until he has hit many hollow objects and someone has said to him ‘that’s a noise isn’t it?’

At this stage the most useful help the adult can give is to provide children with interesting noise-makers, or let them keep for a while the things they find for themselves, enjoy the noise with them and talk about it. Try bought rattles, or make simple rattles from tins containing different materials with the lid firmly taped down; children will enjoy all kinds of hollow containers made from different materials (obviously they must be non-breakable) to hit with a spoon or stick, long cardboard tubes to hit other things with, safe bell toys, squeaky toys, two different lengths of the same wood to hit with a piece of dowel-ling and perhaps a chime bar – not all at the same time, of course, and they must be safe for his age and stage. Talk about the everyday noises to be heard in the home – ‘That was a squeaky/loud/soft/gentle/harsh noise wasn’t it?’; ‘it was the door hinge squeaking/door banging/paper rustling/curtain blowing in the wind/kettle whistling’, or whatever.

Singing to very small children is valuable from the learning/ teaching point of view. Because they find sound interesting they will listen which means one can attract and keep their attention, even distract them from a less desirable activity. The fretful child can be induced to forget his misery, the cross child will forget his frustration (although this does not always work with older children — singing to a three-year-old in a temper tantrum could well result in an even more violent reaction). While the adult is singing and the baby listening there is a mutual awareness and communication between them which is the basis of social development. If we choose suitable songs where the rhythm is strong, the words simple and the tune easy, the baby begins to remember them and as his speech and voice control develop he can join in. This familiarity of knowing what is coming gives him confidence, the words increase his vocabulary and help him to use phrases and sentences even when his speech is still at the two-word-sentence stage. The sense of rhythm helps with a great deal of the development which is still to come.

Most mothers in fact do sing quite naturally to their small children even if they feel they do not sing well but quite often they have forgotten, or perhaps never knew many, baby songs. A century ago when families were large and the extended family lived close by there would always have been a baby to whom someone would sing nursery rhymes, so that there was little if any gap between a girl hearing them and then having her own baby to sing to. Nowadays with small families geographically separated from uncles, aunts, young cousins and grandmother there could well be a space of twenty years between hearing nursery songs and needing to remember them. It will be inter-esting to see in another century’s time if these time lags lead to changing the words and tunes of traditional songs. Fortunately for the mother who has forgotten, it is possible to buy records of nursery rhymes to remind herself of the wide variety there is. There are many available but the ones I have found most useful are the nursery-rhyme records by Wally Whyton. They give a large number of songs pleasantly and naturally rather than the ‘grand opera’ or sentimental style so often affected, and the rhythm and speed is just right. At best the mother can learn songs but if there is positively no singing voice in the household she could at least listen to the records with her children.

Many of the nursery songs play a valuable part in helping the baby with one of his first tasks – becoming aware of himself. We pat his feet as we sing ‘Shoe a little horse, shoe a little mare’, tickle his hand as we say ‘Round and round the garden’, wriggle his fingers as we play ‘This little piggy went to market’. We are entertaining him pleasurably and communicating with him but even more important we are helping him to learn where he ends and the world begins – that the objects he sees waving in front of his eyes are his hands and feet. As we tickle up the length of his arm or leg saying ‘Tickly under there’ he gains some idea of his limbs. After playing ‘Pat-a-cake’ often enough, clapping his hands together for him, he will gradually develop to the stage where he can clap his own hands and he will do it to us to make us play with him. Rhymes like ‘Two little eyes, one little nose’ and ‘Knock at the door, pull the bell,’ help babies to learn about the features they see on other people but do not realize they have themselves. All the songs like ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and ‘This is the way the ladies ride’, which involve bouncing, jiggling and a final bump, help babies to learn where they are in space and which way up they are. Gradually they absorb rather than learn that a fast bouncing song allows only for little bounces, that the big bumps and bounces they seem to enjoy most come when the song is sung slowly.

Probably the most universally popular game is the ‘Peek-a-boo’ one. This helps children learn that objects and people have a continuous presence, that they are still there even if out of sight. As children get a little older they can do the hiding but it takes a long time for them to learn that just covering their faces with their hands means only that they cannot see us and that to hide properly they must remove their presence totally from our sight.

At a later stage children love to hear the nursery rhymes which are really simple stories. They progress from just listening to adding the final word to the verse, then the final word to each line, then perhaps alternate lines or phrases until they can say the whole verse with us. They will often join in the actions we do even before they can say the words, so that the same rhymes and songs are enjoyed at every level. The competent, articulate four-year-old will be so confident with this material he will deliberately start altering it and make up his own ‘silly’ version for fun.

Most parents will have played ‘Ring o’ Roses’ with their small children at some time but ring games do not really come into their own until a much later stage. Most of them need a larger group of children than the home can provide regularly and frequently and while the children are capable of imitating actions they can only do it at their own pace and cannot keep up with a group. The right place for ‘The farmer’s in his den’ or ‘There was a princess long ago’ is probably with the older children in the nursery group.