Learning on the Move

This morning, I have been watching the students playing together in the playground, one is spinning in a circle, creating a narrative about a princess as she twirls. The other group of students are jumping in and out, climbing up and down at the jungle gym as a guard at a castle in the story.  What seems like a simple story involves sequencing, character development, and empathy for the brave princess stuck in the tower.

This kind of experiential learning, in which children acquire knowledge by doing and via reflection on their experiences, is full of movement, creativity, and imagination.

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Movement allows children to connect concepts to action and to learn through trial and error.  Research has shown time and again that children need opportunities to move in class. Memory and movement are linked, and the body is a tool of learning, not a roadblock to or a detour away from it.  Ben Mardell, a professor of early-childhood education at Lesley University and the project director of the Pedagogy of Play initiative at Harvard’s Project Zero, observes that even when adults do incorporate play into learning, they often do so in a way that restricts free movement and agency. “The idea that there should be formal instruction makes it no longer play,” says Mardell. “In play the player is choosing to participate, choosing a goal, and directing and formulating the rules. When there is an adult telling the kids, ‘This is what we are supposed to do,’ many of the important developmental benefits of play get lost.”

Creativity is one of the most essential tools for a child to develop. However, the education specialist Sir Ken Robinson says that our current systems of early education are killing creativity. We often punish kids for making mistakes and discourage them from acting or being different. Current education emphasizes imitation, memorization, fixed rules, and pre-established formulas and beliefs about the way the world should work. Children need to learn to follow directions, to know how to replicate what they see and hear, and to be able to participate in coordinated group activities, but those practices do little to encourage creativity.

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Unfortunately, children restricted to those frameworks alone will have a much more challenging time coming up with new ideas, mastering self-expression or finding innovative solutions to problems on their own.  The good news is that we can help turn this around through music, especially by integrating music back into the education. In addition to stimulating creativity, music can help contribute to the development of a more creative mind.

Playing music – especially improvisation, and creating music – musical composition, are highly engaging processes that activate multiple areas of the brain and help us to develop greater creative capacity.

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Simply listening to music can help relax us, and relaxation is key to creativity. Jonah Lehrer, a neuroscientist and author of the bestselling book Imagine, says that moments of insight, or creative moments, usually correspond to a steady rhythm of alpha waves emanating from the brain’s right hemisphere. And that is stimulated by relaxation. Why is a relaxed state of mind so important for creative insights?” he writes. “When our minds are at ease, when those alpha waves are rippling through the brain, we’re more likely to direct the spotlight of attention inward. In contrast, when we are diligently focused, our attention tends to be directed outward.”  And Lehrer agrees that one of the oldest and most widely available resources to help the mind relax is music. Music can alter the state of our brainwaves, as well as trigger neurotransmitters, like dopamine, that alter our mood and reward us for creative breakthroughs.

Music can also help stimulate our imagination, one of the key components of the creative process. Just now, you may listen to a song that you and your child which shift your mood, create images in your mind, impact your limbic brain and open you up to new ideas.  Have a nice musical day!

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