10 of the benefits of teaching diversity awareness through songs
Many adults believe that in order to share ‘teaching’ songs with young children, they themselves have to be really musical, and/or really good at singing. They really believe that if they don’t possess either of these skills, then they are not qualified to use songs to teach at all. And in fact they feel they ‘shouldn’t’ be doing so.
At Musicbuds we want to dispel that myth.
As we all know, diversity awareness is such an important skill to teach to young children, and there are many effective ways and means of doing so through song. Not only that, but because songs are time-bound (for this age group they last little more than 2 minutes or so) and very repetitive, they are an efficient way of presenting a message over and over again in one go. And because there is this opportunity for so much repetition, songs are a very good way of helping children internalise their learning in a very short space of time.
We are going to look at three overarching benefits of learning about diversity awareness through song in this post. The first benefit concerns the structure and content of a song itself: how it can be written and styled in order to support the development of musical diversity awareness in young learners.
Then we move on to understand how songs can encourage the development of individual and social diversity awareness in children: how they come to learn about themselves and others by singing descriptions of particular aspects of themselves and their peers.
Finally, we look at how songs, when they are delivered confidently and clearly, can support the teaching of diversity awareness effectively, efficiently and most of all, enjoyably, to young children. This isn’t something that many people tend to think about – the actual delivery of songs, and it is such an important aspect of effective teaching and learning.
1. How the songs have been structured in order to develop musical diversity awareness in children (and adults too!)
(i) Overall song structure
Here, the term ‘song structure’ refers to the skeleton of the song – the bones that give the song shape, energy, direction and movement. Our songs are structured in such a way as to provide:
- Strong predictability – they often contain a verse/chorus, with regular phrasing (‘musical sentencing’), which allows the children to begin to anticipate ‘what comes next’
- A strong underlying pulse (the ‘heartbeat’ of the song) which is divided into regular beats (usually 2,3 or 4 per bar – this is explained more fully through a video guide, situated within each song-resource)
- Measured repetition in both the lyrics and the melody. This helps to become easily familiarised with the each song
- ‘Spaced repetition’ (of words, actions, melody) – which also help with memory retention. Especially when actions are involved (which they so frequently are in songs for this age group). The children soon start to remember ‘when the music does this, I do that’…
- Musical space that offers the opportunity for ‘time-bound’ responses (more of this is also explained within each song itself)
- Strong and simple melody lines, which contain easy and ‘intuitive’ intervals that mirror the intonation of speech
- Melodies that actually help the children learn how to identify and use stress, intonation, and rhythm in speech (for example, melodies improve the children’s ability to discern individual words in, what otherwise sounds like, the continuous flow of conversational speech – again, more explanation is available in our video guides within each song resource)
- A particular musical style, or genre, for the children to become familiar with (eg. Major/Minor/Modal tonalities, rhythmic patterns that are characteristic of a particular genre etc.)
There are three main ways in which our songs support the development of musical diversity awareness in young children: song-structure, song-content and song-lyrics
(ii) Song content
Our content usually sits directly within the children’s own ‘realm of experience’, or, it is something that can easily be explained to them. It is important that the children can engage directly and/or imaginatively with the message of each song and so our content is carefully-crafted to allow them to do this simply and easily. We pay attention to this by:
- Using phrases that are shaped to support regular, deep breathing
- Using simple actions and movements that are supported through the shaping of the melodic and rhythmical lines
- Building in lots of musical anticipation for the children to enjoy
- Including opportunities for dynamic contrasts (so that the song might be quiet in some places, loud in others, and graduated from quiet to loud and vice versa on other occasions)
- Including opportunities for articulated contrasts – short, crisp words and syllables at some moments that contrast effectively with long, smooth sounds at other times
(iii) Song lyrics and choice of language
It’s important to pay attention to the language we use with the children, and to make wise and respectful language choices at all times. Our songs support this in the ways that the lyrics:
- Reflect the phase of the children’s learning (so they employ similar language to what the children will be hearing and speaking in the curriculum) and they may incorporate a play on words or letters in places/li>
- Recognise that children love playing with words and the sounds that syllables make, and so in some instances we use longer words to challenge and inspire them to do just that!
- Reflect that the choice of language is always respectful. Often the words and phrases have been carefully blended to ensure they support not only the children’s speech and language development, but also their socialisation skills and behaviours too.
2. How our songs encourage both individual, and social, diversity awareness in children
It is important that our songs develop a broad understanding and knowledge about the different aspects of being an individual, with an identity and values all of our own, but also that we are often members of a group or society.
We need to encourage the children to develop a sense of self, and in order to do this, they need to learn to differentiate themselves from others. So our songs include an awareness of the self and others.
Then, at the same time, the children need to become aware of the variety of cultural and societal expectations that are starting to be placed upon them. So our songs lead by example, teaching the children how to act and behave in particular circumstances. We focus on Culturalization and Socialisation.
And finally, we need to help the children realise, recognise, respect and accept, that different places and societies may have their very own, distinct, characteristics. And so our songs incorporate a variety of genres and styles that can serve as an introduction, or conversation-starter, to a deeper understanding of all the differences around us.
(iv) Awareness of the self and others
- The songs encourage the development of self-awareness – often through asking the children to think about/make choices/respond to questions posed in the song
- They develop an awareness of others, often through the movements and actions contained within and the opportunities for interactions to take place
- They often encourage the children to pay attention to their immediate social environment, thereby supporting the development of their spatial skills through movement and actions/interactions
- They encourage the children to look up, out, and beyond to the world all around us/li>
(v) Culturalization and socialisation
- Our songs teach (subliminally) the ways in which we are expected to behave within a particular environment – school, classroom, home-setting, nursery, music-session etc. – they often contain rules and instructions to follow but are couched within musical terms which make them so much more fun to follow!
- Social etiquette and turn-taking are a natural part of the song-delivery process
- Children become familiar effective ways to interact with others and what the social expectations and norms are within their setting.
Our songs are such a fabulous way to ‘open a door to the world’
(vi) Genres and styles
- Our songs are such a fabulous way to ‘open a door to the world’ for children. We introduce different genres (a conventional category that identifies some pieces of music as belonging to a shared tradition or set of conventions) and styles (- which can basically be sub-sets of genres), often in simplified forms that the children can engage with, which reflect the different cultures and ‘home-life’ of children from around the world
3. How our songs support adults in the teaching of diversity awareness in children
Here, we outline some ways in which our songs can support the teaching of diversity awareness in broader terms. First, we look at why songs are such an effective vehicle for learning, by appreciating the very many ways they capture children’s attention simultaneously.
Next, we consider, by observing the children’s responses and reactions carefully, how we can inform our own practice – the way we are delivering the songs – and look at how this feedback can help us to continually improve and strengthen our delivery.
It’s also important to recognise that there are often frequent moments of tension and friction between young children throughout any session, and music sessions are often no different. However, songs can often be a great distraction from such powerful, and often overwhelming emotions. Furthermore, the songs offer the opportunity to open up discussions and introductions to difficult issues in non-threatening and non-judgemental ways.
First of all, let’s consider why they are such great vehicles for learning.
(vii) They appeal to a range of styles simultaneously
Being diversity aware means accepting that we are all different in very many ways. This even stretches to the ways in which we learn. It is possible that within a group of children there are multiple different ways in which they’re all learning about the same topic, concept or idea.
That means that we need to be sensitive and accommodating to the multiple intelligences that operate within a group learning situation.
This is why songs are such a versatile and accommodating medium to use for teaching.
Diversity awareness always needs to recognise the fact that the ways in which we process information differ between us.
Howard Gardner, An American psychologist, proposed (in 1983), a theory of multiple intelligences. He suggested that all people have different kinds of intelligences. You can read more about that here.
In brief he categorised eight different types of ‘intelligences’ in our learning patterns. They are
You might wonder what listing these types of intelligences, all learning styles, has to do with learning through song. But songs are so closely aligned with all of these intelligences simultaneously.
In every song that we learn with the children we cover these sets of intelligences in different ways.
- Songs, and singing, encourage the use of imagination – of painting pictures in our minds as we sing about different subjects. This appeals to those individuals with strengths in visual and spatial judgement, while the lyrics of this song will be appealing to those who learn well by engaging with words and language.
- The way a song is structured, and the patterns that it makes through the regular repetitions of phrases, words, and actions, resonate with those with logical mathematical intelligence. They like to anticipate the “what comes next close “ in the song, and this sense of anticipation inspires them to learn the patterns of this song.
- When singing with this age group it’s important to include actions with any song that we sing. This aspect of singing appeals strongly to those with bodily kinaesthetic intelligence. They enjoy moving their bodies, performing actions, and controlling their physical movements. They learn by doing, and the repetitive actions that are linked to words, rhythms, and melodies in songs, supports their learning process strongly.
- Those with musical intelligence love learning through patterns, rhythms, sounds and melodies. This helps them to develop strong memories associated with all the interweaving aspects of a song and thus singing is a very effective way for them to learn. Even those with less innate musical intelligence, can be taught, through regular exposure to songs and music, to develop these aspects of musical learning, which then go on to support bodily movement and coordination etc.
- Our songs about diversity often teach the children about patterns of behaviour and interactions with others, without them realising this is what they are doing. The songs incorporate information about emotions, empathy, and also understanding and interacting with others. These aspects resonate particularly strongly for those with interpersonal intelligence.
- This also aligns closely with individuals who are strong in intrapersonal intelligence. This is about becoming reflective and knowing. It’s about learning about themselves, which they can so easily do through songs when they are given the opportunity to think about their own likes and dislikes for example, or where they can make choices for themselves because the songs give them the space to do so.
- Naturalistic intelligence recognises that there are individuals who are highly in tune with nature and the environment in which they are living. Songs can connect with these types of learners so easily through their descriptions of the world around them.
So in summary, songs can accommodate all these learning styles simultaneously. This is what makes them such valuable vehicles for learning, and it is also why we need to be diversity aware in so many respects in the ways that we present ourselves to the children in our care. It means that every time we sing a song with our children we can be confident that we are appealing to their very own learning style in the best way we can.
(viii) Informing our own practice
Delivering songs effectively provides us adults with the opportunity to become more diversity-aware in relation to the children in our care. We can do our own diversity ‘data-gathering’ during our song sessions.
There are four main ways in which this can happen:
- Through interaction with the children on their own terms (perhaps reflecting their movements or actions, responding to their engagement, or extending their participation in some way…)
- Through observation – seeing how the children are reacting to the song in their own unique ways. Taking these responses and scaffolding the individual’s learning in ways that can truly and specifically resonate and inspire them
- Through assessment of the children’s skills as they participate in the songs
- Through reflection – are there ways you could improve your own delivery of the song? Or perhaps extend it or change it in ways that would accommodate your own settings particular demographic etc?
(ix) Managing points of friction and tension
- Songs are a great way to diffuse difficult situations (such as friendship issues, playground ‘fall outs’, difficulties with sharing etc). Sometimes it is easier to put the issue to one side and sing a song in order to calm, distract and soothe upset individuals. Modelling desired behaviours (such as respect, kindness and empathy) through one of our songs often provides both the time and space needed to allow thought and rationality to return
(x) Songs are great conversation starters
- Leading on from the above point, songs provide us with the chance to remove the challenging situation from our own specific environment and place it within the context of a song. In this way, the emotional engagement with a particular issue is a step or two removed and that provides us with the chance to discuss difficult subjects without any individual feeling the issue is directly aimed at them in particular.
Songs can often be a great distraction from the powerful and overwhelming negative emotions that children sometimes experience – they can soothe and calm in an instant!
Dr Clare Seymour
Clare has spent much of her professional career (over 30 years) in international settings. Part of her Doctoral research involved exploring the often hidden aspects of institutional racism. As a result she has a longstanding interest in, and passion for, promoting positive Diversity.
In addition to school music-teaching, Clare also has over 10 years’ experience working as an international music examiner – an understanding and respect for Diversity is so crucially important in every aspect of her practice.