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The importance of 自由に (Jiyu ni, doing something freely)

Hello all! I thought I’d write my next blog post in response to a comment a parent of a child in one of my baby classes made. It got me thinking, and subsequently writing!

Due to various factors, parents/guardians and children can’t always make it along to music sessions on the day, sometimes meaning there will just be one child taking part in the session. I really don’t mind this at all; a “man-to-man” session is often a great chance to get to know the child (and their guardian), find out what they like and tailor the session to their needs/feeling on the day. Children thrive on attention, which I and the guardian can undividedly give, and and it means the child can go at their pace, taking their time to explore something until they are fully satisfied. The social benefits of group sessions are multifarious, but so are individual sessions; I endeavor to be flexible to the situation on the day and deliver stimulating classes whoever turns up!

Recently, a newcomer to my baby classes (a 7 month old) was the only child who could come to class. I don’t know which songs, movements or activities she particularly likes yet so it was a good chance to try different things out and see her reaction. Evidently, the egg shakers were her favourite (on this day) and she enjoyed shaking along to different genres of music and rhythms which I played live on the bongo and flute and to some recordings of up-beat latin music. She seemed to enjoy the session and wasn’t shy to try anything new. Mum too seemed happy and actively took part in the session. At the end of the class, the child’s mum thanked me and then said something which struck me; she apologized that her child had taken part so freely...! I reckon she meant that her 7 month old didn’t exactly copy my actions or that she didn’t always play the instrument I offered, picking something else, or would sometimes not engage with a particular song. When I played certain music, she moved to her own beat, she played her own rhythm at the bongo and piano and used the scarves, shakers and tambourines in her own way. This is all excellent stuff and the real aim – to encourage children to enjoy and engage with music, to support their imagination and creativity and to enable them to express themselves!

I emphatically stressed the importance of playing freely in the class and that from my point of view, today was a great session because her daughter and engaged so freely. There are obviously benefits to copying a teachers actions but that is not the aim of a class with a 7 month old child – my actions are just to show a way of doing something, to encourage the child to also move, to touch the instruments and toys, to move their own body to their own, internal rhythm. Playing is learning; doing something freely and exploring in your own way is how so many important skills develop. The importance of fun and enjoyment in learning is well-known, but perhaps the importance of free exploration and doing something your own way is not quite as well understood? It’s probably also linked to the fear of being ‘wrong’ or making a mistake...but that is certainly not a consideration of a 7-month-old, and it needn’t be in EYS early years sessions! Everyone, enjoy your sound, jiyu ni!!

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