Using music and art for self-expression and mindfulness in the classroom

Many studies show the importance of music in mainstream education and how powerful a tool it can be. It is able to integrate various subjects together all at once. Not only will music education allow children to develop their musical skills, it will also give them the opportunity to develop numeracy, reading and writing skills in addition to social development such as listening, hearing how different parts of music fit together which can then be transferred to having a conversation, where we are encouraged to listen to others, wait our turn to speak and see how our views fit into that overall. Creating music together as a group can also connect people as a way of communicating with one another. Other studies show the positive impact it can have on children’s memory and improve concentration on a task.

Despite all of these benefits, many schools are choosing to remove music from their curriculum for reasons out of their control such as a lack of funding. I am a strong advocate for music and arts being vital in education as somebody who was fortunate to receive free music tuition in all of the time I was in education.

In addition to online teaching and the occasional freelance projects, I have been working as a pupil support assistant at a primary school in Edinburgh since December 2020. It is an incredibly rewarding job yet challenging at the same time, even more so during the current lockdown. For the past eight weeks, I have been supporting pupils in a primary 4/5 bubble; some of these children have parents who are key workers so couldn’t do online learning, and others were deemed vulnerable for reasons such as having significant additional support needs.

I felt real empathy for these children because, despite having a lot of people in their bubble, they had to adapt to a lot of technical difficulties (I never want to use Microsoft Teams again), everyday changes as there was a different teacher in everyday and not seeing their usual classmates was really hard for a lot of them. As my job is primarily to support children in subjects such as literacy and numeracy, I am always very interested provide support in a more creative approach using my musical skills where appropriate. I discussed this with some of the class teachers who were teaching this group, and they let me take full reign of the activities.

“Rhythm time, rhythm time”

One of the activities I came up with was the use of body percussion and clapping rhythms as a way to encourage turn-taking, listening to one another and also a fun way to incorporate hand-eye co-ordination! This was used at the end of the school day, or as a transition between one subject to another. I would start by getting the children to stand up and make a circle/semi circle, and we would stretch out our arms and legs to get some movement in after sitting for a little while. We would then all stamp our feet by marching in the same spot to keep a steady pulse going, which also gave me a chance to explain the instructions before we started our chant:

I would clap this rhythm along with chanting the words, and the children would then repeat what I had just said and clapped

I would then clap a rhythm with my hands whilst continuing to stamp my feet to the child left or right of me. They would then turn to the person next to them and clap what they heard and so on, until it came back to me. I encouraged them to look at the next person when doing this as again it encourages listening to one another and engaging in what the other person is doing. I would change up the rhythm each time and would often add in a variation such as tapping my thighs, this was to test their listening skills. Very often, there would be mistakes and a lot of laughs if we did the ‘wrong’ rhythm; I said that if we slip up not to worry about it as making mistakes is ‘cool’! This took the pressure off for some children, and it was really interesting to see that some children had a really natural and strong sense of rhythm! (Shaping the future generation of musicians early…)

Combining music and art

Another activity that one of the class teachers and I planned together was a listening and drawing one – children would have paper, pens and pencils in front of them and they would draw whatever came to their mind whilst listening to music, or simply how the music made them feel.

The piece of music I chose was Arabesque No. 1 by Claude Debussy; we played a recording of it twice to allow for extra time to add to their drawings.

Afterwards, I initiated a discussion about the music: “How did the music make you feel?”, “What instrument was being played?” and “Did anything come to mind when listening to this piece?”

There were some really interesting and insightful answers ranging from the music making them feel calm and relaxed, “nice music to fall asleep to”, some drew wavy lines as they said the music “was very wavy and relaxing.” One child said that they imagined an enchanted forest when they listened to it, and I was so impressed with the drawings produced as a result of them simply listening to it. I also stressed that there was no right or wrong thing to draw; we encouraged them to be as creative and as “out of the box” as possible!

This particular activity is a perfect way to practice mindfulness and this again took place as a transition from one subject to another. It could also be a nice way to end the school day to relax and process everything they have done that day.

Pictured above: some of the drawings from listening to Arabesque No.1.

Please feel free to try out these activities in schools, children’s activity groups, your own private music teaching practices, or even at home for fun! If you have any questions about organising/facilitating some of these activities please get in touch and I’m more than happy to help in any way I can!

I hope you enjoyed reading this post and if you decide to try out these activities please let me know! I would love to see any photos/videos.

Keep staying safe and look after yourself,

Andrea x


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