I just finished reading an article by Paul G. Morehouse, an early childhood music specialist on the West Coast that reminds me of just how hard young children--toddlers, preschoolers--work and how serious they are about the work they do. We adults, in our contrariness, call our children's energetic work "play".

Young children are not solely music learners. After all, the music they make is real. Spontaneously and naturally, young children produce sounds and rhythms that conform to a song’s structure. For them, neither melodic nor rhythmic inaccuracies detract from the authenticity of music-making experiences.

Paul G. Morehouse,  PhD, director of The Institute for the Study of Music-Making Behavior. http://istudymusicbehavior.com




Professor Morehouse is talking about musical activities, but the same "work-ethic" of youngsters holds true for all their various and sundry activities. We adults call it playing, and wish we could do more of it ourselves, but for your young child, playing is hard work. (Play is really the work of childhood." - Fred Rogers) All children, your child, don't experience play as, well, child's play. For them, it's what they do, with all their focus, all their heart, all their being.

Watch your child play. He or she isn't pretending, at least not the way we adults think of pretending--going through actions meant to look like we're doing something, while we aren't really doing it. Your child is really doing it, as far as he or she's concerned.

When adults (myself included) watch children playing instruments in one of our "play-along" jam sessions in music class, for example, we're watching children really playing instruments. Oh, sure, they don't necessarily sound so polished to our grown-up ears, but each child is not thinking that he or she is learning how to play an instrument ("Gosh, I don't sound very polished."), or how to make music ("I'm glad I'm in a music class learning how to play music better!"). He or she is really doing it ("I'm awesome!"), as far as they are concerned ("I'm playing the drum just the way Mom does!"). As Mr. Morehouse says, each child's performance is authentic, each is sincerely doing the best he or she knows how to do. Luckily, a child's temperament allows him or her to instantly--and more or less constantly--adjust and accept that he or she could do better. That's where the learning comes in. Although, mostly, your child is going to play it his or her way, over and over again. That's learning, too.

I've just described a music-activity situation, but of course your child is serious (not pretending) about everything he or she does. Reading a picture-book (that your child has memorized from hearing you read it to him or her so many times), giving "baby" (a doll or stuffed animal) a bath and putting "baby" to bed, sharing a simple activity with a sibling, "talking" to you in what comes out, unfortunately, as an unintelligible mumble. Even given that a very young child's speech is often unintelligible, you can be certain that your child is never mumbling the sentence "I'm just pretending/learning to talk to you." To them, the implied message is always, "I'm talking to you" or "I'm actually reading this book" or "I'm really making music".

(original post date 9/7/14)