America's school yards, playgrounds and ball fields are becoming increasingly barren as decision makers look to increase their student performance by squeezing out recess in favor of more desk time. In short, more and more American schools are willing to sacrifice children's "play time" for "academic time."
In a desperate attempt to increase academic achievement, many schools are abandoning, or reducing, time spent outdoors in hopes that it will lead to increased standardized test scores. They do this despite the growing body of evidence suggesting restricting time at play is in fact restricting student learning.
In a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly, Jack Shonkoff, the director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, makes the case for more play, not less. He states, "It's not taking a break from learning when we talk about play," while rattling off a litany of cognitive, physical, mental, and social-emotional benefits. "Play is one of the most important ways in which children learn."
In the mid-2000s, the federal No Child Left Behind education law, which emphasized test scores, prompted some schools to scale back recess (along with art and music) to spend more time on math and reading. Some schools went so far as to eliminate recess for the lowest academic performers, who, some would argue, need the physical break the most.
Yes, there are multiple studies which speak to the importance of "play." And there is NO substitute for recess. But I can't help but wonder that as student mature and recess is no longer an option, if the same benefits don't hold true for musical play. While I am not aware of any academic studies, I know that similar to recess, music reaches parts of the mind untouched by desk learning. In addition, the "soft skills" associated with personal and social interaction found in music ensembles can not be easily replicated while sitting in rows of desks.
To my way of thinking, playing music is play time! Music education is more than learning a language or training ones embouchure. It's more than notes on a page for pressing the right spot on a fret board. Music is about PLAYING an instrument. You can not participate in music without PLAYing an instrument. Beyond the play, music teaches the WHOLE CHILD in a comprehensive way not found anywhere else.
- Music is where the physical meets the intellectual.
- Music is where cerebral moments and emotional ones occur simultaneously.
- Music is where academic and aesthetic go hand in hand.
- Music is where every individual is challenged but done so in a group environment.
- Music is where learning through play is playing while you learn.
Music isn't a substitute for other coursework, nor is it an impediment. Music can and should stand side by side with any other course when it comes to academic weight and rigor. Music can reach children in a way that other curricula can't and reach places in children that would otherwise remain untouched. In short... music matters.
Yes, in music we play... And according to the latest studies, so should everyone else.
Just my thoughts, now stop reading and go play!