How music-inspired free play can nurture creative young minds

In this article Dr Mignon van Vreden, a lecturer in Music Education at South Africa’s North-West University, explores the interaction between music, play, learning and creativity.

Spontaneous learning

Teaching and learning from music cannot always be predetermined by a specific teaching method or musical activity. Instead, teaching and learning from music often occur spontaneously after learners have been given opportunities for free play, where they can explore new musical knowledge in an informal way. When this manifests, music imitates these activities and creativity is kindled.

Yolanda Huijsamer explains the active role that preschoolers play in their own development through interactions with their environment during play. She defines this type of play as a creative expression of a young child’s physical, cognitive, social and emotional self. This is where opportunities are created for children to acquire essential skills and values that give meaning to their existence.

I therefore propose that learning from music can seldom be predetermined by an early childhood teacher through a specific teaching method or structured musical activity. It is rather a reaction to teaching and learning related to music that can only surface when there is an awareness of how learners spend their time with adequate opportunities for unstructured free play.

Neryl Jeanneret and George DeGraffenreid remark that preschool teachers gain knowledge about their learners through their daily interactions. This knowledge should be applied to create opportunities where teachers can observe unprompted and continuous play. Therefore, a preschool teacher does not always have to be a facilitator of music integration but must rather be receptive to unexpected moments when learners integrate music in their own learning, especially during free play.

Researchers and practitioners in the field of music education have unequivocally proven the value of music for the young child. Music promotes intrinsic and unique qualities in young learners, including the development of creativity, social skills, expression, cognition and coordination. The value of music for preschoolers supports, motivates and promotes the integration of music into their daily programmes.

Music has been shown to create a positive learning environment and atmosphere. It also:

  • increases anticipation;
  • energises learning activities;
  • changes the brain waves;
  • focuses concentration;
  • improves attention span and memory;
  • facilitates a multisensory learning experience;
  • relieves tension;
  • enriches the imagination; and
  • promotes group work through the development of cooperation.

Music inspires, motivates, adds an element of fun to the learning situation, emphasises units with a specific topic, influences mood, connects disparate elements of learning and makes other forms of literacy available to everyone.

Inspires teachers too

Integrating music across the curriculum proposes a pedagogical approach to teaching and learning by integrating thoughts, actions and attitudes. The effect of being surrounded by music is an enriched life for preschool teachers and learners alike.

The power of music to stimulate young minds and touch young hearts is never to be underestimated. A constant awareness of young childrens’ expressive outlets during unstructured free play will zoom in on creativity during the most unexpected moments and deepen future learning opportunities related to music.

Author: Dr Mignon van Vreden (

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