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Aligning Outdoor Play, Music and Wellness at School
Bringing Harmony on the Playground

by Anne-Marie Spencer | PlayCore

Aligning Outdoor Play, Music and Wellness at School

This Las Vegas park incorporates musical elements with play. Instruments include a Congo drums trio, a curved chime and two "Sonatas," which produce sounds of metallophones and chimes, and are strategically angled at 35 degrees for children 2-12 and adults in mobility devices. Photo Courtesy of Play & Park Structures.


As with nature, music has been fundamental to the shared human experience throughout history. It has positive effects on learning, memory, and the ability to experience pleasure. It can allow us to take a break from the constant stream of data that is a part of everyday life. Experiencing music generates oxytocin in the brain1 which creates a sense of belonging. Music also breaks down barriers, inviting people of all ages, abilities, and background to participate.

It's no surprise then, that schools across the world are incorporating outdoor music as a way to engage children (and their teachers) and provide elements of learning and wellness on the playground. Outdoor musical instruments are a beautiful, sculptural enhancement that augment the overall play experience by providing new activities to extend recess and other time spent outdoors in the school grounds.

The arrangement and type of instruments provide greatly to their overall enjoyment. Instruments selected for their musical attributes, tonal quality, and the ability to create harmony within a given space all contribute to connecting people and creating a joyful sense of belonging for players and listeners. Arranging the musical elements into meaningful groupings also helps provide musical integrity and optimize the experience.



Aligning Outdoor Play, Music and Wellness at School

In addition to being freestanding, musical instruments can be incorporated into a play structure, such as this Drum Panel. According to Annette Kearl, MA, MT-BC, musical therapist and clinical instructor at Utah State University, "The fluidity of movement and resonant vibration of the drum produce[s] physiological and neurological changes within the body/mind that balance the nervous system." Photo Courtesy of Playcraft Systems.


Aligning Outdoor Play, Music and Wellness at School

Kearl also advises that "drumming-or-group drumming teaches the drummer and those who listen, unity between thought and emotion." Photo courtesy of Freenotes Harmony Park.


As part of the design process, consideration should be given to site accessories that can further enhance the overall experience by providing comfort and cues to extend the ways and the length of time the user is engaged with the space. Some children may prefer to observe rather than play, or to join later, so providing seating for a designated jump in point is advisable. Others may choose to "perform," so adding spinning and moving play elements within the sound of the instrument may also add to the play choices. Elevating the musical components onto a platform and adding steps around in a semi-circle can create a performance stage for arranged and spontaneous performances. Even playground surfacing can be designed to carry the musical theme throughout the environment.

Musical activities help with social skills by allowing individuals to express their feelings, gain self-confidence and develop patience, an aptitude for sharing, and an appreciation for others. Activities can be designed to help meet specific educational goals and objectives, and can even be aligned to national learning standards. Instructors can lead groups through a variety of musical concepts, such as rhythm and melody, improvising and composing, combining motor skills and verbal skills, and listening to self and peers. Programming activities can be designed for short and longer periods of time.

Additional loose parts and props can help create multisensory experiences and can be tailored for individual instruction or collaborative group exploration.



Aligning Outdoor Play, Music and Wellness at School

Themed surfacing, such as this representation of a piano and musical staffs with treble clefs, allows participants to more fully immerse into the premise of a playground. Photo courtesy of PlayCore.


Aligning Outdoor Play, Music and Wellness at School

Coquille Park in Madisonville, La. extends musical theming to the surfacing by incorporating a path of notes, approximately 20 feet, that lead to other various instruments. Photo courtesy of Freenotes Harmony Park.


As a contributor to learning, music is indispensable. All our neural systems-motor, sensory, emotional, and analysis-are activated when we experience music, whether through creation or enjoyment.1 This whole-brain engagement ultimately strengthens the corpus callosum, a thick bundle of nerves that connects the right hemisphere with the left hemisphere and allows brain regions with very different functions to work together. When it is strong and healthy, the corpus callosum enables the coordination of creative, scientific, mathematical, and linguistic processes and facilitates highly complex cognitive tasks, helping children to achieve in school.

With all of the evidence, and abilities to extend the ways children play, the power of music as an element of school play is undeniable.



As seen in LASN magazine, June 2019.



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October 15, 2019, 5:04 am PDT

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