Sunday, 5 April 2009

Jack and the Beanstalk

Last week I found myself in a reception class of nearly thirty four and five year olds. I was helping them tell the story of Jack and the Beanstalk with musical instruments and I have to say it all went very well. Not wishing to overstretch the attention spans of such a young group the class teacher and I split the project into three half hour sessions which we spread out over the course of the day.

The first session was spent demonstrating some of the instruments and passing them around the circle. These were mainly percussion instruments of one sort or another. The children were very good at having a quick go and then passing it on. With the more unusual instruments I would wait until it had returned before placing it in the middle and handing round something else. If I had more than one of anything I would send one to my right and the other to my left, collecting them when they met across the circle. Familiar instruments would be demonstrated and placed in the middle of the circle straight away.

After about half an hour of this we put all the instruments on a table and allowed the children to play there in groups of five or six at a time in rotation with the other (non-musical) activities on offer. At no time did we mention the story.

The second formal session took place after morning break. The class teacher read the story and the class 'spotted' it for potential sound effects. To involve more children in the process, and to develop their acting skills, characters from the story were enacted by members of the class. There was a certain amount of prompting, especially to begin with, but they quickly got the idea. Occasionally we would steer a child in another direction if they chose something very inappropriate. There is an understandable urge to choose the instrument you want to play regardless of its relevance to the task at hand. However, for the most part we went along with their choices. The bell tree gave us the magic I had hoped for when Jack trades in his cow for a handful of beans. But somehow the bell for the cows neck was passed over. We did get some coconuts for the sound of the cow's feet on the road but I confess I may have seeded this idea in the first demonstration session. By the time half an hour had passed we were only half way through the story but the children were beginning to lose their focus so we stopped for a free play period. Again, the instruments were available to small groups for this.

The final session took place after lunch. We recapped the story so far and continued to the end in the same manner as in the previous session. The children remained engaged in the process. By this time the familiarity they had gained with the instruments was leading to noticeably more informed choices being made. I have never worked with this particular class before so can't say how their behaviour was in relation to this activity compared to other things they have done. However, the teacher appeared well satisfied with the way the day went and more inclined to use musical instruments from the school's music cupboard in future.

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