Giving Voice to Children – The Next Question?

My last post struck a chord with some of my voice teaching colleagues, who contacted me directly. I have asked their permission to post their remarks here, so that we may open out the discussion to a wider readership.

Elizabeth Montoya-Stemann lives and works in Jamaica, WI.  Here is what she had to say:

“I agree 100% with your idea of giving voice to children from early age at the schools.

“I am an acting and voice and speech teacher living and working in Jamaica, W.I. at a Arts College. I have a 5 y.o son and I am suffering the struggle of free expression for kids. I mean the school where my son goes to is so centered in behaviour and learning numbers and letters which is important but I feel that they are wasting all the creativity and imagination that the kids have. They do not have an outlet to express themselves with their little voices.

“Seeing this I decided to volunteer some time in the week and come to teach them songs in Spanish.( I am from Colombia and my mother language is Spanish).

“I decided not just to teach the song in a repetitive way but to use my drama and voice and speech skills to teach the songs in a creative way. So I use games with sounds and different emotions. The kids love it they feel free and learn the songs very quick. I notice that my son feels very happy to be able to express himself and to see his classmates using their voices as well, it’s like they are knowing each other in a different way.

“Learning to explore and use their voices will help not only to increase self esteem but also to develop a love for words. In the future this can help to create adults aware of the use of language in a positive way, solving conflicts and learning to communicate effectively.

“I think the government won’t start any program like voice and speech as a class but teachers have to learn voice and speech skills to use it in the classroom.

“There is so much to talk about this topic I think your PhD is going to be an eye opener for lots of people in the academia.

“My idea is that all over the world the use of the voice is neglected and qualified voice and speech teachers should start developing more programs to teach primary, secondary, etc teacher to give freedom to people’s voice. “

I then asked Elizabeth if she would share some of her games and exercises. She replied:

“What I do is as follows:

– I go there once a week for 15-20 minutes with each group and work with kids in PreK, K, and grade 1.
-The only thing that does not work is when I use traditional teaching techniques like standing in front talking and trying to get everybody’s attention. I can only engage them when I present them with a different game or emotion, I even pretend to be the grumpy teacher and I ask them to repeat silly things like cucu (ribbit in english). hahaha!
– I teach them a song in Spanish. This song becomes the theme of the class e.g.  the sounds, words, the story that the song tells, and the moods of the song.
– When the kids get tired of doing something or become too crazy then we play doing physical actions at a given order like: sit, go down, jump, go around. My drama skills allow me to play different characters like for instance if the song is about a hen and the chicks they will become those by using  their bodies or course I do suggestions with my body and my voice, they like it very much.
– As well they play asking each other questions so this gives them the opportunity to communicate to each other in a different way. For instance the last class they were asking: como te llamas? (what is your name). I also have a song about a sailor selling vases with flowers and they have to sell the flowers.
– Toys and objects are important because if for instance the song talks about a hat I will bring one and they will play to say the word sound by sound and they will hear it.
– I play with sounds vowels, consonants and complete words in different ways ‘with the children- individually, the whole group, girls and boys separately.
“I think that what the kids enjoy most is the informal setting of my class and knowing what it is like to have fun through singing.’
“I think that will be challenging to do all of these activities without understanding the needs of the kids. Having my son and reading a lot about 4,5,6 y.o kids psychology helps me to understand more their needs to communicate.
“Please let me know if you have more questions.”
I’d like to thank Elizabeth for sharing her thoughts, and her process so generously.  So here are some follow up questions for the rest of us:
If you spend time with young children, how do you care for their voices, and how do you encourage them to care for their own?
I know my son and daughter-in-law have taught their small children to clean their teeth carefully, day and night. Is there something we could all be doing, as parents or grandparents, let alone as teachers or day-carers, to instill healthy care of the voice in our small charges?
Perhaps you can suggest some more questions.  I’m not searching for the ultimate answer, but always for the next question.


Alison Richards
8 June 2011 at 4:06 PM

Hi Flloyd,

This is a great topic. It’s so important that kids get opportunities for creative expression including music and drama education from an early age – I’d start in pre-school! but I think it’s true to say that attention to the arts side of early childhood and primary school-based education has well and truly fallen behind other curriculum areas in the past twenty years.

There are a range of reasons for this, but it’s happened across states in Australia – and it’s interesting to see comments coming from Jamaica! as a result of slow but steady cutbacks in education budgets since the mid-1980s. The net result is that there are very few specialist teachers left in the system and classroom teachers are often underconfident – so nothing happens unless there are willing parents who take it on voluntarily, like your correspondent. It’s not good enough. When I was in primary school in NSW in the 50s, kids were marshalled onto the asphalt playground to do folk dancing as part of the PE curriculum. The NSW School Reader regularly featured plays by people like Ruth Park that we acted out in class, we listened to Music for Schools on the ABC and recited poems by Henry Lawson. OK, it was all a bit daggy but at least it was something!

Real resources are needed, not only to turn the decline around but to allow development to happen once more. The arts should be at the heart of a child-centred curriculum, not just an optional extra for the wealthy.

I know Professor John O’Toole has put in a huge effort to make sure the arts weren’t completely neglected in discussions about the new National Curriculum, and Richard Gill (outgoing AD of Victorian Opera and a passionate music educator) has been jumping up and down about the need to revive music education in schools.

It’s really important that voice, including the idea of kids finding their own voice, is fed in to these discussions too.

Time for a summit?

8 June 2011 at 4:09 PM

Thanks Alison. Yes, this is not quite the topic of my thesis, but it concerns why I got involved in writing a thesis in the first place, to raise the profile of voice in any way I can.

29 January 2012 at 3:49 AM

My son and I have singing dinners, ” Please pass the butter”! also we are learning the ukelele together. We go to lots of concerts and watch musicals. I cant really on his school to teach him about voice but voice is a big part of our lives. I was lucky that his preschool teacher taught many of his lessons with a guitar.

    29 January 2012 at 8:24 AM

    Hey Micha, I can just hear you and Kai singing your way through dinner! Most children sing totally unselfconsciously, and I think those of us ‘in the know’ about how sensitive our vocal psychology is, can only work our best to keep the kids in this unselfconscious state for as long as possible. My friend Kris was recently at a youth choir concert, where she was delighted by the cheerful open hearted (and eyes and mouths!) of the 5 yr olds in the front row, at least 50% boys, and saddened to see how the openness, and the proportion of boys in each row, diminished as the age of the children grew, so that the back row of 12 yr olds were all singing with restraint, and only one boy.

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