Musical Creativity in Israel’s “Junkyard” Playgrounds

June 20-24, 2017
Children’s spontaneous music making is said to be a central, driving force of their play, filled with an expressive mixture of known and invented material. Yet, preliminary observations of children’s play in Israel revealed surprisingly few examples of creative musical expression, despite their playful and musically rich culture. The aim of this study was to formally investigate young children’s musical experiences and music making in Israel, thereby expanding, and providing validity for these preliminary data.
Thirty locations were purposively selected for maximum variation. Settings included ten public spaces (such as the zoo, parks, malls, bookstores, and museums), ten private preschool/kindergartens (indoor and outdoor play spaces), and ten playgrounds (modern, old, sand-based, water-based, and “Junkyard”). Observed participants ranged in age from approximately 2-6 years and included religious and secular, Hebrew and Arab-speaking populations. Interviews with teachers and local residents, as well as ethnographic field notes were compiled and analyzed for recurrent themes.

Results reveal that classroom and music teachers used CDs as a primary tool for musical instruction and engagement. Teachers rarely sang to students. Children’s spontaneous music making existed primarily in short blips and bursts of known material, with very few examples of introverted, free-flowing, creative songs. Surprisingly, however, the “Junkyard” playgrounds on kibbutz preschools provided an exception to these findings. In the “Junkyard,” real-life, discarded materials such as broken microwaves, radios, cribs, tires, and dishwashers provide a playscape, wherein children create their own microworlds according to a democratic decision-making process. Creative play and inventive, introverted free-flowing music flourished in these settings.

Several conclusions emerged from these findings. Since children’s music making is a reflection of local cultural norms, teachers must nurture children’s propensity to invent songs, rather than rely solely on recordings. Furthermore, the clear influence that playground structure and materials have on children’s spontaneous music making calls into question the use of “toys” versus “real-life” objects (including “toy” instruments versus “real” instruments) for children’s use. Lastly, it is suggested that creativity in children’s music making is strengthened when children are given agency to co-construct their play space.

Updated: Jul. 27, 2017