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RES652 Action Research

The Impact of Music and Movement on Children’s Patterning Skills

Alethea Luo Jiayi, Ashleender Kaur D/O Amarjeet Singh, Ho Yi Ning Eunice and Sim Lei Jie
Rachel

Early Childhood Education, Singapore Institute of Technology-Wheelock College, Singapore

This study investigated the impact of music and movement activities on children’s
patterning skills in a Singapore preschool. Pre-test and post-test were conducted to
evaluate children’s patterning abilities, and on-site observations were carried out
during the interventions. Improvements to children’s patterning skills were evident
in the results collected. Researchers, participants, teachers and parents are
encouraged to take note of the findings from this study so as to recognise the
importance of incorporating music and movement activities in the early childhood
curriculum.

Keywords: music and movement; patterning; Singapore preschool; spatial


temporal reasoning; early childhood education; action research

Review of Literature
Music and Movement
Children begin their early lives being deeply engaged in music and movement. According

to Oxford Dictionaries (2016), music is defined as vocal and/or instrumental sounds to create

“beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion” (Def. 1) while movement is described as

“an act of moving” (Def. 1). When combined, these two elements form music and movement, a

physical activity that engages children’s senses and fosters their holistic development (Izumi-

Taylor, Morris, Meredith & Hicks, 2012). Edelson and Johnson (2003) add that music and

movement creates a safe environment, “free of undue pressure and stress” (p. 65), conducive for

exploration and learning. This promotes physically, emotionally and cognitively engaged

experiences in which children can be active learners instead of “passive observers” and

constructors of their own knowledge (Edelson & Johnson, 2003, p. 65). This is in line with the

Singaporean Ministry of Education’s (MOE) iTeach Principles (Ministry of Education, 2012).

Moreover, children are easily distracted due to their short attention span (Shaffer & Kipp, 2013).

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Geist, Geist and Kuznik (2012) affirm that music and movement not only aids in the engagement

of children which sustains their attention but also cultivates positive learning attitudes towards

learning and supports the development of mathematical concepts such as patterning.

Patterning
One method of using music and movement in the early childhood setting is through

teaching patterning (Warren & Cooper, 2006). Charlesworth and Lind (2012) state that

patterning is the act of “making or discovering auditory, visual and motor regularities” (p. 216),

and is usually presented in recurring distinct units of repeat (i.e. AB, ABB, ABC) (Liljedahl,

2004).

Types of Musical Patterning


According to Sang (1999), the three main types of musical patterning are tonal patterns,

rhythmic patterns and patterns in meter. Tonal patterns refer to the repetition of a simple melody

(Geist, Geist & Kuznik, 2012); rhythmic patterns explore simple patterns of short or long sounds

that are created by movement (e.g. stomping feet, clapping) or vocalisation of familiar words

(Morehouse, 2013); and patterns in meter is the repetition of strong-weak beats (AB patterns) or

strong-weak-weak beats (ABB) to form a repeated pattern (Sang, 1999).

Benefits of Learning Patterning


Patterning is important and brings about various benefits for children’s numeracy

development. As Papic (2007) points out, patterning is an indispensable skill needed in early

mathematics learning and helps in the development of “spatial awareness, sequencing and

ordering, comparison and classification” (p. 8). The views expressed by Geist, Geist and Kuznik

(2012) are in line with Papic’s work, stating that patterning supports children’s ability to create,

repeat relationships and use rudimentary number concepts. As children work on their patterning,

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they begin to identify relationships between data sets and represent patterns in diverse ways

which would develop their early algebraic thinking (Warren & Cooper, 2006). Claessens and

Engel (2013) reiterate that learning patterning is not only crucial for later mathematics results but

is also beneficial for later reading and science achievement. The Singaporean MOE recognises

the value of patterning in children’s lives and has since included it in the Kindergarten

Curriculum Framework (KCF). By the end of preschool education, children should be able to

recognise, extend, and create simple patterns (Ministry of Education, 2012). Therefore, there is a

need to develop patterning skills to enhance children’s numeracy development.

The Link between Music and Movement and Patterning: Spatial-Temporal Reasoning

According to Rauscher et al. (1997), there is a direct link between music and spatial-

temporal reasoning skills. Spatial-temporal reasoning refers to the “mental arrangement of ideas

and/or images in a graphic pattern indicating their relationships over time” (Machado, 2015, p.

31). Gradin, Peterson and Shaw (1998) reveal that exposure to music “enhances the ‘hardware’

in the brain for spatial-temporal reasoning” (p. 1) which facilitates the mastery of challenging

math concepts such as patterning. However, in addition to music alone, Coulter believes that

music and movement, which is a “combination of auditory and kinesthetic stimuli”, makes

learning more effective for children (as cited in Sawyers & Hutson-Brandhagen, 2004, p. 46).

Despite the researches mentioned above which support the notion that music and

movement reinforces the learning of patterning (Rauscher et. al., 1997; Sawyers & Hutson-

Brandhagen, 2004), the use of music and movement in Singapore’s preschool education system

is not as evident. Through more than four years of work experience, the researchers involved in

this study have observed that three out of 18 centres in which they worked at, did not implement

music and movement activities in daily lessons. Additionally, it was noted that patterning

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activities tend to be most frequently conducted through the use of whiteboards and getting

children to complete worksheets. The observations are in line with what Nirmala has reported in

regards to preschool settings in Singapore: many preschools in Singapore still use worksheets as

the primary teaching tool which diminishes children’s passion for learning, making them dull

and uninterested overtime (as cited in Loke, 2015). Based on the review of the literature and

combined with insights gathered from the Singaporean classrooms, researchers of this study have

decided to investigate how the teaching of patterning can be improved. Therefore, the research

question is: How can music and movement activities enhance children’s patterning skills?

Methodology
Setting and Duration

The research was conducted in a government-operated childcare centre at Jurong East.

The pre-test, post-test and interventions were implemented in the Kindergarten One classroom in

the morning. The research project was carried out over a span of three weeks, from 15 August

2016 to 2 September 2016.

Participants

The participants involved in the research were 10 Kindergarten One children aged five

years old – four boys and six girls. Consent forms were given to parents and guardians of 15

children and 11 forms were returned with consent to participate. No monetary rewards were

offered for their participation in the research. Out of the 11 participants, data could not be

collected for one child due to long term absence from school. With regards to ethnic background,

seven were Chinese, two were Filipino, and one was Burmese. Majority of the participants

enrolled in the centre at the age of three, with the exception of one child who enrolled at the

beginning of Kindergarten One.

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Research Method
The research was conducted in a natural environment using a multimethod of qualitative

and quantitative methods. Pre-test and post-test data were recorded in checklists and transferred

into bar graphs to serve as quantitative data. Qualitative data were collected through

photographs, work samples and field notes which served as evidence to support findings from

the checklists. The variety of research tools used to collect data for triangulation ensured the

credibility of the findings, and supported the conclusions (Hesse-Biber, 2010).

Procedures
Consent forms were given out to the parents and guardians of selected participants two

weeks prior to the actual implementation of the research. Participants had two weeks to return

the forms stating their decision in participating in the research. Throughout the research study,

the roles of the researchers were appointed. Two researchers took on the roles of conductors

while the other two researchers were assigned to collect data through photographs and field

notes. During the pre-test and post-test, children were assessed on their patterning abilities

through the use of a checklist and manipulatives such as shapes felt cut-out and sticks.

Participants were split into two groups and were assigned to the same researchers for the pre-test

and post-test. The tests each lasted for an hour, with one participant taking approximately 10-15

minutes.

The interventions focused on creating repeated AB patterns. During intervention one, the

concept of tonal patterns – repetition of a simple melody, was introduced to children. Two

different coloured bibs were given out to children and along with a song played on the Ukulele,

children were first encouraged to extend a repeated AB pattern. Thereafter, they were given the

autonomy to create and describe their own repeated pattern.

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During intervention two, the concept of rhythmic patterns – patterns created by

movements, was presented to the children. Using body percussion, children collectively created

repeated AB patterns. For easy facilitation, children were split into two groups – group A and B,

which consisted of five children each. Researchers facilitated the discussion with children,

getting them to come up with actions that produce sounds (e.g. clap and snap) for their repeated

patterns. After which, musical instruments (e.g. castanets and wooden drums) were introduced to

accompany children as they presented their repeated AB patterns.

In intervention three, children were introduced to the concept of patterns in meter

whereby strong-weak beats were represented in terms of dynamics - loud and soft. Children

created repeated AB patterns in response to the dynamics of the songs played on the Ukulele.

Children’s patterning knowledge was noted through two ways – how they moved and how they

coloured the boxes on a strip of paper.

Each intervention was carried out over a duration of one hour. After the implementation

of the interventions, the 1post-test was carried out to observe if children’s patterning skills had

improved. All data collected from the pre-test, interventions and post-test were collated and then

analysed.

Results

Findings from Pre-Test and Post-Test

With the use of a checklist, children were assessed on their understanding and abilities on

patterning during the pre and post-test. The checklist was completed based on observations done

by the researchers. Findings from the checklist were then compiled into bar graphs for

comparison. With the exception of Figure 4, the vertical axis represents the number of children

1
Post-test was the same activity carried out for the pre-test.

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who were able to complete the task and the horizontal axis represents the types of repeated

patterns. The blue and orange bars illustrate results from the pre-test and post-test respectively.

The results are as follows:

Create repeated patterns independently

Figure 1
10
9
No. of children able to

8
7
complete task

6
5
4
3
2
1
0
AB ABC AAB ABB Others

Type of repeated pattern

Pre-test Post-test

Figure 1 presents findings of children’s ability to create repeated patterns independently

which showed general improvement. The bar graph displays a consistent increment of three

children who could create the following repeated patterns–AB, ABC and ABB, while the number

of children remained constant for repeated pattern AAB. In addition, Kate unexpectedly created

a repeated ABCD pattern for pre-test and replicated it during the post-test.

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Photograph 1: Examples of children creating repeated patterns with the


manipulatives provided.

Extend repeated patterns independently

Figure 2
10
9
8
No. of children able to

7
complete task

6
5
4
3
2
1
0
AB ABC AAB ABB

Type of repeated pattern

Pre-test Post-test

Figure 2 presents findings of children’s ability to extend repeated patterns independently

which showed overall improvement. The bar graph displays an increment of one child for

repeated patterns AB and ABC, three children for AAB and two children for ABB.

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Photograph 2: Natasha extending the repeated ABC pattern.

Identify and correct a mistake in repeated patterns

Figure 3
10
9
8
7
No. of children able to

6
completetask

5
4
3
2
1
0
AB ABC AAB ABB

Type of repeated pattern

Pre-test Post-test

Figure 3 presents findings of children’s ability to identify and correct a mistake in

repeated patterns independently. For example, researchers made an intentional mistake in a

repeated AB pattern - circle, square, circle, square, circle, triangle, circle, square, and children

had to identify that the mistake was the triangle and correct it to a square. The bar graph displays

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an increment of five children for repeated patterns ABC and AAB while the number of children

remained constant for repeated patterns AB and ABB.

Photograph 3: Sasha accurately identified the strawberry in the repeated


AAB pattern as the mistake.

Identifying the similarities and difference between a repeated AB and ABC pattern

Figure 4
10
9
8
No. of children able to

7
complete task

6
5
4
3
2
1
0
Similarity Difference

Pre-test Post-test

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Figure 4 presents findings of children’s ability to identify similarities and difference

between repeated patterns AB and ABC. The vertical axis represents the number of children who

were able to complete the task while the horizontal axis represents the similarities and difference

of the repeated patterns. The bar graph displays an increment of four children who were able to

identify the similarities and one child who could identify the difference.

Photograph 4: Charlie pointing out the triangle


as the difference between the repeated AB and
ABC pattern.

In summary, children predominantly showed improvement in their patterning skills, with

the exception of one child who displayed no signs of improvement throughout the course of

research, despite prompting and facilitation from researchers. Observation field notes revealed

that children who had the ability to create, extend, identify and correct a mistake as well as

identify the similarities and differences in the repeated patterns independently during the pre-test

were able to perform likewise for the post-test. Thus, this proves that children’s patterning skills

were maintained and improved through the interventions except for one child.

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Findings from Interventions:

Intervention 1:

During the first round, children were given pink and blue bibs and were asked to create a

repeated AB pattern as a group. Three children were unable to do so:

Natasha: Green is next!

Kate: I want pink.

Zack required his friends to tell him where to stand.

It can be gathered that these children were uncertain about creating the repeated pattern as

Natasha made a random guess, Kate focused on the colour she wanted instead of what came next

in the pattern while Zack needed help.

During the second round, all children were able to recreate the repeated AB pattern

without guidance when Sasha stopped moving which disrupted the pattern. However, it was noted

that only Andrew verbalized “No, then we must change our pattern!” to which the children

started rearranging themselves. Thus, this implies that majority of children needed prompting to

recreate the pattern.

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Intervention 2:

With reference to the field notes recorded, it was noted that the children in group A came

up with the two actions of rubbing their hands and arms and decided to do the actions

collectively as a group to form the pattern.

Children in group B thought of two separate actions – rubbing hands and tapping thighs

and took turns to do either one of the actions to create the pattern.

During the first round, seven out of 10 children were able to recreate their actions to form

the repeated AB pattern. However, it was observed that only three of them were able to correct

the mistake made by their peers.

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In group A, Andrew and Jack mixed up the movement sequence and did

the wrong actions.

Charlie: No, not this! (He proceeds to correct their actions by

modelling the correct actions for them.)

In group B, Kate imitated the action of the person before her.

Mary and Jill: No, you are rubbing hands! (They reminded Kate of her

assigned action)

Thus, it can be deduced that even though seven children displayed the correct action, only

three of them fully understood the concept of a repeated AB pattern as they were able to point out

the errors their peers made and correct them.

During the second round, eight out of 10 children were able to follow through with the

repeated AB pattern that they created. Most children were clear of the actions that came before

and after, except for Jack and Kate. It was observed that Jack from group A constantly looked at

his friends and followed their actions while researchers had to model the action for Kate. It can be

inferred that Jack and Kate were unable to understand the concept of a repeated AB pattern.

Adding on, it was recorded that children had difficulties coordinating with one another

and knowing when to change their actions during the first round. However, after the inclusion of

musical instruments such as tambourine, castanets and wooden drums in the second round,

children were able to do so easily. The steady beats aided with coordination as well as the change

of rhythm and instrument signalled a change in actions for children in group A and B

respectively.

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Intervention 3:

During the first round, children were encouraged to create a repeated AB pattern in

response to the dynamics of a song. All children were able to do so except for Jack who was

observed to be looking around and following his friends whenever they changed from tip-toeing

to running or vice versa.

For the second round, the activity was conducted twice. Children were to create a repeated

AB pattern by colouring alternate boxes in a line, in response to the dynamics of the song.

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Five out of 10 children were able to do so independently. Three children could do so with

guidance:

Sasha: “It is loud! It is soft!” (She was able to identify the dynamics, but

required constant reminders to indicate her answers on the box each time

after her verbalisation.)

Zack filled in the boxes correctly for the first line. He missed out on the

song dynamics for the second line as he went to change his colour pencil,

resulting in the wrong sequence for his colouring. After the researcher

guided him back to the activity, he was able to colour the rest of the boxes

according to the dynamics.

Jill was unable to colour the boxes correctly for the first line, but after

repeating the instructions to her, she was able to do so for the second line.

One researcher guided Jack as he identified the dynamics in the first song. However,

when he was encouraged to colour the boxes independently for the second song, he was unable

to identify the dynamics accurately and randomly coloured the boxes. Natasha was not able to

recognise the patterns from the dynamics of the song played as she was observed to be referring

to Mary’s work and following her answers. Hence, this shows that the remaining two children

were unable to understand the concept of a repeated AB pattern.

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Figure 5
10
9
8
Number of children able to

7
complete the task

6
5
4
3
2
1
0
Intevention 1 Intervention 2 Intervention 3
1st Round 2nd Round

Figure 5 represents compiled numerical findings of children who demonstrated

knowledge of repeated AB patterns during the three interventions as mentioned above. The

vertical axis represents the number of children who could complete the task and the horizontal

axis represents the interventions. The blue and orange bars illustrate results from the first and

second round of the intervention respectively.

In summary, there is an increase in the number of children who could complete the task

related to repeated AB patterns for intervention one and two (refer to Figure 5). From this, it can

be inferred that children were able to demonstrate their knowledge of patterning after they

became more familiar with the concept. For intervention three, it can be noted that the nature of

the activities for the first and second round moved from concrete (movement) to abstract

(symbolization), which might have resulted in the dip of numbers.

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Discussion

Strengths

During the course of the study, children were assessed according to the same checklist

and used the same materials for the pre-test and post-test. For instance, five children used

coloured sticks whereas the other five used felt cut-outs. Researchers also maintained their roles

throughout the research as conductors or data collectors. Due to consistency, it ensured the

validity of the data collected for the tests, thus fortifying the reliability of the results.

Furthermore, even though the study was conducted within a short period of three weeks,

results have shown improvements in children’s patterning skills. Thus, this implies that the use

of music and movement to teach patterning is effective. In addition, the focus of the

interventions was only on repeated AB patterns. However, with reference to figures 1, 2 and 3,

there is also an increase in the numbers during the post-test for other repeated patterns. From

this, it can be inferred that by placing the focus on the fundamental AB pattern, children were

able to build on and apply what they had learnt to work on complex patterns.

Besides enhancing children’s patterning skills, this study also provided children

opportunities to participate in music and movement activities as they did not have such activities

in their lessons. Although the children were hesitant to participate initially, they gradually

opened up in the following interventions. The researchers of this study came to the conclusion

that although seeing improvements in their patterning skills was rewarding, knowing the children

enjoyed the process was definitely more satisfying.

Limitations

The limitations of this study firstly include children’s lack of knowledge of music and

movement due to the centre’s teaching practices. Although music and movement is included in

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the curriculum, the English teacher does not implement it. As children are limited to learning

through worksheets and storybooks, they were initially resistant to learn through music and

movement. For instance, when music was played during the first intervention, children were

hesitant and needed guidance to create actions. Hence, it would have been more fruitful for the

children if they have had prior experiences with music and movement.

Through the responses from the children, researchers discovered that children lacked

patterning vocabulary such as ‘repeated patterns’, ‘create’ and ‘extend’. For example, when

children were tasked to identify the difference between the repeated AB and ABC pattern, all the

children that were able to identify the differences were unable to explain why.

Three out of four researchers were unfamiliar with the children thus this led to the

inability to build rapport within a short time frame. Children appeared to be shy and

apprehensive in participating during the initial stages of the research. Despite the implementation

of classroom management strategies, the children displayed challenging behaviours towards the

later stages of the research. This caused researchers to feel the lack of authority, making it

challenging to gather responses from the children.

As researchers were only given an hour for each session which overlapped children’s

lesson time and routine care, they were often distracted and requested to be dismissed to join

their remaining classmates. This resulted in disruption of children’s focus thus not maximising

their learning.

Recommendations for Future Research

Based on the limitations mentioned above, there are several improvements that can be

made. Firstly, there is a need for future researchers and children to build a positive relationship

prior to the implementation. This is to ensure that the effectiveness and efficiency of the research

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is maximised. Alternatively, the action research can be conducted by the class teacher as part of

the curriculum as children would have already been familiar with the teaching practices. Adding

on, children should be exposed to music and movement as well as patterning activities which

allows them to gain prior knowledge about the elements of music and patterning language

respectively.

Implications for the Early Childhood Industry

Rebuking the misconception that music and movement activities do not contribute to

children’s learning, researchers of this study have observed that the simplest music and

movement activity can enhance children’s holistic development - numeracy skills developed

when learning patterning; language and literacy skills enhance when exposed to music and

movement vocabulary and patterning language; socio-emotional development reinforced through

interactions with peers; aesthetic and creative expression through music and creation of actions

or movement.

In addition, the results from this research have concluded that music and movement does

help to enhance children’s patterning skills. Although Waldorf argues that children learn

through practice (as cited in Nicol, 2015), researchers of this study believe that music and

movement is key for children to learn patterning. This is due to the fact that children were

exposed to differing music and movement experiences during the interventions which avoided

the repetition of activities, and had demonstrated improvements in their patterning skills as seen

from the post-test results. Hence, researchers of this study hope that preschool educators in

Singapore will realise the importance of music and movement in the children’s lives, enabling

them to reflect upon their own teaching practices. Educators should work towards integrating

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music and movement into day-to-day lessons and not only patterning activities. This will provide

effective learning opportunities for children, keeping them active, interested and engaged.

Notes on Contributors

Alethea Luo Jiayi, Ashleender Kaur D/O Amarjeet Singh, Ho Yi Ning Eunice and Sim Lei Jie

Rachel are undergraduates of the Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education programme

at Singapore Institute of Technology-Wheelock College.

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