Our Pre-K children performed their version of Mozart's Magic Flute yesterday morning. Mozart wouldn't have recognized much of it, nor would have the librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder. But I expect they would have enjoyed the enthusiasm, and comic proclivities of the children performing their Singspiel. Mozart and Schikaneder created this work, Mozart's only one in their native German, as a folk opera, one that would appeal to the average Austrian. The music, however, is anything but average. Thus it mesmerized many of children from the moment they heard it. Young children are born to love music of all genres and types. They are genetically predisposed to it., as Oliver Sacks says in his book Musicophilia.
Doing an opera (however truncated and strangely nonsensical ours was) can be challenging in preschool. Since ours is a childcare program as well as preschool, our "events" aren't always planned in conjunction with parents'. Our Papageno (the boy who said he was interested in this rich, comic part) left for Lebanon with his parents along with his twin brother the Dragon. Our stately Queen of the Night found out she was going camping on a Thursday when our performance was Friday. So our Sarastro was promoted to Papageno, (I cut Sarastro. My husband, being a baritone with bass tendencies, was horrified.) My teaching partner, Sue, who had been in Florida the whole week of rehearsals, stepped in as the Queen of the Night, and I gleefully subbed in as the Dragon. One of the three ladies left for Iran to visit relatives before we performed. The two left declared themselves the "Two Ladies", which solved that casting problem. Children solve our difficulties more easily than we do, and with much less angst.
All of the props, from the magic flute itself, Papageno's pan pipes and magic bells, to the lock for Papageno's mouth, were made by the children during activity time over the course of two weeks. The sets were made by the children with design help from my partner, Sue. I "directed" and stage-managed but gave the cast as much freedom as I could to interpret their roles. The "Two Ladies" took it upon themselves to let me know when I had forgotten anything. The children too shy to talk onstage were happy to become the animals enchanted by Tamino's flute.
With the interest in the arts in early childhood growing, it is dispiriting to hear from my adult students about how impoverished many of our programs still are in this regard. How better to promote literacy, fine motor skills, long-term memory, and body/brain integration than to give them a story with music that they themselves are willing to do? How better to nurture design (cognitive/spatial abilities) than to ask them to come up with a prop created with cardboard, paper, straws, tape and buttons? Teacher scaffolding replaces teacher creating, teacher dictating. Children gain confidence in their own abilities. Along the way they hone all of their skills. How freeing this approach is!
Yes, it is work. It is absolutely so much easier for teachers to follow set lesson plans year after year, using the usual themes and activities. Children will respond to these. They are generous souls. They don't know that there is a better way.
Using the arts (and I mean art, not craft) as a road to learning motivates children to do their best and be proud of the results. And it doesn't require magic.