The Evolution of Playspaces – How Landscape Architects are Adapting our Outdoor Spaces for Intergenerational Community Recreation
Landscapes are the settings for great human memories, and undoubtedly lockdown has made us all realize just how precious our open spaces are, particularly in high-density cities. These essential spaces are a vital factor in the well-being of individuals and the community and there is actually little difference in our fundamental need for, and the use of, open space regardless of generation, age group, or culture.
Creating a great experience is one of landscape architects’ primary considerations when designing the greens, squares, streets, marketplaces, parks, and gardens that we all identify as outdoor public spaces. The physical, mental, and cultural activities of humans require amongst other things spaces to breathe and to be inspired, spaces to linger, to exercise, to dream, to meet by intention or by chance, and be creative.
Public spaces – being a place of free and open access – is traditionally linked to social, cultural, or economic exchanges, and are once again gaining increasing importance as a component of everyday quality of life, especially in urban areas. Loneliness and disconnection are on the rise, exacerbated by social distancing, and the disruption of normal routines, and those disconnections manifest themselves in other health issues for individuals including depression. In fact, loneliness is seen by many as one of the largest health concerns we face this century and the importance of social connection and relationships has been brought into sharp relief by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Growing public attention to loneliness in our communities has been accompanied by designers and landscape architects beginning to challenge traditional modes of play and playground design and extending the role of open play spaces to include a range of different social agendas, which includes combating loneliness in all ages. The provision and use of these public open spaces (including privately owned spaces with areas for public use, such as shopping malls and public libraries), can have an essential role in promoting social cohesion, intergenerational connections, and opportunities for shared creativity.
We have historically divided our communities and our activities by ethnicity, language, age, and ability, but the potential for the hybridization of play spaces, where the spatial boundaries between adults and children’s activities merge, can result in innovative and uplifting settings which encourage connections and help secure the future prosperity of a community. One simple way to make this happen is through the introduction of outdoor musical instruments. Making music brings people together like nothing else and offering quality musical opportunities – on real instruments – for spontaneous music-making, provides an engaging experience where nobody is excluded from the fun whatever their ability, mobility, or age.
The notion of intergenerational activity and play has increasingly drawn attention over recent years, and a growing body of scholarly literature has begun to point more and more towards the premise that when adults and in particular seniors become involved in cross-generational learning activities with children and adolescents, huge benefits are accrued by both parties. Adding intergenerational play elements such as outdoor musical instruments to public spaces encourages connectivity and due to its universal appeal, playing music can successfully bridge intergenerational gaps. The combined effects of musical play and intergenerational social participation have proven to be incontrovertibly beneficial for the improvement and maintenance of both the physical and mental health of seniors. Given the opportunity to participate, regardless of physical or psychological impairments, intergenerational musical play in public spaces can serve as a fruitful, meaningful, and financially accessible activity for them.
Music is able to bring a diverse group of people together in the community because it transcends language limitations – instead providing its own language of rhythm and melody to enable its players and users to communicate with each other non-verbally. Providing opportunities for members of a community to be around each other in this way promotes familiarity and the formation of healthy relationships and helps to engender a sense of belonging for those who participate. It is apparent then that music can help us to develop a more cohesive society if access to it is provided and engagement promoted.
This growing body of emerging research is starting to relate music-making with place-making and specifically with the creation of an authentic community and the breaking down of stereotypes, all whilst simultaneously working to improve cognitive function, emotional capacity, and physical wellbeing of participants. Just as public music spaces bring people together and create a sense of civic vitality for communities, it’s also restorative for the individual.
While the pandemic has created enormous challenges, it has also potentially brought about positive change. The isolation it provoked was a good reminder of how much we need others — and places in which to be together — even in less trying times. Community wellbeing in the future depends on our taking a more joined-up harmonious approach to the use of public space and perhaps a little more music in the public realm could be the stimuli for positive community relations and a little less loneliness.
When we lose those dearest to us, commissioning a memorial to celebrate their life can be the hardest task facing us. However, it can also be the most rewarding.
Finding a lasting and meaningful way to remember a loved one can bring comfort at a time of loss. Choosing the right way to honor and to celebrate someone’s life or work can be immensely healing to the bereaved who are comforted knowing that they’re creating something beautiful to honor a memory. The act of creating a meaningful memorial is a validation of grief and love as well as an empowering act of healing and a channel for energy. It is extremely powerful to have the opportunity to think deeply around just what it is about the loved one that is to be remembered and the subject of their memorial. These acts can be done individually, as a family, or as a community.
More often than not, memories of a loved one involve music, laughter, fun, and togetherness – all things that can be incorporated into their memorial and celebration of their life. A dedicated outdoor musical instrument, music park, or trail is a joyful, lasting public tribute and an increasingly popular way for a special person’s name to live on in the heart of the community. Music is a celebration of life, full of positivity and sunshine, and a music memorial in the great outdoors can bring harmony and light into the lives of others – helping to convey something that can’t easily be put into words.
One of the biggest fears people have after the death of a loved one is that the person will be forgotten. This is even more acute when the person who died has lived a short life and choosing a suitable memorial to commemorate a young life can be particularly difficult. A musical instrument or musical space for the community to enjoy in the park or school playground could be the perfect way to celebrate the life of a friend, brother, or sister who has left this world far sooner than expected or imagined. Dedicating a sustainable legacy of inclusive music-making opportunities for other young people to enjoy in the name of a young person with a passion for music, will inspire creativity, bring people together, and smiles to faces.
There is nothing quite like time spent outdoors in a beautiful space for remembering a loved one. A memorial music garden can act as a healing place for contemplation, somewhere to offer a peaceful, calming atmosphere where families can sit and reflect, with musical instruments providing a non-threatening outlet for emotional expression. Stimulating sensory gardens are a much-loved feature with residents, families, and staff in nursing homes and senior centers. The gift of an outdoor musical instrument, such as outdoor chimes or xylophone, will create a wonderful sound, be visually attractive and encourage residents to take some gentle exercise and enjoy a little music-making outdoors in the sunshine. Visiting little ones will love exploring the instruments and all generations will enjoy the positive effects of bonding through playing music together, listening to each other, having fun, being outdoors, and being creative.
Musical memorials or tributes can be made on a grand scale – major city music parks with multiple instruments and stage for outdoor performances – or on a smaller scale such as a single drum, chimes, or xylophone donated as a remembrance gift to a special place they loved or to a local school, church, woodland or park. The size and tone can vary just as widely as the unique personalities of the individuals being memorialized. Percussion Play offers to custom engrave an instrument (where possible) to personalize it at no extra charge. However, often due to limited space on the instruments themselves, a memorial plaque, engraved with a personal inscription that reflects the loved one’s life, can be attached to or placed next to the instrument.
Music is a wonderful tool that can lift us up and what better way to honor someone who loved music, who loved the outdoors or had an adventurous spirit, than to bring provide an inclusive community place for individuals, families, or groups of friends to stroll, unwind and create great music together in a fun and carefree way.
Well-designed and accessible public spaces are an incredibly important asset to our towns and cities. They provide opportunities for people to come together and play a vital role in the social and economic life of communities.
Successfully designed outdoor public spaces are inclusive of the diversity of groups present within the community and create social places for everyone in that society to meet and participate. Indeed, the social value of open space lies in the opportunities it provides for social interaction, social mixing, and social inclusion. Creating a space that successfully engages people is an art form that heavily relies on innovation, accessibility, good design and the input of the community.
New kinds of public spaces and meeting places are being created in towns, cities and residential areas, including downtown locations, street markets, shopping precincts, community centres, parks, and neighborhood spaces. They include play areas, event or performance spaces as well as areas for rest and relaxation.
There are many factors that contribute to successful public spaces that are not solely in the hands of the architect, urban designer, or town planner; they also rely on people adopting, using, and managing the space – it’s true that people make places, more than places make people.
Child-friendly outdoor public spaces are especially important. They give young people an arena to learn some of the rules of communal life, exchange ideas, cement friendships, and learn new skills. It is imperative that cities and regions consider a more holistic approach to child development and supporting new and creative ways to foster and sustain learning beyond the classroom. One innovative approach to bringing education into the public realm is through playful learning – supporting adult-child interactions and neighborhood engagement in places where children and families regularly spend time. Alternative learning experiences that can heighten interest, spark creativity, and are socially interactive.
With their unusual shapes and wonderful sounds, outdoor musical instruments are both conversation starters and people magnets. They add a fun touch to public spaces whilst also being educational, therapeutic, and engaging. Intended to bring people together in unexpected ways, they foster exchange between the player and the passers-by – creating a comfortable atmosphere for individuals to truly express themselves while interacting with each other.
Putting an interesting twist on traditional playground equipment, outdoor musical instruments in a public space bring about opportunities for parents, grandparents, and guardians to share an activity with their children, explore their curiosity and teach them (or learn alongside them) new musical skills as well as a range of motor and social skills. Exploring the instruments can instigate conversations around a number of subjects including language, culture, color, and numbers.
Now more than ever we are seeing the importance of expanding opportunities for playful learning—that is, child-directed experiences that are driven by curiosity and exploration—outside of the classroom. Outdoor musical instruments can help transform everyday spaces into powerful learning opportunities for children and families. Easily installed and without requiring too much space or expensive surfacing, they can be used to reinvent everyday spaces as fun learning opportunities that organically prompt the kinds of interactions that help children thrive. Changing everyday spaces and making them more extraordinary.
Challenging our town and city planners to recognize the benefits of reimagining our public spaces as positive playful learning opportunities for all learners, young or old and with varying abilities, should see vibrant, welcoming spaces for everyone to use and enjoy.
Music has always been a powerful way to bring people together and we have a vision for creating family-friendly musical oases in towns and cities across the world.
Open-ended play is vital to a child’s development. It enables learning in a truly holistic way, through active play and exploration – with no instruction or direction. With no pre-determined limitations and no fixed answer – open-ended play means children simply follow their imagination and allow the play to go in any direction their creativity takes them. As there are no set outcomes, there is no right or wrong way to play – no rules, no expectations, no specific problems to solve, and no pressure to produce a finished product.
The Benefits of Open-Ended Play
The benefits for children engaging in open-ended play are numerous. Allowing for self-directed exploration and repetitive behaviors gives children the chance to experiment and consolidate their learning. Open-ended resources support this creativity while resources that are made for a purpose have a fixed outcome e.g. a large cardboard box can be a car, a shop, a spaceship whereas a puzzle will always be a puzzle. While it has its own educational benefits, it will only ever be one thing.
The creative nature of open-ended play also enhances cognitive skills, such as working memory, cognitive flexibility, self-regulation, and self-discovery.
Children can focus on ‘creating’, based on their inner inspiration and motivation. It is an outlet for a stream of continuous thought development and expression. Open-ended play links directly with the Early Years Foundation Stage, allowing practitioners to observe children using a multitude of skills – for example creating props to support role-play or investigating shape, space, and measure. These observations also link to the Characteristics of Effective Learning – fostering opportunities for children to create and think critically, play and explore and be active in their learning.
Music Fosters Open Ended Play
Unstructured outdoor musical play offers opportunities for children to discover ways to express their thoughts, ideas, and feelings, and improvising with music is a wonderful way to foster open-ended play. Outdoor musical instruments located in parks and playgrounds allow children to explore their musical selves, including their originality, and offer a safe, secure space in which to experiment with improvisation.
Open-ended musical play differs from teacher-structured music time in an educational setting. Initiated by children of their own volition and intrinsically motivated, play and participation prevail performance. This is critical since many self-confidence issues regarding music and the performing arts are centered around the idea that you can “get it wrong” or that what you’ve created is less than perfect. Many of the Percussion Play outdoor musical instruments are tuned to a simple five-note musical scale called the pentatonic scale. Pentatonic scale notes are harmonious in whichever order they are played and great for developing musical skills and technique without tuition. Since it is impossible to play a ‘wrong’ note anyone can create music that sounds good – building the confidence of inexperienced or very young musicians and encouraging spontaneous musical behavior. Suddenly, musical composition isn’t just for prodigies – it’s a form of artistic expression that every child is capable of doing, free to experiment with new concepts as they realize there’s no right or wrong way to engage.
Although children are surrounded daily by a variety of musical experiences, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for them to actively and freely engage in the music-making itself. Modern life means they’re inundated with melodies emitted from computer games, phones, TV shows, and toys, meaning most of the music they encounter is “unchosen,” making them passive recipients of the music in their lives and not actively engaged in its selection or making. Given the chance, children are natural composers and love to experiment with the sounds all around them. The freedom of improvisation has significant effects on the development of a child’s creative musical thinking, and that musical originality—the way the child uniquely manipulates musical sounds—increases along with their musical potential.
Open-Play Environments to Practice and Hone Key Skills
Children grow emotionally, socially, creatively, and cognitively through spontaneous music and movement, with their impromptu musical performances often revealing what they are thinking, seeing, or doing. Even when their language isn’t quite at a level to articulate their fears, excitements, or opinions, the type of music they produce during open-ended play will speak volumes.
It is imperative that young children are given access to environments that support this musical freedom, interaction, and development as well as the time to enjoy them. The permanence of outdoor musical instruments means no tidying away at the end of the day, allowing children to constantly revisit and tweak their musical compositions or repeat their choice of learning – allowing them to merge all the information they have gathered when experimenting with pitch, tempo, and dynamics.
Playgrounds are an awesome place to encourage open-ended play. Spaces that children of all backgrounds can enjoy in play areas that fuel young imaginations, encourage interaction and engage all of the senses.
Encouraging Open-Ended Play
Open-ended play strips away all rules, expectations, and time frames, and encourages children to think for themselves. Children learn to react better in situations, they learn to make choices, and they feel more inspired. When a child is asked to solve an academic or a real-life problem, they will be better equipped to resolve it through using the skills they have practiced and learned during open-ended play.
Whether you’re playing with a child or asking about their play, use open-ended questions and avoid directing their play or taking over their lead. Nothing squashes open-ended play more than being told what or how to play. Follow their lead and nurture their creativity and problem-solving skills.
By permitting our resources, learning environments, and our support as adults to be open-ended, learning through play continues to be dynamic – and most of all, fun.
Outdoor Musical Instruments in Elementary Schools Help in The Race to Prevent Nature Deficit Disorder
We are spending more time inside than ever before – even though it is well documented that time spent in the great outdoors is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to maintain or improve our overall health and wellbeing. Computers, tablets, cell phones, and video games all compete to hog our attention and keep us from stepping outside into nature to decompress. Most concerning of all is the impact this lack of exposure to green outdoor space is having on the health of our children.
The concern about children spending too much time indoors has become so great that it has been given its own term – ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ or NDD. Although it’s not a recognized medical condition, concerns about its effects on young people’s wellbeing are attracting widespread attention.
Instead of basking in natural sunlight, many children today are spending hours of their time basking in the glow of some form of screen, disturbing their natural circadian rhythms, impacting their sleep quality, and forming a detachment from the natural world.
Problems such as difficulty concentrating, high-stress levels, and poor physical health. Diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and depression are common companions of a sedentary indoor lifestyle. Sunlight triggers the body’s vitamin D production, which in turn helps us fight off inflammation, lowers blood pressure, improves brain function, bone and muscle health. Being outside in fresh air and sunlight protects growing eyes, with the ample light of the outdoors preventing their eyes from working harder than they need to.
There is too much at stake here simply to accept the situation as an inevitable consequence of modernity. It is the joint responsibility of parents, educators, and urban planners to help this ‘indoor generation’ toeasily and safely spend more time outside, reconnecting with the natural world – wherever they are located. If children are given the opportunity to experience nature, even in simple ways, interaction and engagement follow quite naturally. Time spent outside needs to be an everyday occurrence, and if we design our cities—including our homes and schools—with an integrated approach, with landscaping and architecture blending to work in harmony with nature, it could become a commonplace pattern.
The Outdoor Classroom
Classrooms without walls are a great way to promote time spent outside for both outdoor learning and play. There are countless physiological, social, and academic benefits to learning outside – for both pupils and teachers – that indoor classroom lessons just cannot match. Outdoor learning encourages kid’s creativity, builds their attention spans, and increases their desire to explore, yet, despite the outdoors purported to be so significant and beneficial, it is still often overlooked or under-utilized when teaching elementary children.
Outdoor classrooms allow a school to offer daily opportunities to learn outside; a place for telling stories, a place for cooking, a place for supporting the arts, a place for play. Children can move seamlessly between indoor and outdoor spaces with alternative methods of learning providing a host of advantages for children, who often don’t realize they’re learning when outside.
Well-equipped outdoor classrooms provide wonderful opportunities to deliver unique and engaging experiences for pupils outside of classroom walls while exploring numerous subjects such as math, science, literacyand language, and unquestionably, music.
Music in The Outdoor Classroom
Some things just work better outdoors, and music is one of them!
A great music program uses the whole school environment. Musical instruments in your outdoor classroom and/or playground will encourage children to learn about music through free play and exploration – subtly integrating music and ‘outdoor time’ into their everyday school experience.
Children revel in the freedom to explore the range of sounds, tempos, and dynamics of the musical instruments and free play is what gives them mastery. Children often feel less inhibited outdoors and musical playground equipment will help introduce basic musical concepts whilst being sure that the focus is on the fun. This notion of experimentation, of flexibility, of just having a go are all elements needed to become confident, rounded musicians of the future.
Music is an intensely social experience; children learn to cooperate when making music together, combining their efforts to solve problems, make decisions, and work together towards a common goal. Collaboration is needed to create a new melody or rhythm and they’re required to listen to each other as well as the sounds produced, to share each other’s ideas and express their own. Children can fine-tune their listening skills outside and develop confidence in projecting their voices across the space.
Music also has an inherently physical dynamic; movement to music is a wonderful way to get kids active, offering opportunities for both fine and gross motor activity. Outdoor environments not only offer greater freedom of movement than a classroom but also allow for less constraint to ways of behaving and thinking, making the outdoors open to richer experiences due to the increased space and the creative possibilities it presents.
Children can learn to explore their emotions through music and can learn to share these emotions with others; plus, they’ll learn they can use music to affect their emotional state. When you are feeling angry, nothing makes you feel better than playing the drums real loud, right?
The introduction of an outdoor musical space or trail as part of a school’s outdoor education program will help children discover the joy and empowerment of music-making while reaping the benefits of time in the natural environment.
Watching a class of children playing outdoor instruments prove that, when presented with the opportunity, life outdoors is still something children benefit greatly from and, more importantly, enjoy.
From the earliest times, drums and their rhythms have been at the center of social and cultural activities all over the world, in fact, it is said to be man’s oldest musical percussion instrument. Drums have been used in every culture for many purposes from religious rituals and ceremonies, to sporting events and as a way to communicate or signal.
Drumming has also been used therapeutically since ancient times and now the primitive drumming circle is emerging as a significant therapeutic tool in the modern technological age. Drums and drumming are increasingly being used as a powerful means of improving health and well-being, personal development, and improving communication by large companies, service clubs, music therapists, youth groups, schools, and communities.
Drumming circles, ensembles, and making music together in a group can be a unifying experience – encouraging self-expression and camaraderie as well as lots of hands-on fun! Drumming together is a tool for unity. It breaks down barriers, builds personal and team confidence, releases stress, motivates, and creates spontaneity.
Many service clubs and community groups have created informal drum circles and workshops to bring children and adults together in a fun-filled, cooperative environment where they can build community spirit, and learn a new skill that they can even take away and share with their friends. Clubs such as the Wilmington Rotary who proudly unveiled the Jonathan P. Whitcomb Memorial Music Circle in their local park to engage the whole community and introduce music-making in the outdoors to people of all ages and all abilities. The music circle included several stainless-steel drums designed for permanent outdoor use and recommended for high-use public areas.
Drumming captures the heart of most who encounter it and with when playing hand drums, such as those used in the Wilmington Music Circle, you don’t have to worry about melody or chords, and absolutely NO previous musical experience is required.
So, it seems the drum continues to play a central role in our society. Why not find the rhythm and beat of your own drum? There are many drumming communities across the world promising anxiety release, physical toning, spiritual growth, creativity, and personal empowerment whilst being a whole lot of fun – and who couldn’t use that?
Benefits of Drumming and Drum Circles
Induces relaxation and reduces tension, anxiety, depression, and stress
Quite simply, drumming makes you feel great! It helps synchronize the body’s natural rhythms while making you feel as one – connected and peaceful. In one study, blood samples from participants who took part in an hour-long drumming session revealed a reversal in stress hormones.
Gives a boost to the immune system and accelerates physical healing.
Neurologist Barry Bittman, M.D. of the Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute, and his research team discovered that drumming significantly increases the body’s natural T-cells, which help combat cancer as well as other viruses.
Increases energy levels
Playing with tempo and speed will get your blood flowing by speeding your heart rate slightly, improving circulation, sending oxygen and nutrients soaring through your body and brain, and giving your cells more energy to burn.
Thoughts, emotions, and sensations are interconnected elements of the human condition, and one’s entire self is affected when in pain. Whether chronic or acute, pain is exacerbated by stress and anxiety. Music therapists use drumming as a method of holistic pain management, with the influence of rhythm and beat being felt on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels.
Boots confidence and releases negative feelings and emotions
Drumming is an exercise in creativity and self-expression. Playing music or hitting a drum, like a Djembe or Cajon, has the ability to bring out a natural zest for life through personal expression – you can literally drum out your feelings! Opportunities for building self-esteem can be found in the mastery of the drum, the creativity allowed by drumming, and the experience of drumming with others.
Making social interactions, sense of community and connectedness
It is a long-known fact that music creates bonds and community drumming has proven to be an exceptional activity to empower children and adults and family and friends alike. Drum Circles provide an opportunity for participants to feel connected with others and gain a sense of interpersonal support.
Improving Language and Communication
Drumming is an ancient nonverbal method of communication. When drumming in groups, you learn the art of listening and become keenly aware of your fellow drummers. The subtle awareness can become so great that some people report an empathic response.
Pandemic is Catalyst for Extending Visitor Experiences Outside
As venues adjust their procedures and reduce visitor capacities to ensure they can welcome guests back safely, there has been a renewed focus on the great outdoors that has seen outside spaces, however large or small, becoming key investment areas and successful intersections between wellbeing, the arts, and great family connections.
Making the most of outdoor spaces now and into the future has become a priority; with guests feeling more comfortable spending time outside where they can keep a safe distance from other visitors while enjoying their family day out.
With many museums and attractions having to rethink their programs, shift their focus, and activate their outdoor spaces to offer open-air activities, exhibitions, and events, perhaps they should look to outdoor music as a gateway to the performing arts as well as a fun, engaging family learning experience?
Due to its universal appeal, music can successfully bridge intergenerational gaps. The creation of outdoor music zones for spontaneous music-making, using real-life musical instruments that are holistically interactive, engage multiple senses and are responsive, will be enjoyed by everyone – regardless of age or ability. Knowledge of music, keys, or scales is not required just the willingness to have a go and outdoor musical instruments, with their emphasis on family and multi-generational participation, will make a welcome change or refreshing addition to play spaces or discovery zones outside.
Children learn through play and experimentation and by watching and listening to the grownups they love. Participating in music activities together is the best thing any parent or caregiver can do to help set a child on the road to a lifelong love of music. Music areas or zones are a great way for families and guests to take a calm moment away from the excitement of the main attractions, step away from the crowds, decompress and experience a different kind of activity together. The collection of outdoor musical instruments available represent music-making from many cultures from around the world and therefore invite children and their families to explore global music, rhythms and movement whilst enjoying bursts of post lockdown musical creativity.
One of the many benefits of outdoor musical instruments is they can be installed almost anywhere; indoors or outdoors, on grass, on concrete, on decking, walls, or – in the case of the brand new ‘Stepping Stones’ – even underground! As the instruments are intended to be played while standing on the ground, they do not have any requirements for expensive impact-absorbing safer surfacing and require only a little routine maintenance. The instruments will make robust interactive exhibits that are designed to withstand the elements and live outside all year.
The ending of self-isolation will undoubtedly result in a resurgence of interest in authentic museum and family attraction experiences that cannot be replicated at home online. The addition of a few musical elements outdoors is a reliable way to generate interest and provide unique, educational content to guests while demonstrating an innovative solution to the social distancing challenges presented by COVID-19.
Children’s museums represent one of the fastest-growing segments of the museum community and have been rapidly increasing in number since their beginnings, with new initiatives and exhibitions seeing visitor numbers swell.
With a clear message of fun and learning for all – Children’s museums are unique places that bring children, families, and communities together and provide memorable, immersive learning experiences, provoke the imagination, introduce unknown worlds and subject matters, and offer unique environments for quality time with family.
These museums incorporate an array of activities that contribute to the mental, physical, affective, and social development of children. Museum educators strive to develop programs and activities that address literacy, performing arts, science and math, visual arts, cultures, and health and wellness.
Children represent the leaders of the future – our upcoming innovators, scientists, politicians, CEOs, musicians, artists, teachers, and community members. They shape what the world will become, and engaging this audience is essential. However, while a child may be the reason behind a trip to a children’s museum, it’s an adult that makes the decision to make the visit, assess the experience and decide if they would return. Children’s museums must evolve from engaging only children to engaging the entire family to bring fresh perspectives to exhibits and programs to continue to thrive.
The interactions among family members, spurred by a visit to the museum, can result in a greater sense of family connectedness. Today, family groups come in all different shapes and sizes, from children visiting with their parents or grandparents and even great-grandparents to caregivers with children aging from babies to teens. Whereas some embrace visiting museums with a multi-generational group, it can sometimes be difficult keeping the youngest in your group engaged at the same time as the older ones.
Due to its universal appeal, music can successfully bridge intergenerational gaps. Making music brings people together like nothing else and offering quality musical opportunities – on real instruments – for spontaneous music-making, provides a gateway to the performing arts as well as an engaging family learning experience.
Music ignites all areas of child development: intellectual, social and emotional, motor, language, and overall literacy. It helps the body and the mind work together and helps children develop important skills essential for success in life, such as concentration, confidence, and self-esteem. Young children learn through play and experimentation and by watching and listening to the grownups they love. Setting an example as an enthusiastic participator in music activities is the best thing any parent or caregiver can do to help set a child on the road to a lifelong love of music. Unfortunately, some parents avoid making music with their children in everyday life because they feel inadequate as music-makers themselves. This is a true loss for both generations.
Percussion Play instruments address these feelings of inadequacy by being so simple and easy to play that anyone, regardless of age, ability, or experience, can create interesting and fresh melodies – perfect for beginners and reluctant players. The use of the pentatonic scale in many instruments makes them excellent for improvisation; you can just play around and never hit anything inordinately dissonant in a kind of safe musical haven. The technique is not a problem, given the simplicity of the instruments. Dissonance is not a problem, given the pentatonic scale.
Outdoor musical instruments, with their emphasis on family and multi-generational participation, make a welcome change; often discovery and play spaces have been perceived, either because of their design or because it was assumed, as places for kids only, and adults just stood and watched or wandered off to see the rest of the museum. Through musical play, you are teaching the power and value of music to your child. The result: a joyful, musical child, enhanced family relationships, and a strong, musical community.
Read how outdoor musical instruments were included in the Treetops Outpost at the Connor Prairie outdoor history museum, located in Indiana. The Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum created a mini music station in their entranceway following a gift from a private donor who specifically wanted to see a musical instrument exhibit in the museum.
We appreciate that not all museums have outdoor facilities or outdoor spaces large enough to accommodate a musical garden or playground. Space was at a premium at the Building For Kids Museum in Wisconsin, but that didn’t stop the Education Coordinator creating a wonderful musical wall in their Arts Studio. For further inspiration check out our case study where the Minnesota Children’s Museum created the exhibit ‘Creativity Jam’ – a musical playground, featuring five Percussion Play instruments, that allows visitors to quite literally jam with family, friends and other visitors, all indoors.
Such shared music-making can facilitate and strengthen relationships between parents or caregivers and their children. What’s more, with all our instruments being designed with inclusive play in mind – nobody is excluded from the fun whatever their ability, mobility, or age. Providing musical experiences for family audiences (indoors or out) is a valuable way to advance a thriving museum’s mission, expand its audience, and strengthen its place within the community.
Music gives everyone a voice, and making music together can build a harmonious, cooperative spirit of support and encouragement for us all.
Inclusion is about engagement and often the lack of opportunity to get involved can be as significant a barrier as the nature of a person’s disability. The creation of holistic accessible outdoor music spaces, where many of the barriers that prevent a person from accessing music (whatever they might be) can be removed, will allow all members of the community the opportunity to experience live music as both a performer and listener – building shared musical and play experiences and in turn an understanding that will only help inclusion to grow.
After all, that is exactly what inclusive communities should be about: creating opportunities for us to share experiences, learn together, and maybe most importantly to have great fun together!
Music can have a profound effect on anyone, but the rewards of exposing people within the disabled community to live music-making opportunities can be huge. Making music can provide a fun and non-threatening outlet for creative and emotional expression and through the medium of music, many essential life skills can be learned or developed. However, with a severe lack of accessible musical instruments for people with varied physical abilities, people with disabilities are often excluded from making music. We want to break down the barriers of ability in music and aim to make the outdoor musical instruments within our range accessible to as many people as possible.
1. The Duo
Individuals with autism spectrum disorder often find it difficult to look others in the eyes as they find eye contact uncomfortable or stressful. The shape and offset note layout of the Duo allows for close social interaction without forcing close physical proximity. Players can interact with each other in a safe space without the need for direct eye contact, offering the chance for players to explore and experience creativity non-verbally through a shared moment together.
2. Rainbow Sambas
The multi-sensory act of drumming has a unique blend of physical activity, coordination, and musicality. As a set of five, the colorful Rainbow Sambas allows a small group to drum together to help develop social skills. This collaborative and interactive process has a lot of benefits for all children, with or without disabilities. They will learn to share, listen, pay attention, take cues from each other, and take turns. The vibration of the drum lid will engage the tactile system of the player, however, perhaps the most obvious benefit is the ease of expression – an opportunity to drum out feelings without needing to talk about things they cannot or do not want to.
The wide-span and suspended notes of the Papilio ensure wheelchair users can play and have equal amounts of creative fun, side-by-side with their peers, family, or therapist. Both the height and angle of the notes ensure maximum comfort for up to four players to interact, experiment with sound, and develop mobility skills.
4. Tubular Bells
Music is felt on a physical level by everyone – including people living with sensory impairment. When arranged in a horseshoe formation, the Tubular Bells create a wonderful surround-sound effect you can ‘feel’ with noticeable vibrations for anyone standing or seated in the middle of the shape. Players with sensory loss can use the vibration of the instrument to help them touch the sound they create which intensifies along with the level of movement and strength of the ‘strike’. Sound is vibration and vibration is tactile. You can ‘feel’ sound by touch and this combination of mobility and tactile stimulation, vibration, and music, make the Tubular Bells a powerful tool for cognitive and movement therapy.
5. Large Babel Drum
The easy-on-the-ear pentatonic scale used on our Babel Drum means you can play the calming, peaceful notes in any order to create a pleasing melody. Each note will seamlessly flow together in harmony, making it a great instrument and wonderful tool for finding inner peace, with their pleasant and relaxing sounds creating a calming restorative environment. Occupational therapists, music therapists, and child behavioral therapists find these drums to be beneficial in their practice. Playing them can help improve coordination, overcome physical difficulties, promote self-expression, and instill a greater level of confidence in the player’s abilities. Furthermore, their soothing sounds make them an excellent choice for children and adults with auditory processing difficulties.
There is no right or wrong in music, but the harmonic pentatonic scales used on most of our outdoor musical instruments allow the players to feel safe to experiment with self-expression. This leads to a sense of achievement, increased self-esteem, and confidence which can be transferred to other areas of their lives. Through playing the instruments, players can express their emotions, develop a sense of rhythm, support their physical development, develop communication skills, and benefit from auditory and tactile stimulation.
Music is a wonderful outlet that can lift spirits regardless of age, although there are a number of proven physical, mental, and emotional benefits specifically for seniors and older adults. Go a stage further, to making music and you will tap into a truly powerful tool that is able to help improve personal well-being, social interaction, and communication.
There is no denying the power of music, and as we age, music can play an increasingly important role in our quality of life. Retirement communities, assisted living residences, or nursing homes, looking at ways to innovate and enhance options for meaningful musical engagement, could consider the inclusion of outdoor musical instruments in a music garden, trail, or courtyard to easily incorporate music into the daily lives of residents for both cognitive and physical stimulation that engages the body, mind, and spirit.
Music-making in the great outdoors will enable enriching group musical experiences, foster connections, and support a holistic approach to caregiving. These instruments are enticing and will bring together residents, team members, families, and volunteers and will turn each day into an opportunity for seniors to engage, enjoy, express, learn, share, and laugh.
Outdoor Musical Instruments to Entice Residents Outdoors
Retirement communities and facilities will almost always have some type of outdoor space, and regular engagement of these spaces – where seniors are encouraged to step outside to participate in activities, enjoy the fresh air and sunshine and get mobile – will undoubtedly have a positive impact on mood, mental health, and physical wellbeing. Having the opportunity to be outdoors, even for those with more advanced health issues or limited mobility, is an important part of maintaining the quality of life, which all senior living residents deserve.
The many studies on the benefits of music combined with the research behind the benefits of time spent outdoors have seen a steady increase in the creation of music gardens and parks across the globe – with forward-thinking senior and assisted living residences as well nursing homes well on top of the trend!
Well-designed outdoor spaces should be safe and accessible havens where people want to spend their time. Spaces that should lift spirits and bring a smile to residents or guests each time they step outside. A music garden or courtyard will instantly enhance an outside space, creating a destination to entice residents, friends, family, and carers to venture out into the garden for some musical mindfulness. Easy to install, easy to play, and instantly gratifying, even just one instrument will uplift and transform an outdoor space.
Going outdoors is all about living in the moment, breathing in lots of fresh air, and feeling the sun or the rain on your face – add to this the liberating feeling and pure fun that comes from musical improvisation or expression and you will have a win-win situation.
Outdoor Musical Instruments for Music Therapy in Nature
When we think of the great outdoors, we do not often think of music therapy – but we can, and we should. Moving patients away from stuffy indoor settings and using outdoor musical instruments can introduce nature as a ‘co-therapist’.
The sounds and sensations of being in nature can be beneficial mentally, physically, and emotionally. Participants are often more relaxed outdoors -finding the natural surroundings relaxing, health-fostering, and recuperative – easing anxiety, eliminating fear, and encouraging ‘being in the moment’.
Music therapy in groups using an outdoor musical ensemble will bring social opportunities and enjoyment to older people who are not necessarily cognitively impaired but who may have reduced mobility.
Physical exercise is one thing, but there is also an emotional and mental relief that comes from being outside in the symphony of nature and music has the same impact. It stimulates the sense of reward and increases the production of the feel-good chemical serotonin, which can instantly lift our mood. Music-making reduces stress, enhances joy, leads to heightened positive emotion, modulates blood pressure, muscle tension, and a sense of well-being.
For those offering a holistic approach to senior care, music therapists in senior living communities can use the outdoor musical instruments to enhance the range of specialist care available for seniors living in their facility.
Outdoor Music Making for Socialization & Community
Music has been used for generations to bring people together. The positive effects are simply enhanced when we make music in a group setting – the energy created while making music with other people is shared and magnified.
Spaces for outdoor music activities such as a music garden or park will make it easier for seniors to stay active and be part of a musical community. It will help avoid social isolation by providing them with opportunities to have fun, learn something new, support each other and make friends -cultivating engagement and giving an enhanced sense of belonging.
Musical performances, drum circles, and sing-alongs could all be hosted outdoors in the ‘music space’ and retirement communities could be encouraged to invite the wider local community along to get involved, increasing awareness of the facility, breakdown barriers, expanding social connections, and drawing the benefits of multigenerational interactions.
Playing music with someone can create a very special bond, and an outside music space will offer somewhere new and exciting for visiting family and friends to go with their loved ones, leaving the confines of their room. A change of scenery and different sensory experiences can often stimulate conversation and help provide topics for reminiscence.
Inviting outdoor music spaces will encourage seniors tο:
Discover or reignite a connection to music
Stimulate active participation in communal music-making
Foster positive social interactions in the fresh air
The simplicity of the instruments and instant musical success will improve self-esteem and offer a sense of accomplishment.
Outdoor Musical Instruments for Winning Curb-Appeal
Running a retirement community is also a business, and retirement homes, assisted living facilities and other senior living options need to appeal to potential residents and reassure them that they provide the services and amenities required for seniors to live a healthy, happy life as they age.
When selecting a senior living community, people are likely to seek a well-rounded facility that emphasizes health and wellness and offers myriad opportunities to stay active. Attractive, creative outdoor activity spaces with outdoor musical instruments included will give a good visual ‘first impression’ to potential residents and their families who may visit several facilities before deciding which is a good fit for them. They will showcase the culture and sense of unity a senior living community has to offer.
Demonstrating the importance that music and music therapy has to the range of services offered will make a community or home stand out as engaging in current best practice in the care of senior adults. This will foster trust with seniors’ families possibly struggling with an emotional decision, help alleviate some of the fear that their parents may have and promote the value and advantages that come from living in a senior living community.