Thoughts on children and silence

Do children sometimes need peace and quiet?
January 9th 2015

In a recent college class (along with a group of student teachers), I was watching a video of an experienced teacher in action as she worked alongside toddlers with watercolour paints. The atmosphere in the room was one of engagement. The children were fascinated with the materials and happily experimented, with occassional support from their teacher. The children hardly spoke - they were too busy watching the paint and moving it around their paper. Such a peaceful scene - except for the background music (a popular children's musician, singing) and I wondered....why was it there? Was it there for a reason, or was it 'just there?'
Often, when I visit an early childhood setting, there is music playing. For me, there is nothing more pleasant than the busy 'hum' of children in action. It's the sound of engagement - chatting, laughing, an occasional squeal of delight. Do we need background music? Do the children notice it? Does it have an effect on them? What is that effect?

Watching the video, I was reminded of The Silence Game, devised by Maria Montessori many years ago. She had the children sit in a circle, close their eyes, and just listen....what do you hear when there is 'silence' around you? The world is never completely silent, but it's only when we stop and listen quietly that we really hear what is around us. I tried this game with a group of preschool children and the results were surprising. They had never before noticed the hum of the refrigerator, the swish of the curtains as they moved in the wind, their own breathing. After that experience, I was much more aware of the sounds within our classroom, and often took the opportunity to help children to listen to the 'silence.'

In our busy communities, and especially in the naturally boisterous and happy early childhood classroom, do our children ever experience a few quiet moments as they work? Do we let them 'just be' in the engaged moment, without a singer of children's songs, or 'peaceful music' in the background? Many of us are music lovers, and we want children to appreciate music too, but surely, there is value to hearing the clink of glass as it is touched by the paintbrush, the splash of water as we touch it, the sweep of the brush across the page? As adults, we often cherish quiet focused times, and I'm thinking that perhaps children could relax into these lovely moments too, and be lost in their own peaceful cocoon of quiet for a short time. What do you think?


I have to agree, silence can be just what is needed to support children to focus fully. In a world where children are continually surrounded by background noise, parents tend to have the music channel on in the background and tots grow up with their favourite tv programme shoved up their nose, to keep them quiet, I often think the world has gone mad.

I visited Reggio last year and I hope you will get as much as I did out of the visit. If your trip is organised on the same template as ours you will have visits to several nurseries. I found that if you have questions that asking them of the pedagogistas during these visits was the best way to get answers to personal inquiries.

Hi, Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this idea. I could not agree more. I appreciate the question you asked about whether or not the children even notice the background music. So interesting to consider :)

I like the hum of children busy at their work in the classroom but until that hum begins, I do like some soft music in the background. I think it’s more welcoming to enter a room that isn’t silent, where there isn’t any pressure to fill that silence. But I do think it’s unnecessary once more of the children have arrived and begun their work.

Thanks for your thoughts Michelle; I agree that soft music can be very welcoming...I certainly like it when I visit people's homes!

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I am fortunate to regularly have the opportunity to have lively discussions about pedagogical documentation with colleagues and friends who are not only early years educators, but also artists or graphic designers.

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