The Benefits of an Early Childhood Musical Education

Raising the Bar for our Youngest Learners

The Benefits of an Early Childhood Musical Education

Music surrounds us everyday and is used by various people in a multitude of ways. Consider how music can easily get you pumped up for a big game, quickly calm your nerves when you’re upset or anxious, or wake you up your children when they’re feeling sluggish. Music can inspire us and get our creative juices flowing – simply put, it has the ability to influence us all, regardless of our background or culture.

As babies, our children listen to music around them and practice imitating and making noises of their own. Just like with language, the more they hear, the quicker and more developed such skills become. And so, why would we consider early childhood education without considering a musical component? Multiple studies have shown that music for our youngest learners is essential – in fact, children who are exposed to music at a young age typically have better motor and problem solving skills, verbal recall, special awareness, rhythm, and listening abilities. Their brains are literally trained differently than their peers who fail to receive the same exposure early in life. According to Dr. Eric Rasmussen, chair of the Early Childhood Music Department at Johns Hopkins University, “There’s some good neuroscience research that children involved in music have larger growth of neural activity than people not in music training. When you’re a musician and you’re playing an instrument, you have to be using more of your brain.”

While it’s no secret the early years of childhood development are crucial to creating a solid foundation for later learning, too often early childhood programs do not place as strong as an emphasis on music as they likely should. Some teachers and schools may simply believe further musical education is for a select group of the most musically inclined children, while others may feel self conscious about their own musical abilities. However, according to a study published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, “Infancy and early childhood are the prime times to capitalize on children’s innate musical spontaneity, and to encourage their natural inclinations to sing, move, and play with sound.”

Though it’s quite likely children are exposed to music on a regular basis – perhaps a song before bedtime with their parents, singing the alphabet or a catchy little jingle to encourage everyone to help clean up their space at school, there is typically room for more pre-planned, developmentally appropriate opportunities to provide children with additional musical exposure.

Some ideas that can easily be incorporated into any classroom or early childhood program include, but are not limited, to the following:

  1. Allow time for children to explore and simply play with various instruments.
  2. Create space in classrooms for children to “perform” – perhaps a microphone, costumes, etc.
  3. Provide exposure or time for children to investigate instruments and music from other cultures.
  4. Provide materials that can be used to invent music – pots and pans, cups with water, etc.
  5. Let your children guide their own creative play and encourage them to use music in various ways throughout their day.
  6. Incorporate music into various other learning times throughout the day –rhythms and beats to enhance math and spatial learning, songs to teach new concepts, etc.

When evaluating early childhood programs, parents and teachers can take into consideration whether classrooms incorporate a combination of song, movement, creativity, and opportunities to play instruments. Like other types of learning at this age, music should be play based and exploratory, allowing students to independently self-discover. Such experiences not only help prepare children for future growth and learning, improving their social, emotional and intellectual abilities, but also they may be used to encourage self expression and confidence. So next time you’re playing with your preschooler or working with children at school – go ahead and encourage them to be heard!

Teaching Kids to Read: A Primer for Success

How Early Childhood Learning Can Greatly Impact Future Reading Success

When you consider how quickly your toddler or preschooler picks up on new concepts, it’s no wonder early childhood learning – in particular, reading – begins as early as infancy. In fact, early childhood is the optimal time to encourage literacy concepts that can have a significant impact on a child’s future reading abilities.

“Reading” is a very general term that encompasses a multitude of skills for young learners. Before a child picks up a book and reads effortlessly, they must first master concepts including (but not limited to) print awareness, alphabet knowledge, phonological and phonemic awareness, concept of print, print knowledge, comprehension and oral language skills. This particular article, however, will focus on a few of the most important skills a parent or teacher can focus on to set their child on the path to reading success.

Influential Skills

First and foremost, it is crucial adults recognize where children are in their reading development. Reasonable goals and expectations can be set, but all experiences need to take the child’s current level and age into consideration so learning is appropriate.

Next, focusing on the following three concepts will significantly assist in teaching kids how to read:

  1. Oral Language

Oral language, which incorporates both listening and oral vocabulary skills, is the basis for later literacy skills. As there is a strong correlation between a child’s vocabulary and reading abilities, kids who are provided with rich language experiences (at home and at school) are at a distinct advantage.

While this may seem like a daunting task, providing activities that promote oral language in early childhood learning can be simple and fun. For children two and younger, adults can encourage them to combine consonant and vowel sounds ( “da”, “ba”, “ma”). Responding to babies and toddlers when they make attempts to communicate by mimicking them, naming and labeling things as you go through everyday activities, can also have a huge impact. For example, when they point to a dog, you can confirm for them that, “Yes, that’s a dog!”. Naming colors, numbers of objects and things in your surrounding environment and answering children when they “tell” you something can have a great impact in later years.

For older children – those between two and four years of age – using clear and concise speech patterns and repetition can reiterate new vocabulary terms and allow additional opportunities for kids to hear words. Asking questions – either yes/no questions or questions that present a choice (“would you like water or milk?”), as well as singing simple songs and rhymes and discussing things you see in books, pictures or the environment, are additional early childhood learning experiences that help children develop oral language.

  1. Alphabetic Code

A child’s knowledge of the alphabetic code incorporates an understanding of the alphabet, phonemic and phonological awareness (an understanding that there are sounds within words and that letters represent sounds, etc.). This knowledge begins with letter names and progresses to the ability to identify letters and then sounds.

Though such concepts are often explicitly taught to children, providing early childhood learning opportunities to enhance this understanding is extremely beneficial. For example, singing the ABC’s and providing opportunities for children to form or trace letters using various mediums – shaving cream, paint, blocks, etc. – are excellent ways to begin to teach kids how to read. Eventually, children can progress to identifying sounds and/or letters they hear at the beginning of words.

  1. Print Knowledge

Print knowledge, or an awareness of environmental print (the print around us – on signs, labels, etc.) and concept of print begins simply with the idea of how to open a book and progresses to which way we read (from left to right) and book handling skills. The easiest way to provide this knowledge to your young learner is to point out signs and labels you may see and read with them – by allowing them to see how you open, handle and read a book, they will be in a better position to learn how to read in the future.

 

Read, Read, Read!

Of course, one of the best things you can do to promote early childhood learning is to simply read! Because the above concepts serve as early indicators of a child’s future reading abilities, is it imperative all children are provided with experiences that encourage early literary concepts.

Whether you’re reading to your newborn, establishing a bedtime routine that includes story time, or playing simple letter sound games with your preschool students, it’s amazing to realize that such early childhood learning experiences are already laying the framework for their future reading success!