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:
- Allow time for children to explore and simply play with various instruments.
- Create space in classrooms for children to “perform” – perhaps a microphone, costumes, etc.
- Provide exposure or time for children to investigate instruments and music from other cultures.
- Provide materials that can be used to invent music – pots and pans, cups with water, etc.
- Let your children guide their own creative play and encourage them to use music in various ways throughout their day.
- 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!