The power of music for children played a pivotal role in my career as a preschool teacher. I had a moment with a child that helped me know that the best curriculum is one that is child-led.
I worked in a preschool where most of our students came from the toddler rooms within the same childcare center, so we would often get to know our new students before they came into our class. We would find out a child was transitioning into our classroom and then go get the “scoop” from their toddler teachers.
One child surprised everyone with how she reacted to coming to preschool.
Her toddler teachers described her as a vibrant, vivacious and playful girl. She was friends with everyone and very chatty. We observed her in her toddler classroom and got excited to add her bubbly personality to our classroom mix. Her mom reported that she had picked out her favorite princess dress to wear on the first day of preschool and that preschool was all she could talk about all week.
Then on her first day of preschool, she was immediately overwhelmed. She took her nap blanket and curled up in a corner crying.
We tried our best to coax her out gently, we played fun games close by. We asked her if she wanted to play with the toys that her toddler teachers reported she had loved. Nothing worked.
One day I had on the Sound of Music soundtrack quietly in the background. She came out from her corner, stood at the stereo with her ear to the speaker, quietly singing along with each song.
So I turned the music up a little bit. “Here,” I told her, “I’ll turn it up so you don’t have to stand so close.” She sat down on the floor next to the shelf, singing quietly along with the music, watching everyone else play.
The next day I turned the music up a little louder, hoping to lure her further from the speaker.
What happened next surprised me and changed the way I chose curriculum and projects from then on.
A very popular older girl heard the music. She stopped what she was doing to declare “I love The Sound of Music!” and she started dancing around the room, while the new girl sat with her blanket and watched.
By the end of the week, the new, quiet girl was dancing along with her.
This gave way to a music theme that lasted nearly 3 months. The entire classroom got involved, and I even invited my husband in the play guitar for the children.
The class made their own instruments, learned several new songs to sing, danced around and made new friends.
The shy little girl on the floor? Dancing and singing with her new friends gave her the courage to be herself. She soon showed us all the vivacious, sweet and chatty girl we kept hearing about.
MUSIC FOR CHILDREN
Music is a key part of any early childhood-whether they’re in the classroom or stay home. These are some of the ways that it’s beneficial to a child’s development and life.
“Music brings people together. Through music, children take an inner experience and move it into a shared creative experience. Group music-making releases energy which can be channeled in creative, productive directions. Children learn about themselves and others by playing music together and by listening to each other — tapping into hidden courage that can be played out by singing together or discovering the inner resources to listen quietly to another child’s playing.” -Judi Bosco, Board Certified Music Therapist
I used to think of culture as being something that other people had, and that cultural music was, like, traditional African tribal music and religious songs, right?
Nope. We all have our own personal and shared cultures. All music is part of the culture of the world that it exists in. The hymns you sing at church are part of your church culture, the songs that my husband sings at home are part of our family culture, etc.
The modern music that we listen to is part of our modern shared culture. Music is found anywhere there are humans and is a pivotal part of how to exist together. Music and culture feed off and inform each other. Life inspires art, and art inspires life.
“Whenever humans come together for any reason, music is there…weddings, funerals, graduation from college, men marching off to war, stadium sporting events, a night on the town, prayer, a romantic dinner, mothers rocking their infants to sleep and college students studying with music as a background….” – Daniel Levitin
Read more about the value of modern music in our modern western culture here.
“The true beauty of music is that it connects people. It carries a message, and we, the musicians, are the messengers.” – Roy Ayers
Music can be a solitary activity, but it is often very social and communal. Whether it’s dancing around the classroom with your new friends, or jamming in a garage band, music is something to be shared.
Children learn social skills with music when they’re enjoying a song together, dancing, or sharing instruments. Our new shy and quiet friend used a shared, joyful experience with music to break out of her shell and get to know all her new friends and teachers.
“Speech and music have a number of shared processing systems. Musical experiences which enhance processing can therefore impact on the perception of language which in turn impacts on learning to read.” – Susan Hallam, Institute of Education, University of London
Listening to music helps children develop their listening skills, which is, of course, important for communicating with others.
Speech and music are processed in similar ways in the brain. So as a child listens to music and develops an understanding of rhythms and beats, they’re also developing their speech and language skills.
“Where words fail, music speaks.” – Hans Christian Anderson
Music is also a wonderful way for children and adults to express themselves. If you want to watch a family communicate through music, watch this beautiful scene from Captain Fantastic. (OK, a fictional family in a movie, but still. It’s a beautiful scene and #ParentingGoals for my husband and I.)
“The thing I love about music is that you can take things that are painful, deep things that hurt you, and you can turn them into something beautiful.” -Ray LaMontagne
There is something worthy about just appreciating music for the artistic qualities of it. I’m sure every one of us has had moments where we hear a song and suddenly we have to close our eyes and hear it with our whole heart and soul.
There is a lot of value in exposing our children to that. In teaching them to love and appreciate music. If they have a desire or ability to learn to create it, good for them! If not, art appreciation is good too (I’m speaking as person who has no musical abilities and married a musician).
“From the developmental perspective, children must experience rhythm in their bodies before they can successfully audiate rhythm in their minds.” – Music Together
I remember when my son was only a few months old having a moment with another new mother of a young baby about my son’s age. We remarked how funny it is that we never had to show or teach our babies how to dance; they just started doing it one day.
Music is felt in the body. Some songs you just can’t help but tap your foot or dance along to.
When children are dancing, they get to practice their large motor skills like balancing, and jumping. Spinning in circles is even good for them.
When children play on musical instruments, they gain fine motor skills. Something like the guitar or the violin also helps with grip strength, which is great for writing.
EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT & SELF EXPRESSION
“Resiliency — to bounce back after a disturbing event — is not something we are born with; it must be learned, and sometimes that takes many years. There is no vehicle more joyful and playful for providing such training than early childhood music and movement.” – Dee Joy Coulter, Ed.D., Neuroscience Educator
Does music ever have an impact on your mood? I’m guessing, if you’re like most people, the answer is yes.
It affects children as well. I’ve witnessed it in the classroom, there is a difference in the energy of the children between putting on soft piano and putting on loud dance music. Both have their place in their lives, just as a range of emotions have a place in their lives.
Additionally, it can be therapeutic even for young children to play music. You can see it when a child is pounding furiously on a drum that they have something to unleash. You can see it when a child carefully plucks the cord of a guitar that they have something on their mind.
Giving them these tools for self-expression and emotional development from an early age can make a huge difference in their lives.
“According to Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner (1983), music intelligence is equal in importance to logical – mathematical intelligence, linguistic intelligence, spatial intelligence, bodily – kinesthetic intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, and intrapersonal intelligence.” – Music Together
There have been multiple studies that have shown a correlation between early musical skills, training, and play is linked to greater math skills and understanding. Learning rhythm helps children learn how to keep time and understand the concept of counting sequences. Patterning is a key component of songs, and also in math.
“In memory everything seems to happen to music.” – Tennessee Williams
Name a product that had a commercial for kids in the 1990’s and my husband will sing the jingle. He’s a musician and music just sticks in his head.
But even for non-musicians, music helps our memories. Did you ever use a rhyme or song to remember something? How about the ABC song; did you learn the alphabet without learning the ABC song? I know I sure didn’t.
Memory is like a muscle: it gets stronger the more you use it. So when children are learning the words to new songs, their memory is getting stronger.
THINGS TO DO WITH MUSIC FOR CHILDREN
- I compiled a document with all my favorite classic children’s songs. Download it here. I put it in Word format so you can add and subtract however you see fit.
- Put on music in the background while they play. Watch how different types of music at different volume levels affects them.
- Put on music you love! It doesn’t have to be children’s music.
- Play Dancing Statues: Put on some music and have your child or children dance around. Then at random moments pause the music. When the music stops, everyone has to freeze like a statue in whatever position they’re in. It can get pretty silly!
- If you have any musical instruments, let them explore it. You may have to show them how to touch it gently, but that’s part of the fun and process of it.
- Check out my Pinterest musical board for more playful music ideas:
If you’re looking for more information on the development that happens with music, and what to do with children in every age and stage, head over here. For teachers looking for projects and curriculum ideas (or anyone looking for fabulous photos from the early 1990’s) check this one out.