Have you found yourself tapping your foot to music or maybe singing out loud to a song on the radio? Music can stir up specific memories, energize, calm, and even offer a sense of healing. Music brings movement to our bodies and emotions to our awareness; it activates our minds and connects us with others. This is especially true for young children.
Educators, children, and families will sing and dance their way into the week on Music Monday to begin The Week of the Young Child® (WOYC), celebrated April 2-8. WOYC is an annual event sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) that focuses attention on young children and recognizes early childhood education programs that serve children and families. WOYC is a joyous celebration of early learning filled with fun and creative themes starting off with a focus on music.
Singing and dancing in early childhood classrooms provides children opportunities to move their bodies to improve important gross motor skills and build healthy habits. For example, children dancing like a dinosaur adds vigorous movement to their day with a fun dance break. But it’s not just the physical body that develops with music. Listening to music, singing songs, and making music have positive associations with social-emotional skills such as prosocial behavior and self-regulation (Williams, 2018). Music can even help make difficult topics accessible in an active and inviting manner such as identifying and expressing feelings.
There are also associations between musical and linguistic skills. For example, rhythm perception and production predict phonological awareness and melody perception predicts grammar acquisition (Politimou, 2019).
Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute report, Why Making Music Matters, outlines six research-supported ways music can have a powerful effect on young children. They are:
- Building brains and bodies: engaging the whole child;
- Becoming close: forming relationships with adults and children;
- Communicating and imagining: increasing language skills;
- Sharing and managing feelings;
- Being with others: providing opportunities for social interactions; and
- Belonging to a community: a model for an inclusive and connected world.
Early childhood educators understand the value of music to childhood development (Kirby, et al., 2022). Even those without formal music training identify the importance of music though they also suggest that additional training would increase their confidence using music in the classroom. Unfortunately, most countries do not adequately prepare early childhood teachers in music education (Bautista, 2022). Strategies to strengthen teachers’ preparation in music education can be found in this recent position paper.
Despite a lack of formal training in music, a survey found that nearly 70% of preschool teachers used music in their classroom a remarkable three or more times per day (Kirby, et al., 2022). Early educators use music regularly for academic and social-emotional purposes in formal and informal ways throughout the daily routine. Even during the pandemic school districts were including music and movement as part of their daily offerings to preschool students (Nores & Harmeyer, 2021). NIEER’s survey of parents during the pandemic showed an initial drop in singing and music activities (Barnett & Jung, 2021). However, music experiences for children ages 3 to 5 rebounded to pre-pandemic levels by fall of 2020. The survey showed that most children (but not all) had daily exposure to music or musical activities.
Early childhood educators and policymakers are working diligently to address the effects of the pandemic on young children’s learning and experiences. A heightened focus on literacy and numeracy need not and should not be at the expense of the arts for any child, including our youngest learners. Early Childhood Educators use music as a teaching tool across all subject and developmental areas. As educators address the consequences of the pandemic for learning and development, they can lean on music to bridge gaps in speech, increase expressive and receptive language, regulate emotions, teach new routines, and explore content in a fun and engaging way.
Music is a powerful learning tool and we encourage the adults in young children’s lives to make every day Music Monday.
Shannon Riley Ayers, PhD is an independent consultant with nearly 25 years of experience developing, implementing, and evaluating programs and strategies in early childhood. She is a former NIEER researcher.
Coy Bowles is three-time Grammy Award-winning member of the Zac Brown Band, an advocate for literacy, social-emotional learning and teacher appreciation, and is the 2020 Parents’ Choice Award gold winner for his album, Music for Tiny Humans.
Meghan Tavormina, MA is an early education professional with over 20 years of experience in teaching, administration and advocacy, who is passionate about high quality opportunities for children, families and educators.
Barnett, W. S., & Jung, K. (2021). Seven impacts of the pandemic on young children and their parents: Initial findings from NIEER’s December 2020 preschool learning activities survey. National Institute for Early Education Research.
Bautista, A., Yeung, J., Mclaren, M., & Ilari, B. (2022). Music in early childhood teacher education: raising awareness of a worrisome reality and proposing strategies to move forward, Arts Education Policy Review. https://doi.org/10.1080/10632913.2022.2043969
Kirby, A.L., Dahbi, M., Surrain, S. et al. (2022) Music Uses in Preschool Classrooms in the U.S.: A Multiple-Methods Study. Early Childhood Education Journal. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-022-01309-2
Nores, M., & Harmeyer, E. (2021). The impact of the pandemic on academic support for preschoolers: Key takeaways from a New Jersey district-level survey. New Brunswick, NJ: National Institute for Early Education Research. https://nieer.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Districts_COVID_Report_mn_v9.17.21-el9.22.21.pdf
Politimou, N., Dalla Bella, S., Farrugia, N., & Franco, F. (2019). Born to speak and sing: Musical predictors of language development in pre-schoolers. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 948.
Williams, K.E. (2018). Moving to the Beat: Using Music, Rhythm, and Movement to Enhance Self-Regulation in Early Childhood Classrooms. International Journal of Early Childhood 50, 85–100. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13158-018-0215-y