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Musical Minds of Preschoolers

December 14, 2008

Sometimes it probably seems like the children in your care have their own internal soundtrack. What preschool teacher or childcare provider hasn't seen one of their preschoolers singing a song quietly to themselves while building a block city or painting with watercolors, or even just humming and tapping their feet at quiet time? That’s because children seem to know intuitively that music is good for their brain.

 

Two recent academic studies, one at the University of Wisconsin and one at the University of California, both conducted by a team of psychologists, showed that music is essential to brain growth and development in young children. These two studies demonstrated that children who received early exposure to the complex multi-sensory stimulation inherent in learning the lyrics and melodies to new songs, and singing them in a group setting, scored high on intelligence tests.  What particularly surprised the researchers was that early exposure to music didn’t just help children artistically and emotionally, but even improved their math and science skills. Essentially, music helps hardwire a child’s growing brain for the future complex thinking and problem-solving skills they’ll need every day for the rest of their lives.

 

“Children who grow up hearing music, singing songs, and moving to the beat are enjoying what experts call a rich sensory environment,” according to a 2008 report from the Nemours Foundation, a non-profit organizations founded by philanthropist Alfred DuPont to improve the health of children. “That's just a fancy way of saying a child is exposed to a wide variety of tastes, smells, textures, colors, and sounds. And kids who enjoy such a rich environment do more than have fun. Researchers believe they forge more pathways between the cells in their brains.”

 

Still, we all know that children don’t care about research, they just know that singing and dancing and playing musical instruments is just plain fun! Especially when the music is lush with new sound, includes catchy lyrics, and is about topics from children’s own lives that they can relate to.

 

In my own work, I’ve seen children blossom when given the opportunity to express themselves through music. Putting a CD on at quiet time, leading children in finger plays, and letting them experiment with musical instruments are all ways to add music to your children’s day. But there are so many more creative ways that you can integrate music into what you already do.

 

One idea is to create new lyrics to melodies the children already know. Singing these songs together as a group can be a quick way to re-establish order after a free play time, get the children moving again after a quiet time, or just use music to reinforce early learning. For example, if you are working on learning colors, try having children identify what colors they’re wearing through song. To the tune of, “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” sing alternate lyrics such as, “If you’re wearing gray and know it, clap your hands,” then add new colors as the song progresses.

 

Another idea is to find a piece of music with simple drum beats. This could be popular music from the radio, a favorite piece of classical music, or traditional African music. Have the children sit in a circle and listen carefully to the beat, then ask them to try to repeat the rhythms by clapping their hands. When the children have learned to recognize the rhythms, they can even make their own drums out of empty containers they can tap out beats to, or the ever-popular pots and spoons. Many children are surprised to learn that their own hands can be musical instruments all in themselves, and that drums and drumsticks are just an extension of the music in their bodies.  (For other ideas, see sidebar.)

 

What are you doing to “hardwire” your students’ brains for lifelong learning? The sound of a young child singing should be your cue to add music to your day, and theirs.

 

Author bio: Leslie Falconer is the President of Mother Goose Time, a Michigan-based company that  provides a professionally planned preschool curriculum to the educators of 40,000 children every month. The company recently integrated original music in a wide variety of genres into their curriculum. For example, the September curriculum is titled “Dressing Jazz” and is organized around a getting dressed theme. The accompanying jazz CD expresses the slowness of first waking up, the speedy dressing tasks and getting ready for the day, and the tapping rhythm of the afternoon. For more information visit www.mothergoosetime.com or call 1 (800) 523-6933.