Why music matters in early childhood

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Once a week I take my three young daughters to a music class for preschoolers. For 45 minutes the girls are immersed in a wonderful creative experience. With charged enthusiasm, they explore the narrative and movement of music and dance.  It’s the highlight of their week. To them, it is simple fun; it’s instinctual and playful. And yet, this experience is giving them much more than fun.

Research shows that music plays a powerful role in the cognitive development of children. Exposure to music helps build children’s brains. But the benefits don’t stop there. Music inspires creativity, increases confidence, teaches discipline, improves self-esteem and is good for memory skills.

Music inspires imagination and optimism along with other significant social and intellectual benefits. Through music, children find a way to express their emotions and channel their energies into something positive. A 2012 study published in Psychology of Music, suggests that playing music together boosts kids’ social-emotional capacities such as empathy. Research has also proven that playing a musical instrument has mental health benefits, improves engagement with learning, improves literacy and numeracy as well as behaviour and self-esteem.

Most importantly, music is fun. And it makes sense that if a child is having fun their brain is open to learning. 

A child’s brain grows to 90% of its adult size in the first three years of life.  Given a child’s hearing develops at its most rapid rate between 4 and 6 years of age, it makes sense that early childhood is the most precious time for establishing foundations of music.

We have been going to music for over 18 months. Miss H has been going since she was born and each week I am astounded by how responsive she is to the music. She taps her feet to the beat and follows the instructions with care and concentration. Her brain is building rapidly in these moments, which is an added bonus on top of the immense joy she is receiving.

Miss A’s confidence has soared through music. Through music and dance she has found a confidence that has slowly, but steadily transformed her. When we first started she was a background player, thoughtfully following the instructions but sticking close to my side. Now, she is a keen participator and excitedly runs to the front when the instructor calls for helpers. She loves to perform for the crowd and her beaming smile shows just how much music matters to her.

And Miss J has also progressed from a quieter observer to a fully involved, deliriously happy performer. She has also learnt to listen and follow instructions and interact positively with other children. Her favourite instrument is the claves (wooden sticks) and her big blue eyes sparkle even more intensely when she has this instrument in her hands.

But possibly the benefit that has taken me by surprise is how much I enjoy sharing music with my girls. It is one of the few activities that we can do together as the class is for 0-5 year-olds. I love watching my girls enjoy the rythm and beat, as they develop an appreciation for this wonderful art form. And it creates a genuine space for bonding. When the music begins those wonderful endorphins kick in and I feel uplifted and inspired. I also feel a closeness to my girls that sometimes gets lost in the chaos of domestic life. Dancing and singing with them feels good, and to know they are getting myriad benefits intellectually and socially is further evidence that music really does matter.

I think music is one of the best things you can give your child. And it needn’t be expensive. We attend a local church and it’s very affordable. Many libraries hold weekly music sessions for young kids.

Of course, you don’t have to attend a weekly music class to incorporate music into your children’s lives. You are most likely to have a few maracas or a tambourine in your overflowing toy boxes. And while it’s not my preferred choice, the old banging on pots and pans will also do the trick. I also find that whenever my kids are getting a little ratty towards the end of the day, I declare it dancing time and the music acts as a circuit breaker, shifting their energy and focus into something fun, creative and powerful.

Were you exposed to music as a child? Do you enjoy music or another creative outlet with your kids?

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6 thoughts on “Why music matters in early childhood

  1. Music is such fun…it’s a wonder why we as adults don’t just lash out into a good boogie more often! We too have music time at home which I use as a ‘circuit breaker’ as you call it. Often during crazy time in the arvo when everyone seems to want to be in the kitchen…I declare “time for dancing” and the radio gets a blasting from classical, to golden oldies, to a rap song we dance around the kitchen being silly as I chop vegetables, rock a pram and the kids go nuts! :-)

    • I’d love to see your family in full swing! Isn’t it funny how they don’t even mind what the music is – they are most interested in the interaction. The fact that my kids endure – err… I mean “like” their dad’s punk music is evidence of this!!

  2. I love music and always have. I could do more to incorporate it into our lives. I went through a phase of putting on children’s songs – it coincided with my eldest going through a strange yelling phase whenever I played music or sang. They do love watching the Wiggles and laugh at me being silly and dancing. I need to get some more musical instruments for home….

    • Music wasn’t a huge part of my upbringing. This is perhaps why I really want it to be a part of my own family’s life. I have to confess that the sound of the wiggles on loop in my head at night drives me NUTS…there’s a time and a place for the Wiggles and it’s not at 2am! :-)

  3. My son is 13 months old and already loves music. I think he even already understands the meaning of the word if he hears it. He smiles and even dances already, and is already quite good at matching the rhythm. He also loves his stuffed tambourine and any other toy which makes musical sounds.

    Kids are so naturally drawn to music that it’s sad to see so many school systems completely cutting it from their education. Usually when they start talking budget cuts, creative things like music and art are the first things to go, so I think it’s doubly important as parents to make sure we find other ways to keep music a part of their growing up years.

  4. Oh I completely agree with you. It’s terrible that the school curriculum doesn’t value performing arts and music as much as it should. That is so lovely that you son responds to the word music with such enthusiasm. It’s innate isn’t it and I hope to encourage a lifelong love of music in my children. Thanks for sharing your experience :-)

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