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The Importance of Music in Child Development

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The demand for experiential pedagogy in early childhood education is growing. Arts education researcher Dr. Dennie Palmer Wolf suggests that making music is “one of the most intense, multi-sensory, and physically involving activities in which young children engage.”
Dr. Palmer Wolf highlights what research shows: “[Y]oung brains are ‘plastic’ and music can stimulate that growth.” She suggests “building music education into the earliest grades” and encourages educators to use “shared musical activities as a setting for including children with different abilities.”

Why Music Should Be a Pedagogical Tool in Early Childhood

Here are five reasons why music is important in early childhood education:

  1. It helps ease childhood trauma.

In “Why Making Music Matters,” Dr. Palmer Wolf explains that music can build or restore healthy, social interactions in children with histories of trauma or conditions like autism. Working together, educators and children can utilize improvisation, sound play and instruments to respond to the sounds a child makes spontaneously.

In instances where speech fails to convey a child’s emotions or challenges, music offers an effective and safe way for children of trauma or children of any ability level to communicate with confidence.

  1. It fosters inclusivity.

Teachers who use songs as instructional tools can adapt “to incorporate phrases in other languages. Because these songs are sung every morning, the routine helps ingrain the welcoming, inclusive message in the class culture,” according to the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Future leaders in the fields of early childhood development there are studying the benefits of using music in the classroom. The linguistic benefits alone would make this pedagogical approach suitable for an inclusive educational environment.

  1. It enables overall development.

The National Association for Music Education believes that each child has the “right to a musical childhood that includes play-based, developmentally appropriate musical engagement that is responsive to gender, ability, and culture, and provided, guided, or supplemented by a professional early childhood music educator.” The organization suggests that early childhood educators must maintain their expertise in practice and research and encourage schools and teachers to build partnerships with parents and all institutions of learning to guarantee that all children have access to this instructional tool.

  1. It aids reading comprehension.

Empirical research on children and adults, conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, suggests that “musical abilities predict phonological skills in language, such as reading.”
A 2014 article published in Frontiers in Neuroscience provides evidence “that musical training also brings about promising far-transfer effects in domains such as verbal intelligence and executive functions, and may even lead to better general academic performance.”

Adding music to a child’s early development guarantees certain parts of the brain are affected by music in positive ways, with the benefits extending to multiple academic and work-related skills.

  1. It helps children regulate their emotions.

Why Making Music Matters” was written to not only express the positive effects of music on children who have experienced trauma, but in it, Dr. Palmer Wolf also pursues the avenue of academic efficacy in arts education. Based on observations recorded at a Head Start program in Philadelphia, Dr. Palmer Wolf makes a case for engaging children in arts activities: “The children showed more positive emotions than during their other learning experiences … and exhibited greater growth in their ability to regulate their emotions.”

Promoting music education for young children could involve taking on the challenges of that goal as a leader in a public school, sitting on local school boards where curricular decisions are made, and being prepared to educate future teachers on the merits of an arts education. To prepare educators for such roles, Southern Oregon University (SOU) offers an online master’s program in early childhood education leadership.

SOU’s online program includes courses like Holistic Early Childhood Education for Change, with the purpose of teaching educators how to cultivate the creative aspects of early learning. By specializing in the role of the arts in early childhood education, teachers can establish themselves in one of education’s fastest growing pedagogical fields.

Learn more about Southern Oregon University’s MSEd in Leadership in Early Childhood Education online program.

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