Why Music Matters for Preschoolers
- Susan Lemons Contributing Writer
- 2008 29 Sep
It has been said that “Music has the power to soothe the savage beast.” I don’t know much about savage beasts, but I do know that music has an amazing influence on preschoolers. Not only is music soothing to their emotions, but it also seems to enhance young children’s developing cognitive abilities. Some researchers even believe that music increases the formation of new neural pathways within preschoolers’ brains!
Whether or not this is true, music is a rich, multi-sensory experience that does seem to enhance young children’s intelligence, reasoning skills, memory, and language skills. Participating in musical games or moving to music is a great way for preschoolers to “get their energy out.” Music integrates the body, mind, and spirit, and is a key to worship; music can draw us into the very presence of God.
In order to receive its wonderful benefits, children simply need to be exposed to quality music—early and often. The more time spent listening to music, moving to music, or playing “rhythm band” or musical games, the more benefits your children will receive and the longer lasting the benefits will be.
What Children Learn From Music
Children learn much more from music than just musical skills. They develop physical skills such as coordination, balance, and physical fitness through moving to music and participating in fingerplays and songs with motions. Cognitive development is mysteriously enhanced by music, including the areas of problem solving, thinking skills, math and spatial skills, and creativity. Singing helps children learn to speak more clearly and develops their phonetic awareness, listening skills, vocabulary, and self-expression. Music also affects children’s social development. Through music, children begin to understand the effect music has on our moods and emotions. Participating in group music activities and games develops manners, social skills, and self-confidence.
Besides all these wonderful benefits, there is musical skill itself. The amount of early exposure to quality music in a child’s life is often an accurate predictor of future musical ability. This is because young children learn music the same way they learn to speak—through listening, copying, and experimenting. Lots of time spent listening to quality music and participating in “music play” is the key to developing musical skills, a love and appreciation for music, and an ear for music. Those of us who may have musical abilities are not just mysteriously blessed with these skills. While some of our abilities came along with our genes, most of our musical abilities came from early exposure and experience. Without a doubt, we grew up in homes where music was played, listened to, and enjoyed.
Whether or not you grew up in a musical family, you can provide the benefits of a musical upbringing for your children by providing them with simple musical experiences. Keep the following goals in mind when planning musical activities for your children.
• Learn to appreciate different types of music: Classical, bluegrass, gospel, folk songs, hymns, choral music, opera, etc.
• Distinguish between loud/soft/fast/slow, and act them out through movement or rhythm band.
• Learn fingerplays such as “5 Little Ducks Went Out to Play,” “5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed,” “Open, Shut Them,” etc.
• Learn classic children’s songs and folk songs such as “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” “On Top of Old Smokey,” “B-I-N-G-O,” “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” and so on.
• Learn classic Sunday school songs such as “Jesus Loves Me,” “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” “Deep and Wide,” “The Wise Man Builds His House,” etc.
• Learn patriotic songs like “God Bless America,” and “My Country ’Tis of Thee”
• Learn favorite hymns/worship songs—at least the choruses.
• Be able to copy/create clapping patterns and notice rhythms.
• Listen to and identify basic instruments visually and by sound.*
• Listen for harmony, counterpoint, and melodies.*
• Begin to match voice pitch to music/singers.
• Move to music.
• Understand that music affects feelings/express feelings through music.
• Be creative with music.
* Many children will not attain these particular goals until age 5 or later.
If you want your children to receive the benefits of a musical upbringing, begin by bringing music into your home. Starting with the classics is a good idea. If you know nothing about classical music, find a good compilation CD that contains the “best of” classical music.
To develop children’s vocal abilities, listen to folk songs or hymns, especially those that are sung with multiple parts, such as those sung by vocal quartets. Sing along, and try to pick out all four parts.
You can provide these musical experiences for your children even if you aren’t “musically inclined.” All children really need is an enthusiastic example. If you can’t carry a tune, rely on CDs or parent participation music classes to help you. The most important thing is that you and your children enjoy music and “music play” (fingerplays, silly songs, songs with motions) together. Don’t worry about how you sound. No matter how you think you sound, your children love the sound of your voice and need to hear it.
Fingerplays are great fun for all, and a special blessing to the non-musical. Most finger plays don’t involve any singing at all—only chanting. If you aren’t familiar with fingerplays, look in the resource section at the end of this article for helps.
• Set aside a special time of day to listen to music—perhaps during playtime or bath time. Play the same music for a week or two so that your children become familiar with it.
• Play classical music during nap time and at bedtime. (Suggestions: Bach at Bedtime, Baby Need Baroque, G’Night Wolfgang.)
• Listen to music in the car, or try turning off the CD player and singing together unaccompanied.
• Remember your own childhood. What music did you enjoy? Was there any music that was special to your family or any songs your parents sang to you? If so, be sure to share them with your children.
• Play musical games with your children: The Hokey-Pokey, Farmer in the Dell, London Bridge is Falling Down.
• Play with rhythm: With or without music, practice clapping, stomping and moving to rhythms. See if your children can copy simple patterns you make by clapping, stomping, and patting your knees. When your children are older, add snapping your fingers.
• Teach your children hymns! By learning hymns, your children will learn musical skills, scripture passages, and Christian doctrine. Hymns are a great comfort in times of distress, yet many churches are forgoing hymns and opting for simpler, more “seeker-friendly,” or “modern” music instead. Don’t let your children miss out on the blessings hymns can provide. It is our responsibility to make sure this godly heritage is passed down to our children.
• Purchase rhythm band instruments for your children. Play them with music. Practice playing with the beat, playing loudly then softly, stopping, and then going again.
• Enroll your children in a parent participation music class like Gymboree or Kindermusik. Choose a developmentally appropriate class. Wait for formal music lessons until age 7-10.
Music should be an important part of every child’s life. Since music is so vitally important to all areas of child development, it should be a joyous part of your home preschool and later, your homeschool. It is my hope that every homeschooling family will make a conscious effort to expose their children to the best in music from birth. The benefits and joy of music are just too good to be missed.
Susan Lemons and her husband have been married for 23 years, and have homeschooled their four children (ages 19, 15, 6 and 4) “from birth.” Susan has earned both Associate and Bachelor Degrees in Child Development, and serves the homeschooling community as a mentor, “first contact” for new homeschoolers, and conference speaker. You may contact her at [email protected] if you have any questions about her column, or about preschool at home.