Learning with Music

For young children, music is often a source of great enjoyment. But it's also a playful and meaningful avenue for their intellectual, physical and emotional development. Making music with young children won't necessarily help them develop into musicians as adults, but it will nurture their growth and development in many ways.
Most parents and teachers have seen young children demonstrate astonishing musical capacities as they respond to beautiful tunes, meaningful lyrics and interesting rhythms in their musical play. Many of us have also witnessed children who may not readily demonstrate their cognitive abilities through words, yet often express their understandings as they sing, move, or rhythmically speak.
These are just some of the ways that making music can support the development of a young child. Here are a few examples of the benefits of musical play:

  • It helps children express and make meaning of their experiences. Through musical play, children become aware, explore, and make choices about musical sound. Musical play also provides a social connection for children as they sing, dance, and make music with others.
  • It builds learning connections. When an infant communicates with an adult by matching pitches as he coos and babbles, their musical conversation helps affirm and encourage his self-esteem.
  • It stimulates a child's creative abilities. Language connections occur as a child decides on words and rhymes for a song, plays her name on a drum, or moves to the expressive sound of music.

Music is a way for children and adults to make powerful learning connections. The quality of that learning experience depends not only on musical materials, but also on the ways in which parents and other adults shape these musical conversations to create personal meaning for the child.
There are many ways for parents and other adults to engage in musical conversations with young children. One simple step involves nodding, smiling, encouraging and singing along expressively with children. You can encourage children to sing, move, dramatize stories, or add instruments as they bring words to life in a story or a poem. Finger puppets or body movements can help dramatize a nursery rhyme for children. Encouraging a child to move to music gives him opportunities to express the qualities of the music, and to respond to rhythm and melody. And even at a very young age, simple percussive instruments can help her learn about rhythmic patterns and mathematical relations.
One important thing to remember is that musical activities with young children should be interactive. Through singing, playing, moving, listening and other experiences, you can stimulate children's thinking and decision-making, and encourage creativity.
By engaging in these musical conversations with children, you can create a wonderful learning connection. When you're making music, both you and the child can grow and learn.
Excerpted from "Developmentally Appropriate Music Practice," by Linda Page Neelly - an article in the NAEYC journal, Young Children.

Early Years Are Learning Years™ is a regular series from NAEYC (www.naeyc.org) providing tips for giving young children a great start on learning.