The Magic of Music
Q: I'm curious as to the effect music can have on a child's learning. It seems that the 3 to 5 year olds in my class always respond well when we sing a song for an activity. If they are rowdy and off the wall, the one thing they all do together and participate in is a song. I was wondering why this is.
A: Before I was a teacher I was a musician. Several years ago I wrote a book on music and movement for young children called Learning Through Play: Music and Movement (Scholastic Inc.). I too have seen the magic of music to get children's attention and calm them down. Perhaps one reason why music is so helpful is that it engages the children's minds and senses. They can feel the beat, hear the melody and touch the textures of the sounds. Music can create a sense of peace or take children on imaginary journeys. You probably know that sometimes the best way to get children to listen to what you have to say is to sing it!
Recent brain research is giving us information about why music is so important in education. Neurological research has found that the higher brain functions of abstract reasoning as well as spatial and temporal conceptualization are enhanced by musical activities. Activities with music can generate the neural connections necessary for literacy and math skills. Music also creates a connection between the two hemispheres of the brain.
Music is considered a right-brain activity, while math and other logical-thinking skills are left-brain activities. When combined in educational musical activities, the whole child is engaged not only in the realm of thinking but in all other domains of social-emotional, creative, language, and physical development.
There is also a connection between music and memory. Have you ever noticed that you remember information better if it is in a rhyme or a song? The cues of rhythm and melody help us remember the words. Often children will learn to say and understand new words first in songs. They are using these cues to help them!
If you want children to remember something, put it in a song. And you don't have to be a great songwriter. Just take a familiar tune ("The Farmer in the Dell," for example) and add your own words. Children will be singing your new song in no time.
You can even ask them to help you write new verses with you. Enjoy the magic of music every day with your child. And remember . . .
Ellen Booth Church is a former professor of early childhood education, an education consultant and author.