Why Music is So Important for Childhood Development #SingMonth2015

March is Sing with Your Child Month, a time to focus on the  importance of making music with children. This year the campaign, created in 2009 by Music Together LLC, an international pioneer in early childhood music education, will focus on encouraging families to sing, dance, and move together.

Music is important for childhood development and statistics show that kids who learn to play an instrument do better in school.  As a musician myself I believe that it is important for children to have music in their lives. My kids love to sing, my daughter plays the guitar and I play the flute.

I was honored to have the opportunity to ask Susan Darrow, the CEO of Music Together, and a leading expert on early childhood music education some questions about Sing With Your Child Month and why music is so important for childhood development.

Why is music so important for child development?

SD:  “At Music Together, we recognize that music is valuable for its own sake. At any age, music nurtures mind, body, and spirit as it awakens, inspires, and comforts. It strengthens family and community bonds and offer profound joy to all ages. For these reasons, our primary goal is to help all young children realize their inborn music potential and develop the music competence that opens the door to a lifetime of joyful music participation.   Active music activities nurture children’s creativity, self-expression, and confidence—and also support their growth in many other areas essential to school and life, including their music, cognitive, physical, language, social, and emotional development.  Examples include:

•         Music development: Singing in tune and moving in time, ensemble skills, exposure to diverse musical styles, readiness for future music lessons (if desired)
•         Cognitive development: emerging math skills, executive function, understanding cause and effect
•         Physical development: gross and fine motor skills, coordination, spatial awareness
•         Language development: active listening, pre-literacy skills, vocabulary
•         Socio-emotional development: self-confidence, self-regulation, leadership skills
•         Approaches to learning: motivation to try new things, imagination and creativity”

At what age should you start your child on a musical instrument?

SD:  “It is never too late to begin formal music lessons—but it can definitely be too early!  Young children have to play with music, before they learn to actually play music. A child is ready for formal instruction when he has achieved what Music Together calls Basic Music Competence (BMC), the ability to sing in tune and move with accurate rhythm. Asking a child to learn to play the piano before achieving Basic Music Competence is like asking him to read a book before he can speak. We have found that, with exposure to a rich music environment throughout the early years, children in Western cultures may reach BMC by age five or six. Without the early exposure, BMC may not be attained until much later, if at all, which will make formal music instruction more difficult and less enjoyable.”

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SD:  “The best thing parents can do to support musicality in young children is to sing and dance with them as often as possible and to provide as much opportunity for them to play with music as possible. With this kind of natural support, a child will develop skills to enjoy and succeed at instrument lessons when the time is right.”

SD:  “Some general recommendations:  Children develop at different rates physically, emotionally, socially, and musically, so the following can be only approximate guidelines for what might be best at different ages.

Threes and fours will continue to thrive in group music classes like Music Together. This allows them a direct, playful experience of music and movement which supports their learning style. Create a music environment at home, too, by integrating spontaneous music play into your daily life.

Fives and sixes will enjoy classes such as Music Together Big Kids®, Dalcroze, or Orff (see below), which begin to introduce more sophisticated music concepts within the context of a whole music and movement experience.

Seven to nine is often a good time to explore traditional lessons. Choose a teacher you think is a good temperamental match for your child. It’s more important at this point for him to fall in love with his instrument than work with a noted maestro. (That can come later.)

Ten and older is not too late to begin! The older child tends to be focused and to progress rapidly. Sometimes, however, he may find beginner music to be “babyish,” so the choice of materials will be crucial. Try Béla Bartók’s Mikrokosmos, a series of books with musically interesting exercises that older children find appealing.”

What are some fun ways to incorporate music into our everyday lives with our children?

SD: Simply sing and dance with your child. The best thing you can do to help set your child on the road to a lifelong love of music is to participate enthusiastically in music activities yourself. Have you ever noticed how instinctively children try to imitate older siblings and grownups? Imitation is an important part of how they learn. Children learn to talk this way, as well as to walk. If you read books, they’ll want to read. If you sing and dance, they will, too. Don’t just put on a song. Sing, bang a drum, get up and dance. Your notes do not have to be perfect, and you may miss some words or some steps! It is about showing your child that you enjoy the music you are making. That is what matters.

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Sing a lullaby to your child before bed. Young children love to hear their grownups sing to them. The sound of your voice, even if it is not pitch-perfect, is precious to your child. A lullaby provides a time to be close to your child physically, emotionally, and musically. The lullaby can transform the bedtime hour into an oasis of loving calm. For babies and toddlers, it provides a comforting bedtime ritual. For older children, who are increasingly verbal, it is often the time they spontaneously confide their hopes and fears.

Take cues from your child and respond musically. If your baby or toddler “coos” on a pitch, return the sound. If your child sings in the car or when you are out walking, sing with her. If your child brings an instrument to you, try to stop what you are doing and play along.

Make it a family affair. Imagine sitting around as a family and singing instead of watching TV or playing computer games. As technology increases, the importance of non-technical group interaction also increases, especially at home. So, make music as a family. Have a dance party or a sing-along. Get out pots and pans and form a band. Gather around the piano. Family music-making can be a wonderful activity shared by siblings, parents, grandparents, and other members of the extended family, including nannies and babysitters. Check out some great musical game ideas on our website: https://www.musictogether.com/singmonth/musical-playdates

Can you share a little more about Sing With Your Child Month? When did it start and why?

SD:  “Music Together Sing With Your Child Month began in 2009. It doesn’t have to be a special occasion to make music!  But we decided that family music-making was so important that we wanted to set aside a special time to celebrate it. We hope to inspire families everywhere to take time to sing, dance, and make music with their families this month and all year long!”

Beginning on March 1, Music Together started asking families via Facebook: “What songs get your family singing and dancing together?” they are encouraging followers to share the question and answers across their social media platforms – using the hashtag #SingMonth2015 — to generate a global list of songs that inspire family music-making.

According to Kenneth K. Guilmartin, Founder/Chairman of Music Together LLC, “The aim is to cultivate a larger conversation about making music together as a family; to create a public shared list of favorite songs; and to inspire all families to make music with their children in March—and all year long. When we sing and make music as a family, we form everlasting bonds and memories, which ultimately allow children to feel secure as they grow.”

Research shows the impact of early music education and participating in music can have not only on musical growth, but also on overall development. Recent findings include: music instruction can promote key school readiness skills; music education in early childhood can have a profound impact on developing the areas of the brain integral to reading; and participation in music activities is associated with child and adolescent achievement outcomes in math and reading.

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Guilmartin adds, “All children are born with the ability to learn music from birth. Music learning supports all learning by promoting creativity, personal expression, and social interaction. Many adults may not realize they can contribute to the enrichment of their child’s music development, even if they don’t consider themselves ‘musical.’ A goal of Sing with Your Child Month and our question on social media is to remind parents that it is not important that they sing perfectly; it is important that they model enjoyment of making music.”

In addition, as part of Sing with Your Child Month, Music Together is releasing its 10th Singalong Storybook, Two Little Blackbirds (Music Together Singalong Storybook).http://wms-na.amazon-adsystem.com/20070822/US/js/link-enhancer-common.js?tag=thetalzoo-20&linkId=D5YCEA2NHVSQUZCJ In the book, blackbirds Jack and Jill fly away and return over and over as they build their nest, hatch their eggs, and teach their babies to fly. This book, for children ages 1 to 8, is based on the popular song of the same name from the Music Together curriculum. It is available in both hardcover and board-book.

“Singing together does not cost money, requires no special skills, and can have a tremendous impact on development in many areas—not to mention the joy it brings to families. The impact of singing with your child is immeasurable, and the rewards will help make the world a better place,”
Guilmartin says.  

For more about Sing with Your Child Month, including ways to create “Musical Playdates” and other
activities, visit www.musictogether.com/singmonth.

Music Together® is an internationally recognized, developmentally appropriate early childhood music and movement program for children birth through age seven. First offered to the public in 1987, the Music Together curriculum, coauthored by Guilmartin and Dr. Lili M. Levinowitz (Director of Research), is based on the recognition that all children are musical. All children can learn to sing in tune, move with accurate rhythm, and participate with confidence in the music of our culture, provided that their early environment supports such learning. Music Together offers programs for families, schools, at-risk populations, and children with special needs, in over 2,500 communities in 41 countries. The company is passionately committed to bringing children and their caregivers closer through shared music-making and helping people discover the joy—and educational value—of early music experiences. More at www.MusicTogether.com and www.facebook.com/MusicTogether.

images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

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