Plato once observed that "musical training is a more potent instrument than any other for education." To this day, this observation in the 1800s still holds true for us, especially when it comes to early childhood education.
Today, music in early childhood education is highly valued due to the many benefits it brings. Recognised as a powerful element for teaching young children, it's common for teachers to engage preschool children in singing, listening, moving and playing instruments as a way to make lessons more memorable and fun. Additionally, there are also after-school programs in private schools or enrichment centres that help children develop their musical interest or use music as a learning tool.
But how does music really contribute to a young one’s growth and development? Music experience is multimodal, meaning it involves auditory, visual, memory, emotion and motor skills. As young children generally develop through sensory stimulation such as sight, sound, touch, taste and smell, music can be a shortcut to better motor, emotional, behavioural, cognitive and social functioning skills.
Whether a child plays musical instruments or simply enjoys listening to music and singing along, music infuses a powerful effect on the brain. As musical processing uses many areas of the brain, regular exposure to music can integrate the brain's two hemispheres and thus play an important role in whole-brain learning and the neurological development of a child.
Research has identified the specific parts of the brain that respond to different aspects of music. According to a paper on the “Benefits of Music Education” published by The Royal Conservatory, Canada, brains of musically trained individuals generally would have:
The paper further pointed out that “just like well-exercised muscles protect the bones and joints, reduce blood pressure and increase energy levels, music education produces bigger, better functioning brains.”
There have also been many studies that link music to academic achievement, revealing that children who play musical instruments tend to have higher academic performance due to enhanced spatial-temporal reasoning, memory and mathematical understanding. For example, studies using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) show that musical training activates the same brain areas as those used for mathematics. This means that when a child practices music, he is also training the same parts of his brain that would lead to better math skills and problem-solving abilities.
Exposure to music at an early age can help accelerate a child's communication skills in terms of both spoken language and literacy abilities in several ways:
Motor Skills and Movement
As learning musical instruments would require good eye-hand coordination, children who play musical instruments can quickly improve their fine motor skills. For instance, when a child plays the piano, it would require her to move both hands independently of each other, while paying attention to both the notes and the piano keys. Regular practice in these areas will greatly help to increase a child's overall dexterity and complex thought processes. Apart from musical training, dancing and moving to music can also be a great way to address gross motor skills.
Musical play and socialization using music as a medium can be a good way for children to engage positively with others and learn how to interact well with people. Some examples of musical play include singing games, musical improvisations and compositions that are practiced and performed in class. Group musical experiences are particularly effective in helping kids, especially the shy ones to increase confidence and self-esteem as well as enjoy a sense of community.
Through music, your child can develop awareness about their emotional states. As songs can trigger different emotional responses, musical experiences can be a good medium for kids to explore and recognise feelings and sensations that arise. On the other hand, music is also a good tool to soothe and calm a child. When they experience stress, fear or anxiety, music can help ease their strong emotions and help them deal with difficult feelings better.
Focus and Discipline
To prepare children for future success, discipline and focus are two essential qualities that they can't do without. One of the best ways to help your child cultivate these qualities is through learning music as a great deal of concentration and a high level of attention are usually required during music lessons. In fact, evidence from recent research shows that children who practice music daily generally have greater abilities to focus their attention.