When the Orff music teaching method was introduced in the 1920s, it emphasized children can start as early as age three to begin reaping the life-long rewards of music education. Others claim it can start even earlier than that.
The benefits of music and child development have been validated for over a century. Intellectually, verbally, socially, emotionally, and physically – young children stand a lot to gain when exposed to music education in creative ways. And the sooner, the better.
From prenatal to school age, children are soaking up the sounds and rhythms that can make long-lasting impressions. These are opportune times to explore adding a little music to your child’s life. Expose or even immerse your child in music at a young age, and there’ll be benefits not only to your child, but your entire family.
Experts say: sooner the better
Music education is the soundtrack of academic success. Continuing to vanish, unfortunately, from many public schools, it’s a compelling contributor to higher graduation rates, higher achievement, and a host of other statistics supporting early involvement with music.
For the infant, toddler and preschooler, what may appear to the untrained as cute gestures of recognizing rhythms, humming or trying to mimic sounds from songs, when wrapped in structure can be a foundation of learning that transcends music.
Early childhood music educator Abby Connors, an author and presenter on music in the early years, thinks there should be more singing, dancing and rhythm in every preschooler’s day. In her article, How Music Sets the Tone for Learning, Connors claims music helps preschoolers learn on many levels.
Writing for the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), Connors wants teachers and parents to add a little music into every preschooler’s life. She claims that it’s not only fun for the adult and child, but has proven cognitive developmental benefits. Also, children get to exercise their self expression as well as their physical self, developing their body awareness, eye-hand coordination and dexterity.
School-based music education
The Orff Approach also validates the benefits of early exposure to music and how it helps develop, among other skills, concentration skills. The American Orff-Schulwerk Association conducts workshops to show teachers how to use a ‘learned-by-doing’ approach, which treats musical development much like language development in young children.
At The Summit Country Day School, the Orff music approach is introduced as early as the Toddler Program, and extends throught the Montessori and Lower School grades. Led by teacher Ai Li Goh Brown, the Orff music program at The Summit is something you should hear and watch for yourself.
Elementary music specialist Donna Dirksing Doran is devoted to using music at The Summit Country Day School to help not only elementary students, but also newborns, toddlers and preschoolers in the Cincinnati community.
Dirksing Doran’s ‘Music and Movement’ class (IGknight) connects the dots between music and child development. One of the many Early Childhood Education programs at The Summit, IGknight brings child and parent (or grandparent, other relative) together to allow them to experience music and movement. It’s for newborns up to 24 months.
The premium The Summit places on music extends beyond preschooler. It’s piano and violin program offers individual instruction in either of these core instruments during the school day to any of the school's elementary, middle or high school students.
Just as it’s easier for very young children to learn a foreign language, the same holds true for music. Beyond music, creating the ‘proper environment’ for learning music, students are more likely to develop strong character. “Helping students become people of character and improve the world they inherit” is pulled right from the mission statement of The Summit.
Start spending quality music time with your child
It doesn’t require scientific methods and approaches to imbue children with the benefits of music. Your school’s early childhood professionals and your family, of course, are big parts of the equation.
Writing for Family Education, a website dedicated to helping parents implement learning strategies at home, child psychiatrist Dr. Allan Poussaint offers up these tips for family-centered music activities:
Sing every night to and with your child. Make it part of your night-time routine. Everything from lullabies to pop tunes will work.
Dance with your baby or toddler in your arms. The closeness, the rhythm, the movement, will soothe both child and adult (or older sibling).
Encourage children to make up songs. Forget about rhyming schemes. Take a familiar melody (Mary Had a Little Lamb) and insert the lyrics of your (or his or her) choice. The goofier the better.
Create simple instruments and play them together. That next great percussion instrument is just an empty carton away. Paper towel rolls and kazoos can turn anyone into Louis Armstrong.
Give musical gifts. CDs, MP3 players, instruments...Parenting magazine offers up some ideas for musical toys.
For more on Poussaint’s take on using music with your child, check out this article Enjoying Music with the Whole Family.
Coda: Share the music, share the fun
Considering what the music education experts and early childhood education practitioners suggest, you’d have to agree that music for preschoolers is an easy decision. Easy as DO-RE-ME as Rodgers and Hammerstein suggest. If you’re a parent, grandparent, that cool uncle or aunt, do all you can to add some music to a preschooler’s life. Your child-music experience doesn’t have to be a commitment to Suzuki music training. Spend some quality music time with your children. Sing to them. Dance with them. And the sooner the better, according to the experts.
Oh, and remember: all this musical enrichment/child development stuff: it’s fun for you too.
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About Ai Li Goh Brown
Ai Li Goh Brown has both bachelor's and master's degrees in music with a specialty in piano performance and pedagogy from Southern Methodist University. She is certified in Levels I, II and III of the Orff-Schulwerk method of early childhood music education. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Donna Dirksing Doran
Donna Dirksing Doran has a master's in music education with specialization in Orff-Schulwerk from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Her bachelor's degree in music education is from Transylvania University. She is a frequent presenter of workshops and clinics at the local, state and national levels and has several publications through Heritage Music Press. She can be reached at email@example.com.