I recently saw a short video on Facebook of Dr Anita Collins reading an excerpt from her new book, The Music Advantage. After listening to her read a paragraph or two about the role music learning plays in teaching children the perseverance to not give up on things as soon as they get hard (which is a whole other blog post in its own right!), I knew I had to get my hands on this book.
Dr Anita Collins is (according to her website) “an award-winning educator, researcher and author in the field of brain development and music learning. She is internationally
recognized for her unique work in translating the scientific research of neuroscientists and psychologists to the everyday parent, teacher and student.” Her book The Music Advantage: How learning music helps your child’s brain and wellbeing aims to explain neuroscience relating to music learning in a way that’s accessible to the average teacher, student or parent, and it does a remarkable job of doing so. I highly recommend it, so if this blog post interests you I do urge you to try and buy or borrow a copy of the book for a more in depth explanation.
In the early chapters, it becomes very clear that music plays a fundamental role in the way that babies’ and toddlers’ brains development. One chapter that interested me a lot was the chapter on ‘School Readiness’. Every parent wants to send their child to school primed to excel and succeed, as well as ready to develop their curiosity and a love of learning. Dr Collins examines how music learning in the pre-school years might help children in their transition into ‘big school’.
Here are a few of my favourite reasons for children to learn music before they start school:
Singing helps children develop a sense of trust and community
The effects of being sung to and singing are well researched. Singing with others develops a sense of trust from before babies are even born. Group singing activities can help children feel connected to people around them, but more importantly, singing with young children helps them to learn how to separate speech sounds from non-speech sounds, which is very important for literacy and language skills learned in schools.
Singing also releases dopamine and reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, which (as any parent can probably tell you) limits your ability to think clearly and logically. So singing means less stress for children, which means better cognitive skills. Win! The ability to match a beat might be linked to increased learning ability in children
Beat matching is a skill that some people might believe is innate, but it can actually be a skill that is learned. And more importantly, the ability to move your body in time to a beat is really the ability to detect patterns and anticipate what is coming next.
This ability to predict patterns and then identify variations from the pattern is the basis for all learning – maths, languages, science – and research suggests children who can match a beat from an early age might have better outcomes in some of these skills.
Because matching a beat is something that can be learned, it makes sense to have pre-schoolers learning music so that when they get to school, they already know how to look for patterns in everything and anticipate what comes next. Learning to read music helps with learning to read
This one seems a little bit obvious, but hear me out. When children learn music, they first learn how to make a sound on their instrument – that might be a note on the piano or guitar, a sung pitch, or a hit of a drum. Once they can do that, they are often shown some form of symbol to represent that sound – for example, a note on the staff, a rhythmic notation, or another form of shorthand designed for younger children such as is used in Kodaly teaching. This ability to match a visual symbol to a sound in their brain, and then make that sound with their body, is how we make all of music, and of course, how we read language. Strengthening this ability – known as the phonological loop – before children start school can mean that they will find it easier and quicker to learn to read, because they’re already used to associating sounds with symbols on a page, and then re-creating those.
Structured music lessons teach kids how to pay attention
Dr Collins puts this very succinctly: “Structured and sequential music learning activities at this early childhood level are basically boot camp for the development of any four-year-old’s attention skills”.
Paying attention is something that children famously struggle with, and a structured early childhood music education program manages this by giving children short, goal-oriented activities that engage multiple senses to focus on. A structure that encourages children to focus their attention for short periods of time, while respecting the nature of children through play-based activities, helps children build their attention span and prepares them for the sort of structure they might encounter at ‘big school’.
Music Learning teaches perseverance
This is true of music learning at all ages, but children are never too young to learn this all-important skill. One of the hardest things about learning any instrument, including singing, is that it takes time. There will be periods of time when things seem to come easier, and other times when things will feel like they are taking a million years for you to see any progress. This is one of the most important skills that music learning can teach children of any age – you don’t quit something just because it gets hard.
In an age of more and more instant gratification technology, this skill is one that I believe children are never too young to learn and helps with resilience in later life. Teaching children to stick at a task until they achieve it, even if that takes longer than they might like, will help them with the skills they need to stick at difficult subjects in school, as well as get through challenges later in their lives.
Of course, there are so many advantages to learning music at any age, and while you are never too young to start, there is more and more scientific evidence suggesting that pre-schoolers can benefit tremendously from music learning, even if they don’t continue on to be professional musicians. I’m super pleased to announce that our pre-school music class, Mini Musicians, will be commencing from 2021, so that we can bring these benefits of music learning to 3- to 5-year-olds and get them primed and ready to start school!
You can find out more about our Mini Musicians program here, and if you are interested in reading Dr Anita Collins’ book The Music Advantage, you can find it here.