Have you ever asked your child to do something and been ignored? Of course — that’s part of parenthood. But next time, try singing your request, maybe to the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus”.
Please put away your stuffies before lunch, before lunch, before lunch. Please put away your stuffies before lunch, and then we can eat.
You might feel silly, but you might also get the stuffed animals put away. Music has powerful effects on your child’s brain development. It fires up neurons that help children learn a variety of lessons and subjects. And it attracts and delights them, which is critical for parents and teachers looking to connect with and educate children.
That’s why Billy® the duck is especially popular at Primrose® schools. Billy is one of the Primrose Friends puppets who teach character traits such as generosity and responsibility as part of the Balanced Learning® curriculum.
On the arm of the teacher, Billy leads the students in twice-daily Harmony & Heart® music classes and jumps into other lessons whenever a musical perspective is useful — which happens a lot.
“Billy finds music everywhere,” says Dr. Lauren Starnes, vice president of early childhood education, research and development for Primrose Schools®. “He finds music in the birds singing outside the window or the ticking of the clock. He’s eager to play cymbals or beat a drum, and young children think he’s so much fun.”
Little do they know that all that fun has a purpose. Music is a great tool for teaching small children all kinds of lessons, including:
How to follow directions and routines: The “Wheels on the Bus” example is based on research that music activates a different part of a child’s brain than simple speech. When we sing to children, we’re more likely to grab their attention.
In the Primrose classroom, Billy leads the children while singing “good morning” songs at circle time and transition songs when moving from one activity to the next. For parents, Starnes recommends using a song as part of the bedtime routine and to help children memorize important information, such as their addresses or a parent’s phone number. Songs also can help children learn how to wash their hands or greet a new person. And you don’t need to be a musician — just make up a tune. Children don’t care if you’re off-key.
“Anything we want a child to commit to memory is best done through song,” Starnes says.
The building blocks of math: Music, with its beats and rhythms, is all about patterns, and so is math. When children learn about patterns through music — the people on the bus go up and down, up and down, up and down — it lays the foundation for understanding numbers and how they work together (especially when the song incorporates counting).
Of course, little ones don’t know they’re learning; they just know that it’s fun to clap their hands with the beat.
Language and literacy skills: Music is a great way to introduce small children to sounds and words, and to concepts such as rhyming and repetition.
“There’s so much language in music, it’s an opportunity for early phonological awareness, which is about recognizing and isolating sounds,” says Dr. Maria Shaheen, executive director of early childhood education.
Music also introduces the concept of storytelling: The five little monkeys jump on the bed, then one bumps his head, and then mama calls the doctor, and then only four monkeys jump on the bed, and so forth. Again, anything set to music is easier to remember: We teach children their ABCs with a song for a reason.
Social skills: Music is social and communal, which teaches young children early lessons in collaboration and sharing.
Music helps children figure out questions such as “How do I integrate into my social group, and what are the norms here?” Starnes says. “Music is a way of uniting.”
Research into children in kindergarten through 12th grade has shown that music education improves social skills along with creativity and motivation, Shaheen says, and she’s confident those benefits are there for younger children, too.
Emotion regulation: You know how certain songs can inspire an almost immediate emotional reaction? Maybe “Amazing Grace” always makes you cry, or an old pop song reminds you of falling in love. This connection between music and emotions is present for even the smallest children.
“The areas of the brain that are activated by music are closely aligned to the areas of the brain that activate and process emotion,” Starnes says. “By activating the musical area of the brain, we see emotional benefit in children in how they process, express and react to emotional experiences.”
A trick for parents: Play a child’s favorite song during a tantrum to inspire calm. If your child is feeling angry or frustrated, put on a rock song and encourage him or her to move with those feelings.
Cultural appreciation: Primrose students hear a variety of music in the classroom, including classic children’s songs, original songs unique to Primrose and international tunes. Music is a powerful way to teach children about culture, both their own and others, in a celebratory way.
“Children love hearing music from different cultures,” Shaheen says. “Music is universal, it’s cross-cultural, it’s part of the human experience.”
And part of the puppet experience, too, thanks to Billy and the Primrose Friends.
For more on the benefits of music and its effect on child development, check out:
- Children and Music: Early Exposure Is Good for Young Brains — and It’s Fun, Too
- A Guide to Introducing Your Child to Music
- Musical Milestones for Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers
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