Making Music: How it Benefits Early Learning

When parents attend our parent-child classes with their children, they may think of the songs we sing at circle time as one of the fun and enjoyable parts of class, but they may not realize just how much important learning is going on. When children actively participate in making music (whether that’s a baby bouncing to rhythm, a toddler shaking their bells, a preschooler singing along, or an elementary age child playing an instrument), here’s how they benefit:

Music Skills: Of course, they begin learning musical skills, such as rhythm, varying tempo and pitch, and how to echo back what they hear. They learn to use their singing voice and play instruments.

Auditory Processing: They learn how to listen. Children who have music lessons respond to sounds more quickly, distinguish between sounds, and pay attention to sounds, all of which aids in learning.

Language: When listening to and singing songs, there’s lots of language learning. They learn to hear the rhythm of language, the break between syllables and words, hear and predict rhymes, work on pronunciation, and get exposed to a wide ranging vocabulary – from the water spout the spider climbs up to the pockets full of posey and the fleece on Mary’s lamb. Singing the alphabet song and singing about 5 little ducks who went out one day teach letter and number sequences.

Vestibular Development: With babies and toddlers, when we hold them in our arms while we dance, or hold them in our laps for lap songs, like the Grand Old Duke of York, all that bouncing up and down, swaying side to side, and even flipping upside down helps to develop their vestibular system – the system that helps them to balance and know their position.

Large Motor: When kids dance, clap, swing their arms, roll arms to Wheels on the Bus, shake the shaker or bang the drum, they’re learning large motor movements – new ways of using their bodies.

Small motor: As children learn to use more sophisticated instruments, starting with triangles and rhythm sticks, moving up to keyboards, and then stringed instruments or wind instruments, they develop precise fine motor skills. They can then apply these in lots of other areas of life.

Steady Beat: By the age of 3 or 4, children should know how to keep a beat, but most do not. Steady beat helps with a huge array of physical tasks which are easier and/or more effective with rhythm: walking, dancing, dribbling a ball, rowing a boat, typing on a keyboard, cutting vegetables, jumping rope, cutting with scissors and much more. Also, research shows kids with the ability to keep a steady beat pay attention for longer periods and do better in school.

Keeping Time / Math: Music enhances brain development in areas tied to counting, organization, time, and division of larger notes into smaller notes (i.e. fractions).

Impulse Control: When we take our shakers and we “shake and we shake and we shake and we stop”, kids are learning impulse control and following directions. How do we stop doing something when told to stop, and how do we wait till we’re told it’s time to start again? These are key skills for success at school and life.

Predicting what comes next / pattern recognition: When you sing the same song to your child over and over, they learn to expect what is coming next… “After mom says ‘with a one step, and a two step’ she’s gong to tickle me!” This helps them learn to understand cause / effect, and routines.

Emotional Intelligence: In Brain Rules for Babies, John Medina describes how when a child learns to recognize different musical tones, they also learn to recognize different emotional tones, and can tell more about how others feel. Young babies who were exposed to music classes had improved communication: more likely to point to objects, wave goodbye, smile, and show less distress.

Attachment: Music can foster emotional attachment. Even when babies are still in the womb, music can be a way to make a connection – they will respond to your voice. After birth, your family’s songs start becoming familiar and recognizable, and a part of their safe and secure environment.

Tradition: Music is a unique and powerful way for children to connect to their roots. An African-American spiritual, a Yiddish or Irish lullaby, a Mexican folk song… all introduce a child to the family’s heritage in a way that goes beyond words or pictures.

Routines / Transitions: Familiar songs create a sense of comfort for a child. No matter where you are, you always have access to this same familiar tune. Many parents and teachers learn the value of songs for reinforcing routines (“this is the song we always sing at bedtime”) and signaling that it’s time to transition from one activity to the next (the cleanup song!).

Memory: Research has shown that children who’ve taken music lessons have a better ability to repeat back and to remember what they hear or read. Teaching information in a song form also makes it easier for kids to remember – make up a little song to help them memorize your phone number!

Practice group skills: Sitting at circle time, listening to the teacher, participating when asked, figuring out when they’re supposed to just sit quietly (and learning how to just sit quietly!), starting an activity when all the other children do and stopping when they do are all important steps in school readiness.

IQ and academic success: Research has shown that children who participate in music lessons have higher IQ’s, do better in school, and score better on standardized tests. The more years of music lessons they take, the better they do.

Fun: One of the biggest reasons we have music in our classes is because it is fun! Making music with others gives us all joy. The smiles and giggles in music time delight parents, children, and teachers.

Resources I’ve compiled

Other Resources

  • King County library – videos of librarians singing 100’s of classic children’s rhymes. http://kcls.org/content
  • Jbrary – a YouTube channel featuring children’s librarians singing songs, lap songs, and finger rhymes from library story times: www.youtube.com/user/Jbrary/videos.
  • Nancy Stewart – lyrics and .mp3 audio recordings of lots of traditional songs, including “songs every child should know” http://singwithourkids.com/song-library.htm. Recommended books which include songs, or have rhythmic text that can be sung, to reinforce early literacy skills: http://singwithourkids.com/bookshelf.htm.
  • Let’s Play Music – Over 150 songs, each with lyrics, sheet music, a video of the tune played on a xylophone and motions to go along with the song. www.letsplaykidsmusic.com
  • YouTube has a huge collection of animated videos featuring traditional and new children’s songs, in a wide range of languages. Quality ranges tremendously, and many are inappropriate for children; however, there are some great ones if you search and preview and make your own playlists.

If you would like a printable version of this information to hand out, here’s the Music Benefits PDF.

Brain Map

BrainMapI have created a poster / handout on brain development and how parents can help their children learn. Great for educators to handout or post, but also helpful for parents to print a copy to post on the fridge as a reminder of ways to help all of your child’s brain capacity develop.

On the back is the handout for my “Hands On is Brains On” presentation (see yesterday’s post.)

If you don’t have access to a printer that can do 11×17 (most printers can’t), the “brain map” on the front side (see preview above) will reduce well to print on an 8.5×11 sheet.

 

Hands On is Brains On

I recently did a presentation at Kidsquest Children’s Museum in Bellevue, WA on how kids learn, titled Hands On is Brains On.

It combines information on the basics of brain development, ideas about the important of offering a balance of learning opportunities, the benefits of free play, and the parent/teacher’s role in play-based learning.

You can check out the powerpoint handout here, or, if you’re a parent educator, you can download a powerpoint presentation that you could edit and use in your own classroom.

The Wind Tube

We’ve built a great new science exploration tool, which we’ll definitely be using in our new Family Inventors’ Lab class and we MIGHT premiere it at this weekend’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Families Fair if beta testing continues to go well.

The Exploratorium shared a project idea for building a Wind Tube.It’s basically a clear tube mounted over a fan. Kids can place items into the tube and see what happens. Heavy items just sit there. Lightweight items shoot out the top of the tube. Other items may float, spin, or rattle back and forth. The video at the the top of this post shows some of our initial experiments. (If you want to learn how to make a wind tube, check out my next post.)

Dave Stroud says this about how kids (and adults!) play with a wind tube.

The Wind Tubes intrinsically encourage a particular type of play that helps guests experience the way science works. The intent is for guests to internalize a science based mindset – do something, measure the outcome, make changes, do something, measure the outcome, compare the outcomes, make changes, do something, measure the outcome, compare the outcomes – repeat this process until you run out of time. The user experiences the phenomena by exploring it, rather than being shown an outcome and having it explained. (Source)

I have definitely seen this in action. My four year old has played with the tube a lot in the past 24 hours. (And my 17 year old had a great time with it too…)  And rather than wanting to fly the same thing over and over, it’s definitely been (for him and for me) an exercise in looking around the room and deciding what to try next! As he experiments, I hear him talking differently than he has talked about most things in the past: “I wonder what this will do?” “What can I try next?” “What do you think will happen this time?” “That didn’t work, I wonder if I could combine it with this?” It’s definitely “tinkering” in action!

As Stroud says, this activity results in:

• Making guests [child] less reliant on “authority” to answer questions
• A higher level of engagement and deeper investigation
• Guests defining their own success and making their own meaning (user defined outcomes)
• Generating a particular category of questions such as: How can I get it to…? What if I…? Instead of: Why does it…? What makes it…?

Here are some of the experiments my family has developed just in a few hours of play:

The frisbie. (really a plastic lid)  It gets caught in the air currents and will float forever. We’ve learned that if you put your arm over the fan to block some of the air flow, the frisbie will sink down the tube.

Cardboard boat. This cardboard snack tray will float easily on its own. The small plastic monster will not – it’s too heavy and not aerodynamic. But, put the monster in the boat and it floats!

Parachutes. This plastic pterodactyl won’t fly even though it has wings. But, if you build it a parachute out of a plastic bag and a pipe cleaner, it soars.

Pipe cleaner spinner. My personal favorite is this twirled-up pipe cleaner that spins and spins as it floats in the air.

Tops. And speaking of spinning, watch these plastic tops. They don’t float, but they definitely respond to the wind!

As he plays, he’s learning hands-on about aerodynamics, wind currents, how lightweight things fly better than heavy things, but even heavy things can fly if they have a parachute or an “air ship” that can catch the wind currents. Having the ability to play hands-on with this will allow him to internalize the learning much more than when he covers all this stuff in high school physics class someday!

Learn more:

If you want to read more about “transactivity” and what makes this such a cool learning activity, check out Stroud’s post: http://www.exhibitfiles.org/vertical_wind_tubes. This is a great “case study” post, which shares observations on how people play with the tubes.

Here are links to some other people’s experiments with and thoughts about Wind Tubes

Info from the Exploratorium: directions on how to make a wind tube include ideas for what materials you can “fly” in it. They have a collection of photos and thoughts about their process of designing the wind tubes. and there’s a debrief from facilitators, sharing their observations of how visitors played with the tubes.

Here’s a slightly different design, and observations from using it.

Design challenge: soaring satellites (for older kids) http://legacy.mos.org/designchallenges/media/ed_guides/Satellites_EdGuide.pdf

Time to go wading!

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What could be better on a hot day than wading in a cool creek?
It’s cool, the sound of the water is relaxing, it’s building big motor skills (staying balanced on uneven ground), small motor skills (picking up pebbles to throw), caution and limits (don’t go to the deep area), entomology (water bugs!), mud-ology  (check out this great post on the benefits of mud play http://rightfromthestart.wordpress.com/2012/08/30/build-a-mud-kitchen-why-playing-with-mud-is-good-for-children/) fluid dynamics (water moves much faster over the waterfall than on the flat), mama’s limits (you can’t play near the waterfall!)
Lots of great stuff!
Do be aware of safety. Watch for broken glass in the water if you’re wading barefoot. It’s great if you know drowning rescue and CPR just in case. And it’s best to go with friends to help keep an eye out for everyone. Shower or bathe when you get home to wash off any buggies…

Wading at Everest park in Kirkland, WA

Wading at Everest park in Kirkland, WA

These pictures were taken at Everest park in Kirkland, WA. Plan to park in the lot north of the ball-fields. The creek is between parking and fields / playground. I was surprised to find we were the only ones in the creek on this hot hot day, but this park is never crowded… It is one of those almost- undiscovered gems.  http://parksofkirkland.com/everest-park/

Note: You do need to closely supervise here… the middle picture above shows the waterfall at the edge of this little pond area.