by Valerie Frost-Lewis, MS Ed., Owner/Director, Peppermint Tree Child Development Center
How did you learn your ABC’s? Probably by singing them. There are research-based reasons why songs “stick” in our brains. Now that we have sophisticated brain imaging technology, we have learned that music activities use both sides of the brain, and stimulate the brain cells to strengthen connections for learning. We have also learned that the brains of very young children (those under five years of age) have a great deal of “plasticity”, meaning their brains are growing and reshaping rapidly as they learn. The more stimulation they get, the stronger the brain growth. So, music and movement is not only fun and exciting for children, it is also an educational tool that enhances brain development.
According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s guideline, Developmentally Appropriate Practice (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009), “The preschool years are now seen as the key period for establishing positive attitudes and behaviors about learning.” Having enthusiasm for learning is an important factor in school readiness. Music and movement add fun to learning, and keep children engaged in the topic at hand.
In addition, music’s rhythm patterns prepare the mind for math. To enhance this effect, you can encourage children to count out beats, claps, stomps, taps, spins, skips, etc., and before you know it they are having fun with numbers! Having a child repeat back a simple rhythm on a drum or with a shaker is early patterning, which is an important foundational math skill. Patterns can also be a part of the movement activity during a song as well, like in the song, “Head, shoulders, knees and toes”, in which the children learn the repeated pattern and follow through by identifying each body part.
And, in the area of reading readiness, singing songs expands your child’s vocabulary and gets them to tune in to the sounds of words (phonemic awareness). One of the easiest ways to encourage singing is to sing together with your child and especially by singing songs with lots of repetition, or call and response sections, so the children can catch on and learn it confidently. Once a child enjoys singing, they can be encouraged to fill in the blanks in the lyrics with their own details, then make up their own verses to songs, make up their own melodies, and to sing their own songs. This lays a creative foundation for them to one day write their own stories.
Movement activities help lock in learning further, because, as is commonly known, children learn by doing. So, when children sing and dance, they are making connections and stimulating many parts of the brain at once. Movement can also foster creativity, as children explore the use of their bodies to act out the actions in a song’s lyrics, or just move to the way the music makes them feel. Music and movement also can work to enhance emotional development. As children experience and identify different feelings that the music evokes, they can learn to express those feelings through movement. Movement is a wonderful form of self-expression for children, especially for those who do not yet have the words to fully communicate.
So sing a song, and dance a dance, and invite a child to join you! You’ll be building their brain power while creating lasting memories of fun and togetherness.