Category Archives: Science of Music

The Role of Adults in Young Children’s Music Class

Exploring the natural development phases of The Nature of the Young Child, we have shown how the first phases of life are crucial in how a child discovers independence. Our final part of this series explores the child’s home environment, and in particular, the role of adults in influencing the physical and psychological well-being of children. This is not merely limited to the role of parents, but also other caregivers and influential adults such as teachers of children’s music programs.

When we refer to environment in how it influences the development of the young child, we are not just referring to people, but include also the places and objects surrounding the child. However, the role of the parent or caregiver is an important model for the child. As children are introduced to new environments, they look to the guidance of their familiar people for a comfort level that allows them to explore new interactions. This is why parent/caregiver participation is so important in an early childhood music class. These may be one of the first classroom experiences of the child’s life, and the attitude the caregiver shares in the experience will influence the child’s attitude toward education and participation with others.

Suggestions for Adults in Young Children’s Music Classes

  • Take Time to Listen to Toddlers – While their language may not be fully developed, modeling respect for what they have to say will show them that it should be done for others.
  • Acknowledge and Respect – Recognize a child’s individuality and efforts that are being made in a respectful manner.
  • Speak Clearly and in Full Sentences – Baby talk is not helpful for language development, so use complete sentences and enunciate clearly to help them develop expressive ideas of their experiences.
  • Encourage  Them to Participate, Then Let Them Make the Choice – Offer an activity and acknowledge the child, but if they do not respond, move on and let them feel free to sit and observe.
  • Be Courteous in Modeling – Children between the ages of 2.5 and 4 love learning the precise movements of adults, so model courtesy when greeting others, handling instruments, putting things away, and saying goodbye.
  • Keep Things Orderly and Clean  Keeping a musical environment clean, whether in the classroom or at home, makes a lasting impression.
  • Be Melodious in Movement and Sound – Being graceful and singing in a calming, pleasant demeanor enriches the musical experience for the child.
  • Children Love Ritual, Ceremony, and Consistency – Children need a predictable and comfortable structure from which to explore and experiment, but it’s important to relinquish control without abandoning the child during class.

Perhaps the most endearing quality of children is their never-ending sense of wonder and amazement. By observing and engaging the child while allowing them to discover things on their own, adults energize their curiosity and sensorimotor mode. In these moments of deep concentration and reflection is where we observe and nurture their wonder-filled discoveries and creativity.

Much of the content for this post was based on the introduction to Family Music for Babies and Family Music for Toddlers, an early childhood music curriculum developed by Musikgarten.

The Role of Music in Early Childhood Development

In this third installment of our series on The Nature of the Young Child, we continue to explore how children learn during the first phases of life, and how the first three years in particular are critical. Based on the pedagogical philosophy of acclaimed educator Maria  Montessori to “follow the child,” there are several experiences that influence sensory and motor development for neurological organization. Caregivers and children’s music teachers can see how music has a role to play in this vital stage of childhood development.

Children Learn Through Movement

Once they have learned to walk, toddlers spend much of their time exploring the world around them. Any parent can tell you that they are constantly on the move, learning to obtain control of their body movements. As a prerequisite to cognitive learning, sensorimotor integration is one of the earliest ways that babies and toddlers learn about their world.  From reaching and grasping to crawling and walking, children are explorers by nature. Through repetition and practice, the toddler begins to unconsciously strengthen body to mind neural connections. Kinesthetic awareness, an inner sense that operates below the conscious level, contributes information about how the body feels as it moves. Such awareness is invaluable to all learning, including music – through movements such as clapping, tapping, bouncing, or dancing.

Listening is the Most Important Sensory Channel for Learning

Formed in utero, the ear is functional at four months after conception, allowing the fetus to begin hearing their mother’s breathing, heartbeat, digestion, talking, and singing. The ear is an organ that never rests, and listening is important to almost all aspects of learning – physical, social, emotional, and intellectual. Music helps children to focus their attention on familiar sounds, whether it is a lullaby sung by a parent or a children’s music class, and helps to teach appropriate interaction with adults and peers.

Shaping Language is the Child’s Great Work

 At the earliest stages of life, children understand that speaking is what constitutes communication in their world. Sounds that come from the mouth such as cooing are very fascinating to babies, eliciting excited responses that begin a back and forth form of communication. In the beginning, tone and inflection are even more important than the words themselves, and infants will imitate and practice sounds as they become excited about their own vocalizations. Music offers a very strong source of pleasure for children, as it soothes, elicits attention, and stimulates response. The rhythm, repetition, and rhyming of music all contribute to a child’s language development as they are allowed to sing to themselves, make up words, and silly noises.

Children Have a Natural Tendency for Order 

As children experience the massive amount of information coming through their senses, they begin to sort, order, classify and categorize. Remarkable because it is not based on any previous experience, this process helps children to understand their environment and how to put persons and things in their accustomed place.  Maria Montessori understood this, and once order is established around the age of 3.5 years, change is better tolerated in the external environment. Music participation and education also helps establish a sense of order through repetition and routine of familiar songs and movements.

Independence and Initiative are the Embodiment of Learning

As children develop through movement and language, they are also beginning to move from total dependence on their caregiver towards a growing sense of self. Parents fully understand the “strong will” of a toddler, and at around 2 years of age, they love to participate in self-chosen tasks. Insisting on completing tasks alone, toddlers are showing a desire to free themselves from dependency. Music can provide a valuable tool for children to explore their independence. For example, playing different developmentally appropriate instruments presents cause and effect as they see what sounds they can make with them.

Repetition is Essential to Learning 

Children love to repeat enjoyable experiences, and this is an important aspect of both learning and teaching. While allowing them to enjoy the experience over and over, the repeated action boosts both cognitive as well as muscle memory. Often with deep concentration, children repeat tasks of their own choosing until they have mastered it and established control. It is then that they look for other ways to put the actions to work. Music is a wonderful tool for providing children with both a repetitive learning task, but also a means by which to take those tasks and add their own creativity.

In the first years of life, children use these mechanisms to understand their world and grow to free themselves of total dependence on others. Music, along with movement, can provide caregivers and early childhood music teachers with powerful tools to assist in this crucial stage of child development. In our next blog, we will explore the role of adults in the child’s environment, and how to encourage these mechanisms for both the physical and psychological well-being of the child.  

 Much of the content for this post was based on the introduction to Family Music for Babies and Family Music for Toddlers, an early childhood music curriculum developed by Musikgarten.

Understanding the Nature of the Young Child in Teaching Music

Maria Montessori, the acclaimed Italian physician and educator best known for the pedagogical philosophy that bears her name, once wrote “follow the child.” The statement is acknowledgement that children have their own particular pattern, of which careful observation is key to understanding in the classroom. Many childhood music programs approach and develop their curricula based on this philosophy. But the story, however, of each child begins even before the classroom – with the family in the home. At birth, babies are immediately exposed to a world of senses, each of which influences their process of self-construction. The environment in which they are submerged has a fundamental effect on the rest of the child’s life. Over the next several posts, we will explore how those early years are so formative, what influences that growth, and how the role of parents and caregivers is so important.

Phases of Childhood Development

Throughout time, psychologists and academics have sought to divide childhood development into phases, stages, or periods. Whether it is Piaget’s 4 stages of Cognitive Development, Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development, or Montessori’s Sensitive Periods of Development, each differs slightly from each other, either in behavioral approach or developmental milestones. But all of these agree that the most formative stages occur in the earliest part of life. While there is slight variation in the exact milestones, for discussion we can identify two major phases in childhood development:

Phase 1 – From birth to age three are years of intense activity and absorption.

Phase 2 – From age three to six years is a time to consolidate the gains from the first period

Whether cognitive or social, there is no more significant phase in human development than these early years, and even more influence is placed on the first three years of life.

A Child’s First Three Years are Critical

An incredibly complex stage of development takes place during the first three years of life, as a child becomes consciousness of being separate from others and builds competencies off of stimulating experiences. In the creative process from newborn to three-year-old, a series of transformations take the child from helpless infant to becoming a confident person in his or her own right. During this time they experience a growing sense of selfhood with an ability, through language as well as mobility, to communicate their individual needs and desires.

This formation is possible at a pre-conscious level because nature directs the development in the earliest stages of childhood. These are “critical” periods, where the developing child focuses on the necessary factors in their environment that direct the work of inner construction. The first three years of human life are so critical because it is a period in which intellectual growth rapidly occurs and cognitive functions are being established. Therefore, early experiences within an interesting and stimulating environment promote optimal development physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually and intellectually.

The Senses are the Child’s Window to the World

Even before they are born, babies have some senses in the womb. They can hear their mothers voice and music being played, they can also sense vibration when their mother rubs her belly, and often engage in self-touch as their skin gradually becomes more sensitive to stimulation. At birth, they begin to absorb their surroundings with enthusiasm during every waking moment. Through exploration and manipulation, sensory information (taste, smell, touch, vision, and hearing) is confirmed though movement. This sensorimotor exploration is a way for babies to learn without language and begin to develop the symbolic system that is the basis of concept formation and cognitive learning. In just three years, babies have organized what their senses have taught them in ways that encapsulate their own understanding.

The process by which infants and toddlers learn is based on an important and impressionable phase during the first three years of life. It is during this formative period that the child organizes information that has been gathered through their senses to begin to establish selfhood and identity. During this time and the next three years of life, several factors determine how the child will learn and grow physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually and intellectually. Continuing to explore the Nature of the Child, our next post will expand on the important factors that influence these critical formative years.

Much of the content for this post was based on the introduction to Family Music for Babies and Family Music for Toddlers, an early childhood music curriculum developed by Musikgarten.

The Evidence of How Early Childhood Music Education Helps Students in School

Most parents will tell you about how music is engrained in many of the activities, games, and educational entertainment of early childhood. We may remember the songs of Sesame Street or School House Rock that helped us learn to count, form words, or learn history. Younger parents will remember playing Baby Mozart for their children in the crib, or how music was used in popular educational cartoons such as Sid the Science Kid. For a very long time, educators and parents have understood the value of exposure to music in the earlies stages of life, but an ever increasing amount of research supports that teaching children about music at an early age will give them an advantage as students:

  • A large-scale longitudinal study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience found that structured music lessons significantly enhance children’s language-based reasoning, planning, short term memory and other cognitive abilities. Children as young as 2.5 years old were assessed for academic performance as well as various cognitive skills. It found that children who had received music lessons suggested that cognitive skills developed during music lessons influence their abilities in completely unrelated subjects, leading to improved academic performance overall.
  • Moving in sync to music with others helps toddlers form stronger social bonds, according to a study performed by McMaster University. The study found that toddlers, some of which were as young as 14 months old, were more likely to help an adult pick up a dropped object if they had previously bounced together in time with music as compared to those whose movement was off tempo. This exercise was designed to help infants be better in tune with emotions through sharing songs and music.
  • Music improves baby brain responses to music and speech, according to scientists at University of Washington’s Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS), a series of musical play sessions with 9-month old babies showed an improvement in brain processing of new speech sounds. It is the first such study to suggest that recognizing rhythmic patterns in music can also help babies to detect rhythmic patterns in speech, concluding that engaging in musical experiences at an early age can have a more global effect on cognitive skills.
  • Just listening is not enough. While music has been known to soothe infants and help to create a bond between caregiver and child, a study from Northwestern University revealed that simply listening to music at an older age does not have the same cognitive benefits as being actively engaged in a music class. Researchers found that children who regularly attended, as well as participated in music classes showed larger improvements in how the brain processes reading and speech than less involved children. The role of music and movement in children’s learning and growth is well documented.

The scientific evidence of the benefits of early childhood music classes is continuing to support the consensus that even from the earlies stages of life, exposure and participation in music positively influence cognitive development in children, particularly in the areas of social, speech and reading skills. As a result, these children are better prepared and perform consistently higher in school than their peers.

How Music Helps Children Connect with Nature

Since the dawn of mankind, the sounds of the natural world have been an integral part of our culture. All the world is sound, or vibration. From bees humming to the sound of falling water, the same vibrations that make music surround us in nature. Aboriginal Australian tribes believe that humans actually sang the world into existence with Songlines as they walk the song lines crisscrossing land between natural spaces. Great composers often used nature as the backdrop for their works, such as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, or Johannes Brahms C Minor Symphony.  

It should be no surprise that exposure to music in early childhood helps kids make a connection with nature. Many traditional children’s songs such as Green Grass Grows All Around, Itsy Bitsy Spider, Teddy Bears Picnic, and Walking in the Green Grass sing of the natural world around us. We know how music has many benefits for the healthy development of a child from the earliest ages, but it can also help to create a connectedness to nature that will last their entire lives. Here are just a few ways that music helps kids connect to nature:  

  • It is often hard to express in words the emotions and feelings that being in nature evokes. Music helps express those feelings without words.
  • Experiencing music and nature helps kids learn mindfulness – how to be present and in the moment. This is why much Mindful Music used for relaxation, meditation, and personal healing is based on sounds in nature such as waves at the beach, a rain shower, or a babbling brook.
  • Like music, the sounds of nature help children to listen more carefully and intently. This helps sharpen communication skills and teaches perseverance.
  • Songs and music about the natural world help children to develop familiarity and empathy towards plants, animals, and elements in nature, encouraging them to spend more time in outdoors. This develops a sense of harmony and rhythm with nature, and thus a more caring attitude towards it.
  • There is a reason why outdoor concerts are so popular in all forms and genres of music. The scenery and smells provide additional stimuli to make the music experience even more enjoyable. Concerts are often scheduled at sunset to take advantage of the beautiful sky. Many religions have a dawn or sunrise ritual attuned to music or chanting to communicate new beginnings, new life, or hope.
  • The link between the pleasure that music brings and exposure to nature in early childhood helps to encourage a lifetime appreciation of the outdoors and environmental responsibility.  

It is well documented that exposing children to music at an early age helps their development in numerous ways. Science is also proving that time in nature provides kids with exercise, mindfulness, and the development of deeper social connections. It should not be surprising then, that the natural connection between music and the environment have been around since the dawn of mankind.

The Science of Music: Creativity Wish List – How Music Inspires Children to Compose

Our third and final set of The Neuroscience of Music serieshas begun to explore ways in which early childhood music education can help to develop skills from parents’ Creativity Wish List by teaching children to fall in love with music. This second of four installments in the Creativity Wish List set provides insight and helpful instruction on how to inspire children to compose through music.

“Just think about what it means to compose,” poses  Dee Joy Coulter, a nationally recognized Neuroscience educator, “The child must figure out how to begin, how to develop an idea, how to end it well, and finally, how to get others to join in and play it together.”

  • Through early childhood group classes, infants, toddlers, and preschoolers experience firsthand how music creates community. Performance of music through familiar songs, stories, and dances create a connection with those participating. 
  • Music almost always has a set pattern, a composition consisting of a beginning, a repeated musical idea, and a clear ending. Practicing these musical forms develops an understanding of how music is formed and created. Later in life, this understanding of structure will help guide the child in writing papers, working on a project, giving talks, and developing leadership skills.

How music inspires Infants and toddlers to begin to compose

  • Family life provides the very earliest forms of composition in how we go about the rhythms and routines of our daily schedule. Coaching these familiar “forms” develop a comfort and bond between family and infant.
  • Using traditional songs and music, that have a clear beginning, middle pattern, and end help infants and toddlers to understand the basic structure of music, and when they begin to sing along with or respond to those forms, then they are beginning the earliest stages of composition.

Using music to inspire composition in preschoolers and beginning school age children

  • As children grow from toddlerhood to preschool age, their individual aptitude for certain parts of composition start to reveal themselves. Children who show particular delight or enthusiasm about starting something new, may have a propensity for beginnings in composition. Those who love to work on creative tasks over and over until they get it right may work better in the middle parts, while others may love a spectacular ending.
  • As parents sing and move with preschool and beginning school children at home or in early childhood group music classes, pointing out the beginning, middle, and end parts of the songs or tunes with them helps to instill a better understanding of music composition.

Dr. Lorna Heyge, founder of Musikgarten reminds us that “Just as with language development skills, in order for children to learn creative thinking skills, they need to be involved in situations where creative thinking is both modeled and nurtured.” Participating in musical activities through repeated and familiar songs and dance provide an opportunity for parents and early childhood music educators to understand the patterns and forms of music composition, while inspiring them to explore and create their own.

*Musikgarten Delivers: The Neuroscience of Music collection by Dr. Dee Coulter is available for $10 in the Product Catalog section of our Teacher Portal. Username and password are required. You may also contact Musikgarten at 800-216-6864 to purchase.

The Science of Music: Creativity Wish List – How to Inspire Children to Fall in Love with Music

If you have been following along with us on this informative journey about The Neuroscience of Music, this third and final set in the Musikgarten published series will explore ways in which early childhood music education can help to develop skills from parents’ Creativity Wish List. Don’t worry if you have not read the previous posts, they all stand alone, and you can always go back and read them here. The four installments in the Creativity Wish List set will provide insight and tips into how music inspires children to fall in love with music, compose, improvise, and love nature.

“Music can bring so much joy to a child’s life that it is a wonderful gift in its own right,” affirms Dr. Dee Joy Coulter, a nationally recognized Neuroscience educator, “but it also has the most “fringe benefits” of all the art forms and activities you could give your child.”

  • Music is often thought of as humanity’s universal language. As children learn songs and dances from around the world, they learn how to connect with different cultures and become world citizens.
  • There are an increasing number of medical applications for music in healing, including the relief of pain, lowering stress and blood pressure, and reducing the hospital stays of premature newborns and surgical patients.

Here are a few facts and information on how to inspire children to fall in love with music from the first installment in the parents’ Creativity Wish List.

How to inspire Infants and toddlers to begin to love music

  • Even before birth, most infants hear and love the sound of their mother’s voice, and research shows that nearly all people who go on to develop higher musical skills in life were sung to by their parents during childhood.
  • Music classes begin with the most powerful expression of parental love cultures have developed – the lullaby. Nothing is more nourishing than this opportunity to soak up the love of a parent through music.
  • The same tonal patterns in songs and tunes are used by different cultures around the world, naturally using rising tones to create and delight infants and toddlers, while using falling tones to calm and sooth them.
  • As your infant grows into toddlerhood, explore different types of songs and music to see which delight them the most, bringing them joy and relaxation. Many parent-child early childhood music classes help parents to explore what kind of music has the most effect on their child.

Using music to build skills that will delight preschoolers and beginning school age children

  • As toddlers grow into preschool age, parents and teachers can use songs, dances, musical stories, games, and other activities to teach children about energy and emotion. Lively songs are often met with happy, smiling movement, while slower, gentler songs can help express calm and even sadness.
  • It can be helpful to match music to your child’s current mood to show how music conveys feelings. If your child is happy, then sing happy songs with them.  Inversely, you can use music selections, songs, and activities to help counter their mood, such as slower, softer songs at bedtime to help them settle down.
  • Throughout history and across cultures humans have shared in songs when working together. Explore work songs with your child as a great way to teach them to enjoy picking up their toys and helping with chores around the home.

Instilling a love of music in your child is a gift that will last their entire life. Even before birth, exposure to music has shown to provide numerous benefits in early childhood, such as improved language development, focus and memory, and fundamental math skills. Taking it a step further, group musical activities in early childhood have shown to improve self-confidence, self-esteem, discipline, and teamwork.

*Musikgarten Delivers: The Neuroscience of Music collection by Dr. Dee Coulter is available for $10 in the Product Catalog section of our Teacher Portal. Username and password are required. You may also contact Musikgarten at 800-216-6864 to purchase.

The Science of Music: Preparing Children to be Ready to Read

 The Neuroscience of Music*  series of publications explains to music teachers and parents ways in which early childhood music education will help impact the development of children. The Parent’s School Skills Wish List is the second set of The Neuroscience of Music, with this installment exploring how music helps teach children to get ready to read.

Reading is one of the most important and studied skills in education. Dr. Dee Joy Coulter, a nationally recognized Neuroscience educator points out that many of the key activities that researchers site for helping children prepare to read successfully look a lot like the skills learned in an early childhood music class, such as hearing and identifying differences in pitches, patterns, rhythms and rhymes. Early childhood music teachers and parents can use these methods and activities to help children prepare to read:

How music can offer pre-reading skills to infants and toddlers:

  • An early childhood music teacher will sing Ba, Ba to a baby and soon a response will come back Ba. Over time the response will be more precise with Ba, Ba. The echoing and imitation will progress further, leading to an early attention to language, to form and to the call and response pattern, all excellent pre-reading exercises.
  • Finally, singing simple songs not only soothes infants and toddlers, but also helps them to recognize patterns and words as they are repeated. Lyrics from old folk songs seem to be especially easy for children to recognize, as if their long history has made them more memorable.

Preparing preschoolers to read songs and music

  • The mimicking or “echoing” that works with infants and toddlers can be turned into call and response activities and songs for preschool children. Music works especially well with this exercise and has been used by pre-school teachers to teach children speech, reading, in addition to simply gaining their attention.
  • Songs are very often stories, and help preschool children to follow and understand a timeline, setting, and characters. In addition to reading them stories to begin to teach how sentences and stories are formed, singing familiar and open-ended songs help them to understand how to construct and understand written words. Many early childhood music programs go even a step further, getting the children to act out a storyline set to music in order to further reinforce these valuable skills.

From the earliest stages, songs and music are an important part of developing children’s understanding of language, and eventually reading. Babies respond to the rhythm and melody of language before they understand what the words mean. As toddlers grow into preschoolers, call and response activities such as those commonly used in early childhood music programs help them to understand the rhythm and structure of words and sentences, and how they are formed into songs and written stories.

*Musikgarten Delivers: The Neuroscience of Music collection by Dr. Dee Coulter is available for $10 in the Product Catalog section of our Teacher Portal. Username and password are required. You may also contact Musikgarten at 800-216-6864 to purchase.

The Science of Music: How to Prepare Children to Enjoy Practicing

The series The Neuroscience of Music*  shows parents and music teachers ways in which early childhood music education can help impact the development of children. This second set of the Wish List series focuses more specifically on a parent’s School Skills Wish List. The topic of the third installment of this set is how to get children to enjoy practicing.

From infancy to about the age of 6, children have a unique window of opportunity to learn how to, and enjoy practicing things. Dee Joy Coulter, a nationally recognized Neuroscience educator, explains that during these few years, a child’s enjoyment of repetition is strong. Parents can help them to practice naturally by providing fun activities that they can eventually master. However, this satisfaction must come from within in order to develop a lifelong habit, warns Coulter, so parents must resist praise, blame or pressure during these activities.

Below are ways that parents and early childhood music educators can use music to help children learn to develop self-discipline to succeed at school, work, athletics, and the arts.

How to introduce the idea of practicing to infants and toddlers

  • In learning basic coordination and language, infants must practice and learn the nuances of their senses in a pleasing way. They are wired to mirror everything they see, and this is highly rewarding to them. Parents and early childhood music teachers can help with imitation games with clapping and pointing to things with exaggerated facial expressions, and they will naturally follow and copy.
  • In the earliest stages of infancy to toddlerhood, parents can perform simple songs and movement games to teach motor skills and instill a familiarity. After a few weeks of repetition, leave a particular game for a few weeks and come back to it. This allows the infant or toddler time to anchor the movements and memory in their system. When the game is brought back, the predictability that goes with recognition and the control that goes with increased physical mastery are very powerful incentives for practicing.

How to teach preschoolers to begin focusing on how to practice

  • Research suggests that poor learners don’t know how to handle the failures of new learning, and so tend to abandon challenges right away for fear of failure. On the other hand, those that excel in tasks and challenges tend to have a passion for practice and truly enjoy the experience – much like the capacity of children’s minds in the first stages of life.
  • Share enjoyable music activities with your preschooler before introducing an instrument. By first instilling a love of music in children before asking them to focus on an instrument helps to ensure that they will enjoy practicing due to its relationship to something they already love.
  • The teaching practice of spiraling, or a pattern of dropping an activity for a period and then spiraling back to it, allows new skills to seat more deeply than constant practice. Childhood music programs  will use this practice along with the process of scaffolding to allow children to learn on their own and provide help at the appropriate times. This approach to creating the basis for more advanced learning is important for advancement in musical skills, mathematics, science and foreign language learning.

Music can be an important tool for preparing infants and toddlers for a lifetime of learning enjoyment. Games that encourage mimicking help to develop a love for practicing from the earliest stages of infancy. By leaving and returning back to activities, children will learn to think and accept new concepts on their own while having pleasure in practicing. This will not only serve them well in music, but also in academics.

*Musikgarten Delivers: The Neuroscience of Music collection by Dr. Dee Coulter is available for $10 in the Product Catalog section of our Teacher Portal. Username and password are required. You may also contact Musikgarten at 800-216-6864 to purchase.

The Science of Music: How Music Teaches Children to Sit Still and Listen

Continuing with the series The Neuroscience of Music*  we are sharing ways in which early childhood music education can help impact the development of children. This second set of the Wish List series focuses more specifically on School Skills Wish List and the second topic in this set explores how to encourage children to sit still and listen

In a world increasingly swamped with visual and noise stimulation, how many times do parents find themselves frustrated and saying to children “Can you just sit down and listen?” The physiological makeup of our ears might provide some insight, explains Dee Joy Coulter, a nationally recognized Neuroscience educator. The ears actually contain two channels – with one devoted to listening and the other for balance and movement. Young ears must learn to combine these two channels, first by establishing good movement skills and second by developing language skills. As the child grows older, they begin to develop speech and by the time they are four to five years, they can carry on a conversation, tell a short story, and begin to follow directions.

Parents and teachers can help develop a child’s listening skills through music and other exercises and games.  Below are a few ways.

Training the two channels of the ears separately in infants and toddlers

  • Use music games and dancing to create an even more pleasurable experience for the infant, combining familiar music or songs and movement together.
  • To help develop the listening channel of the ears, develop games with tones and simple sounds that the infant or toddler will grow to anticipate. For example, tap a series of three beats on a table top or a small drum head. Then, tap only twice to see their reaction and laughter when the third beat is skipped!

Shift focus when working with preschoolers and beginning school age children

  • When speaking with children at the preschool age, slow down your speech so that the child can process what you are saying at a slower rate. Use descriptions of things and words that they can picture in their minds. This will help them to be able to sit still and listen more easily, which will be advantageous when they begin school.

Training the preschool child to be still and listen involves understanding the difference between the two auditory channels in the ears. By first approaching the movement/balance channel and the listening channel separately, and then combining the two in musical games, the child learns to separate movement from sound at the appropriate times. This valuable understanding will help them learn to sit still and listen at home and in school.

*Musikgarten Delivers: The Neuroscience of Music collection by Dr. Dee Coulter is available for $10 in the Product Catalog section of our Teacher Portal. Username and password are required. You may also contact Musikgarten at 800-216-6864 to purchase.