Why Young Children Need Music, Parents Listen Up

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Sep 7 2013 - 8:36am
Music helps young children

Parents who wonder what types of activities are best for their young children to learn should seriously consider music. Results of a new study from researchers at the University of West London (UWL) suggest kids who participate in music and singing are more likely to enjoy other critical benefits than those who do not embrace music.

How can music help young children?

As many schools need to cut back on activities and programs outside of the 3 Rs because of financial restraints, one of the activities that is often eliminated is music. This is unfortunate, and one reason is that previous research has shown that children who participate in music programs can improve their pro-social behavior (voluntary actions they take that benefit others).

Now new research indicates that young children who are offered chances to make music can benefit in other ways as well. Two academics and an undergraduate student from the School of Psychology at UWL conducted the study.

Forty-eight four-year-old children (24 girls, 24 boys) were randomly assigned to one of two groups:

  • A music group in which children sang and also played a game called percussion bullfrog
  • A non-music group in which children listened to a story

Children in both groups were then offered an opportunity to play two games, one of which involved cooperation and the other which involved helping. The researchers observed and noted the children’s problem-solving abilities when they played the helping game.

Here’s what the researchers found:

  • Children in the music group were more than 30 times more likely to be helpful than kids in the no-music group
  • Girls were more than 20 times more likely to be helpful than were boys
  • Children in the music group were six times more likely to be cooperative than were those in the no-music group, and girls were more likely than boys to be cooperative
  • Boys in the music group were four times more likely to problem solve than were those in the no-music group

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Other research on kids and music
In earlier work conducted by Lisa Huisman Koops, assistant professor in music education at Case Western Reserve University, it was shown that young children who are offered music play zones—areas dedicated to making music—can develop rhythmic skills, learn how to create compositions, and establish other musical-related “building blocks,” according to Koops. Koops conducted her research in part with 12 preschool children and their parents in her movement and music class, as well as among 4- and 6-year-olds.

The good news for parents and teachers is that identifying these music zones can be easy and versatile: they can be a place, time, or circumstance, such as bursting into song every time a child takes a bath or beating out a rhythm on a small drum whenever a child sees a bus while her parents are driving. She encourages parents to incorporate age-appropriate music into their daily lives whenever they can and to begin when children are young.

Other research from Northwestern University and presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in 2010 noted that music education can help children better process speech and improve their language skills. According to Nina Kraus, Hugh Knowles Professor of Neurobiology, Physiology and Communication Sciences, music education benefits both normally developing children as well as those with learning or developmental challenges, such as autism.

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