Music is an incredible educational tool – it encourages creativity and collaboration between peers, but also allows for deep personal exploration. Here at the Friends Center for Children, we place great emphasis on community and personal expression. Involving our children in sing-a-longs and group music classes provide an environment where they feel safe to express themselves in a musical way. We always encourage children to get involved in their own way, either by playing along with instruments, singing or dancing. We see incredible social benefits to this method of learning and an added educational value in introducing music at such a young age.
As it turns out, incorporating music into an early childhood curriculum could benefit children by giving them more than just a sense of rhythm. Recent studies show that children who start taking music lessons before the age of seven could show increased brain performance far into adulthood. Research from Northwestern University and Beijing Normal University support current efforts to reintegrate arts education into schools by suggesting that musical training at a young age can carry biological benefits later in life.
“Early musical training does more good for kids than just making it easier for them to enjoy music. It changes the brain and these brain changes could lead to cognitive advances as well,” said Yunxin Wang of Beijing Normal University. Wang’s study was designed to investigate whether musical training early on in life had lasting effects on the structure of the brain. Her study followed 48 Han Chinese aged 19 to 21 who received formal music training for a minimum of one year between the ages of three and 15. Wang’s research proved that musical training that started before the age of seven appeared to thicken areas of the brain involved in language skills and executive function (a person’s ability to plan and execute tasks).
A similar study by Nina Kraus, PhD from Northwestern University surveyed 44 adults aged 55 to 76 who listened to a synthesized speech syllable while researchers measured electrical activity in the auditory brainstem. Results showed that participants who completed music training early in their life had a faster response to the speech sound. “Our findings suggest the importance of music education for children today and for healthy aging decades from now,” said Dr. Kraus. “The fact that musical training in childhood affected the timing of the response to speech in older adults in our study is especially telling, because neural timing is the first to go in the aging adult.”
There is much to take away from this research. Most importantly, it reinforces our commitment to high quality early learning programs. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence proving that cognitive function begins at a very young age, and it is our mission to begin the learning process as young as possible. We at Friends Center will continue to explore new ways to engage our children, but what better way than to start with a happy musical ensemble?
“It is the emotional aspects of singing and drumming and dancing and moving together that, for me, can be challenging to make tangible,” says Jennifer DiGioia, Program Assistant at the Friends Center for Children. “The voice and body are most powerful instruments. We place a lot of emphasis on expressing our feelings in words, which is a lifelong practice. As a teacher, what I model when I sing and move and make music with the children is confidence and love.”
For more information on these studies, visit the following sources:
“Childhood Music Lessons Have Neural Benefit Decades Later” by Sue Hughes
“Music Lessons in Early Childhood May Improve Brain’s Performance” by Ian Sample