Why Music and Dance Matter in Early Years

Having just endured, ahem, we mean, delighted in the annual end of term festive singalong or theatrical performance, parents may well be questioning whether a career in Bollywood, the West End or on Broadway beckons for their child.
Why Music and Dance Matter in Early Years
By Jenny Mollon
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Whether your little one is blessed with a glorious, angelic voice or two left feet, there are many benefits to introducing music and dance to children under 5.

Music is a Language

Music is a language, like all others.  With all the elements that stimulate neural pathways in any form of language acquisition – grammar, syntax, aural and written communication, music expands children’s ability to learn in many of the same ways as learning a typical second language. 

Babies are born with ears that are fully mature and are able to process complex sounds from the youngest age.  This is one of the reasons babies and young children are considered to be aural learners before they become visual learners. 

That said, enjoyment and interpretation of music are not dependent on an understanding of language.  Our baby’s first sounds are the rhythmical patterns of their mother’s heartbeat and once born, babies are quickly able to interpret the emotion in the voices around them.   Eventually this understanding of vocal emotions helps children to decode facial expressions, a key stage of early development.

Music and dance – emotional outlets for non-verbal children

Ever watched a pre-verbal child in a moment of utter rage or pure joy?  (And, frankly, if you are in possession of a child under 5, we accept that is a daft question).  At whichever end of the spectrum the emotion, the frustration is much the same!  Musicality, dance and rhythmical movement can allow a gently expressive, or wildly energetic outlet for these emotions.  Even more, music creates a bond between those who share the experience – something teachers tend to instinctively know and use to improve behaviour in class.

Melodies and rhythmical patterns enhance memory and provide a work out for the brain.  There’s education behind all those boring endlessly repetitive nursery rhymes – we promise!

Music is a great way for teachers to assess development

We probably all remember being a child and being told to ‘sit still and listen’ to a piece of music.  Early Years teachers today recognise that this is really not the optimal way for children to experience music (and that’s putting it mildly!) – noting a foot tapping in time, hands moving rhythmically and an expression of enjoyment or even puzzlement, give teachers many clues and are great stepping stones to more significant developmental stages.   In a sector where ‘child led’ is the key phrase, what could be more child led than a letting loose or relaxing to a piece of great music?

Music and dance communicate our cultures

Cultural learning and experiences can be sometimes hard to make meaningful and playful for Early Years children.  (Click here for more on cultural learning in the Early Years).  But, music and song are, of course, simply stories set to music, and are often passed down generation to generation. 

Expatriate children often miss out on some simple aspects of their family’s culture, so why not try to introduce some traditional music from home?  Not only do the styles and distinctions between musical styles from all over the world speak to us about the character and values of each country or part of the world, but they bring with them memories and stories from our own childhoods.  And sharing music does not need to be heavy going!  Whilst classical forms of course have their place, sharing pop music, religious music or musical films and theatre are all great ways to bring a little bit of ‘home’ to your child.   

For children adapting to learning about their new home, music is a key bridge to new languages and dance a creative way of introducing national dress and cultural imagery.

This brings us nicely full circle to those classic end of term and our festive celebrations, in all their glory - wonky costumes, stage fright, forgotten lines and surprising talent from the quietest child in class.   Enduring images of childhood!  Music will always evoke emotions or long forgotten memories at special times of the year.

Music paves the way for academic success

There have been numerous articles which demonstrate the link between music and academic achievement.  All that neural pathway stimulation must surely lead to something!  A 2007 Rueters poll pointed to 88% of all post-graduate students and 83% of all people earning $150,000 or more having had extensive music training.   What better reason to break out the violins?

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