Music Makes the World Go ‘Round – and Helps Children’s Development

Playing the music

Singing and music play important roles in cultures all over the world. Music exists in so many aspects of our lives: holidays, celebrations, ceremonies, theater, concerts, television/movies, and worship.

Some families naturally incorporate music into our everyday lives. Parents often use music to soothe, to express love, and to engage in play.  Including music in so many aspects of our lives not only brings joy, but has a positive effect on our children’s development – educationally and socially.

A 2016 study at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute found that when children engage in musical experiences, brain development is accelerated, particularly in the areas of language acquisition and reading skills. In addition, the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation says learning to play an instrument can improve mathematical learning and even increase SAT scores. 

In addition to academic growth, children who are exposed to musical experiences at an early age are more likely to develop skills for school readiness, such as intellectual, social-emotional, motor, language, and overall literacy.  Music helps the mind and the body to work together and helps children learn about sounds and words.  And, of course, dancing to music can help a child develop motor skills and to practice self-expression.  

Music can teach children about their own heritage, foster language development, and expose children to new cultures.  Cultural music can highlight a variety of new instruments and sounds, languages, and styles from around the world. It is a powerful way to tell stories and uphold traditions.  Children can learn about different customs and holidays celebrated in other cultures. Here’s a list of music from a variety of cultures you can use when exploring multicultural music.

Below are some fun ways to expose children to multicultural music: 

Group of children playing the drums in a temple, a traditional set of drums.
  • Play songs a child is already familiar with, such as the ABCs or counting songs, in different languages.
  • Watch videos of live performances. Children will be able to visualize instruments, locations, and people along with the music.
  • Play an instrumental song and make up a dance together.
  • Watch a simple lyric video and sing along to the words.
  • Build a running playlist of multicultural songs and integrate it into a regular routine.

There are many ways to incorporate music into children’s lives. It can be played in the background, it can be used as part of a child’s routine (clean-up time, or bedtime), it can be very physical for a child when playing an instrument or dancing to a great beat. Each stage of development can incorporate music. Here are some ideas: 

Newborns take in everything.  They are curious, notice small nuances in sounds, and have an excellent memory for music. Maternal singing catches the newborn’s attention better than spoken language. Singing to a baby enhances the bond between mother and child. It produces a content baby and a more relaxed mother. 

Infants react to music used throughout the day. They actively listen, process, and try to understand meaning in the music. They are able to respond in the form of babbling, smiling, and moving their bodies to the beat. They may even try to match the last note the adult sings. 

Toddlers love to dance and move to music.  And are ready to try out their own voices. They are able to remember and sing simple songs and have begun to feel the beat of the music. The key is to repeat songs, which will encourage memorization and the use of words. And remember – toddlers love to be silly, so try making up funny lyrics, and changing the words every once in a while.  Add in some simple instruments to begin engaging the whole body! 

Preschoolers are not self-conscious (yet), and love belting out songs they know.  Or making up words to a melody they know. They are ready to begin learning to keep a beat, so have a drum party, or start a band! Preschool children enjoy songs about familiar things like animals, toys, and people.  Also, using songs during transitions between activities is a great way to add some fun into the day – use the Clean Up Song when transitioning from active play to a quieter activity. 

Remember, not all children are the same, and will be stimulated in different ways.  Some children may easily get overstimulated or out of control when music is added into the mix. Pay attention to the volume level, the timing, and children’s reactions when it comes to incorporating music into your day. 

Music and Movement Resources for Teachers and Parents

The National Association for Music Education (NAME) is a professional organization for music educators that envisions the making of music by all. The Early Childhood Music and Movement Association is a group of early childhood educators, early childhood music specialists, and researchers that seeks to be a catalyst for meaningful early childhood music and movement practices. NAME offers these Context- and Activity-Specific Suggestions that consider the context in which the caretaker and child engage in music. 

In addition, educators and parents can encourage music and movement activities using the following books and recordings:

Books with Rhythmic Text:
  •  Barnyard Dance, by Sandra Boynton (1993)
  •  Llama Llama Mad at Mama, by Anna Dewdney (2007)
  •  Brown Bear, Brown Bear, by Bill Martin (1996)
  •  Edward’s Rhythm Sticks, by Franklin Willis (2020)
  •  Got the Rhythm, by Connie Schofield-Morrison (2014)
Books that Are Songs
  • There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, by Pam Adams (2000)
  •  We Are the Dinosaurs, by Laurie Berkner and Ben Clanton (2017)
  •  The Ants Go Marching, by Dan Crisp (2007)
  •  Over in the Meadow, by Jill MacDonald (2012)
  •  Down by the Bay, by Raffi Songs to Read (1999)
  •  Five Little Ducks, by Raffi songs to Read (1999)
  •  Abiyoyo, by Pete Seeger (1994)
  •  De Colores and other Latin American Folk Songs, by Jose-Luis Orozco (1999)
  •  Every Little Thing, by Cedella Marley (2015)
Recordings for Steady Beat and Expressive Movement
  •  “Iko Iko,” by Buckwheat Zydeco
  •  “Linus and Lucy,” by Vince Guaraldi Trio
  •  “Hanuka,” by Judy Frankel
  •  “Loch Laven Castle,” by Celtic Music Voyages
  •  “Rodeo,” by Aaron Copeland
  •  “Peixinhos do mar,” by Daniele Sepe
  •  “Uskudar’a a Gider Iken,” by Pink Martini
  •  “Carmen Overture,” by Georges Bizet
  •  “Hamisha Asar,” by Flory Jagoda
Recordings to Sing Along With
  • Songs of Our World, by Raffi
  •  Children’s Songs—A Collection of Childhood Favorites, by Susie Tallman and Friends
  •  Putumayo Kids Presents World Sing Along
  •  Best of the Laurie Berkner Band
  •  Dr. Jean and Friends

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