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The Science of Music: How Music Teaches Children to Share, Take Turns, and Speak Up

This is the first of a second set in the same series that focuses on parent’s School Skills Wish List, exploring how music can help parents and childhood music educators prepare children to share, take turns, and speak up.

Dee Joy Coulter, a nationally recognized Neuroscience educator, points to what anthropologists have discovered. With the nuclear family becoming smaller with fewer siblings, and early childhood friendships limited more to “play dates” than larger neighborhood play groups, the natural societal process has changed in how children learn to work in a social environment such as school. For generations, however, other cultures around the world have been teaching these societal skills through songs, dances, and movement games in which the entire village participated. Coulter contends that these same time-tested methods can be applied through childhood music programs with parental involvement.

The following are facts and information about how to use music, along with movement, to teach these important skills for school:

How Music and Movement Prepares Infants and Toddlers to Become Social Beings

  • Babies and parents practice a “social rhythm,” where within a fraction of a second of interaction, they are imitating the movements and expressions of the other. This “mimicking game” between parent and baby continues and evolves into taking turns at smiling, gestures, mouth movements, etc., building a bond between parent and child.
  • By the Age of 2, children start to show signs of compassion, and parents should support their show of concern for others by modeling compassion at home to help build strong social bonds early in life.
  • Building strong bonds and modeling compassion are the two key practices for building social skills.
  • Many early childhood music programs imitate this “social rhythm,” asking parents to participate by taking turns with small vocal and gestural queues. This eventually gives the child a sense of social awareness of how these actions make an impact in the class.

How Music and Movement Prepares the Preschooler and Beginning School Age Child to Become Social

  • Although it is extremely difficult for parents to do, instilling small wait times before responding to their child’s desires or requests instills the patience it requires to take turns with others. Using call and response songs with children also teaches them patience and how to share and take turns. Early childhood music programs also incorporate movement to these exercises, and parents can do this at home as well.
  • Talk and sing to your child a lot. You are preparing your child to communicate with others and building key reading readiness skills.

Music, along with movement, are important methods of teaching children societal skills such as sharing, learning to speak for themselves, and taking turns. This learning process starts with parents at home through imitation games, which can also be reinforced on a larger scale in early childhood music classrooms.