Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Role of Music in Early Childhood Classrooms

We recently wrote about the importance of Music in Early Childhood. This week, we interviewed Nancy Nuttle, Director of Music Together Montgomery in Montgomery County, Maryland. Ms. Nuttle has a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education, completed 15 successful years of general music instruction in Montgomery County Public Schools, and has sung professionally. We asked Ms. Nuttle to help us think about how Early Childhood educators can bring music into their classrooms. 

Can you describe the Music Together teaching philosophy?

Nancy Nuttle, Director, Music Together Montgomery
The Music Together® philosophy is based on research that indicates all children are musical, meaning we are all born with some level of music aptitude just as we are all born with the aptitude for language acquisition. Our goal is to empower parents and primary caregivers to support a child's music development as they journey towards basic music competency in a playful, non-performance-oriented environment that is developmentally appropriate for children birth through 5.

Why do you think music is an important part of early childhood education?

Research indicates young children are wired for music-learning.  Music-making is one of the human attributes that reside at the core of what makes us human. For this reason, we believe that the inclusion of music, for music's sake, is a birthright and should be an integral part of early learning.

What are some ways that early childhood general and special educators can bring music to their classrooms/weave music throughout the day?

Singing and music-making can easily be incorporated into a child's daily routine. Beginning and ending the day with ritual songs help children transition through their day. Providing opportunities for children to experiment with singing and instrument-play and exposing children to listening experiences that involve large movement respects a child's need to move and supports the spiral of exposure and experimentation that is so essential to the early childhood learning process.

Any specific activities you would recommend?

Music-learning, as with language-learning, in early childhood is all about adults modeling with children having the freedom to choose to participate. Singing songs without words allows children to have musical experiences without the distraction of language. Providing opportunities for older children to volunteer verse ideas during a song helps children feel invested in music-making and their ideas appreciated. Music-making experiences where adults model playing simple instruments, such as egg shakers, drums, and other child-friendly instruments, allow children to participate at whatever level is developmentally appropriate without performance expectations.

Music Together has developed a curriculum I feel is the gold standard regarding the inclusion of the entire school community, especially parents. 

Any tips for creating music centers in early childhood classrooms?

Most preschools are set up with a block area, kitchen area, art area, and reading area. For children to have opportunities to discover, create, and explore music themselves they need a similar “music area” in their classrooms. A music area should contain equipment and manipulatives that support such explorations: simple age-appropriate instruments like rhythm sticks, egg shakers, small drums, and scarves, along with a recording device so music can be played. Recordings of different genres of music give children lots of "musical vitamins." Classical, jazz, folk music, world music, etc. are all great choices; don’t limit yourself to "kids" recordings! Songbooks that provide a visual representation of music allow children exposure to musical notation and serve as pre-literacy tools. Just as a child might "read" a book before they can actually read the words, they also "read" music, thus beginning the process of connecting notation to sound.

Where can educators find affordable materials?

Our voices and bodies should be the number-one source for music-making for young children. Kitchen utensils, recycled, child-friendly containers are a good source. Homemade instruments are the most affordable, of course! Music Together’s online store also sells a number of child-friendly instruments and materials, all tested and high quality. There are other online resources like West Music, Rhythm Band, Remo Inc. as well. When purchasing instruments for your classroom, investing in quality, kid-friendly instruments is worth it!

Any other resources you would recommend?

The Music Together website contains a wealth of information on music in a school setting. The three-day Music Together teacher training is accredited by many institutions for CEUs (continuing education units) towards teaching certificates in many states. We focus on how children develop musically and what adults need to do to support this natural process.

Any other points you would like to touch on?

Preschool teachers often feel unqualified to "teach" music. Quite simply, the joy of music-making should be modeled by all educational professionals working on a daily basis with young children regardless of the adult's skill level.


Read more about Music Together For Schools 

Read more about the role of music in Early Childhood in this Position Statement  from NAFME

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Importance of Music in Early Childhood

Music is a natural part of life for young children. From dancing to nursery rhymes to turning everyday objects into musical instruments, children love to engage in musical activities. And like all the best learning experiences in early childhood, exposure to music simultaneously promotes development across multiple domains. Read on for an overview of some of the different ways that music can benefit child development.

Social Emotional Development

Connecting with your baby in a musical way comes naturally, even if you can’t carry a tune! When parents all over the world speak to their little ones, they adjust their voices to make them more lyrical, more rhythmic-- in essence, more musical. And babies love listening to the sound of a parent’s voice. Researchers have found that singing-- more than talking-- keeps babies calm and can lead to stronger social bonds with parents, improved health, and even greater language fluency (Corbeil, Trehub, & Peretz, 2015). The experience of being soothed also helps babies learn to soothe themselves, supporting the development of self-regulation. Music also provides opportunities for young children to interact with their peers and caregivers in collaborative ways when each participant is encouraged to add their sound or voice to the mix. It can also encourage turn taking through call-and-response songs or, when children are very young, through caregivers simply repeating the sounds a baby makes with his voice.

Cognitive Development

A sensory environment rich in a variety of tastes, smells, textures, colors, and sounds is beneficial to early brain development. Music is one many forms of sensory input which can promote cognitive development. Almost every piece of music has a pattern or sequence built into its melody or lyrics, and learning to anticipate patterns and place objects or events in sequence helps build critical early math and early reading skills (Parlakian & Lerner, 2010).  Music also introduces children to the sounds and meanings of new words. A recent study found that exposure to music sharpened infants’ brain responses to music and speech in both the auditory cortex and prefrontal cortex, which manages cognitive skills such as controlling attention and detecting patterns (Zhao & Kuhl, 2016). In addition, the rhythm and repetition of songs helps to strengthen memory skills. The link between music and memory is why you can probably still sing along, word for word, to many of your favorite childhood songs!

Motor Development

Music is a physical activity, supporting both fine and gross motor skills. Playing musical instruments or fingerplay songs, such as "Open Shut Them," can help support the development of small muscles in children's’ hands. Dancing to fast and slow music can help children build the muscles in their arms, legs, and trunk. Moving their bodies to music can help children gain body awareness, balance, and coordination.

Tip: Look for opportunities to get your child moving to the beat. Share songs that go along with simple hand motions or dance moves, such as "The Itsy Bitsy Spider," "The Wheels on the Bus," or the "Hokey Pokey." Children will have fun singing and moving!

Cultural Transmission

Music is a unique and powerful way for children to connect to their roots. It transmits culture and is an avenue through which beloved songs, rhymes, and dances can be passed down from one generation to another. Lullabies and folk songs can introduce your baby to your family’s heritage in a way that goes beyond words or pictures. And connecting to their roots is another way to make children feel safer and more secure.

Music has the power to support young children in all of their growing capacities, and best of all, music is a wonderful way to connect with your child.  So enjoy music- playing, singing, or dancing- in any way that feels comfortable to you! And check out the resources below for some great ideas for how you can share music with your child.


Read tips on Playing with Music at Home from NAEYC.

Learn about how to Create Your Own Lullaby with this tutorial from Too Small Too Fail.


Corbeil, M., Trehub, S., & Peretz, I. (2015). Singing delays the onset of infant distress. Infancy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1111/infa.12114.

Parlakian, R., & Lerner, C. (2010). Beyond twinkle, twinkle: Using music with infants and toddlers. Young Children, 65(2), 14-19. Retrieved from

Zhao, T.C. & Kuhl, P.K. (2016). Musical intervention enhances infants’ neural processing of temporal structure in music and speech.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Published online before print April 25, 2016, doi:10.1073/pnas.1603984113