anita collins

Investing in music for literacy is money well spent

Anita CollinsIn August 2016, Anita Collins, the well-known Australian music educator and researcher, presented the case that music education could raise pupils’ literacy scores in her home country.

Since 2008, Australia has implemented an annual assessment for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 called the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). NAPLAN tests the skills that are essential for every child to progress through school and life, such as reading, writing, spelling and numeracy.

The preliminary results of the May 2016 NAPLAN tests were released at the end of August 2016, and presented a disappointing return on the country’s investment in education. So what next?

Anita Collins sees a clear way forward. Rather than concentrating primarily on literacy and numeracy teaching – which she accepts are vital areas of learning – more time should be given to music education which is currently under-used.

She points out that there is now two decades’ worth of rigorous scientific research proving that consistent music education from birth can improve literacy levels by between one and three years. And this improvement, she says, is based on NAPLAN results in Australia and can occur after just more than a year of implementation.

The reason why? Music education supports the early development of the human auditory processing network. This is the network we use to learn spoken language, and the better we can hear and make meaning of sound, the smoother the transition to reading written text and understanding the building block of grammar.

With such strong evidence of the connection between auditory development through music learning and literacy levels, she suggests the Australian government should base its funding on practices that are not just “more literacy more of the time”.

Anita Collins:

How music helps your child’s brain grow

Kinderling radioKinderling Radio in Australia spoke to Anita Collins, Professor in Neuroscience and Child Education at the University of Canberra, recently, about how music can help your child’s brain grow from the very beginning.

During the interview, Professor Collins talks about a baby’s Music Processing Network which starts working from the very beginning of a child’s life. Babies don’t understand any language during their very early years, but their Music Processing Network is working overtime to gain meaning from language, even before they have learned and understood the language.

Professor Collins suggests exposing children to a wide variety of music between the ages of 0-7 years-old to help their brains grow. She says, that just as a varied diet is good for our bodies, so a varied diet of music is good for our brains.

She goes on to say that playing music – with any instrument which makes a musical sound – helps a child to develop its brain network in order to later understand language, science, etc.. There is plenty of research available, she says, to prove that when a child engages in ongoing music education it improves their abilities in so many other areas of life, and that every child – not just the most gifted – can benefit. Put simply, playing a musical instrument ‘supercharges’ the brain’s learning.

Kinderling Radio also talks to Kaija Upenieks, a music teacher at a local daycare centre in Waverley, Sydney, about how she teaches rhythm via a variety of instruments, and the difference it makes to the children.

[Interview length: 12m 03s]

Kinderling Radio:

What if … every child had access to music education

Another powerful presentation from academic Anita Collins, asking what the impact might be if a generation’s cognitive abilities are raised – and she gives evidence that it’s possible – through music education.

How playing an instrument benefits your brain

When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active. But when you actually play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout. What’s going on? Anita Collins of the University of Canberra explains the fireworks that go off in musicians’ brains when they play, and examines some of the long-term positive effects of this mental workout.

Research has shown that learning a musical instrument involves the motor, visual and auditory cortices all at the same time and can enhance reading skills, memory systems, executive function and general cognitive function. Recent research has found the ability for a child to keep a steady beat is an indication that, neurologically, they are ready to begin reading.