Playing music with toddlers could benefit their development even more than shared reading, and helps get them ready for school, according to University of Queensland research. Their recent study has shown that music participation at home improves numeracy, prosocial skills and attention over and above the effects of shared book reading.
One of the study leaders and Head of UQ’s School of Music Professor Margaret Barrett said parents were asked to report on shared music activities when their child was two to three years old and a range of social, emotional and cognitive outcomes were measured two years later, when the child was four or five. “The study highlights that informal music education in early childhood is a vital tool for supporting the cognitive and social development of children,” said Professor Barrett.
The study is part of an Australian Research Council funded study ‘Being and becoming musical: towards a cultural ecological model of early musical development’. It aims to provide a comprehensive account of how Australian families use music in their parenting practices and make recommendations for policy and practice in childcare and early learning and development.
Australian researcher Anita Collins extols the value of music education and says that instead of agonising over why students can’t or won’t study maths or science perhaps we should concentrate on improving cognitive capacity via music lessons.
Two decades of research have found that music education grows, hones and permanently improves neural networks like no other activity. Children who undertake formal, ongoing musical education have significantly higher levels of cognitive capacity, specifically in their language acquisition and numerical problem solving skills. They also continue in education for longer, reverse the cognitive issues related to disadvantage and earn and contribute more on average across their lifetime.
Music education is often one of the first programmes to be cut or scaled back when the purse strings are tightened in a school. When considering the research that now exists, this seems flawed. Many of the intervention programs that are in operation in schools may find they are less in demand if music education is viewed not as an extra but as a concurrent neural enhancer to literacy and numeracy education.
Research has shown that the long break from school over the summer holidays can result in some children forgetting the academic skills learned over the school year. Studies by Florida International University confirm that children can lose about 2.6 months of their maths skills over the summer, and some groups of children lose two months of reading skills.
An article posted on the Chicago Tribune website suggests that music can help, and quotes a range of practitioners and experts.