I do love a good singsong! Take our village pantomime. This is stuffed full of music and dance. Everyone from the local publican to members of the WI gather onto our tiny village hall stage in front of friends and family. It is a riot of fun and laughter. What gets me each time is how everyone grows in confidence over the weeks building up to the performances. This is no coincidence. Music does more than give us a good feeling. Music is universal, engaging and exceptionally social. It is saturated with positive physical, mental and social outcomes. It affects our behaviour, plays a key role in our identities and builds confidence.

The benefits of music in the early years

All children love music. Musical confidence grows when children hear and enjoy music. Through regular, intentional and enjoyable music activities we can help build up musical intelligence, supporting children’s ability to ‘think’ musically. Research shows over and over again, the considerable increase in children’s intelligence and thinking-skills after intentional music instruction and that this has long–term positive effects on intelligence and learning skills.

How do we make use of the incredible gift of music in the early years?

Rhythm: Don’t we all love that bit in ‘Love Actually’ when Hugh Grant dances to ‘Jump’ by the Pointer Sisters? Just like Hugh, children can’t stop their bodies from moving to music they love. We must encourage dancing to disco classics, jumping to Holst’s Planets, or leaping about to The Lion King. The sound and rhythm not only fill senses with well-being and enjoyment but also builds positive brain-connections as children engage in an activity they love.

Melody and sound: Research confirms that music and speech functions have lots in common. Speech functions can benefit from music, and vice versa. It is believed that regular, intentional singing and listening to music may even aid the prevention of/promote the support of language, listening and learning difficulties. What an incentive to include music in our daily routine! In addition, when we sing, we are using our cardiovascular system, which means that our lungs are being given a good old clear out. This has a positive effect on health and well-being. It even makes us more alert. Singing is hugely beneficial!

Recorded music: Music has become ever-present. It is in the lift as we enter the department store, browse in a shop, or sit in a café. Music sets the mood. Why not use this in the setting? Play some Mozart quietly near the book corner, jazz by the play dough. Intentional music played in this way is not only soothing; it builds the child’s musical intelligence.

Musical instruments: Oh! The joy of a drum for a young child. And oh! The horror for the practitioner who is headachy and tired. But there is no other way of putting this – children need musical instruments around them like they need books, toys or people. Musical instruments placed amongst favourite toys and activities can help build confidence, provide joy and support cognitive skills.

What stops us from doing this in our setting?

Too often we lack the confidence. We don’t play an instrument. We feel silly when we sing. There are colleagues that are clearly more musical. We leave it to them. Musical instruments can be viewed as noisy, pointless or irritating, the children getting overexcited and boisterous.

But I would urge you to give it a go! Put your anxiety aside. Don’t worry about the noise or be concerned about what other people are thinking. Give the children the chance to hit/bang something in time to music, or jump up and down to ‘The Monkeys on the Bed’.

Add some instruments to favourite resources, like a rainstick or handbells in the role-play area. Place some shakers and maybe a tambourine near the dressing up. Offer some recorded music to listen to, showing the children how to choose what they want. Let them dance. Let them sing. Stand back and see what the children do. You may well be surprised by how inventive they become!

And finally

We must listen to the research and then do what it says.

Music binds people together. It improves our health and happiness. It is linked with intelligence and thinking skills.

We don’t just make a noise when we provide these types of activities. We create social cohesion, positive brainconnections and build children’s confidence.

It’s a lot of gain for a little pain. Try it today!

About the author

Helen Garnett is a mother of 4, and a committed and experienced early years consultant. She co-founded a pre-school in 2005 and cares passionately about young children and connection. As a result, she has written a book, ‘Developing Empathy in the Early Years: a guide for practitioners’ for which she won the Professional Books category at the 2018 Nursery World Awards. She has also co-written an early years curriculum and assessment tool, at present being implemented in India. Helen is also on the Think Equal team, a global initiative led by Leslee Udwin, developing empathy in pre-schools and schools across the world.

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