Sunday, October 2, 2011

"The only way a child will be left behind is if he doesn't learn art and music" (Bob McGrath)

This coming Monday evening I am the guest speaker at a local preschool.

My Preschool Parent Talk
When I speak at parent meetings, parents are usually interested in the benefits of music in the development of their preschool-age children.  

You know...most parents don't believe they should bother with extra music.  They wonder, "Does it really make any difference in any measurable way?"  

In fact, most ECE teachers don't know the benefits of music either!  Most ECEducators will counsel parents NOT to take a music class while taking preschool.  A sure sign they do NOT understand it's value over the long-term.

At my Preschool Parent talks we learn...Music is a verb!
As we all know, experiencing music is much different than talking about it so every few minutes, I engage the parents in a real musical activity for 3 and 4 year olds.  It is a first-hand example of what music can really feel like when you are engaged as a participant and not an observer.

I believe (because of the research and reading I've done for so many years) that music is a language and is one of the most important ways to engage a young child when communicating with them in their early years.   I'm pretty passionate about it.  

I think the research is overwhelmingly supportive of this belief.  In fact, if you read all that research and experience music as a non-competitive, engaging, socially fun, interesting, intellectual, creative activity you might do what I your own music school for children!

Amazing study!
Many years ago, I read the results of a study where several groups of elementary-age children were involved.  Group 1 received reading, writing and math as most regular school classes receive.  Group 2 received music and art 2-3 times per week as well as reading, writing and math, without an emphasis on any one subject.  Group 3 received music and art EVERYDAY and in order to do this, less reading, writing and math were offered each week.  This study went on for 2 years

I like to ask parents to imagine this.  
Imagine your principal/head teacher comes to you and offers your child art and music EVERYDAY!  You'd be excited right?  Then you find out, your child would receive less reading, writing and math in order to schedule it all in.  Most parents would expect after two years of this their child would perform at a lower level on academic testing, having received less academic teaching and more arts instruction.

Most parents would not be okay with this.  Typically, music and art are not seen as beneficial "enough" to warrant an increase in exposure to them.  The fact is...they are and increasing music and arts time has a huge impact!

Do you know the results of that 2-year study?
Group 3 outperformed both other groups on academic tests at the end of the 2 years.

The group that received less math, reading and writing instruction and more arts instruction, outperformed groups 1 and 2 on academic testing.  These children outperformed the groups that received no arts and limited arts instruction.

This is always astonishing to parents...and to administrators.  The idea that music and art instruction can have a cross-over effect that boosts scores on academic tests.

Oh...and one more thing...they discovered that not only was the group that received more arts teaching outperforming on academic testing, that group was also more socially cooperative!

The results of this study always causes parents to stop and think.  
Then, as I roll out the research results about increased language proficiency, longevity, better memory later in life, some of them actually begin to think it might be worthwhile to find out if their preschool offers any music ed opportunities for their children.  My experience is...usually not.  

During my parent talk, I describe what music learning is not...
  • it's not sitting and listening to recorded music in the preschool classroom,
  • it's not just free play with a bunch of percussion instruments, 
  • it's not just doing whatever you feel like musically 
  • it's not just singing, it's not just dancing.  (It's fun to do these things but learning that stimulates development is more than that.) 

Music instruction is a form of communication and play and games and interaction between children and teachers.  Hopefully, it is an active learning process that has children participating and singing, chanting, moving, listening, contributing, feeling, creating, problem solving and learning...but through music. 

The generalist teacher usually has some difficulty with this, both with knowledge and musical confidence.  It takes special training to know what and how to offer the kinds of activities that stimulate development through music.

These are the things I attempt to communicate to parents at my preschool parent talks.  

Do you have an opinion?

What do you think?  
Do you agree with the last 3 decades of research?  
Is music learning beneficial enough that without it children have not been offered a full education in our schools? 

If you would like practical, concrete ways to engage children in music, you would love my free monthly newsletter. Sign up to receive your copy of the newsletter here.


"The only way a child will be left behind is if he doesn't learn art and music," said McGrath (The Times,  I loved this when I read it.  It was posted by the ECMMA on their facebook page.     You can read the whole article here.

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