Innovative Music Curriculum for Preschoolers

The Research & Helpful Links

Music Classes for Kids of all Ages!
A Magical Connection of Math & Science through Music.

MusicFunTime – an innovative music curriculum for preschoolers, has music classes for kids 18 months to 7 years old. Music FunTime is not a simple play group where children sing, dance, jump & play instruments. Our program is based on Johns-Hopkins Research that children 7 and under can learn to read music notation and symbols, play instruments, while fostering their ability to grasp math and science as they develop.

The Math in Music & Movement – Booth Church, Ellen

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How can you connect music and movement to math? By incorporating musical activities throughout your day, you can provide children with opportunities to strengthen basic math skills.

Think about the skills involved in singing a song such as “This Old Man”. This simple song incorporates many basic math skills, including matching and comparing (through changes in pitch, volume, and rhythm); patterning and sequencing (through repetitions of melodies, rhythms, and lyrics); and counting and addition (identifying cardinal numbers and adding one more with each verse). When you add moving to the beat, you have created an entire mind/body package of learning rolled into one song!

A Step – by – Step Approach: The acquisition of math skills follows a developmental sequence. Children learn the structure of math before they can use and understand its vocabulary and symbols. Numbers are symbols that represent “how many” of something. Recognizing the symbols does not equal understanding the concepts they represent. Too often we begin working with children on numerals before teaching them what the number symbols mean. It’s important to remember that counting is more than memorizing a sequence of words. Children learn about the basic structure of math by seeing the relationship between things. For example, matching things that are the same or equal is a basic math concept. In music, children use language, perceptual and auditory skills to match sounds, beats, pitches and speed or tempo. In fact, children do this (without even knowing it) every time they sing a song.

Musical Matching: You can focus on the skill of matching with simple “Call and Response” musical games. Sing a tone or make a sound and ask children to repeat it. Just one note, you can do it! Try making “sounds that cannot be spelled”, such as mechanical sounds, made-up sounds, funny sounds, even operatic sounds! When children match your sounds, they are using one-to-one correspondence skills. As in any good math or science activity, if you “change the variable” you change and expand the experience as well as the understanding. Experiment with having children match sounds, beats, words, pitches, and speed or tempo. Try it with the voice and the body, with objects and instruments. Each time you invite children to apply these skills in a different way, you reinforce not only their understanding of the math concepts but their ability to apply and use their skills. Use the rhythm of children’s names for a musical matching activity. Say a child’s name and invite children to match a clapping beat to it. My name “Ellen,” has two claps, but “Cassandra” has three. Ask children: Who has a name with a beat that matches yours? Can you tap the beat of the names with your feet? Can you snap it? Now here is a challenge: Can you tap the beat of your name while others are tapping theirs? Children can not only clap out the beat of their names, but move to them too! Invite children to invent a one-, two-, three- (or more) part movement to represent the syllables in their names. For example, Jessica might move to her name with a three-part arm movement: “1 – arms out, 2 – arms up, 3 – arms down.” Each time children match something, they are fully experiencing the mathematics concept of equal or same as. You can also practice the concepts of more than and less than with name clapping. What names have more claps? Which have less?

Making Comparisons: Comparing is an important mathematical skill. What kinds of comparisons are involved in music? There are loud and soft sounds, fast and slow beats, high and low pitches, and long and short notes. You can introduce comparison games by inviting children to listen and create the opposite sound or beat of what you are making. For example: Hold a long, high sound and invite children to echo it. Then ask them to make the opposite sound. Create a slow beat on a drum or clap it. Invite children to walk to the beat, matching their steps to the steady sound. Then do the opposite, a fast beat. How will they move to this beat? Pass out rhythm instruments and encourage children to explore the variety of sounds they can make. You might ask, “Can you make a soft sound? A loud sound? A fast beat? A slow beat? Then enjoy a comparison song with children, such as the following: “Make Music Softly” (to the tune of “Where is Thumbkin?”)

Make music softly,
Make music softly,
Play it very loudly,
Play it very loudly,
Just like me,
Just like me.

Change the verses to create new comparisons. Try clapping slowly, then fast, or sing low then high.

Moving in Opposite Ways: Add movements to your comparisons activity by playing an “opposites” game that invites children to physically explore the mathematical comparisons of high and low, fast and slow, up and down, and big and little. Play a recording of lively music and ask children to move freely to the music. Encourage them to make high movements and then have them do the opposite.

Sort It Out: Sorting and categorizing are important early-math skills. Children can sort sounds by timbre. Plastic, wood, and metal sounds all have a different quality or timbre of sound. Invite children to sort the classroom rhythm instruments by timbre. Then use them to accompany a favorite song. Use an old favorite song such as “The Wheels on the Bus” – children can use the different parts of the bus (wheels, windshield wipers, horns, and so on). Change the words of “Old MacDonald Built a House” and ask children to sort and match each of the different types of sounds for each verse. What instruments could make the sound of a hammer, a paintbrush, a saw?

Keep With the Beat!: Patterning is another important component of math – and music consists of patterns. The beat is the compelling part of music for children. Put on something with a strong baseline beat and you will have children rocking and rolling right away. The beginning stage of patterning is echoing. Much like in the earlier stage of matching, children repeat a rhythm or a melody by clapping or singing. The difference is that there is a longer sequence for children to hear, learn, remember, and repeat.

Clap ‘n’ Move: Can you do two things at once? How about walk and keep rhythm pattern going? This is a great “next step” for children to take as they explore the pattern of a rhythmic phrase with their bodies. Create a clapping beat with children, something simple such as 1 + 2 + 3 + 4, 1 + 2 + 3 + 4. Then invite them to stand up and walk and clap only on the “off beat” of the “+” in the phrase.

Count On It!: You’ll all know many wonderful counting songs. Why do they work so well? Because instead of having children count by memorization and rote, the songs encourage children to count to a beat, a tune, a motion, or all of the above. Rhythm is the ultimate and most compelling counting object! Songs such as “Caught a Fish Alive” not only count up to 10 but follow tones up a scale, thus reinforcing the counting (and adding one) experience. Many jump rope and ball-bouncing chants involve counting up the number line as well (“One Potato, Two Potato” or “Cinderella Dressed in Red”). These rhymes and songs help connect the beat with an action and the numerals. “Cinderella Dressed in Red” (A ball-bouncing rhyme in which a child bounces a ball or hops on one foot as long as he can!)

Cinderella dressed in red.
What time did you go to bed?
Prince Charming dressed in red.
What time did YOU go to bed?

Some songs invite children to count backward (subtract) instead of forward (add) – seemingly a difficult thing to do at such a young age, but in the context of a song, children are able to “take away one” quite easily. “Ten in a Bed” is one of the best songs for backward counting: “Ten in a Bed” There were ten in a bed and the little one said, “Roll over, Roll over!” So they all rolled over and one fell out … There were nine in the bed … And so on, until there is ONE in the bed and the little one said, GOOD NIGHT!

Moving Dramatically: Want children to get a deeper understanding of number values? Make it experiential! Invite children to dramatize the song “Ten in a Bed” and watch as they enjoy the physical experience of “subtracting” as they roll over and “fall out of bed.” When should you be making the connection between music and math with children? If you are comfortable with singing and moving, the answer is … all day long! Make the music – math connection during transition times, outdoors on the playground, while cooking or eating snack, and in your learning centers. All the while you’ll be laying the foundation for the development of math skills – with a little rhythm.

Music Therapy: The Health Benefits of Music. – By Helen Cordes

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Fascinating findings on how classic music can help kids with ADHD and colicky babies. Plus, the amazing benefits of music for kids of all ages. Kids love listening to music, and experts say it might even help their cognitive development. Now there’s evidence that it may make little ones healthier as well. According to music therapists, certain tones, rhythms, and vibrations can help treat various medical and behavioral problems. For instance:

Sweet Lullabies: Premature babies, whose much-needed energy is often drained by stress, seem to thrive when relaxing music is played. In a study from Utah Bally Regional Medical Center, in Provo, two 20-minute doses of vocal lullaby tapes each day slowed preemies’ heart rates and increased the amounts of formula and oxygen they took in. Any song with a soothing melody and steady rhythm can also calm a colicky or teething baby, says Rosalie Pratt, a music professor at Brigham Young University who oversaw the preemie research. Instrumental music is soothing, but a human voice will make babies feel more secure. “A parent’s voice is best,” says Pratt, “even if you can’t carry a tune or if you make up the lyrics.”

Classical Treatment: Brigham Young researchers found that when a group of kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), ages 7 to 17, listened to three 40-minute recordings of classical music a week, their brain waves moved to higher levels that allowed them to focus more on tasks while they listened. And 70 percent of the kids continued to show improvement from regular music sessions six months later. Rhythmic music, such as Mozart or Haydn, can help kids without ADHD settle down, too. Play a few pieces periodically throughout the day or whenever your child is restless, suggests Pratt, such as after school and before dinner. Some kids work well with music playing during homework, others don’t. For kids who have trouble following directions, try turning directions into rhythmic, sing-songy tunes, such as Now-it’s-time-to-put-on-our-shoes, suggests Don Campbell, author of The Mozart Effect, a book about the benefits of music. Rhythm is perceived differently by the brain, he says, so kids are more attentive when you say things musically.

Music, development, and the young child. – Fox, Donna Brink

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Music Educators Journal; Jan91, Vol. 77 Issue 5, p42

Examines the relationship between music and human development, focusing on the development of music in children. What are some of the expectations of children; Attempts which were made to determine the normal path of musical development in children; Examination of relationships among music…

The Magical Effects of Music on Infants – Reyna Lindert, PhD

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Combining physical touch, like gentle massage or stroking, with relaxing tones is extra calming for your little one.

Many of us discover the power of music on children when we find the ‘just-right’ tune that lulls our baby to sleep. Or we witness it when a certain song repeatedly evokes squeals of toddler laughter. Whether calming or energizing, music is a wonderful tool for teaching and motivating your children.

Soothing SoundsMusic helps children gain more control over their emotional responses when they interact with others. You might try incorporating tunes into the routine during transition times, like from playtime to lunchtime and at bedtime. Combining physical touch, like gentle massage or stroking, with relaxing tones is extra calming for your little one.

Getting EnergizedDancing and playing to music is a natural way to encourage the development of your child’s gross motor skills. As you chant ‘Jack Be Nimble,’ have your tot jump over a soft toy on the floor. Or sing ‘Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Turn Around’ and help your child mimic the motion.

Adding fingerplays to music can help your baby strengthen his fine motor skills, such as dexterity and coordination. It also helps him to connect experiences with different words, objects, and ideas. Make up songs to match his actions or movements, using familiar tunes as the backdrop (for example, ‘Little Andrew Brushes His Hair’ to the tune of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’). The familiar song with new lyrics provides novelty that reinforces the learning in these actions and movements.

Incorporating song and dance into playtime also helps your child to develop familiarity with words, cadences, rhythms, and patterns. This is a foundation for language, comprehension, and reasoning skills.

The Magic of Music – Latavala, Charlotte

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Parenting Early Years; Feb2013, Vol. 27 Issue 1, p36

The article reports on the benefits of music to babies which can boost their memory, attention, language skills, and physical development.

Music in the family. – Mclaughlin, Heather

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Australia’s Parents; Aug/Sep96 Supplement, Issue 94, p13

Focuses on the importance of music in child development. Importance of the early years in a child’s development; Learning instruments for children; Recommended family music activities.

The Amazing Benefits of Music for Kids – Lauren Slater

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The best reason to make melody a part of your child’s life, plus fun music games for kids of every age! Read how music therapy is helping kids with ADHD.

Victor Coelho, a carpenter, best remembers this about his daughter Lily at age 1: a night in Boston, where they live, sitting on the big bed. Coelho’s wife was at her chef job. Lily was sleeping in his arms as he watched TV. Onto the screen came a bongo band. Lily opened her eyes and turned her head toward the television. She raised her right hand, then her left, and began to clap to the sound. “She was riveted,” says Coelho. “She started making these really graceful arm movements, something I had never seen from her before. I called my wife and told her about it, and said, ‘Lily loves music!'” Just like her mom and dad.

Children hear music during the second trimester in utero. From then on, when they’re not much bigger than a plum, they’re aware of the watery paddle of Mom’s heart, the whoosh of blood filtered through the placenta. Sound begins to work on the fetal brain as surely as estrogen and progesterone do.

Music — whether it’s prenatally, in infancy, or throughout childhood — helps neurons in our brains form connections that may help us understand language; in adults, music can lower blood pressure and help regulate heart rate. Some hospitals play music for preemies in the neonatal intensive care unit. Researchers have discovered that such music — or even just Mom humming — may help babies gain weight faster and leave the preemie ward earlier.

“There’s an undeniable biology of music,” says Harvard University medical neurobiologist Mark Tramo, M.D. “In our brains, millions of neurons form circuits, or networks, that are uniquely activated when we listen to music. These neurons are spread out in many regions of the brain, including the auditory centers in both the right and the left hemispheres. These circuits may also be involved in memory, attention, emotion, motor control, and language.” There’s no doubt that music is a workout for the gray paste between our ears.

But how much can music really boost growing brains? In a study at the University of California, Irvine, three groups of second-graders (30 kids each) were compared: One group received piano lessons and math software to play with, another received language instruction on the computer and played with math software, and the third group got no instruction or software. At the end of four months, the first group performed better on tests of proportional math and fractions than either of the other groups. “Piano is thought to enhance the brain’s hardwiring for spatial-temporal reasoning,” says Gordon Shaw, Ph.D., professor emeritus of physics, who conducted the research. “Music involves ratios, fractions, proportions, and thinking in time and space.”

Victor Coelho and his wife, Corinna Mozo, knew very little about this research. They’d heard of expectant mothers putting on Mozart CDs and vaguely remembered some study, done years ago, that showed adults who listened to Mozart performed better on puzzle tests, but they hadn’t paid much attention. It all sounded silly to them, and in a way they were right. In experiments, the much-touted Mozart effect lasts for very brief periods of time. Newer research, however, suggests that music lessons do in fact have longer-term effects on mental agility. “The kids who played the piano were more able to think ahead,” says Shaw. “They leaped several steps forward on problems in their heads.”

After the night they listened to the bongos, Coelho bought Lily what he thought she’d love — a tambourine and maracas that sound like rain when you shake them. She took to them instantly, spending hours experimenting with the sounds she could make.

Lily is 5 now; she has become a chatterbox with a huge vocabulary. She has memorized Dr. Seuss books and loves to work with her father in his shop, putting together boxes and holding toy tools. If you give her a puzzle, she very quickly finds where the pieces go.

Some researchers might say that Lily’s abilities came about in part because of her exposure to music — all those patterns and toe-tapping sounds enriched her neural endowment. It could be true. It could also be true, though, that Lily inherited her love of music, and her capacities, from her mom and dad. Who’s to say? Did music make her smart, did her smarts involve a knack for music, or was it something in between, a dynamic push-pull?

Sound Advice

There’s no time or place we know of in human history without evidence of music. Some scientists believe that music existed among people before language did. Whether, in the end, music makes us smart, or smarter, may not be the point. What may be the point: We need music — it’s food for thought.

“I’ve looked at the research, and there’s very little support for music increasing math skills, language skills, or overall academic achievement,” says Robert Cutietta, Ph.D., author of Raising Musical Kids.

Cutietta, who’s nonetheless passionate about the importance of music, explains Shaw’s findings as correlational, not causal. “Kids who learn to play an instrument like the piano, and who practice, learn motivation and discipline, the things you need to succeed. That’s why they may score better on certain tests,” he says.

“Still, we need music, not because it will improve us,” he says, “but because it’s a part of who we are, a part of our human cultural heritage.” Music as pleasure, as portal to grace; music as spirit, not brain. Anyone who’s ever heard the rising of Beethoven’s Fifth, or the way a song by Cyndi Lauper can bring you back to the melancholy of sixth grade, the sound dissolving time — anyone who’s ever felt music transport her this way would agree. Whether or not music makes us smarter, without a doubt it lends a certain light to the landscape of our lives, our children’s lives.

“I didn’t introduce my son to music because I wanted to improve his academic acumen,” says Karen Hurwitz of Cambridge, Massachusetts, mom of 5-year-old Isaac. “I did it because music is an integral part of our Jewish culture, and I wanted him to know the Sabbath melodies and the folk songs. Plus, I wanted him to have an outlet for his energy.”

Isaac is a high-spirited little boy, and as his mother and I speak, he’s busy in a corner of the living room using a keyboard and a pair of bongo drums, grinning as the deep beats echo in the room. “Before we gave Isaac the means to make music, he would hit and kick. His teachers at preschool told me he had a problem managing his impulses. Now I tell him to make his anger into sound, and he does, with the drums. I suggest he make his cheerfulness into sound, happy sounds, and he does, with the triangle. Music helped him direct emotions, name them, and control them.”

Here’s an example of music for the sake of itself, and not for some test. Whether, ultimately, you make music a part of your child’s life because you believe that a little melody may bring your child closer to the fast track or because you want to engage her heart and mind, the results will probably be the same. Your child will learn about the world by mastering a small, specific piece of it.

She’ll learn about the rhythms that tether us to our days, and about scales that bring us up into the highest region where sound turns into silence, and down into the low place we call sadness. With music, your child will learn how to use her voice.