Editor’s note: April 13-17 is Week of the Young Child, an annual celebration hosted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and AzAEYC celebrating early learning, young children, their teachers, and families. We are proud to be collaborating with the AzAEYC all week to share insights and tips from Arizona’s professional community of early childhood educators.
As a child, I loved driving around Phoenix with my grandma, eating strawberry ice cream in our van and singing songs at the tops of our lungs. She loved Rod Stewart, and to this day his song, “Sailing” makes me emotional. But hearing it also gives me great comfort and keeps her memory alive.
And there happens to be neuroscience behind all that! Studies show that as young children learn new songs, listen to music, and explore rhythmic patterns, broad neural pathways in the brain are engaged. Powerful memories of people, places and feelings are stored and linked to experiences and emotions through music.
That’s why we always begin the day in our toddler-preschool classroom by gathering together for circle time — with music. Singing and clapping together is a great way for everyone to make the transition to the school day. Songs and rhythms help us to engage with our young students and start the day with a positive attitude. We create a space for them at school that feels comforting and predictable.
Using music in this way helps children hone their listening skills and helps children to “switch gears.” It’s an early learning teaching tool that parents can use at home, too! Find a song to sing when cleaning up toys. Consider singing when it is time for snacks or meals, washing hands, brushing teeth, getting ready for bath time or bed. Music can work miracles anytime you need to “transition” your child from one activity to the next.
Have you ever wondered why young children learn that familiar old song about the “itsy bitsy spider”? Singing simple songs or chanting with finger play is a wonderful way to work on developing fine motor skills and coordinating little hands with eyes.
We sing many songs in the classroom that are repeated, and often incorporate whole body movement, too. Stomping feet, jumping, clapping, and using the entire body to balance helps children develop their gross motor skills. That’s why the song “If you’re happy and you know it” has been passed down through the generations.
Both fine- and gross-motor skills support brain development, especially in the language and reading area. This allows a child to utilize both hemispheres of the brain and connect their brains to the body. It’s pretty amazing to see a child sing a song and move their body to follow the directions that are being sung to them. As teachers of little ones, we never tire of observing these moments.
Even very young children have preferences for particular songs. Young children will show you what they like even before they can tell you — watch closely for their body language. When they get a little older, and they really fall in love with a song, they will request it. In fact, in the classroom, we teachers are often amused when someone calls out, “Alexa, play ‘Baby Shark’!” or “Alexa, play ‘Frozen’!”
Play the music your child enjoys, sing the classroom songs at home and know that it is perfectly OK to play what you like, too. Keep the music on in the house during this stay-at-home time with your family and throw a dance party now and then in the kitchen. Make some fond memories together. You might be surprised when your child shows a preference for Queen, Bob Marley or Patsy Cline. I recommend Rod Stewart.
Daniella Barreras teaches toddlers and preschoolers at Solel Preschool in Paradise Valley. She holds a master’s degree in early childhood education from Grand Canyon University and is a board member of the Arizona Association for the Education of Young Children (AzAEYC). Her school has been closed since March 6 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
With a Desert Twist!
By Sabrina Ball
What kinds of sounds can desert animals make? Can you identify which animal belongs to which desert animal? Can you try making desert animal sounds?
Watch: “Desert Animals for Children” and learn about the sounds they make.
Read aloud: “Way Out in the Desert,” by Jennifer Ward and T. J. Marsh.
Sabrina Ball has been involved in early childhood education for the past 30 years and is the director of Pinnacle Presbyterian Preschool, a Reggio inspired, NAEYC accredited preschool located in Scottsdale. She is also adjunct faculty at Paradise Valley Community College, a NAEYC Accredited Higher Education Program in Phoenix.