Whether dancing around the living room on a rainy day or singing along to the radio, school-age kids love listening to — and participating in — music.
And there are loads of good reasons to encourage this enthusiasm. Research shows that kids who are actively involved in music (who play it or sing it regularly):
do better in reading
learn coordination, goal-setting, concentration, and cooperation
are more likely to do better in math and science because music helps build reasoning skills and cognitive development, which are important to both
get along better with their peers and have higher self-esteem
are more likely to go to college
One study showed that second-grade students who were given keyboard training while also using math software scored higher on proportional math and fractions tests than students who used the software alone. And students who've been involved in public school music programs score higher on their SATs than those who haven't been.
But the best reason to encouraging a love of music might just be that it's fun. Kids (and many adults) enjoy few things more than singing, dancing, and listening to music.
Just Press "Play"
Listening to a wide variety of music improves a child's ability to analyze and understand it. The early elementary-school years are the perfect time to expose kids to everything from classical to country. Most are open to experiencing many musical styles until around the third grade, when they start to prefer popular music. (Studies have also shown that kids in grades four and up prefer music with a faster tempo — so get ready to rock & roll if your child is approaching middle school.)
Fill your child's life with as much music as you can. Some ideas:
Put a small stereo and a rotating collection of songs in your child's room.
A musical alarm clock or clock radio can help your child wake up musically. Many stereos have timers that let kids to drift off to music as well. And certain songs can serve as cues for your child (for instance, one song you always play or sing in the morning when it's time to get ready for school).
Sample CDs from your local library. You can try different artists and styles without spending money.
Introduce kids to songs from your own childhood or music you especially love.
Sing in the car.
Make or buy musical instruments and have them available in your child's play area.
Cook to music, clean to music, and take time sometimes just to sit and listen as an activity.
Try music-making computer software programs that let kids lay down their own tracks, just like a professional.
Form your own family band with real or improvised instruments (spoons, makeshift drums, etc.). This is a good group activity for kids to try with friends.
You may be wondering if your music-loving child is ready for lessons. Most kids are ready for formal music instruction between ages 5 and 7. The piano is a logical place to start — kids who learn keyboarding skills also learn the fundamental musical concepts needed for other instruments or even for vocal music. String instruments are another good place to begin. Brass or wind instruments can be more physically challenging and may not be good choices until the fourth or fifth grade.
If piano lessons were a dreaded chore for you growing up, they might well be for your child. Likewise, if you force musical training, your child likely won't embrace it. But if your child expresses an interest in learning to play an instrument and seems consistently and genuinely enthusiastic, consider giving it a go.
Ask yourself these questions before starting lessons:
Playing musical instruments makes physical demands on kids. Does your child have the appropriate physical development and fine motor control to play? (A good music teacher can help determine a child's physical readiness.)
Can your child focus on one thing for 20-30 minutes?
Does he or she understand and manipulate letters and numbers?
Has your child had adequate musical exposure? Can he or she keep a steady beat, identify incorrect notes in a familiar song, and repeat basic rhythm and pitch patterns? (If the answer is no, work on these skills before beginning formal lessons.)
Are you willing to attend the lessons regularly and help ensure that your child practices?
Do you think your child will be willing to practice? What will you do if your child doesn't like lessons?
Whether you choose to begin instrument lessons or not, your child should get some music instruction at school. Elementary school should provide opportunities to sing, play instruments, listen to music, and understand the role music plays in our culture. Your child also will probably get some basic instruction in reading music, writing music, and understanding music theory.
Most grade schools also have a choir or band. If your child's school doesn't have a music program, churches or community music schools and other organizations may have music instruction and musical groups open to kids.
Music is inherent in all of us. In fact, researchers now think it may predate language in human development. So whether your child becomes a concert pianist or simply enjoys singing in the shower, encourage that love of music!