The Role of Arts and Music in Early Childhood Education

The Role of Arts and Music in Early Childhood Education

Christos A. Makridis, Kathleen Guan, Evan Rey Ludington, Michael Hopkins, Soula Parassidis
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-8649-5.ch013
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This chapter surveys the literature on the quantitative effects of early childhood arts and music education on childhood development. First, the authors establish a theoretical framework that explains the potential role of arts and music education, focusing on its effects on three mechanisms behind childhood development: (1) habit formation, (2) brain development, and (3) socialization. Second, they discuss available evidence in each of these areas, focusing on causal experiments and the importance of reaching children early in their development. Third, they explore the role of technology as a mediating force behind childhood development and provide suggestions for how technology can be used to accelerate and improve the learning process for children in years to come.
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Given the importance of early childhood brain and sociological development (Duckworth et al., 2007; Cunha et al., 2010), the activities that children engage in (or do not) greatly influence their long-run outcomes, ranging from careers (Keane and Wolpin, 1997; Cunha et al., 2010) to health (Campbell et al., 2014) to sociological development (Luo et al., 2018). In this chapter, we explain why music education, and arts education more broadly, is an especially crucial investment in early childhood: it not only stimulates cognitive activity (Bilhartz et al., 1999; Costa-Giomi, 1999), but also socialization (Humpal, 1990) and good habit formation (Rickard et al., 2013). These early years are a particularly important time to develop a taste and competence for art and music through intentional practice because of how the brain develops (Kraus et al., 2014); simply listening to music is not enough to incur the benefits (Abbott, 2007).

Pedagogues have long viewed music as an integral component of childhood education; see, for example, Comenius (1592 – 1670), Pestalozzi (1746-1827), and Froebel (1782-1852) (Mark, 2008). During the early and mid-twentieth century, successful pedagogical approaches for childhood music instruction were developed by Dalcroze (1865-1950), Kodály (1882-1967), Orff (1895-1982), Suzuki (1898-1998), and Gordon (1927-2015). Contemporary approaches to early childhood music education are carried out by many organizations, including: the Feierabend Association for Music Education, Kindermusik, Music Together, and university-based community music schools, like the Eastman Community Music School. The pedagogical support is bolstered by substantial parental support for music education too (NAMM, 2003).

Motivated by all these foundational contributions, most contemporary approaches to early childhood music education offer some combination of chanting, singing, movement, and dance, listening, playing instruments, improvising, creating, reading and writing. They often blend the approaches initially pioneered by Dalcroze, Kodály, Orff, Gordon, Suzuki and their collaborators (Feierabend, 1989). Flohr (2004) describes 16 different methods for teaching music in early childhood and beyond. The specific music instructional approaches are best to tailor based on age so that they appropriately address children’s physical, cognitive, and social-emotional domains of development (Reynolds & Valerio, 2015).

Very early musical development is frequently paralleled with language acquisition (Burton, 2019; Suzuki, 1982). Before birth, the fetus perceives sounds from the environment and moves in response to musical stimuli. From birth to 18 months, infants and toddlers show increasing sensitivity to pitch, contour, and rhythm as they vocalize and babble. They freely move in response to musical stimuli as their gross motor movements develop. From 18 months to three years, as toddlers gain greater control over their vocalizations and motor movements, they enjoy imitation, repetition, and exploration of melodic and rhythmic patterns, and spontaneously improvise musical ideas (Burton, 2019; Flohr, 2004; Gordon, 2012). Music programs for infants and toddlers often focus on guided listening, movement to music, and guided music-making, and provide positive experiences for parents by giving them opportunities to be involved with musical mentoring of their children (Trehub & Degé, 2015). The first 18 months among primary caregivers are a critical period for musical development; the period from 18 months to three years is a sensitive period of musical development (Gordon, 2012).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Human Capital: Knowledge, skills, and abilities that are linked with an individuals’ propensity to create and execute on work.

Cognitive Development: The progression of mental behavior from early childhood to adulthood.

El Sistema: A program founded in 1975 that provides free classical music training to thousands of school children from poor and moderate socioeconomic backgrounds in Venezuela, but now with activities across the world.

Early Childhood Investments: Human capital investments in a child between the ages of 0 and 5.

Executive Skills: A family of top-down mental processes needed when you have to concentrate and pay attention, when going on automatic or relying on instinct or intuition would be ill-advised, insufficient, or impossible.

Diversion Into Music Education (DIME): A program launched in 2001 in South Africa, starting as a community cooperation between organizations in Cape Town, South Africa, and Tampa, Florida.

Démos (“Dispositif d'éducation Musicale et Orchestrale à Vocation Sociale”): A program launched in 2010 by the Paris Philharmonie to facilitate the cognitive development and social integration of children from low-income families through free classical music training.

Cognitive Skills: The ability to understand complex ideas, to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in various forms of reasoning, and to overcome obstacles by taking thought.

Non-Cognitive Skills: Skills or traits refer to dimensions of personality that ultimately feed into cognitive abilities.

Brain Development: How brain structures shape experience and behaviors, and vice versa.

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