The power of music |®
The power of music:
Boosting young children's social & emotional skills
By Galina Zenin, Music & Early Childhood Consultant
Extensive research indicates that children with well-developed social and emotional skills have a better chance of being prepared for life and being happy and healthy adults.

So how do we know if a child is ready on all levels to take on school? That's a question that most parents and educators will ask themselves many times. We talk about school readiness a lot, but I'd like us to focus on life readiness instead.

School Readiness – Life Readiness

While we often look to academic ability to assess school readiness in young children, social and emotional readiness is even more important. To be ready for life we need to know how to develop relationships with others, how to negotiate, problem solve, share, lead, follow.

Here are a few of the questions Kathy Walker of Early Life Foundations uses to assess school readiness that you might like to use with your old children in mind:
  • Can they make an independent decision and follow through on this?
  • Do they have ideas of their own?
  • Can they follow two or three instructions at the same time?
  • Can they move on to new activities easily?
  • Do they separate well from their carer?
  • Do they interact well with other children?
  • Can they recognise and express their feelings and needs?
  • Can they concentrate on a task?
  • How do they deal with frustration?
In reference to the idea of children starting school with the risk of needing to repeat, Kathy told Kidspot: "Don't send a child to school already thinking they can repeat if they have to.

You want the first year of school to be exciting and successful, not just one where the child attempts to 'cope' and then has to do it all again."

Advantages to starting later, not earlier

The argument that some children are moved into school because they are bored at pre-school is one that may unfortunately be valid at times, depending on the pre-school programs in place. However, extensive international research has made it clear that there are no benefits to beginning formal education early. In fact, the countries with the best educational outcomes for children have a starting age ranging from 6 to 8 years old.

One country, which starts school at 7, is Finland. They have a fantastic school system, one that is deemed to be the best in the world. They believe in high quality educational programs and less testing and exams. Dr Sahlberg, a Finnish educator and author, said: "The first six years of education are not about academic success." "We don't measure children at all. It's about being ready to learn and finding your passion."

Social and Emotional Skills for Success

Social and emotional skills are critical skills for academic success as well as the best start in life. While social and emotional skills take time to develop, there are ways of giving them a bit of a boost along the way. Enter: music!

Music for Emotional Development

When a baby cries, adults and parents often find that it comes instinctively to sing or hum to offer comfort. Many researchers agree and note that we sing to express happiness, and to engage with one another. As human beings, we tend to find music speaks to us on an emotional level and can offer an emotional outlet. Here are some examples of how music can help your child to develop emotional skills:
  • As I have discussed in previous articles, music can impact mood. Through listening to music children can become better equipped to regulate their emotions. They may find certain types of music can calm them, while other music makes them feel excited.
  • In noticing the different feelings they experience listening to different music, children can learn to identify different emotions.
  • Words and lyrics in songs can expose children to emotions and offer a "cause and effect" perspective. For example, this event or action made someone feel or react this way.
  • Music is a brilliant emotional outlet and performing music, listening to music or dancing to music are ways to learn about how to express feelings.

Music for Social Skills

Look around at any social get together, event, celebration and it's not hard to see that music brings people together. Quite quickly we can go from being strangers to dancing along to music with someone! In the study "Group Music Training and Children's Prosocial Skills" (E. Glenn Schellenberg, Kathleen A. Corrigall, Sebastian P. Dys, and Tina Malti, October 2015), children who had poor social skills showed a clear increase in their social abilities after participating in regular group music training. They noted that children became more likely to help others and were better at conflict resolution and sharing. Here are some ways that music can enhance your child's social skills:
  • Participation is required when groups of children listen to or create music. Whether it's singing a nursery rhyme, dancing to music or playing instruments, children experience a sense of confidence at the same time as expressing themselves.
  • In line with the emotional benefits of music as listed above, music can relax children and enable them to approach communication and socialising in a more effective way. Even gentle music playing in the background can create an environment more conducive to sharing activities calmly.
  • Music also offers a common ground for children who may not be able to work out what they have in common with others. Singing together, enjoying music together creates an immediate connection that can be the basis of a friendship.

The importance of stimulating pre-school programs

By ensuring that children are stimulated by their pre-school experience, there will be no need for young children to enter schooling before they are emotionally and socially ready. And music should be central to creating a pre-school experience that balances school readiness initiatives along with free play at this crucial time before children enter formal education.

Ultimately this will only lead to better adjusted children and enhancements in academic performance and the social and emotional development of young children.

If you'd like some practical tips for incorporating music into each and every day, take a look at our last Care For Kids article here.

To find out more about the first music kinder in Australia, visit the Bonkers Beat website. To share your ideas and views, visit the Bonkers Beat Facebook page.
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