I read a terrific article this morning, Why Parents Sing to Babies by Dr. Jill Suttie. Dr. Suttie examines research that suggests music is critical to emotional and social development.
“Sandra Trehub . . . a researcher at the University of Toronto, Mississauga, has studied the impacts of singing on babies and found that singing—more than talking—keeps babies calm and can lead to stronger social bonds with parents, improved health, and even greater language fluency,” Suttie reports.
“In a 2015 review of the science on music and emotion, researcher E. Glen Schellenberg writes that children as young as five years of age are able to express emotions in their singing by using pitch, intensity, and tempo, and that even younger children can pick out emotional cues in music,” Suttie writes.
I’ve seen music move children in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible, like the day Annabelle was moved to dance by a song she’d never, as far as I know, heard before. Or the day Sophie talked about beautiful music making her eyes water. Music evoked instant, profound emotion in both children. It stopped them in their tracks and transported them to an unexpected and lovely place.
The human ear is drawn to musical patterns, which explains the attraction to songs featuring repetitious melodies and lyrics. I’ve yet to meet a child who doesn’t instantly engage when s/he hears the opening bars to Everything is Awesome or Let It Go or Happy.
Apparently, we are born to sing. Unborn babies at 16 weeks appear to respond to music played to them in the womb. If that is the case, imagine what an effective vehicle singing is for teaching preschoolers almost anything. I’ve found this true in my teaching, and employ singing in the classroom daily. I can get every child’s attention simply by playing a few bars of a favorite song. It happened just the other day.
Logan Reported with me at my desk while the rest of the children played. I had Amazon Prime shuffling through a playlist of several hundred songs. Some of those songs are familiar to the children, many are not. They range from classical to contemporary and everything in between. The music was not overpoweringly loud, but audible in the background of the moment. Then something happened that united us all.
A karaoke version of We’ll Meet Again, one of the upcoming Spring Sing songs we are working on in EK and PK3, started playing. Unbidden by me, those first few bars of music commanded everybody’s attention. Some children glanced over to see if I’d planned for us to sing it. They saw me working with Logan, and returned to their chosen play tasks. Most of the children sang along softly as they continued playing. Logan started singing and I joined him. When we finished, he completed his Report:
Logan: We are going to do the laces. Some kids are playing 1-2-3 Flip. I picked number 1 (in Pocket Chart Attendance), Carter picked number 3, Alba picked number 4, Hazel picked 5, Camden picked 6, Julie picked 12 and Jackson picked the Magic Moon, 14. There’s a 14 on the back of the Magic Moon. The song today was We’ll Meet Again.
I wasn’t planning on singing We’ll Meet Again that particular day, and we didn’t sing the song formally in a group, but as far as Logan was concerned, that was “the song today.”
We’ll Meet Again is not a children’s song. It’s one of the most famous songs of the World War II era. We sing plenty of children’s songs, but I’m of the mind that children need a balanced musical diet. You wouldn’t feed your children chicken fingers and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches exclusively because that’s what kids like. There’s such a variety of food they’ll enjoy, you just have to put it on their plates. The same is true with music.
Research like that cited in Why Parents Sing to Babies validates what we do at Hogarth. It’s one of the reasons the EK and PK3 kids will learn Funiculi Funicula and the story behind it —cable cars and a volcano—for the Spring Sing starting next week. (In English, of course!)