Music is Key for Two-Year-Olds

By Kitti Pecka, Head Teacher

Music is by far one of the most important elements of the curriculum in the preschool years. Music supports the social and emotional growth of the two-year-olds, in particular, because it is inclusive of all types of learners and meets them at their level of development. It is especially useful in the acquisition of language and helps children coordinate their movement. Music attracts children and encourages community without pressure to perform.

Children at age two are eager to be in the company of their peers. Beginning school provides this opportunity along with many possibilities for group activities. Some children are ready for the challenges of a community of sharing. Others need a model for interaction. There are many means of advancing group dynamics, and music helps by including everyone. Whether playing together in a small group or meeting together as a whole, we use the familiar melodies of childhood to inform, to capture the imagination and to guide movement.

On most days, small groups can be found in the sand working hard to make cakes. Kelly, Evan and Mateo were making cakes for a sibling when we found “candles” (small sticks fallen from trees) to count and placed them carefully in the sand confection. The teacher’s suggestion to sing brought everyone together around one cake singing Happy Birthday to Ryan, Kelly’s brother. Of course, Rea and Logan also wanted songs sung and then each child made more cakes until eventually the entire family was feted. During these moments when they worked together, they helped each other and sang together. Jack, Avani and Tati became a part of the group, joining the bakers in their creative task. The following week, teacher Liz Prives added Patty Cake to her list of songs for story time so that eventually the entire group of Tuesday-Thursday Afternoon Two’s joined in this baking theme with movement and song.

Liz also included visual accompaniment for her music. She used the first letter of the children’s name to indicate for whom the cake was “put in the oven.” Including a visual representation for our music involves another area of the brain, which helps children learn. Music is an aural and kinesthetic activity and the addition of props connects to our visual learners. Pre-reading skills are a natural outcome of music time and story time when teacher Betsy Koning uses her skills to illustrate Shoo Fly and Down By the Bay. Children can use these illustrations as a model for their own creations at the easel or art table with an accompaniment of singing solo, duets or trios.

The kinesthetic part of music is extended through the use of many materials in the classroom but perhaps most effectively with percussion instruments. We have maracas and rhythm sticks to extend arm movements, bells to slip on to the ankles for leg movements and xylophones for precision handwork. Coordination of sound and muscle movement seems natural to children. It has also been recognized as one of the most beneficial strategies for building competence in the kinesthetic realm. Elise, Waverley and Conrad enjoyed the rhythmic use of maracas to dance to the music of Ella Fitzgerald. Carson, Matthew and Page were captured in large body movement as they played the drums to Rain, Rain Go Away. They imitated a quiet pitter-patter of drops using their fingertips, then rubbed the surface of the drum to make wind, pounded loudly to indicate thunder and then rhythmically to continue the storm as we all sang together. These drum activities continued at the water table when “drums” were constructed out of bowls and were struck with spoons.

These are a few examples of how music coordinates and furthers learning. It’s inclusive and promotes collaboration. Deborah Stipek, dean of the School of Education at Stanford, said at our Distinguished Lecturer presentation this year that it is essential to motivate learning by emphasizing a child’s competence. By highlighting a child’s strengths we build confidence and therefore increase participation.

Children need to feel a sense of belonging and connection to the group. Giving children control over the contributions they make allows them independence, which Stipek suggested is important to motivation. [See pages 3-5 for more information.] Music provides opportunities to acquire all these attributes in a preschool curriculum and becomes the key to opening their minds to learning.