As parents, educators, authors, researchers, and musicians, we want the very best for children. We want them to passionately learn. We want them to discover new things with adventurous attitudes and happy hearts. We want them to soak up all they can from the people in their lives and their surrounding environments. We want them to confidently embrace life, to positively challenge themselves and be challenged. We want them to believe in their absolute, unlimited potential.
In my youth, I remember the feeling of coming home after school and being so ecstatic about going outside to play with my friends. What I thought was ‘play’ was fun-filled work which required brain power. My friends and I chanted rhymes. We sang songs. We played ball games and made up our own fun activities. We had competitions. We built huts. We created street shops and sold our homemade lemonade and perfumes. We argued. We negotiated. We were friends and we played. Brain power was a central part of my childhood.
Today, we live in a very different world, an unrecognisable world to the one I once knew as a child. All appears calm and laid back in the quiet stillness of the streets, yet there is frantic panic and stress behind closed doors. Working parents, broken homes, chores, homework, appointments, deadlines, hobbies, pets, television, alarm clocks, phones, tablets, and computers. The world has changed so much. Some changes good, some bad. Either way, I believe that children have so many complexities to deal with in modern society. As more and more time in children’s lives are dedicated to online entertainment, important activities are frequently displaced or disrupted (Kaliebe and Weigle, 2018). The world is difficult and we all need support, advice and help at some points in our lives. We need to examine how we can encourage the maximum use of this vital and amazing organ that will help children develop, progress and thrive.
I am sure that most of us remember singing or chanting nursery rhymes and simple songs from childhood. ‘Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall…’ ‘Hickory Dickory Dock…’ ‘If you’re happy and you know it…’ and ‘The wheels on the bus go around and round…’ are among my childhood favourites. And I still know every word. This is because setting words to music helps the brain learn them more quickly and retain them longer. We may think about the joy we experienced while singing and playing musical games with our friends and often wonder of the magic in how we have retained those melodies and lyrics. Sadly, for many pre-school and school children that I have recently worked with, only a handful of them were familiar with nursery rhymes and simple songs. Modern society is to blame for this. Our fast-paced living, combined with a hurried approach to basic tasks, leaves no room to enjoy the simplest, free of charge, and highly enjoyable close bonding musical experiences. This is quite worrying, as music educators have known for years that quality music activities and experiences can provide essential benefits.
A child’s first three years of life are crucial for optimum brain development. While a vast number of researchers claim that music is powerful, recent brain research studies (Hallam, 2016; Ilari, 2016; Webb, Heller and Benson, 2015; Schlaug, 2015;) have shown that: music alters the structure of the foetus’ developing brain; that toddlers recognize and prefer music first heard in the mother’s womb; that a thirty minute music therapy session improves children’s immune capacity; that IQ scores increase among children who gain consistent music tuition; and that music alleviates stress, improves motor skills, encourages social interplay, and stimulates language development and acquisition. When engaging in an artform such as music, our brains are very active.