Music Matters: The Important Role of Music in Early Childhood

Music is universal. It’s cross cultural and enjoyed by all ages, from infants to grandparents and everyone in between! Stevie Wonder summed it up well when saying, “Music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand.” Young children, especially, seemed to be tuned in to the language of sound and song. Think back to when you were a child—do you have any memories that involve music? Can you remember the words to songs you listened to in preschool or elementary school? Did you learn your ABC’s by singing the alphabet song? I’m sure you answered yes to at least one of these questions.


If I were to sit down and list the most important things in my life, music would undoubtedly be near the top. I don’t have any particular musical talent, but the beauty of music is that I don’t have to for it to play a huge role in my life. Music has been a part of my life since childhood and has continued to bring me joy throughout. It serves as entertainment, stress relief, a way to connect to others, and just makes me feel good. I’d bet that many of you would say the same of the role music plays in your own lives. Music is cross-cultural and spans all ages. 


Music makes a positive impact on your child’s development—socially, emotionally, cognitively, and helps with fine and gross motor skills. It’s why we end every LEAP class singing a song together, why we have an entire station dedicated to exploring and experimenting with sound each week, and why we still remember nursery rhymes from our own childhoods. So how exactly is music impacting your child’s development—why does music truly matter?


Language Development


Often, language development in young children begins with music. Before babies are even born they hear music and sounds and even react to them! Exposure to music before birth can actually enhance a baby’s language development (Campbell, 2000). As toddlers, hearing music exposes children to new sounds, words, and the meanings of words. Songs with repeated phrases help children commit words to memory and increase their vocabulary—a vocabulary that is expanding by as many as 10 new words every day! Tapping along or clapping during the LEAP song helps children learn to keep a beat, a pre-literacy skill that leads to more successful readers. So even though you may get tired of hearing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” or singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” but these songs are repetitive for a reason!


Motor Skills 


Even before birth, babies have been observed blinking or moving to the beat of music (Campbell, 2000). That urge to react to a song or move to a beat only grows with infants and toddlers and eventually starts to look like dancing. Dancing brings us joy, makes us laugh, and also helps develop muscles that are growing quickly in early life. There is so much more happening when we dance and make music than meets the eye! Playing with instruments and waving our arms in the air often involves cross-lateral movements (arm and leg movements that cross the center of the body) which are necessary for the brain to be ready to learn to read. Holding on to instruments requires fine motor skills while hitting a xylophone with a stick improves hand-eye coordination. All of these things are happening when your child bangs on a drum, shakes a tambourine, claps their hands, or dances around the room to their favorite song. Isn’t that amazing?


Social Interaction


You may notice that your child is still working on the idea of sharing, that he or she may talk to you or to themselves more than they engage with other children their own age. This is totally normal for two and three year olds. They are still learning how to be social at this age—they only see the world through their own eyes, acquiring new information and building on their own understanding constantly. That’s a big job and doesn’t always leave room for being social. Music is an excellent way for children to begin to interact socially and learn to work together, problem solve, and cooperate. Through music they experience what it’s like to create something as a group that is different than what they can do on their own. These experiences are the basis of being able to share, compromise, and form friendships. That’s why we sing as a group each week, creating something much better together than we could ever create individually.


Children are naturally curious and musical. Let your child explore and experiment with the various instruments and materials at the music station and at home. There is no one way or right way to try out an instrument—sometimes you discover a sound you wouldn’t have if you’d used it the “right” way! 


The music station really catches children in their own element—banging on a drum, singing, or dancing around to the tune in their head or a beat of their own. We encourage you to recreate these musical experiences outside of LEAP as well—at home, in the car, in nature, wherever you can! Now you can even practice the LEAP song using the lyrics below: 


LEAP Goodbye Song (to the tune of The Ants Go Marching)

Goodbye my friends, 

It was so fun

At LEAP, at LEAP

Goodbye my friends,

It was so fun 

At LEAP, at LEAP

We made great art,

We're getting smart,

We picked up rocks, 

We played in a box

It was so fun

At LEAP at the Zoo

--The Lincoln Park Zoo LEAP Team