Music is a natural and important part of young children’s growth and development. Early interaction with music positively affects the quality of all children’s lives. Successful experiences in music help all children bond emotionally and intellectually with others through creative expression in song, rhythmic movement, and listening experiences. Music in early childhood creates a foundation upon which future music learning is built. These experiences should be integrated within the daily routine and play of children. In this way, enduring attitudes regarding the joy of music making and sharing are developed.
Music education for young children involves a developmentally appropriate program of singing, moving, listening, creating, playing instruments, and responding to visual and verbal representations of sound. The content of such a program should represent music of various cultures in time and place. Time should be made available during the day for activities in which music is the primary focus of attention for its own value. It may also serve as a means for teachers to facilitate the accomplishment of nonmusical goals.
Musical experiences should be play-based and planned for various types of learning opportunities such as one-on-one, choice time, integration with other areas of the curriculum, and large-group music focus. The best possible musical models and activities should be provided. Adults responsible for guiding these experiences may range from parent, to caregiver, to early childhood educator, to music specialist. Music educators are committed to working in partnership with these adults to provide exemplary music experiences for young children.
Early Childhood Education
Early education for prekindergarten children in our country is provided in a variety of settings. These children represent increasingly diverse backgrounds, experiences, and risk factors, and reflect a wide range of special needs. Settings include day and family care centers, preschool, and Head Start. Public schools also sponsor prekindergarten and early intervention programs supported through federal, state, and local funding.
The music component is integral to all such programs. It serves the expressive, emotional, intellectual, social, and creative needs of all children. Music educators should take the initiative to network with parents and early childhood professionals to disseminate developmentally appropriate materials and techniques for use in curriculum planning.
A Music Curriculum for Young Children
A music curriculum for young children should include many opportunities to explore sound through singing, moving, listening, and playing instruments, as well as introductory experiences with verbalization and visualization of musical ideas. The music literature included in the curriculum should be of high quality and lasting value, including traditional children’s songs, folk songs, classical music, and music from a variety of cultures, styles, and time periods.
Beliefs about Young Children and Developmentally and Individually Appropriate Musical Experiences
- All children have musical potential. Every child has the potential for successful, meaningful interactions with music. The development of this potential, through numerous encounters with a wide variety of music and abundant opportunities to participate regularly in developmentally appropriate music activities, is the right of every young child.
- Children bring their own unique interest and abilities to the music learning environment. Each child will take away that bit of knowledge and skill that he or she is uniquely capable of understanding and developing. Children must be left, as much as possible, in control of their own learning. They should be provided with a rich environment that offers many possible routes for them to explore as they grow in awareness and curiosity about music.
- Very young children are capable of developing critical thinking skills through musical ideas. Children use thinking skills when making musical judgments and choices.
- Children come to early childhood music experiences from diverse backgrounds. Their home languages and cultures are to be valued and seen as attributes that enrich everyone in the learning environment.
- Children should experience exemplary musical sounds, activities, and materials. Children’s learning time is valuable and should not be wasted on experiences with music or activities of trite or questionable quality.
- Children should not be encumbered with the need to meet performance goals. Opportunities should be available for children to develop accurate singing, rhythmic responses to music, and performance skills on instruments. Each child’s attainment of a predetermined performance level, however, is neither essential nor appropriate.
- Children’s play is their work. Children should have opportunities for individual musical play, such as in a “music corner,” as well as for group musical play, such as singing games. Children learn within a playful environment. Play provides a safe place to try on the roles of others, to fantasize, and to explore new ideas. Children’s play involves imitation and improvisation.
- Children learn best in pleasant physical and social environments. Music learning contexts will be most effective when they include (1) play, (2) games, (3) conversations, (4) pictorial imagination, (5) stories, (6) shared reflections on life events and family activities, and (7) personal and group involvement in social tasks. Dominant use of drill-type activities and exercises and worksheet tasks will not provide the kind of active, manipulative, and creative musical environment essential to the development of young minds.
- Diverse learning environments are needed to serve the developmental needs of many individual children. Children interact with musical materials in their own way based on their unique experiences and developmental stages. One child may display sophistication and confidence in creating songs in response to dolls. Another child, in the same setting, may move the dolls around without uttering a sound–but this “silent participator” leaves the area content in having shared the music play. The silent participator often is later heard playing in another area softly singing to a different set of dolls–demonstrating a delayed response.
- Children need effective adult models. Parents and teachers who provide music in their child’s life are creating the most powerful route to the child’s successful involvement in the art.
The Music Teachers of Young Children
It is desirable that individuals with training in early childhood music education for young children be involved in providing musical experiences for the children, either directly or as consultants. Often it is the parent, certified teacher, higher education professional, Child Development Associate (CDA), or other care provider who is primarily responsible for guiding the musical experiences of the young child. These persons should:
- love and respect young children,
- value music and recognize that an early introduction to music is important in the lives of children,
- model an interest in and use of music in daily life,
- be confident in their own musicianship, realizing that within the many facets of musical interaction there are many effective ways to personally affect children’s musical growth,
- be willing to enrich and seek improvement of personal musical and communicative skills,
- interact with children and music in a playful manner
- use developmentally appropriate musical materials and teaching techniques,
- find, create, and/or seek assistance in acquiring and using appropriate music resources.
- cause appropriate music learning environments to be created,
- be sensitive and flexible when children’s interests are diverted from an original plan.
The Music Educators National Conference is committed to the implementation of this position statement. This goal can best be accomplished through the combined efforts of parents, music educators, and early childhood professionals. MENC supports policies and efforts that will make it possible for all children to participate in developmentally and individually appropriate practice in early childhood music education.
This formal position statement was developed as part of MENC’s “Future Directions” effort to bring members’ recommendations into reality. It was adopted by the MENC National Executive Board in July 1991. The statement was developed as a service to the profession and may be reprinted.