What do 5 years olds learn in their weekly music lessons?

If you were to look at a standard weekly timetable for a kindergarten class, you would hopefully see at least one music learning class. This might be a 40, 50 or 60-minute class which, for 20 x 5-year-olds, would require a great deal of detailed planning by the teacher to maintain quality learning and engagement for 40-60 minutes.

Some schools recognise the value of breaking this time up to create more frequent but short music learning classes. This could be 15-20 minutes, three times a week, or even 10 minutes every day. The jury is still out about which approach is “better”. This is because it is first important to answer the question, “better for what?”. A longer session might be easier to include in the timetable, therefore ensuring the music class takes place. Three shorter sessions might be better for cognitive development due to the regularity of the brain workout that music gives, or five very short sessions might ensure that music is a fundamental part of each child’s day.

This study looked at the regular 40-minute weekly sessions of music learning for kindergarten. The study divided 174 students into three groups; a music class, a motor skills class and a control group who did no additional activity. The groups were randomly chosen, which is important to note as it was not the children and, at this age, their parents, who elected to do specific activities.

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After 19 weeks of learning, or basically half of a school year, the young students were tested on their inhibitory skills (self-control and self-regulation), phonological skills (hearing the parts of words) and motor skills (control of gross and fine movement). Here are their three major findings;

  • Music training in kindergarten improved the development of inhibition control over motor training and no special training.
  • Although both the music and motor programmes targeted the development of phonological processing, children in the music programme scored higher on this ability.
  • No significant differences in motor development were found between any of the three conditions.

These findings suggest that to gain three of the most vital skills they need for learning in kindergarten – control of their attention and behaviour, ability to distinguish language sounds and control of the body movements – every 5-year-old needs music learning. The great news is, the common timetabling option of 40-minutes once a week might just do the trick. Now we just need to make sure that this time is as valued and untouchable as literacy and numeracy time and does not get used for one-off activities like school photos and science fairs.

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