New research once again shows that an intentional partnership between parents and teachers positively supports children’s educational outcomes. Without a doubt, parents are a child’s first and best teacher. We know that intuitively and we hear that from early childhood experts and teachers. But, let’s face it. Parents need help. They need partners in their children’s education to best equip them in their role as teachers. They need information and they need practical ideas and tools that they can easily use in their everyday routines with their children.
Involving Parents Helps Young Children Maintain Literacy Skills
Recently, a research team recruited 200 children and parents from families enrolled in 24 Head Start programs in rural and urban Pennsylvania. The families were split into two groups. The control group received math games to play on their own. The other group received materials, such as books and learning games, and visits from “educational counselors” who provided coaching on how to use the games with their children. Those materials specifically supported the lessons from the Head Start classroom.
The children who participated in the second group showed significantly higher retention of literacy skills (vocabulary and fluency) and social skills (self-directed learning and social competence) acquired in the classroom when compared to the control group.
A Listening Game to Support Early Literacy Skills
While not a part of the Head Start study above, Kindermusik programs provide materials (games, music, books) and child development information and resources parents can use OUTSIDE the classroom to support what happens INSIDE the classroom. For example, this fun game—“Reading” the Violin”—supports children’s early literacy skills.
Matching sounds to a visual image is an extremely important early literacy skill. It is, in fact, the precursor skill to the alphabetic principle, or the understanding that there is a relationship between letters and sounds. Before children can explore letter-sound relationships and learn to decode words, they must first understand the connection between a sound they hear and an image they see.
This game provides kids lots of practice with associating a specific bit of audio with a specific bit of visual, and they’ll have no idea that this game is actually preparing them to read. It also supports other important early childhood cognitive competences, including:
Selective Attention: the ability to selectively concentrate on one aspect of the environment while ignoring distractions.
Auditory Working Memory: the ability to retain information that has been presented orally (e.g., listening to a target sound and then matching the sound to its image)
Auditory Discrimination: the ability to discriminate between similar sounds.
Did you know Kindermusik offers a program for Head Start and Early Head Start Programs that include materials and resources, like the game above, for families to use? Learn more.
Music changes us. Of course, we know that music can move us to tears, conjure up (and make) memories, or even quiet a child’s cries. However, music also literally changes our brains!
A new presentation from neuroscientist Nina Kraus at the American Psychological Association’s 122nd Annual Convention displays some of the strongest research to-date proving how music changes the brains of children who are most at risk.
The Science Behind Music’s Impact on Learning
At the convention, Kraus shared her research findings that indicate learning to play a musical instrument or to sing can help disadvantaged children strengthen their reading and language skills by improving the way their nervous systems process sounds in a busy environment, such as a classroom. The boost to the neural function can lead to improved memory and longer attention spans, which help children focus better in school and improve communication skills.
“Research has shown that there are differences in the brains of children raised in impoverished environments that affect their ability to learn,” Kraus explained in a press release about her research study, Biological, Behavioral, and Academic Impact of Musical Training in At-Risk Children. “While more affluent students do better in school than children from lower income backgrounds, we are finding that musical training can alter the nervous system to create a better learnerand help offset this academic gap.”
See, music changes our brains!
Kraus’ partner at The Harmony Project is Margaret Martin, DrPH, MPH. She started The Harmony Project in 2001 to serve children of poverty in areas with school dropout rates above 50 percent. To help prove that music improves language and literacy abilities of children, she enlisted the help of Kraus. And, what a great partnership for all music educators!
“Early sustained music learning is actually the frame upon which education itself can be built for low income kids,” Martin explained in this PBSNewsHour segment:
Musical training in early childhood
In Kindermusik early childhood classes for children from newborn through age 7, we intentionally use music as the vehicle for learning. So naturally, we get excited when research proves that musical activities really do have a positive impact on the way children learn.
Kindermusik supports all areas of development including—musical, language, emotional, physical, social, and cognitive development. When children actively participate in musical experiences, they engage their whole brain in the process. Here are just four areas andexamples of how Kindermusik programs use music (and movement) to support a young child’s development:
Communication Skills: When we recite a rhyme about shaking an apple tree then shake our bodies in the same way or sing “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes” and move our bodies to touch our heads, shoulders, etc., children develop a vocabulary and understanding of these concepts, even in infancy…by seeing, hearing, and doing.
Listening Skills: By focusing intently on one sound, such as the beat of a drum,
children practice the skills of attention and engaged listening. Encouraging children to imitate the sound and discussing the sound increases comprehension and learning.
Memory: Young children move to learn and learn to move. We specifically include lots of movement in our classes, which stimulates the release of chemicals in children’s brains that support memory and learning. So, when we dance a jig or hop like a frog children get the wiggles out….and keep the learning in!
Comprehension: Engaging in language and literacy-rich musical activities that incorporate movement such as tapping the steady beat to a nursery rhyme correspond to greater comprehension.
Caring for an infant can be a bit like visiting a foreign country, especially considering the language barrier. After all, most grown-ups—from first-time parents to experienced early childhood educators—are no longer fluent in Baby. Take a look: Do you know what these babies are talking about? They certainly seem to understand each other!
How to talk to babies
Even though we may not know exactly what those sweet babies are saying, parents and caregivers around the world naturally speak “parentese” when talking with babies. Common features of this baby-friendly language include:
Using a high pitch to get a baby’s attention
Repeating words (e.g. Who is the cutest baby in the world? You are! Yes, you are!)
Keeping sentences short
Exaggerating syllables and words
New research from the University of Washington indicates that using parentese with babies actually encourages them to try and imitate what they hear! In the study of fifty-seven 7- and 11- or 12-month old babies each child listened to a series of native and foreign language syllables while the researchers observed their brain activity. As expected, the researchers noted brain activity in an auditory area of the brain, however, they also observed activity in the parts of the brain responsible for planning the motor movements required for producing speech.
“Most babies babble by 7 months, but don’t utter their first words until after their first birthdays,” said lead author Patricia Kuhl, in a press release. “Finding activation in motor areas of the brain when infants are simply listening is significant, because it means the baby brain is engaged in trying to talk back right from the start and suggests that 7-month-olds’ brains are already trying to figure out how to make the right movements that will produce words.”
These findings suggest that the exaggerated characteristics of parentese makes it easier for babies to model the motor movements required to speak. Bottom line: Keep talking to babies!
Babytalk Tips from Your Mother Goose
As the mother of all nursery rhymes, Mother Goose knows a thing or two about talking to babies. With their rhymes and rhythms, nursery rhymes “wire” the brain for communication before speech even begins. It’s one of the reasons we include nursery rhymes in our early childhood curriculum.
Try these tips from Kindermusik@Home to talk to the babies in your life! Repeating these activities helps increase language acquisition and retention.