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Music and movement – a force for child development

Pre-K children dancing together in a classroom.
Pre-K children dancing together in a classroom.

As children become acclimated to the world around them, music and movement are powerful forces helping them to develop mentally, physically, and emotionally. In our work with pre-K programs, we offer a variety of songs for educators, parents, and caregivers to engage children positively in the moment and help them practice skills to steady their bodies even in the context of big feelings. You can download two of our songs below or go to our Tools page to take a listen.

“Resting Song” is calming and guides children through evidence-based practices to support well-being, including breathing, stretching, and guided imagery.

ParentCorps Music_ Resting Song.mp3
Download ZIP • 7.13MB

“Freeze Dance” is an upbeat tune inviting children to dance along while the beat plays, but freeze when they hear a pause. The song is a fun way to release stress and practice key school readiness skills like following directions.

ParentCorps Music_ Freeze Dance.mp3
Download ZIP • 12.39MB

Both songs evoke a range of positive emotions and reactions in children.

The research

Here, we break down a powerful research base that shows the benefits of music and movement among young children. You will find that increased use of the auditory system and physical activity in response to music exposure can play a major role in children’s development.

In a study published in Early Education and Development, a cohort of Head Start preschoolers were introduced to music and dance for 12 weeks. These children had significantly larger improvements in behavior and greater gains in social competence (including self-regulation) compared to others in their class who did not receive this intervention.

A five-year study done by the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC examined the impact of music on children’s cognitive development. They found an increase in neuroplasticity – a physiological change in the brain in response to its environment – with music exposure. This is beneficial considering the auditory system is also engaged in sound processing that is fundamental to language development, reading skills, and communication.

Penn State Extension further explains why children need opportunities to move so they can learn. New activities help the brain build neural connections during the early years. Songs like “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” that allow children to cross the midline of their bodies (reaching from the top to bottom, left to right, and front to back) use coordination from both the left and right sides of the brain – strengthening neural connections and laying the foundation for further development of language, literacy, and math skills.

The research is clear: consistently including music in daily routines with children can be hugely beneficial for their physical and psychological development while also adding fun and lightness to engage early learners.

ParentCorps songs in action

ParentCorps educators have seen these songs in action for years and know the real benefits for young children and connections built with adults in the room. Here, we share anecdotes from inside the classroom.

Cindy Gray, ParentCorps Educator: “I truly hate dancing in front of other adults. I get so embarrassed and worried that I'm not cool enough. But there's something about dancing with kids that breaks down all barriers for me. They ask me to dance with them, and suddenly I'm in the middle of the circle and all the kids are clapping at my dance moves and showing off theirs. It's the best feeling. There's no judgment - just pure fun!”

Debra Stellabotte, ParentCorps Supervisor: “I always have fun doing the dances with the kids. I also like catching the eyes of one of the teachers and we are both huffing and puffing. Another thing that happens during exercise that I think is so cute is when one of the kids puts their hand on their heart and says, ‘I feel my heart beeping!’ It gets me every time.”

Wendy Haber, ParentCorps Specialist: “We worked with a teacher in Queens from 2017 until her recent retirement who got down on the floor and slithered like a snake with the kids to our zoo song. She was a ParentCorps champion, not by title, but by her actions. She took the lead in supporting her school team of four pre-K classrooms in ParentCorps programming. Her enthusiasm and engagement were contagious and even the most reluctant children participated.”

Molly Sequin is a ParentCorps Communications Specialist.

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