To help children pay attention and be emotionally stable do music
The Sector > Research > To help children pay attention and be emotionally stable do music

To help children pay attention and be emotionally stable do music

by Freya Lucas

August 19, 2019

Tapping along to a beat, marching and purposeful wiggling can all help young children to develop their self-regulation skills and,in turn, improve school readiness, newly-published Queensland University of Technology (QUT) early childhood research has found. 


As part of the research, QUT Associate Professor Kate Williams designed a preschool program, called RAMSR, focussing exclusively on rhythm and movement activities linked to pathways in the brain to support attentional and emotional development.


“Think heads, shoulders, knees and toes but do the actions backwards while you sing forwards. It tricks the brain into gear,” Ms Williams said.


The Queensland study, involving 113 children from lower socioeconomic communities, measured the effectiveness of the program to boost self-regulation skills.


“Being able to control your own emotions, cognition and behaviours is an important predictor of school readiness and early school achievement,” Ms Williams outlined.


“The aim is for regular sessions to be introduced into daily activities of young children to help support their attentional and emotional regulation skills, inhibition and working memory. We want all early childhood teachers to feel confident to run these fun and important activities.”


The findings were recently published in the international peer-reviewed Psychology of Music journal, with the study providing a unique investigation about preschool children and the application of a rhythm and movement program to address socioeconomic-related school readiness and achievement gaps.


Differences in neurological processes can produce educational inequalities for young children who experience disadvantage, something UNICEF have identified as an international priority.


The QUT research builds on what Associate Professor Williams describes as the ‘musician advantage’ – enhanced neural plasticity and executive functioning – particularly among children given formal musical instruction.


Children who are exposed to music and formal music lessons from a young age are often from families who are in a financial position to fund such extra curricular development, she said. 

“The problem is that the children who most need the musician advantage miss out because it isn’t affordable for all families to access high-quality music programs”.

Another recent Australian study, led by Assoc Prof Williams, was the first to show that early shared music activities in the home also contribute to positive development.


The sessions used in the recent research ran for 30 minutes twice a week for eight weeks, with stages becoming more challenging to stimulate change and development in self-regulation skills. The program is being supported by C&K Childcare and Kindergartens, and Ms Williams has been awarded an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award Grant to further develop and widen the preschool program to more children from 2019-21.


A podcast about the research, Start the day with a song, is available on the QUT Teacher PodClass.

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