Van der Linde (1999) outlines six reasons why the importance of music and movement activities should not be underestimated. Among these are four that are particularly relevant here:

  1. Mental capacity and intellect. There is a connection between music and the development of mathematical thinking. Mathematical concepts are developed as children sing counting songs.
  2. Mastery of the physical self. Children develop coordination, which aids muscular development. They begin to understand what they can do with their bodies as they run, balance, stretch, crawl, and skip.
  3. Development of the affective aspect. Through music and movement, children learn acceptable outlets to express feelings and relieve tension. Music may also convey a specific mood through which children reveal their feelings and emotions.
  4. Development of creativity. Music can create an imaginary world that stimulates a child’s creativity. A box can become a drum, a stick can be transformed into a horn, or a broom can become a dance partner. Children make up songs or give new words to old songs for pure enjoyment.

It is sometimes all too easy to miss the opportunity to expand on the music and movement experiences of a child’s budding musical awareness. The imaginary world, the dream world, is a private place where children can sort out ideas before actually implementing those ideas. They can imagine how a butterfly moves from flower to flower before re-creating their own interpretation of pretending to fly like a butterfly. Teachers must encourage imagery and fantasy throughout music and movement activities. It is a natural resource that children bring with them to the classroom and one that encourages the development of musical processes that are foundational to future thinking and perceptual organization. Tender children who are just beginning to discover their ability to soar like an eagle, dance with the flowers, sing for the pure joy of hearing their own voices, or pretend to gallop swiftly like a pony look to their teacher to provide a safe place where they can explore all the possibilities their bodies, minds, and voices hold for musical and bodily-kinesthetic development.

Young children love to repeat things. They want to “sing it again!” and “move like a zigzag!” They are hungry for ideas that tap into their curiosity of how the Eensy-Weensy Spider goes up the water-spout; they want to move and dance when the spirit strikes them. They need teachers who will design a variety of rich musical experiences to help them test out things for themselves. We can play a recording by Hap Palmer or Raffi, but we must give children permission to test out their own ways of interpreting what they hear in ways that are right and personal to them.

A good classroom is geared to music. A sensitive teacher celebrates the clumsy and often awkward beginnings children make in their attempts to move rhythmically. Caring about the whole child means honoring all aspects of their musical expression. An awareness of the values of musical encounters provides the wise teacher with many choices and worthwhile possibilities for immersing children in a rich variety of songs, fingerplays, and other musical experiences.

A child’s awareness of music begins very early. Infants can be comforted by quiet singing, music boxes, and musical toys. As they make cooing sounds and begin babbling, infants experiment with different tones and rhythmic patterns. Typical toddlers can frequently be observed clapping, dancing, or parading around the room, trying out different ways of moving to musical beats and rhythmic patterns. Young children are sensitive to musical sound and respond freely and joyfully to different tempos and beats. At the same time, they discover new and different ways to use their bodies and voices.

Throughout the childhood years, children’s major accomplishments in musical development in turn support many developmental milestones. One important by-product of exploration of music and movement is language development. Communication for the very young child is largely nonverbal, and music and movement can enhance and expand the child’s repertoire of communication skills and abilities. Children experiment with familiar word patterns as they combine words with a tune. They imitate rhythmic patterns and combine these with physical activity as they communicate through movement or dance. Children play with words as they change the lyrics to familiar songs or make up chants to accompany their play activity. Verbal and motor cues help children remember new words or sequences of words. They experience regular beats, changes in tempo, accents, and synchronization, all of which are an integral part of communicating in words and sentences.

As with all areas of the curriculum, developmentally appropriate music and movement activities will be successful only if you, the teacher, understand why music and movement are important tools for assisting children in constructing knowledge about their world and helping them make sense of their experiences. Admittedly, music and movement can be used in an integrated curriculum to enhance other subject areas, such as the language arts, but as Metz (1989) cautions, “Simply using music in an educational setting does not insure that children’s musical perceptions are developing... We need to focus on music as ‘an end in itself’”.

We further believe that, as teachers, we must be well versed in not only how to bring musical experiences to children, but also why music is so essential to the young child’s overall development. One way to facilitate our understanding of the “why?” is to look at the perspective that developmental theory has to offer.