Early Childhood Music Education

Early Childhood Music Education

The Teachers College program in Music and Music Education offers a concentration in Early Childhood Music Education, developed by Dr. Lori Custodero, in the field of early childhood research. Students involved in this course work may be invited to work with Dr. Custodero at the Rita Gold Early Childhood Center, a teaching and research facility located on the TC campus.

In the Fall of 1998 we began a concentration in early childhood music for graduate students at Teachers College. The curriculum includes courses such as "Young Children's Musical Development," which addresses current research with a special focus on the natural music making capacities of the young child; and "Designing Musical Experiences for Young Children," where appropriate guidelines and strategies for teacher / parent interactions are explored. Since we have many music students with performance degrees, we also offer a class called "Instrumental Pedagogy for Young Children," which applies constructivist principles and techniques (including exploration, improvisation, and composition) to the process of teaching children to play an instrument.

Among the most rewarding experiences is our work with children from 7 months to 5 years of age at the Rita Gold Early Childhood Center on the TC campus. With three groups: infants; toddlers;‌and preschoolers, our conceptual framework is the same — The Child is the Curriculum. Once a week my students and I visit each room for 30-45 minutes. The caregivers are very much a part of the experience; participation on the part of the children is always voluntary. With the younger groups we have developed a repertoire of songs, chants, circle games, and familiar recordings for movement. Scarves, small rhythm instruments, books to sing, plastic microphones, and any classroom objects of interest that particular day become part of the music making. The sequence of activities (or play episodes) is determined by the children — whatever they seem interested in becomes the musical material of the moment; episodes may last for 10 seconds or 10 minutes.

With the preschool group, our experiences are more structured. We enter the environment with a plan of how our time might be spent and it inevitably changes based on the significant life-themes of the day. Each constellation of children presents a different set of cognitive and affective needs; Children move, sing, and play instruments to demonstrate their understandings; they also improvise and perform their own scores depicting these elements. Every class involves some dramatic narrative involving class members or musical characters we invent. Our singing and moving repertoire involves a myriad of styles and genres.

Reports are collected from caregivers and parents and each class is videotaped for later analysis and reflection; several students are working on case studies of individual children. What we know is that music is meaningful in these children's lives - both at school and at home. Caregivers and parents are aware of their children's musical behaviors and are encouraging children's active engagement. Through study, research, and practice we are creating important contexts for college students to learn more about young children's music making and how to nurture lifelong access to the artistic process both in themselves and in the children they will teach.

A shared understanding of musical cues provides inherent strategies for strong parent-child attachment; yet, little is known about how parents in the U.S. actually use music in their home environments. Additionally, recent media coverage on the possible benefits of listening to classical music has inspired CD distributions to parents of infants; however, there has been no research undertaken to establish whether people who received the recordings actually used them, under what conditions they were used, and what the effects of such an intervention are. The current project will follow up on the Mead Johnson Nutritionals / Grammy Foundation Smart Symphonies Project to determine the effectiveness of a national CD distribution to parents of newborns. It will also examine parents' use of music with their infants as well as the influences musical experiences may have on the lives of children and parents. We are implementing a two-year study during which time a national telephone survey of parents of infants aged 4-6 months will be conducted and resulting data will be analyzed and reported. A 20-minute questionnaire will be administered in October, 2000, to 2250 participants in California, New York, and the Midwest. Respondents will include those who received the CD and used it, those who received the CD and did not use it, and those who did not receive the CD. Global outcomes as well as comparisons within and between groups will be examined to determine parents' patterns of music use with their infants.

For more information, please see the Grammy Foundation web site.

From the infant who coos in response to the melodic speech of her caregiver, to the preschooler who engages a friend to join his improvised band, children use music  as a natural form of communication. Building upon this inherent mode of interaction, we're investigating how adults can provide the best environments in which to  nurture and support children's spontaneous, purposeful music making. Musical activities are intrinsically rewarding and challenging for young children; the intense  involvement and enjoyment which define these activities is indicative of flow experience. Individuals in flow feel highly challenged and highly capable. Through systematic  observation, we have begun teasing out what this optimal experience looks like in infants through preschoolers in a variety of music contexts. Of special interest is how  these children act as agents in their own learning - how they create challenges for themselves. A 12-month-old initiates the peek-a-boo singing game on his own by  putting a scarf over his head, anticipating the caregiver's response. A 4-year-old, enchanted by a rhythmic story, grabs the hands of a peer and creates her own dance  based on similar rhythms, expanding the teacher-delivered material into something personally meaningful. These examples of self-assignment provide evidence of  music's ability to‌stimulate the cognitive, imaginative, physical, and social realms of young children's world making as they joyfully engage in rewarding activity.‌

Requirements for the concentration in Early Childhood Music Education are as follows:

Core Courses (6 points)

  • A&HG 4021: Designing Musical Experiences for Young Children (Fall) (3 pts)
  • A&HG 5022: Young Children's Musical Development (Spring) (3 pts)

Plus one of the following (2-3 points):

  • A&HG 5021: Piano [Keyboard] Instruction for [Young] Children (2-3 pts)
  • A&HG 5142: Special Topics in [Early Childhood] Music Education (2-3 pts)

Once a cohort is established, special topics seminars will be offered regularly (at least once every two years). These will deal with specialized areas of interest such as "The development of rhythmic response" or "Suzuki violin instruction" and will include reviews of literature as well as an empirical group project. (Ideally we would publish a short monograph on the project.)

Plus one of the following (2 points)

  • A&HG CRN 42011: Fieldwork in Music Education (2 pts) Supervised, self-evaluated work in the Rita Gold Center on campus or other approved venues in the area.
  • A&HG CRN 49011: Research and Independent Study in Music Education (2 pts) Review of Literature or Case Study

Total: 10 points in the program

Out of Program Courses (Choose a minimum of 2)

  • A&HG 4080: Artistic Development of Children (3 pts)
  • C&TY4113: Early Childhood Methods and Programs (3 pts)
  • C&TY4114: Multicultural Approaches to Teaching Young Children (3 pts)
  • C&TY4117: Play: The Roots of Competence in Young Children (Faculty) (3 pts)
  • C&TY 4118: Theoretical Foundations of Childhood Education (3 pts)
  • C&TY 4121: Early Childhood Teaching Strategies within a Social Context (3 pts)
  • C&TE 4080 (R): Normal and Atypical Development of Young Children (3 pts)

Total: 6 points in the program

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