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The importance of early childhood and elementary music education to children, families, and society can never be overstressed. This interdisciplinary area impacts every sector of our contemporary society.  “Early childhood” is usually defined as the ages prior to normal schooling – five years in most nations while the U.S. National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) defines “early childhood” as before the age of eight, which covers some of the elementary school years. Scientific arguments for recognizing the early years as a critical period (developmental ‘prime-time’) have gained more momentum in recent decades through advances in neuroscience. A widely cited Newsweek article made the dramatic claim that:

“A newborn’s brain is composed of trillions of neurons … The experiences of childhood determine which neurons are used, that wire the circuits of the brain. Those neurons that are not used may die” (Begley 1996). Early experiences shape the architecture of the brain “from the bottom up,” with simple circuits providing the scaffolding for more advanced circuits. Once a circuit is “wired,” it stabilizes with age, making it increasingly more difficult to alter over time. Scientists use the term “plasticity” to refer to the capacity of brain architecture and function to change. Plasticity is maximal in childhood and decreases with age. Although “windows of opportunity” for skill development and behavioral adaptation remain open for many years, trying to change behavior or build new skills on a foundation of brain circuits that were not wired properly when they were first formed requires more work and is more expensive.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s video speech in a national conference on the Children’s Defense Fund in Cincinnati published on The Wall Street Journal Blog on July 24, 2012 provided a new and elevated recognition of early childhood education on an individual’s economic achievement and societal benefits:

“Effective education can help reduce poverty, increase lifetime earnings and boost personal satisfaction at home and on the job….”

“When individuals are denied opportunities to reach their maximum potential, it harms not only those individuals, of course, but also the larger economy, which depends vitally on having a skilled, productive workforce.” 

Mr. Bernanke stated that starting children’s education at a young age better prepares them for school and makes them more likely to be economically successful and contribute more to society when they are older. He pointed to one study showing that three- and four-year-olds who attended a “high-quality” daycare for half the day were more likely to own their own homes when they were 40 years old than a control group who didn’t attend the daycare……(The Carolina Abecedarian Project: An Educational Experiment Concerning Human Malleability by Craig T. Ramey and Frances A. Campbell in book The Malleability of Children, chapter 11).

”Early childhood music education is a significant, specific and concrete part of early childhood education. It is both about teaching music to young children and about using music to further children’s overall development, including intellectual development.According to a research presented by psychologist Frances Rauscher, Ph.D. and neuroscientist Gordon Shaw, Ph.D., representing a research team from the University of California at Irvine (http://www.burchschool.com/musicstf.html), at the 102nd Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in 1994, “Music lessons, and even simply listening to music, can enhance spatial reasoning performance.”

Spatial reasoning is about one’s ability to recreate one’s visual experience and reasoning about shape, measurement, depiction and navigation; it has wide implications in many academic and professional disciplines such as mathematics and computer science; it is also related to the thinking process of engineers, architects, designers, sculptors, and inventors. Spatial reasoning is not just visualization of objects and space but also the ability to take qualitative information and then transform them to spatial representations so that it can be better understood. Dr. Rauscher and Dr. Shaw’s results show that the spatial reasoning performance of 19 preschool children who received eight months of music lessons far exceeded the spatial reasoning performance of a demographically comparable group of preschool children.

According to a published paper by Professor Joyce Jordan on Early Childhood Connections in 2004, “While early childhood is as old as humankind, it has achieved most of its recognition in the last hundred years. And now, for all intents and purposes, music in early childhood is in the process of being discovered.” This is a relatively new field of study that emerged in the 90’s due to neurological findings associated with brain research. Neurologists stressed the importance of the first five years of life and the necessity for creating environments that provide appropriate stimulation of the five senses for optimum developmental growth. While it is a new field, only the following seven notable universities do have early childhood music programs serving the community and also with teacher training courses: University of Miami, University of South Carolina, Eastman School of Music, Brigham Young University, Michigan State University, Hartt School of Music, and Oberlin Conservatory.

About the Music Education Program at Texas A & M University -Kingsville (TAMUK)

Hi, I’m Dr. Catherine Ming Tu, assistant professor of music at Texas A & M University at Kingsville (TAMUK). I can’t imagine a better music experience for undergraduates than TAMUK. Our students are highly engaged in their college experience, wonderfully supportive with each other and committed to becoming leaders in music education. As a teacher of Music Education, I strive to help each and every student to achieve their full potential. We offer rigorous academic courses, quality vocal and instrumental instruction, and extensive performance opportunities, so that you as the students are afforded the ability to attend high level graduate program or perusing employment opportunities once you finish your time here. Go Javelinas!

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