That sounds like a skill set a major CEO possesses, right?
The term executive function refers to a set of skills that are essential to the healthy development of young children and that lead to an overall healthier life. These skills must be learned, and music is one fun and easy way to help practice them.
What skills are grouped together as executive function?
The four main categories of executive function skills are:
Although they’re listed as individual skills, they are often interwoven. When they are used together, executive function skills strengthen the very fabric of a healthy life– throughout a lifetime.
Let’s review each one, look at how children show these behaviors successfully, and how music can help boost their development.
This skill set is probably the best known among the four. People with self-control are goal directed. They can sustain their attention as needed and remain calmly in charge of their actions, thoughts, and emotions. People with self-control regularly forgo immediate gratification in the service of achieving long-term outcomes.
Research shows that children ages 3-5 who regularly practice self-control skills go on to do well academically in school and to have adult lives that are healthier than those who do not. So what does self-control look like in 3-5 year olds? Young children with self-control do not struggle with attention span or finishing tasks, and they are not easily distracted. They tend to play well with other children, to share easily, and to follow directions.
How can music help to develop self-control in children?
Perhaps the best example of using music to develop these skills is known as a “stop and go” activity. As music plays, children are asked to move. Often, the instructions are very specific: “Lift up your feet and march around. March, march, march.” Then, following the cue words “Aaaaaaaand STOP” and the music turning off, children freeze and remain still until the music begins again.
Adaptability, planning, and problem-solving are part of this executive function skill set. So are reasoning, mental play, and decision-making. You might know people who regularly ask questions like “What if?”, who like to tinker with concepts, who are often curious and easily fascinated. These people have cognitive flexibility.
So what does this skill set look like in 3-5 year olds? Young children with cognitive flexibility can switch gears and experience unexpected change without becoming flustered. They transfer their learning easily from one topic to another, and they are not usually troubled when they need to make choices.
When it comes to using music to positively impact cognitive flexibility, instruments come into play (pun intended). Give a child two instruments from the same “family” (like two different types of shakers) and have them explore how they are alike and different. Ask for descriptions of what the sounds are like (maybe comparing the musical sound to a “nature” sound). Then, ask the child to choose which instrument they want to play and say why.
Working memory overlaps the other three skills. People with good working working memories are organized and use information efficiently. They follow directions, finish tasks, and easily sort ideas into categories.
Young children with working memory skills are good listeners, obedient, and content to work independently because they understand what they need to do.
To develop these skills using music, try songs that have directions in the lyrics, requiring children to listen closely and perform corresponding movements. Kindermusik has plenty of songs like this!
When it comes to executive function research, the inclusion of this skill set is fairly new. Yet, these skills are particularly important for healthy social-emotional lives. Children with these skills understand other people’s points of view and have empathy. They reflect on what they observe about other people and respond appropriately.
The best way to increase these skills in children via music is to have shared musical experiences with them! When people sing together, dance together, move together to the rhythm, and share the emotions music evokes, they practice perspective taking!
Want to continue the intentional nurturing of your child while increasing their executive functioning? Keep on coming to Kindermusik through our Summermusik session and beyond. We’ll see you in class!
We all know first-hand the joy and inspiration that comes from sharing musical experiences with others. It’s why you choose to be part of our Kindermusik family. It’s why we buy tickets to live concerts. It’s why the biggest touring Broadway shows always make a stop in our fine city.
That energy, the wordless power of music to bind us together and to fill our hearts, is what keeps us coming back to it again and again. We choose to invest our time and our resources into musical experiences for ourselves and our families because those experiences feed our souls.
Earlier this month your Song of the Heart Kindermusik team had the joyful opportunity to participate in the Heart & Soul Music Stroll for the fourth year in a row. Heart & Soul brings joy and healing through live music to people who live among us and yet are often isolated from our community, including those in convalescent homes, senior centers, psychiatric facilities, domestic abuse shelters, centers for children with disabilities, and prisons.
Heart & Soul’s mission perfectly aligns with our studio values of Joy, Connection, Family, Growth, and Heart, as they work to use music as a tool to connect generations and help heal the human spirit. That is why we have chosen to joyfully give back to our studio’s neighborhood by getting involved with their organization, sharing their mission, and being a part of this incredible annual event.
Our own Ms Katie said of the event, “It was my third year attending the Heart & Soul music stroll and I enjoyed all of it! Great music, great food trucks, and great company! I loved seeing the joy in all the kids’ and grown-ups’ faces as they sang and danced with Kindermusik! Such a blast!”
Our experience at the Heart & Soul Music Stroll echoes our own efforts at community outreach as we share music with our grand-friends at BeeHive Homes assisted living center each month. Many of you volunteer your time and join us in sharing the joy of music with residents and to make beautiful connections across the generations.
Haven’t heard of our Kindermusik Playdates at BeeHive Homes? More to come.
I promised in the last blog post that I’d put together a list of activities that you might consider using in conjunction with our Kindermusik summer camp programs. Just remember—these are simply ideas to get the juices flowing, not a list to look at on the fridge as a reminder that you’re not a good enough mom if you’re not doing any of it. And, if you’re not coming to camp, (we’ll miss you!) there are lots of great ideas for Summer family fun anyway. Enjoy!
• Go swimming (of course)
• Run through the sprinklers (Remember how much fun you used to have, even before the invention of the Wham-O Slip ‘N Slide Triple Racer? It can be the good, old-fashioned Rainbird sprinkler, it doesn’t really matter to your kids)
• Go to one of the city’s fountains—check out The Gateway Mall; City Creek (water shows run at least every hour on the hour, perhaps more often); and the new Mountain View Park (at 1651 E. Fort Union Blvd.)
• Enjoy a popsicle
• Watch “Finding Nemo” as a family
Up in the Sky:
• Visit the birds at Tracy Aviary
• Attend Sandy City’s Hot Air Balloon Festival (BONUS: it is held August 9-11, which nicely corresponds with the August summer camp)
• Create a rainbow—use paints, crayons or clay—you could even do some fun mixing experiments with colored water
• Learn about rain cloud with this cool (and simple!) cloud demonstration
• Watch “Up.”
Busy Days: The obvious answer here is to go to each of the places we visit during class (the store, the park, to a family gathering). However, you might add a Becky Bailey I Love You Ritual to each of them (as well as include the songs you sing in class while you’re there—YES! I mean sing a song as you’re waiting in line at the grocery store. The person who most deserves your connection is your child—don’t let any embarrassment in front of strangers-who-you’ll-never-see-again dictate if you make a connection with your child or not).
A ritual to consider: Story Hand
Tell the child, “It is story time.” The child will probably think you are going to read a book, but instead, take her hand. Starting with the pinky finger, give this finger a nice massage and say, “This little finger wanted to learn how to ride a two-wheel bicycle.” (The story you will use will be telling will be based on your child’s life. I am using the success story of learning to ride a two-wheeler as an example.) [Or, use something from camp—pick out bananas to buy/play with cousins/feed the ducks] Go to the next finger and give it a nice massage, saying “This finger was a little scared she [or he] may fall off.” Continue to the next finger, saying “But this finger said, ‘I can do it. I just know I can.’” At the index finger, continue with the story by saying, “So I decided to try and try again.” Finally, come to the thumb and with excitement have the thumb say, “Did she [or he] do it? Did she [or he] do it?” Then tuck the thumb into the palm of the child’s hand and say, “No problem. All the fingers knew she [or he] would do it all the time.” –pg. 165, I Love You Rituals, Becky Bailey, Ph.D.
Peek-A-Boo: Ready for more I Love You rituals? That’s the whole theme of this camp! Things you could do to amplify this camp would be to (as mentioned earlier), employ the rituals you learn in class to as many of your daily activities as possible (play peek-a-boo when helping your child get dressed, for instance). Here are some additional thoughts about the importance of these rituals from Becky Bailey:
“Remember your purpose. The goal of the activities is to join with our children. These rituals allow us to rejoice in togetherness, experience each other’s beauty, and delight in the expression of love that we all are. They are not about having your children learn their body parts or which way is up or down. Learning these things are valuable subgoals, but the ultimate goal is to connect. Relax, have fun, giggle, sing, just be yourself—begin to trust that all is well.
“Be fully present with your children.. . .
“Be in the moment. Simply stated, your mind must be clear of clutter. . .
“See yourself and the child as complete, good enough, and totally deserving of this precious interaction.” (p. 39)
• Share the classic Bugs Bunny cartoon “The Rabbit of Seville” with your kids (what did we ever do before Youtube?). (By the way, the clip I’ve linked to is incomplete and child-friendly. However, a user whose user name includes some not-for-kids profanity posted the only entire episode I could find—so it’s there, but search at your own discretion).
• Read Magic Treehouse #41: Moonlight on the Magic Flute together
• Invite the kids to put on a puppet show, re-writing lyrics to favorite songs in order to create a story (maybe re-working your favorite classic children’s tale, such as “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”)
• Find as many sing-a-story picture books as you can at the library—consider: I Know an Old Lady, The Lady with the Alligator Purse, or How Much is That Doggie in the Window
Prince and Princess:
• Build a castle out of your favorite building toy (or find some supplies around the house—toilet paper rolls for turrets, ribbons for flags—maybe even with marshmallows and toothpicks!);
• Create a shield or sword or magic wand with poster boar
• So many books to choose from
• Get the neighbor kids together and create an obstacle course, with all the boys and girls getting “knighted” upon successful completion
• Watch The Princess and the Frog (because apart from being the one with the best music, Tiana rocks).
Sound fun? Anything you’d like to add? Tell us in the comments. Maybe you could even get together with the other families in your Kindermusik camp and plan a playdate outside of the Kindermusik studio!