Music Boosts Executive Function in Kids

Executive Function.

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:

  • Self-control
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Working memory
  • Perspective taking

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.

SELF CONTROL

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.

COGNITIVE FLEXIBILITY

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

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!

PERSPECTIVE TAKING

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!

-Reposted from Kindermusik International

Lazy Hazy Crazy Days

The old-time melody “Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer” evokes images of small town festivals, parades, popsicles, watermelon, and corn on the cob. It reminds us of our childhoods spent running through sprinklers and playing night games with the neighbor kids.

The summers of childhood have changed dramatically in the last generation. More and more children today spend their summers addicted to screens and computer games. We find ourselves over-scheduled with work, finding child care alternatives, summer camps, vacations, reunions, festivals, barbecues, and more. It’s easy to let the extra activities of summer overwhelm us and make us yearn for the predictable schedule of the school year. Some schools are already back in session!

Now our long summer days are shortening incrementally with every sunset. The oppressive heat is starting to abate ever so slightly. The back to school supplies hit the stores weeks ago. Our joy-packed Summermusik camps and classes have wrapped up. Many of us have spent our summer rushing from one activity to the next.

And while we may be looking forward to routines and cooler temperatures, we still have a little time to indulge our senses and renew our minds. Perhaps we can channel Mr. Nat King Cole’s memorable lyrics and eek a bit more summer out of the next couple of weeks.

So go out into your backyard with fresh eyes. Hunt for the nectar gathering bees. Take your little one by the hand and run through the sprinkler. Take your shoes off and let the sensory input of the dirt, sand, and grass ground you. 

Our Fall classes will be here before you know it. Reserve your spot (in one of our TWO locations) and rest easy in the final days of the season. Find a moment to breathe it all in, and love it all out.

Thank you for spending part of your summer with us. We loved every minute of it.

Fair and Fun and Skipping Free

“And when we grow up, do you think we’ll see, that I’m still like you, and you’re still like me? I might be pretty, you might grow tall, but we don’t have to change at all.”

No, I didn’t have to play my record of Free to Be . . . You and Me on a gramophone, but I did wear grooves on the LP (I’m pretty sure my kids are unclear on the differences). And when I was in first grade, after I was already familiar with the album, I got to participate in our school production of the show. There are of course several parts that stand out for me, now some 35 years later. But the memory that makes for the best storytelling is that J.D. (the 6th grader on whom I had a crush) was in the same number as I was (well, along with a dozen other school kids). I’d like to think he played Christopher John to my Agatha Fry, but that would just be embellishing things. Nevertheless, as cell phones hadn’t yet been discovered (thus, nobody kept a camera with them at all times) and film was valued, the one and only picture with which I have to remember my first love comes from this stage production. Le sigh.

Have you noticed the posters around the studio?

Free_to_Be..._You_and_Me_(album_cover)I was so excited to see that Song of the Heart studio is doing a musical theater camp for one of its Summermuisk offerings! Hooray!  Yet another generation of children will learn to treasure Marlo Thomas’ gift as I do.   (Well, maybe only if there are cute boys in the play, too.)  It runs from July 27-August 8 (just right about the time that summer has lost its newness), and anyone from 6-12 can join–no audition necessary!  Register here: Free to Be. . . You and Me Musical Theater Camp

Like any other mom, when my kids were born I became eager to introduce them to the songs and stories of my own childhood. Free to Be. . . You and Me had been pushed aside for R.E.M. and the B-52’s in my teenage years, but it was one of my first CD acquisitions as a new mom. By then, Thomas had done a follow-up about families, too. So I got to give my kids a double dose of memories (love, love, love hearing Christopher Reeve narrate the story of Superman’s adoption).

But as a parent, listening to these songs and stories gave me a whole new love for what Ms. Thomas produced back in the early 70’s. If there is anything I want for my kids, it is that they be who they want to be. My journey as a mom has not been without its pitfalls. And my education as a parent certainly is far from complete. Nevertheless, I have learned to appreciate that it is our imperfections that make us beautiful. I have learned the most about this unconditional love by following my kids’ leads, and by loving myself as much as I love them. Everything about Free to Be. . . You and Me reinforces this message.

For instance:

“There are a lot of things, a lot of mommies, and a lot of daddies, and a lot of parents can do. . .”

 “It’s alright to cry. Crying takes the sad out of you.”

 

A person should wear what he wants to, and not just what other folks say. A person should do what she likes to, a person’s a person that way. (I found this especially helpful advice to bear in mind when my youngest wore the Dorothy costume every day to preschool for a month.)

“Of course you (are mixed up). Why should you be any different from anybody else? Most people spend their lives trying to get un-mixed up.”

“Glad to have a friend like you. And glad to just be me.”