Music Helps 4-Year-Olds Become Helpers!

11 Jul

Every week, I see children and adults work together in class to not only make music within their own families but to also help each other make music as a group. And it does take work! (Especially when Miss Anne “makes” the class sing rounds or execute square dance moves.) Beyond the community of music-making, though, I see children work together to put away instruments and otherwise conform to group norms in class–something that’s really not developmentally appropriate for two-year-olds. This evening, I read an account of a study that helps explain why all this teamwork and helping behavior is taking place.

Evolutionary psychologists Sebastian Kirschner and Michael Tomasello (“Joint Music Making Promotes Prosocial Behavior in 4-Year-Old Children”) found that when four-year-old children were given the opportunity to dance and sing together, the music-making children were afterwards far more likely to help other children in need than were those who hadn’t been making music together (even though the latter group had been equally physically active and verbally interactive). Here’s what the researchers have to say:

We propose that music making, including joint singing and dancing, encourages the participants to keep a constant audiovisual representation of the collective intention and shared goal of vocalizing and moving together in time — thereby effectively satisfying the intrinsic human desire to share emotions, experiences and activities with others.

Well said. And I’ll let you decode that research-speak to your heart’s content. My take-away is this: The more we make music, the more harmonious and helping we are, and we all need more of that in life! (In a couple of days, I’ll reprise a post from my family camping trip a year ago that reinforces this assertion…and I’ll remember to sing and dance more on our trip this summer, to increase my pre-teens’ helpfulness and community-mindedness.)

So…sing and dance with your children, and give them lots of opportunity to sing and dance with each other and with other grown-ups.  Who among us couldn’t use more helpers? (And who among us couldn’t use more music?!)

For more information: http://www.salon.com/2012/07/07/musics_biological_imperative/

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