Moving Young Minds

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A growing body of research shows that music and movement build children’s minds in important ways. Two UM School of Music faculty members are harnessing these insights to help youngsters scale new heights of achievement.

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Joyce Jordan-DeCarbo investigates the impact of music on children’s cognitive development.

Building Neural Connections

When children mime and sing their way through songs like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” their faces light up. Numerous studies have revealed that their brains light up as well, making millions of powerful neural connections that build cognitive and expressive skills and pave the way for better learning.

Disseminating the developmental benefits of music and movement for young children is the purpose of UMove, an innovative early childhood program for disadvantaged youngsters developed by UM Frost School of Music faculty members Joyce Jordan DeCarbo and Joy Galliford. “Singing helps children develop auditory and language skills and to discriminate sounds better,” DeCarbo says. “And singing while doing other activities stimulates the brain and builds spatial and motor skills.”

Activities of Note

The centerpiece of UMove, a curriculum called “Experience the Music,” incorporates movement, music, and rhythm activities that engage and involve youngsters throughout the day, as well as tools to help teachers use it consistently. The program also includes several elements for youngsters to complete at home with parents’ help.

Data compiled by Jordan-DeCarbo reveal an array of strengthened abilities among the program’s young participants, including strong gains in literacy, functional, and motor skills. “We had 5-year-olds scoring at age 11 in some tasks, including some who had developmental problems or were from homes where English wasn’t spoken,” she notes. The team hopes to extend the program on a much larger scale to early childhood educators around the state and to develop a similar program for infants and toddlers. “The earlier this stimulation can occur, the more benefit to the child,” DeCarbo says.

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