Marching, wiggling and tapping a beat aids young children to develop their self-regulation skills; and improve school readiness, as shown in newly-published QUT early childhood research. Associate Professor Kate Williams designed a low-cost preschool program focussing; exclusively on rhythm and movement activities linked; to pathways in the brain to support attentional and emotional development.

“Think heads, shoulders, knees; and toes but do the actions backwards while you sing forwards. But it tricks the brain into gear,” Assoc Prof Williams said. The Queensland study; involving 113 children from lower socioeconomic communities; measured the effectiveness of the program to boost self-regulation skills.

Predictor of school readiness

“Being able to control your own emotions, cognition and behaviours is an important predictor of school readiness; and early school achievement,” Assoc Prof Williams said. “But the aim is for regular sessions to introduce into daily activities of young children to help support their attentional and emotional regulation skills; inhibition and working memory. But they want all early childhood teachers to feel confident to run these fun and important activities.”

However, the findings have published in the international peer-reviewed journal Psychology of Music. The study is a unique investigation about preschool children and the application of a rhythm; and movement program to address socioeconomic-related school readiness and achievement gaps. Assoc Prof Williams said differences in neurological processes can produce educational inequalities; for young children who experience disadvantage.

But it is identified by UNICEF as an international priority. The study recognises what Assoc Prof Williams describes as the ‘musician advantage’ enhanced neural plasticity and executive functioning particularly among children given formal musical instruction. “The children who have music lessons from a young age are often from families who can afford them,” she said.

Musician advantage miss out

“Howeever, he problem is that the children who most need the musician advantage miss out because it is not affordable for all families to access highly quality music programs“. She said the benefits of early shared book reading between parents and children have long been established. Another recent Australian study, led by Assoc Prof Williams, was the first to show that early shared music activities in the home also contributed to positive development.

The preschool program involved group sessions for 30 minutes twice a week across eight weeks, with stages becoming more challenging to stimulate change and development in self-regulation skills. However, these early findings suggest that a rhythm and movement intervention has the potential to support the development of self-regulation skills in preschool; however, further research is required.