Young children’s musical activities in the home

Communicative Musicality PodcastChildren playing with musical toys. Isolated on white background


Summary findings of an internally funded project (Blackburn, 2016)


The English Early Years Foundation Stage (DfE, 2014) places music as an activity to be promoted under expressive arts and design as a ‘specific’ area of learning, whilst communication and literacy is a ‘prime’ area of learning, even though early sound discrimination promoted by music activities is a foundational step for phonic and vocabulary development. Furthermore as noted by Young (2007), the emphasis on language acquisition in early childhood as well as the basic skills of literacy and numeracy means that practitioners and researchers are required to explicitly demonstrate the efficacy of music in supporting children’s wider learning rather than appreciating children’s creative competencies. There is also concern that the quality and appropriateness of music activities offered to young children and their parents are given due consideration (Young, 2007). Papousek (1996: 108) stressed the importance of informal musical stimulation for very young children, illustrating the importance of children’s spontaneous and natural rhythmic patterns:

‘For the infancy period, it may be advisable not to disturb the earliest forms of intuitive musical stimulation by rationally guided artificial manipulations and formal educational interventions, but to keep them concealed as a precious part of early parent-infant relationships.’

Given the established association between music and human communication (see Malloch and Trevarthen, 2009; Ockleford, 2001; Ockleford, 2010), this project seeks to identify how young children across the age range included in the EYFS are involved in musical activities in home and out-of-home early years settings starting with an initial survey and interviews with families to establish children’s participation in musical activities in the home. Research questions included:

  • What are the views, perceptions and reported practices of interested stakeholders in young children’s musical activities?
  • What musical activities are young children involved in within home settings?

This is seen as a scoping study for further research into how the association between music and communication development can be promoted amongst stakeholders interested in young children’s well-being, learning and development. Children’s experiences in the home contribute to their overall learning and development. Therefore, involving parents in an initial survey and interviews has provided insight into children’s earliest experiences.

Summary of findings:

From the survey, twenty participants reported that they had a musical background or that the family was musical. There were no significant differences in the frequency or type of musical activity reported by this group of participants. There were also no significant differences between their perceptions of the benefits of musical activities for children and the remaining participants. Grandparents were joining in with young children’s musical activities and emphasised how much they enjoyed and anticipated visits from their grandchildren stressing the intergenerational benefits of shared musical activities identified by de Vries (2012). Only two parents that were interviewed had musical backgrounds. In interviews parents’ reports of the benefits of children’s participation in musical activities in the home varied widely from inclusion and participation to calming and soothing.

In contrast to previous studies (for example de Vries, 2009) young children in this study were participating in musical activities daily in most cases and in almost all cases at least weekly. The range of musical activities was wide and adults were joining in with children’s musical activities. Given the associations between the frequency of shared musical activities and children’s later prosocial skills, vocabulary, numeracy and attentional and emotional regulation identified by Williams et al., (2015), this is an important finding. The role of technology in children’s musical activities is an interesting finding. In common with Denac’s (2008) findings about children’s preferences, children were participating mostly in listening to music and singing songs followed by activities that involved movement and instruments, although children’s preferences were not gathered in this study.

Participants in this study appeared to recognise the value and importance of children’s spontaneous musical activities and to encourage it describing the benefit for children’s holistic development and the role of music in attachment and bonding. However, in common with de Vries’s study, they also appear to have identified benefits for children in attending organised, structured musical activities both within the home, but more substantially outside the home. In interviews it appeared that this was related to children’s musical development and building parents’ and children’s confidence to participate. It was interesting that only one parent in interview expressed concern about the nature and quality of professional qualifications needed to organise musical activities for young children and parents as this was a matter of concern raised by Young (2007) and one participant in this study.

From his study, de vries (2009) suggested that initiatives that encourage parental engagement in literacy programmes be extended or adapted for parents to encourage creative musical activities in the home. However, it is clear from this study, that as far as this (admittedly narrow) sample is concerned, participation in musical activities occurs regularly for young children, their parents, foster carers and grandparents. However, the high number of organised, structured activities that children participate in outside the home is an area worthy of further investigation to ensure that experiences offered to young children do not serve to formalise their innate musicality thereby ‘disturbing the earliest forms of intuitive musical stimulation by rationally guided artificial manipulations and formal educational interventions’ Papousek (1996: 108).




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s