Effects of a preschool music and movement curriculum on children's language skills

Yazejian, N. and E. Peisner-Feinberg (2009). Effects of a preschool music and movement curriculum on children's language skills. NHSA Dialog 12(4): 327-341.

Abstract:

This quasi-experimental study evaluated the effects of a supplementary music and movement curriculum on children’s language skills in a Head Start preschool classroom. The curriculum consisted of sequenced music and movement activities conducted by an early childhood music specialist. The evaluation compared the language skills of children attending either the intervention or comparison classrooms. Results revealed that children receiving music and movement instruction made greater gains in teacher-rated communication skills than children in the comparison group. Results for receptive language and phonological awareness indicated no significant differences between groups.

Key Findings:

Children receiving the intervention showed greater improvement in their communication skills (based on teacher ratings) compared with children in the comparison group. There were no differences between the intervention and comparison groups in the specific language skills of receptive language ability and phonological awareness (as measured by outside data collectors). There was no evidence of negative effects due to participation in the intervention, indicating that inclusion of the music intervention in lieu of the typical Head Start instructional programming during that time did not cause detrimental effects.

Significance of the Findings:

This study provides some indication that music and movement activities may be valuable in helping improve children’s communication skills. As oral discourse abilities have been shown to be predictors of later reading abilities, these gains in communication skills may better enable children to take advantage of learning opportunities in school.

Methodology:

This study investigated the effects on language skills (positive, negative, or neutral) of preschoolers’ participation in intervention classrooms receiving a specialized music and movement curriculum versus comparison classrooms. Classrooms in the intervention group received the music and movement intervention delivered by an early childhood music educator two days a week for 30 minutes throughout the Head Start program year. In addition, the teachers in these classrooms were asked to incorporate two of the curriculum activities twice a week, and the materials were left in the classroom for use by children during free choice and center times.

Study participants included 27 Head Start teachers and 207 children from three sites (a suburban area of North Carolina, a rural area of Kentucky, and an urban area of New York). The majority of the children were black and all children were low-income, meeting the eligibility requirements of Head Start. Teachers and children were assigned to a condition (intervention or comparison) with no significant differences between the two groups on child gender, age, or ethnicity; maternal education; or family income.

Measures of children’s language skills and classroom quality were gathered before and after the intervention period in both groups, with approximately six months between the pre- and post-test assessments. Individual assessments of children’s receptive language and phonological awareness skills were conducted by trained data collectors who were blind to experimental condition. Children’s communication skills were measured by a teacher survey. Trained assessors rated the quality of classroom practices through observations conducted on a typical morning. Also, a survey was distributed to teachers and parents to gather demographic information. Overall response rates were high.

Limitations of the Research:

The findings of this study were limited with no effects in receptive language and phonological awareness. Measures of communication skills administered by independent observers or raters (rather than teachers) would provide stronger evidence of intervention effects. The study could also have been strengthened by richer documentation of the context of music and movement activities in the classrooms through observation.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Future studies might examine whether such music and movement activities can be faithfully implemented by classroom teachers or other staff rather than outside experts. In addition, longitudinal studies that follow preschool children into school would address the issue of limited room for developmental growth within the time frame of the present study and for the age of the children in the present study. Future research might also explore the effects of music and movement interventions delivered independently from other programming and not presented within the context of a broader and more intensive intervention, in this case Head Start programming, designed to improve the same skills.