This research used a range of methods to evaluate the 'Soundplay' project which ran in four early years (pre-K/K) settings in Sheffield, UK, in 2014-15. A series of music workshops was designed to support the music and language attainment of children aged two to four years, and was shown to be effective in raising language attainment, communication and confidence. A mixed methods research design aimed to measure progress over the year, while also gaining deeper understanding of how the young children used music to engage with their peers and educators. The study found increases in language skills over the year of the project.
The research reported higher than average development in language skills across the year of the project, and also showed how music helped to build confidence, social interaction and enjoyment:
A 'music tracker' showed that children in all four pre-K/K settings improved their musical abilities in listening and participating during the year.
A 'language tracker' showed an improvement in English language skills and understanding across the year, at higher than expected levels of attainment.
Ethnographic research showed an increase in confidence and communication, particularly for children with English as a second language.
The early years teachers reported a growth in their confidence and capacity to use music in the classroom
Significance of the Findings:
This research contributes to the detailed evidence needed to support anecdotal reports of the benefits of music in early years education. It highlights the potential for early years practitioners to be more confident in their use of music in the classroom, and the value of music for educational growth, particularly in the areas of language and communication. This has implications for policy making by showing both the benefits of giving young children musical opportunities.
A combination of quantitative 'tracker' measurements and qualitative ethnography was used to both monitor and explain the development of the children's language, music and interpersonal learning across the year. A 'music tracker' designed by Youth Music measured music listening, participation and response by rating the children against expected levels at the beginning and end of the study: this was adminstered by the workshop leaders and project researchers. A 'language tracker' designed by Sheffield City Council measured levels of communication and vocabulary at similar points: this was administered by the teachers, as they were familiar with its use, and the results evaluated by the literacy leader at the council. Observation and reflection was undertaken by the workshop leaders, teachers and research team throughout, leading to rich ethnographic data that provided case studies of each setting and of individual children.
Limitations of the Research:
The statistical evidence of improvement is limited by the ceiling effect of the music tracker, and the administering of the language tracker by different teachers in each setting. In addition, the generalizability of the research is limited based on the small sample size and variations in variables such as age of students at intake and English language learners.
Questions to Guide New Research:
Further systematic study of children's musical development in the early years, and the development of a more sophisticated 'music tracker' tool would benefit future research in this area. The research also hints at the importance of parents' influence in these early developmental years, and a study that included that perspective would be a valuable addition.