Music and inclusion

You’ve probably heard it said many times that music is good for children; and unlike vitamins or broccoli, it also ‘tastes’ good! Researchers in recent years have been building up a convincing case, showing that music eases stress, stimulates brain development, aids memory and spatial awareness, supports communication and language development and promotes a sense of wellbeing. Music is good for learning of all kinds. A quick Google search will call up thousands of articles about the benefits of music for just about anything, although unfortunately the evidence for some claims is not exactly bona fide!

Having shared music with children in early childhood and early intervention settings over many years, I would be the last to dispute its value. However when it comes to including children with disabilities, the common beliefs about how good music is for learning often means that music is seen as a means to educate children with disability to become ‘integrated’ or ‘normal’. While it is true that music may be used to promote joint attention or language, for example, to truly work towards inclusion –meeting the EYLF outcome of developing a sense of belonging for every child – I propose a different perspective.

Music is a way of communicating, something we can share. We feel connected when we move together in time with the beat of music, or through shared familiarity with the popular songs of childhood. Think of children beeping their imaginary horns in The wheels on the bus, or ‘twinkling’ their fingers like stars. Depending on ability and interest, they might sing, chant, hum, move, or simply watch or listen. There is scope for everyone to feel part of a musical experience.

While songs can certainly be used to teach fundamental social skills such as greeting people or waiting for a turn, the most valuable thing that making music together can do is to build connections and relationships – between you and the children and between children themselves. Regardless of whether children are verbal or non-verbal communicators, can walk or use a wheelchair, regardless of their ability to see or hear, they can come together and get to know and understand each other through making music.

Educators who are responsive and flexible can use music in 1:1 and group interactions, during free play, transitions and group times, to meet the interests and needs of every child. They can collaborate with families and use their interactions with children to find their favourite songs and musical activities. By honouring children’s choices, educators can show an appreciation of musical, social and cultural diversity. Music experiences can be adapted to support participation for all, using peer and adult modelling, careful choice of instruments, visual supports or Key Word Sign. When educators respect children’s diverse abilities and ways of participating, making music can create a welcoming, inclusive and rich learning environment for everyone.

This article was originally posted on the Early Years Connect blog. Early Years Connect provides information, advice and connections to help early childhood education and care educators in Queensland to support children with complex additional need