All God’s children got rhythm

| October 20, 2023

Pre-school aged children gain a ‘musicians’ advantage’ by participating in a specialised rhythm program, according to investigations by QUT researchers.

Published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly the research showed early childhood teachers, without any musical background, can deliver rhythm and movement lessons effective for self-regulation growth in children.

The program had a positive impact for a child’s executive function with recommendations to ‘scale-up’ such programs in kindergarten and long day care settings as they improved a child’s school readiness with continued gains into the early years of school.

The study found that a specialised rhythm and movement program enhances impulse control, attention & behaviour in young children.  Moving to a beat helps support and boost brain architecture, and so the program helped give 3-5 year old children the “musician advantage” developed when studying an instrument.

Designed and led by Associate Professor Kate Williams, from QUT’s Centre for Child and Family Studies, the RAMSR program operated in preschools in Queensland from low social economic backgrounds.

Associate Professor Williams said participating groups received 16 to 20 sessions of a rhythm and movement program over eight weeks.

“Not all children have access to high-quality music experiences even though these are beneficial for self-regulation development,” she said.

“Learning these important skills of regulating attention and emotion, working memory, ability to shift attention between information and tasks, impulse control and concentration all affect learning and social development.

“We developed specific music tracks for the program matched with complex co-ordinated movements for the children.

“We included some brain tricks to practise impulse control such as asking children to be still even when music is playing, with the brain’s ‘air traffic control system’ having to kick in to restrain the natural impulse to move.

“The children love the ‘slow down’ end of the session when they are encouraged to engage in slower, more mindful movement, and focus on their breathing.

“Repeated measures found greater teacher-reported self-regulation skills in the RAMSR children across the kindergarten year than those of the control groups.”

The research team also included RAMSR PhD researcher Laura Bentley, QUT Dr Sally Savage, neurologic music therapist Rebecca Eager, and RAMSR program manager Cathy Nielson.

The study Rhythm and movement delivered by teachers supports self-regulation skills of preschool-aged children in disadvantaged communities: A clustered RCT is available for download.

A further study showing longer term benefits for RAMSR children as they transitioned to school, published in Developmental Science, is also available to download.

Further information on RAMSR online courses is available here.