The Impact of Music & Movement on Social-Emotional Development and Academic Success

The Impact of Music & Movement on Social-Emotional Development and Academic Success

Many organizations devoted to quality early childhood programs and school readiness have been vocal in recent years regarding the need to purposefully promote social and emotional development in children. Some official statements from those organizations include:

  • “Social and emotional development is important both in its own right and because aspects of it facilitate cognitive development.”
    —Policy Brief, National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER)
  • “A recurring theme in recent research syntheses has been that curriculum in programs for infants through the primary grades must be comprehensive, including attention to social and emotional competence and positive attitudes or approaches to learning.”
    —Position Statement, National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS/SCD)
  • “Attention to social and emotional development is essential in young children’s school experience.”
    —Position Statement, National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators (NAECTE)
  • “Social and behavioral competence in young children predicts their academic performance in the first grade over and above their cognitive skills and family backgrounds.”
    —Recommended Practices, Center for Evidence-Based Practice:
    Young Children with Challenging Behavior
  • “Given the current knowledge base about child development and learning, it is time to discard debates about social-emotional versus cognitive development and which comes first or is more important. Clearly, children develop in both areas over the same period, and learning and development in one influences learning and development in the other.”
    —Outcomes Framework, Head Start

This impressive list would seem to indicate a “case closed” mentality in regard to the need for heavy emphasis on social-emotional development in early childhood learning environments.

However, in an era marked by accountability, proficiency standards, and academic readiness, many have been willing to dismiss social-emotional competence as unnecessary or to view it as being in competition with cognitive development. The debates on this issue have been persist-ent, as revealed by this statement in a social policy report from the Society for Research in Child Development: “. . . psychologists’ and educators’ emphasis on cognition and on children’s academic preparedness continues to overshadow the importance of children’s social and emotional development for early school readiness” (Raver, 2002).

The following summary reveals that scientific research provides evidence to bring an end to these debates. Links have been clearly shown between social-emotional competence in the early years and future academic success.

Furthermore, a growing body of research confirms that teaching and learning across the curriculum areas can successfully embed social-emotional lessons, resulting in cognitive as well as social-emotional gains. Of particular interest are lessons in the arts. Nick Rabkin, Executive Director of the Center for Arts Policy at Columbia College, states it well: “The advantage of the arts is that they link cognitive growth to social and emotional development. Students care more deeply about what they study, they see the links between sub-jects and their lives, their thinking capacities grow, they work more diligently, and they learn from each other” (Rabkin & Redmond, 2005).

While this summary looks specifically at research showing the impact of music education on social-emotional development, it also focuses on an extremely critical area of social-emotional skills: self-regulation. The evidence is clear that this subset of skills is particularly important in early childhood and results in later academic success. Several of the music studies also link to self-regulation as an outcome. Standing out among these is one rigorous academic study focused on the Kindermusik approach, supporting it as effective in improving children’s social-emotional development.

What we can conclude from all of this research is that music education holds the promise for multiple positive outcomes, a “domino effect” that includes social-emotional development and future academic success. Especially in early childhood classrooms, music can be the back- bone supporting the whole child.