Play Emerges as Important Factor in Early Childhood Arts Education

 That children benefit from early and sustained access to music and arts education has been widely known. Music education helps develop language and reasoning, increases coordination, and builds imagination and intellectual curiosity. It’s been shown to help children maintain focus in the classroom, improve academic performance, and so much more.  

At the earliest ages, however, not all music education is the same. A growing body of knowledge has confirmed the importance of play in early childhood music and art curricula. It’s no secret that children learn through play. The connection between play and learning was noted long ago by Rousseau. According to the retail analyst firm Technavio, the educational toy industry is expected to grow ten percent a year for the next four years. 

Dr. Amanda Niland, who teaches Early Childhood Education at the University of Sydney, has found that child-centered musical play can help develop a child’s natural musical ability and interest. “Musical play contrasts with a common education pedagogy for young children that is often teacher-led and structured toward a specific outcome,” says Dr. Niland, who authored The Power of Musical Play. Through musical play, children still learn basic musical skills—from singing and rhythm to early introduction to musical instruments—but in doing so, they are able to explore the elements of music that interest them most, taking multiple pathways to get there. 

Rachel Black, Director of Greenwich House Music School, shares the sentiments of Dr. Niland. “Our mission is to teach students the beauty and transformative power of music, art, and dance, and make them lifelong lovers of the arts,” said Black. “And play, through our Music, Art and Play program for three-year-olds, is no small part of that.” The Music, Art and Play program is an arts-based early childhood drop-off program for three-year-olds. Many parents in the neighborhood consider it to be an alternative to traditional, application-based nursery schools. Through exploration of the arts and free play, the Music, Art and Play program guides children to seek their own solutions as they discover the limitless world of art and music.  

“Play”, says Dr. Niland, “can nurture the innate musicality of young children so that they become and remain music makers throughout their lives.” As more research on the benefits of play in early childhood arts education becomes known, Greenwich House Music School has seen a corresponding growth in interest in the school’s play-based program. “Students become tracked in high-stakes environments so early now,” said Black, “that it’s refreshing to see a recognition of the importance of free-form expression and exploration.”

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