Music in Early Education and Care: A Call to Find Our Voices and Reimagine Music Within Pedagogy

Throughout my training as an early childhood educator (ECE), I have been provided with the necessary tools to reflect on my experiences, better understand and question how learning happens, and advocate for the rights of children, educators, and families. This training has taught me not only to continuously acknowledge my own social location but to critically assess scenarios and address injustices. I have been extremely empowered and honoured to learn with the community of educators that I know.

One of the most delightful parts about entering the ECEC field at this particular point in time, is that I see the potential for (and utmost respect for) arts education and artistic play. I see the shift from crafts to art. I see the value of and standard for young children’s expression. I see art being considered fundamental to wellbeing and as a tool to foster belonging. I see art being used to engage and invite children and extend their interests. I have witnessed the power of an art studio. But herein lies a discrepancy I noticed: we study and document children’s visual art is such extraordinary ways. But we don’t yet do the same with music.

I started asking educators and teachers around me why they thought that music is not given the same acknowledgement and respect as art. The responses have ranged from “we already sing all day long with the children – it is great for transitions, for routines, for extending interests, and for setting the mood,” and “children are too young to engage in formal music education,” to “well, encouraging fine art makes more sense because children have to be able to hold a pencil once they go to school.”

None of these responses satisfied me. I envision something different: Investment in music. Music studios. Sound exploration materials that are accessible to children at all times. Musical instruments that are both real and designed for children. Opportunities to play with sound the same way we play with other learning materials.

But in order for this to be imaginable, I believe we first have to challenge our understanding of music, as adults. The auditory patterns that we consider to be songs, our personal comfort levels with singing, our ideas about children’s musical competence all may require critical reconsideration. Consider, for example, the competent infant’s rhythmic kicking that we swoon over, but the toddler’s persistent tapping of a toy that we discourage (Young, 2003). Further, when we begin to sing the alphabet song in our lower register: can children’s ears hear the low frequency so similar to our speaking voice; what do you notice when you sing it a higher range/key? (Young, 2016) Moreover, if visual art is so critical to holding a pencil in school, then aren’t skills in auditory discrepancy, self-regulation through movement or humming, and the rhythm, cadence, and auditory discrimination skills so fundamental to hearing and speaking in conversation?

Further, music has long been linked to developmental outcomes and is inherently connected to the skills that are considered to be essential for school readiness (Barrett, Flynn, Brown & Welch, 2019). But, I digress. Simply put: I believe music deserves more recognition. In order to quell my curiousity and to better understand this discrepancy, I embarked on a literature review (not to further highlight the benefits of music for developmental outcomes, but,) to investigate the value of music and approaches to its use in the ECEC field.

Here is a summary of what I found: training programs do not sufficiently prepare educators to competently or confidently include music in their practice (Niland & John, 2016). Yet, educators value music and often deliver it well (Ehrlin & Wallerstedt, 2014) but are not well-equipped to engage in improvisation and informal learning and have to get over some fears before being able to do so (Wright & Kanellopoulos, 2010). Further, the ways in which children currently tend to experience music in ECEC programs is through educators’ singing, there is often very little provision of music-making materials for children, and the use of recorded music tends to lack diversity (Vist & Os, 2019).

In an interview with Maria Cabal (MSc., RECE; acting Pedagogical Leader), she echoed what this literature revealed: there is a startling reliance on recorded music and unnecessary controlled access to instruments, but the reliance on singing might actually be a good thing: children hear our voices in real life, and doing so calms the nervous system. Maria also highlighted that music use is inextricably connected to the four foundations of How Does Learning Happen, but moreover, a fundamental component of simply being and existing in this world. Not to be confused with music enhancing quality of life, Maria said “You only have to reach for your chest to feel the beat… We are alive because of a rhythm.” Moreover, music is neither solely a developmental tool nor a topic of content learning to master in ECEC, but rather, part of our commitment to fostering the development of strategies and dispositions for lifelong learning.

So I ask, how have we gone this far and evolved in ways that has removed the importance of music for living with children? How have we moved from, at one time educators being required to perform piano (Ehrlin & Wallerstedt, 2014) to educators stating “I’m just not a good singer”? How can we help create more just practices that do not deny children the importance of music but also ensure educators’ comfort (within already inadequate working conditions and uncompensated expectations)?

Through my own critical reflection on questions like these, I discovered that not only do I hold music with extremely high regard, but I do so with some formal music training – meaning that I have some musical knowledge but not so much that I solely rely on this training to guide the music use in my practice. Additionally, I developed a professional opinion which essentially posits that educators should be supported in their development of musical confidence and competence as a prerequisite for entering the field – the same way that we must learn to assist in serving food, changing diapers, and reading stories out loud. It may be uncomfortable, but in the best interest of the children, it is necessary and required.

In response to these learnings, I wanted to call on educators to take it upon themselves to critically reflect on their own use of music, and begin to reimagine what music could look like within ECEC. The following are some considerations to review:

  • Educators can feasibly request and attend music trainings that best support educators in understanding children’s musicality, offered by trained musicians, and that also support educator’s development of improvisation skills. Trainings should be taught by music educators who are trained in music and who have the knowledge of children’s musicality (Ehrlin & Wallerstedt, 2014).
  • Educators-in-training can prioritize taking music courses at the college/University level until such courses are mandatory.
  • If you have a rationale for your use of music, I ask: who benefits? Do the children benefit from hearing human voice in person? Do you benefit from avoiding feeling vulnerable? Do children have access to sound-making learning materials in the same way that you offer visual art materials? Do you feel that it is used as a content learning, a developmental tool (avenue for other learning), a supplementary consideration, or as a required element of programming? I would argue there is no better way to explore your own musical abilities than genuinely engaging as a co-learner with the children in your care.
  • Consider how you use rhythm, pitch, and melody in your voice when reading, guiding routines, and engaging in conversation. How does this facilitate closeness, sensory regulation, and intrigue?
  • What kind of music repository of children’s songs do you have at this point in time? Does it represent and reflect appropriate diversity considerations? Can you use it to support a range of programming?
  • What are the implications of Ontario’s “avoid singing” clause in the re-opening plan?

Additionally, here are a few books and music programs to consider:

Research-Based Books:

  • Burton, S. L., & Taggart, C. C. (Eds.). (2011). Learning from young children: Research in early childhood music. R&L Education.
  • McPherson, G. (Ed.). (2016). The child as musician: A handbook of musical development. Oxford University Press.
  • Young, S. (2003). Music with under-fours. Routledge.
  • Young, S., & Ilari, B. (Eds.). (2019). Music in Early Childhood: Multi-disciplinary Perspectives and Inter-disciplinary Exchanges (Vol. 27). Springer.

Music Programs for Educators of Young Children:

Additional Resources for Educators and Parents (at home):

References

Barrett, M. S., Flynn, L. M., Brown, J., & Welch, G. F. (2019). Beliefs and values about music in early childhood education and care: Perspectives from practitioners. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 724. doi: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00724

Ehrlin, A., & Wallerstedt, C. (2014). Preschool teachers’ skills in teaching music: two steps forward one step back. Early Child Development and Care, 184(12), 1800-1811.

Niland, A., & St. John, P. A. (2016). Special issue on early childhood music education. Research Studies in Music Education, 38(1), 3–7. DOI: 10.1177/1321103X16641855

Vist, T., & Os, E. (2019). Music education through the lens of ITERS-R: Discussing results from 206 toddler day care groups. Research Studies in Music Education 42(1) 1-21. DOI: 10.1177/1321103X19828785

Wright, R., & Kanellopoulos, P. (2010). Informal music learning, improvisation and teacher education. British Journal of Music Education, 27(1), 71-87. DOI: 10.1017/S0265051709990210

Young, S. (2016). Early childhood music education research: An overview. Research Studies in Music Education, 38(1), 9-21. DOI: 10.1177/1321103X16640106

Additional Research to Consult

Hallam, S. (2010). The power of music: Its impact on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people. International Journal of Music Education28(3), 269-289.

ECE Career Choice Discussions During the Holidays

‪As friends and family gatherings begin this season, I inevitably embrace questions about my career. I have been fortunate to have received superior training regarding entering the ECEC field, and I anticipated some skepticism about my ECE training and desire to pursue graduate school. Completing a second undergrad degree while meeting the requirements to get my ECE designation, with the intention of going to grad school next fall seems strange to people. ‬”But the pay isn’t that good, is it?” “Have you thought about going to teacher’s college instead?” “But you wouldn’t want to work as an ECE once you have your masters, would you?” “So what kind of a job could you do?” Fortunately, I know of a few people who took this route and am comfortable answering these kinds of questions. After responding several times, I figured I could put together a whole paragraph(s) of my answers that should cover all the typical skepticism that arises:

I do not believe there is such thing as an over-qualified educator. I’m today’s world, educators do more than just “teach” and ECEs do far more than provide supervision while parents work. Working with young children has been a passion of mine for over 10 years, and I am so delighted and privileged to be able to complete the courses required to register with the college of ECEs. Seeing children reach their early life milestones brings me so much joy, and building intimate relationships with many families is one of the most wonderful aspects of my career. I fall more in love with the early learning field as time goes on – particularly because there are incredible movements happening in this sector. Further, I absolutely and fundamentally advocate for emergent curriculum: it is the way I naturally tend to engage with children, attempt to extend learning, build opportunities, and deepen relationships. It fosters the foundation for life-long learning, and it is inherently inclusive. I am very hesitant about teaching school-aged children in the school system due to the set curriculum, and that has been my main reason for committing to completing the ECE requirements prior to graduating, and staying for the summer semester after my cohort leaves. Returning to do a second undergrad degree was a challenging, intentional, and deeply reflective process. Part of this process has been my gravitation towards research, and finding ways to participate in projects and labs in a variety of capacities. I was lucky to find a professor who had both an available project and the willingness to take me on as an undergraduate thesis student, and mentor me through executing some of my own research. And I realized that along with working with young children, research is my other passion. I want to do more of it. And in true emergent/inquiry-based learning fashion, I shall follow that interest until it is exhausted.

As someone who will begin her masters at 29 with limited work experience and a winding path of career interests, it has been challenging to not feel self-conscious about my choices. I want to be able to both practice as an educator and engage in rigorous research regarding human development. It is a shame that ECEs aren’t fairly compensated for the work that they do, but avoiding the field and squandering my passion due to poor pay won’t evoke appropriate change. I am hoping to build a career that involves both my skills as an educator and graduate-level training. I already have training in basic counselling skills, advocacy for the professionalization of the field, social policies, observation and assessment, and understanding ethical and professional issues within the helping professions. Regarding what kind of job I will have: the thing about completing graduate education is that you become educated and trained on a topic that has emerging employment opportunities, depending on the evolution of the field. Some jobs I might be a candidate for include: pedagogical leadership, case worker, policy-related work, knowledge translation, education administration, and program evaluation. The one stable thing I have moving forward is my training as an ECE and it’s inherent continuing professional development opportunities, and that will always open up job opportunities for me. Our world lacks educators who remain in the field for a long time and who complete higher-level education, but I will be one of them.

It is evident to me that ECEs are not publicly viewed with the same respect as teachers – and rightly so. I have long-thought that teachers and early childhood educators deserved the same respect. But I have realized that they do not. The amount of time I spend in washrooms helping children learn self-help skills deserves different recognition than what teachers who spend equal time on their math lessons for the week deserve. The amount of time I spend problem-solving tuen-taking and fostering social skills for children who have emergent communication skills deserves different recognition than teachers spending equal amounts of time on reading skills each week. The amount of time I spend observing the children in my care, document their thinking, planning based on these observations, and sharing this cycle with families daily deserves different recognition than what teachers receive for their planning time each week. I finally realize that the fight isn’t for equality with teachers – early education is its own field for a reason. Teachers deserve all the respect they receive and more. And they are fighting for some of that right now in Ontario. This fight allowed me to realize that some of their stable recognition and ability to fight is due to unions. ECEs have little protection due to un-unionized employment in a patch-work system of childcare in Canada. And yet it is this same system that was able to evolve and update effectively to implement emergent curriculum, Ontario’s guiding pedagogical documents, and the world-wide movements toward more outdoor play. I am a proud educator (in training) who is willing to constantly update my skills and learning in-line with future field updates, and I am proud to be an ally to teachers at this time. We have so much growth still, and so much to offer the fields of education, social services, and business.

Moving forward I plan to find a concise way to share these thoughts when they come up during small talk. I value every opportunity I have to discuss my field, though, and I do not want the questions to stop – it’s likely what the sector needs to move forward. Childcare can be a hidden and unanticipated cost for families that is very burdensome, and this strengthens the notion that accessible, universal childcare is essential in Canada: for the children’s, families’s, and educators’ sake. This season I have been fortunate to have been able to reflect on these questions and formulate some adequate responses. I can’t wait to hear what my responses will be in a year from now as well.

Feminism and Childcare


Throughout my readings, social media engagement, and in-class participation, I have come to understand that not only is lack of accessible, quality childcare a problem for Canadian families, but so too is our lack of professionalization of the ECEC field. Reflecting on the intersection of these issues has revealed some gender-based concerns. Approximately 70% of mothers work outside of the home, requiring childcare, and yet 25% of Canada’s children have access to regulated care. Further, increased access to childcare would help to: enable more women to join the workforce; resolve the gender-based wage gap; respond to Canada’s changing and aging working family demographics; and support Canadian families to both work and have children. However, 57% of ECEC staff make less than $15/hour. Despite the large portion of family income often devoted to childcare (e.g., 32% of the average single parents’ income), there is still poor public recognition upholding the professionalization of the ECEC sector.  

This leads me to my main concern: the working conditions of the ECEC sector are unacceptable for a profession, and educators, who are predominantly female, are arbitrarily and unreasonably undervalued, under-compensated, under-appreciated, and overworked (which affects their work) compared to professions such as school-aged teaching or early intervention specialists. As the predominant caregivers in households and gender employed within the sector, it is primarily women who are impacted by this poor recognition. ECEC is often considered “women’s work” that does not require training, and yet this sector is the only infrastructure capable of, but failing at, supporting Canada’s economic and population growth – thus, requiring change. Retaining qualified ECEC staff would support quality childcare and likely mobilize further advocacy for funding allocations, which could in turn influence access to childcare.

I was previously indecisive regarding my future career options and unwilling to enter the ECEC workforce. After the creation of my personal philosophy statement and our class on professionalism I had a moment of clarity: working with young children and families is my passion and my first career choice. Further, I realized I am craving learning about best practices from (and with) other ECEs and gaining education in order to refine my personal practice. I have decided to commit to working in the EC field for at least a few years prior to considering “moving on”. An incentive for this choice is the support for PD as a RECE. Part of this commitment involves my determination to generate something meaningful for the field, through advocacy, research, theory/pedagogy, or practice-based insights. As a feminist who is aware of the concerns of the ECEC field, I would have the most impact from within the field through conversations with peers, families, educators-in-training, and administrative personnel. Having a blog may help disseminate policy-related information regarding access to childcare, but my ability to influence professionalization may be limited unless I have a voice from within the field. Moreover, sharing my practice-based insights could allow me to target a wider-range of stakeholders in my attempts to advocate for the field. As such, I am committed to advocacy for, and working within, the ECEC sector to resolve these gender-based concerns by: recruiting men to the field; documenting the impact of appropriate compensation/training for ECEs; and disseminating the impact of adequate access to quality childcare for Canada through my blog. I have already begun the process of investigating supply positions at childcare programs, connecting with a Director, and inquiring into completing my fourth-year placement within pedagogical leadership as part of my commitment to my revelation. Working as a practicing RECE with a master’s degree would be my legacy to the children within my care, exemplifying the purpose for training, and that the field deserves the same professionalization attained by any other historically female-dominated fields. Issues of access and professionalism can both be ameliorated through family-based policies and feminist advocacy for the roles women hold.

Personal Philosophy Statement

As an aspiring ECE, and a student planning on pursuing graduate work in the helping profession that is related to child development, I put a lot of thought into creating a personal philosophy statement regarding working with families. Although this particular statement is heavily related to educating, I believe it applies to working with young children across various capacities. I am sharing it here to indicate to my audience a transparent presentation of my values.

Personal Philosophy Statement

My personal philosophy for working with children and families considers the notion that all individuals are competent, curious, capable, and curious life-long learners who are entitled to access to life-long and developmentally appropriate learning opportunities within the context of, and in collaboration with, their community and family (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014). I employ a relationships-based approach while working with children and families and believe that we can all learn from and grow with each other best through our relationships. Further, I highly consider the neurocognitive processes and right-brain to right-brain synchronicity when building these relationships. My personal approach to teaching focuses on the social-emotional readiness for learning and facilitating emergent and responsive key experiences that consider familial and cultural contexts to help children actively engage in their learning in meaningful ways (HighScope inspired). Thus, I believe good teaching employs a wide variety of observational, facilitative, and assessment strategies in order to offer unique opportunities to each specific group of learners to allow them to explore their interests independently.

More specifically, I believe that high-quality teaching practices requires an ebb and flow between: minimal direct instruction (Montessori-inspired); scaffolding for extending learning (constructivist approach); behaviour guidance in collaboration with the learners (HighScope inspired); preparation of the environment to not only act as the “third teacher” (Reggio Emilia inspired) but also to help offer a calm learning environment (Shanker, 2016); monitoring and modifying for facilitating belonging, engagement, wellbeing, and expression (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014); facilitating active engagement with, and investigation of, the learning materials (constructivist approaches); assessing and considering stages of development in program planning (Piaget’s stages and Best Start Panel on Early Learning, 2014); and hands-off supervision during times of exploration, experimentation, and opportunities for logical consequences to unfold (Montessori approach).

Moreover, I execute the Self Reg steps when children are upset (Shanker, 2016) in order to relieve their stress and prepare them for learning. This approach works well, but sometimes requires collaboration others to truly uncover and resolve conflicts. I use the HighScope conflict resolution approach wherever possible (The Active Learner, 2018), which is extremely effective in revolving immediate conflict, but requires substantiable follow-up for resolving on-going tension between individuals. However, both of these incidents and interventions would cause me to reflect on the environmental influences, including the influence of routines and expectations, on the learning space and consider whether there are changes I could make to further facilitate safe, nurturing, supportive, engaging, and developmentally appropriate learning opportunities. Additionally, when considering various developmental and interests of the children in my care, I incorporate physical objects as well as books and pictures that are responsive to (and that sometimes combine) these factors. This process is very trial-and-error based and often requires in-the-moment modifications to ensure appropriate engagement. We may remain on these topics until the children indicate they are satisfied and no longer curious about the topic.

Emergent interests and abilities, play, and inquiry are at the heart of my pedagogical practice and made possible through program plans that are developed based on observation, documentation, and reflections. A circular, rather than linear, view could be used when considering my approach (Stacey, 2009). Further, although ideal programming is child-centered and open-ended, my teaching practice also includes my personal strengths and natural talents, so that I can capitalize on my shared interests with the children, am a present and active co-learner, and form authentic relationships. More specifically, nature-based play, music, expression through movement are some of modes I prefer to use while teaching.