children listening to musicDriving kids to school is seen as boring, but it can be a time for children to learn to like music. New research from music educator Lisa Huisman Koops of Case Western Reserve University reveals that the family car can be the classroom for developing children’s sense of music. The findings suggest that parents can use drive time as a fun, educational opportunity for listening to and singing along with music.

The study’s participants were five families with a combined total of nine children aged 10 months to 4.5 years. The children were students in Koops’ early childhood music class. Koops asked parents to incorporate music into their daily routine for nine weeks by playing music in the car. The parents received video cameras to record their children’s reactions to music while in transit. The children were encouraged to listen to music, sing, and interact with the music their heard in the car. Their parents kept journals throughout the experiment, monitoring which types of music the children enjoyed and how they interacted with the songs.

The data indicate that the family car has advantages as a venue for developing children’s sense of music appreciation. It is a place in which children feel they can experiment. Since there is minimal eye contact with parents and children are often separated from their parents by being in the back seat, children can feel free to react to music in whatever way suits them, without scrutiny from adults. The car is also relatively free of distractions: parents are not cooking or making phone calls and young children are restricted to car seats and lack other forms of stimulation. Additionally, many children share the backseat with a sibling, which often results in musical play and interaction between brothers and sisters.

Parents can encourage their own children to enjoy music by singing to them and providing a model of music appreciation. Since music has a number of cognitive benefits, teaching children to like music is an important task.

“So often, as parents, we think of long car trips or commutes as drudgery, but the participants in this study reported joyful, reflective, quiet and sparkling moments of music making,” commented Koops.

This research is published in the Journal of Research in Music Education.

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