Rhythm and movement the key to a successful transition to school

Recent research conducted by Queensland University of Technology (QUT) has demonstrated improved self-regulation in young children through the use of music and movement. Journalist Mykeala Campanini explores the path between rhythm and school readiness.

Associate Professor Kate Williams (pictured), a Registered Music Therapist and Senior Research Fellow from the School of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education at QUT, designed a kindergarten program titled RAMSR as part of a Queensland study investigating the effectiveness of rhythm and movement activities to boost self-regulation skills in young children.

The study explored the effectiveness of a kindergarten intervention, delivered across eight weeks, which focused on coordinated rhythmic movement with music to improve self-regulation and executive function.

“RAMSR stands for Rhythm and Movement for Self-Regulation. It is a program designed to be delivered to groups of children aged 3-8 years, in sessions of approximately 20 minutes,” Williams said.

“The aim of the program is to build the kinds of neural connections that will support self-regulation development.

“Self-regulation is the ability to control our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviours and is a really important skill to grow in the years prior to school.

“Being able to control your own emotions, cognition and behaviours is an important predictor of school readiness and early school achievement.”

Rhythm and movement support regulation

Research and theory from a range of areas suggests that engaging in coordinated rhythmic movement will trigger auditory motor brain connections that will be very helpful for self-regulation.

“We know that children who have engaged in at least two years of formal music training will gain some great brain benefits that I call ‘the musician advantage’,” Williams said.

“The ‘musician advantage’ refers to the structural and functional brain benefits of formal music learning. We know that formal instrumental instruction and practice results in greater brain mass and enhanced neural plasticity (the ability of the brain to learn), and this lasts a lifetime.

“Music therapists use rhythmic audio cues to help brain injured patients learn to walk and talk again. RAMSR tries to bring the ‘musician advantage’ to more children by distilling the essence of it, which is the practice of coordinated rhythmic movement, to more children.”

RAMSR improves school readiness

The RAMSR study showed that children who participated in the program for two sessions a week for eight weeks, compared to those who did not, had steeper growth in emotional regulation; and, for boys, mental flexibility.

“We hope to gain even better results in our next study, happening in 2020, with kindergarten teachers delivering the program,” Williams said.

“Any improvements we can make in attention, emotional, or behavioural regulation, or the more complicated cognitive control skills (called the executive functions), will support children with a more positive transition to school.

“In RAMSR, we play games that embed practice of these self-regulation skills and little ‘tricks’ for the brain, with fun and active rhythmic movement – which will build brain connections across multiple regions.

Teachers encouraged to clap, stomp and dance

The research found teacher-reported cognitive and behavioural regulation improvements in children who participated in the RAMSR program.

These findings support the notion that rhythm and movement intervention has the potential to support early development of self-regulation skills, which is why Williams urges all early childhood teachers to get involved.

“I encourage all early childhood educators to use as much clapping, stomping, dancing, and rhythmic movement in their program as possible,” Williams said.

“The RAMSR program can be run by any early childhood teachers, not just music teachers.

“Many teachers are already doing great things with children during transitions or at group time, and I would urge them to look into incorporating the RAMSR sessions into the regular daily activities of young children to help support their attentional and emotional regulation skills.

“We want all early childhood teachers to feel confident to run these fun and essential activities.”

The RAMSR program is being supported by Creche and Kindergarten (C&K) centres and early childhood teachers can learn more about the program and stay up to date with future workshops by visiting www.ramsrblog.wordpress.com.