Music can help kids learn to cooperate and help each other

For children starting daycare or kindergarten, it can be hard to start sharing with other kids. Interactive musical activities are a fun and effective way to teach children to cooperate and help each other out.

Studies show that music can encourage prosocial behaviours

Some studies suggest that interactive music-making activities can help young children adopt prosocial behaviours—behaviours that benefit other people and society as a whole. More than a decade ago, two developmental psychology researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, conducted a study in which 48 pairs of children were invited to take part in pretend play. Some of the kids played games with a song component, while the rest did similar, non-musical activities. The researchers then observed each set of children in an experiment designed to test their willingness to help each other. The kids who played musical games together showed considerably more helpful and cooperative behaviours than those who played a different sort of game (Kirschner, S., & Tomasello, M., 2010).

Musical experiences can prompt children to be more helpful

More recently, the results of a study conducted with 18-month-olds showed that music can encourage helpful behaviour in even very young children. As part of this study, the experimenter invited a group of toddlers to play small percussion instruments as he sang in a four-minute session. A second group of toddlers was invited to take part in a non-musical activity: kids either played with a similar-looking toy or a book, while the experimenter read or recited the song lyrics. Afterward, the children who participated in the music-making activity were more likely to help the experimenter without prompting, compared to the kids who participated in the other activity (Buren, V., Degé, F., & Schwarzer, G., 2019).

What does this mean? It means that letting kids play with small percussion instruments, or coming up with a list of songs to listen to and sing as a group aren’t just fun activities (though they are fun!). They’re also activities that can help kids learn how to integrate into society.

Buren, V., Degé, F., & Schwarzer, G. (2019). Active Music Making Facilitates Prosocial Behavior in 18-month-old Children. Musicae Scientiae, 1–16.

Kirschner, S., & Tomasello, M. (2010). Joint music making promotes prosocial behavior in 4-year-old children. Evolution and Human Behavior, 31(5), 354–364.


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