The experimental group (N=26 children) had a small class size (a 5:2 student/teacher ratio) and focused on music activities. These included listening to, moving to, and making music, as well as singing. The three control-comparison groups consisted of: 1) a large class control group (N=19), where students received regular Head Start instruction with a student/teacher ratio of 18:2; 2) a small class control group (N=20), where children were engaged in regular Head Start classroom activities, but in a smaller class, with a student/teacher ratio of 5:2; and 3) a small attention class group (N=23), in which children received training in focusing attention and becoming more aware of details.
Children in each of the four groups were tested prior to and after enrollment in the eight-week period. They were tested on six measures: language fundamentals, vocabulary, letter identification, IQ, visuospatial intelligence (or spatial cognition), and developmental numeracy (numbers used in daily living).
There were strong and significant improvements in non-verbal IQ and numeracy and spatial cognition within a group measured before and after training (i.e., within-group differences) in children who received music training and those who received attention training. The small Head Start class group also displayed large improvements in these same areas from before to after the eight-week period. These improvements were not seen in children who received regular Head Start in the large class control group.
Learning music requires focused attention, abstract, relational thinking and fluid intelligene (called "executive control"). The extent of improvements in non-verbal IQ and numeracy and spatial cognition was similar in children receiving music training, attention training, and regular Head Start instruction in small classes. These findings suggest that increased time in a small group with intense adult attention may be the underlying element in improving children’s skills in these cognitive areas, and that music and attention training in these small group classes produces similar beneficial results.
The central and powerful role of adult attention and guidance is also underscored by the results of a separate study conducted by us, in which children did not receive any intervention. Their parents, however, received training that improved parenting practices, which in turn improved children’s conduct and produced large and significant improvements in each of the measures reported here (Fanning et al. 2007). These changes were highly significant within the group from before to after training and also when compared to changes made in the large control group (i.e. between-group differences).
Taken together, these findings suggest that attention from adults, including attention focused through providing music training, produces improvements in young children’s cognitive abilities in non-verbal IQ, and in numeracy and spatial cognition, with the latter two being important in math abilities.
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