looking down ont9 8 mugs of coffee from black to milky and all shades of coffee inbetween.

The importance to develop an understanding of musical diversity during the Early Years

Are you uncertain about what musical diversity really is, but have been too embarrassed to ask? Do you know why it is so important to include positive musical diversity in your practice?

In this article, we explore why it is so important to share positive musical diversity during the early years. Firstly, we explain why it is so important to be aware of diversity in our own lives. Then we look at why it is crucial to nurture an understanding of diversity. Next, we go on to outline why music helps to promote and develop this understanding so effectively. And finally, we pull all these strands together to demonstrate how listening to music from around the world fosters a deep understanding of diversity in very young children.

There have been very many shocking instances in the news recently of this type of behaviour happening. In the light of these examples, there is obviously an urgent need for us all to work harder at understanding and accepting others on equal terms. We need to become more respectful, honest and open both about our own ingrained and often unconscious biases, and then in the ways that we express ourselves to others. Working towards creating a truly equal society isn’t something that can be left for later. We all need to act now.

This is why becoming more aware and respectful of all our differences and similarities is so important. It is so that we can create a more equal, respectful and accepting society. And it is why we need to break the taboo that is currently surrounding the issue of diversity. So that we are no longer paralysed by a fear that is preventing us from moving forward to a better place. As Maya Angelou has said:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

And that is certainly what we are trying to do in Musicbuds! We are going to take small steps on a journey towards making our own practice even more respectfully diverse in every aspect of our resources. We believe that through celebrating all our differences and similarities, we can all grow stronger together in creating a fairer and accepting society.

a group of diverse children holding hands and dancing and singing in a circle

Why should we develop an understanding of diversity during the Early Years?

Surprisingly, research has shown that only one in four people in the UK recognise the specific importance of the period from conception to 5 in securing health and happiness in adulthood. This means that 75% of the population doesn’t realise just how important it is to model positive relationships and behaviours in our youngest age groups.

Recent research carried out for the Royal Foundation states:
“Our future will be shaped by what we do today. Science tells us that a child’s experiences from conception through their first five years will go on to shape their next 50. It tells us that the kind of children we raise today, will reflect the kind of world we will live in tomorrow. It tells us that investing in the start of life is not an indulgence, but economically, socially and psychologically vital to a prosperous society….The quality of the relationships that surround children… is therefore key to building the foundations of future success”.

If we want a more creative and equal society, we have to start putting the work in at the very youngest level. This is why it is so important to develop an understanding of diversity from the outset of the children’s lives.

Again, by referring in very general terms to developmental psychology, children begin to develop an ability to take a different perspective from around the age of 4. This means that they begin to explore the world from a growing range of viewpoints. They ask questions. Lots of them. About absolutely everything. This includes them venturing into areas which we as adults might find rather uncomfortable sometimes. ‘Why is his hair so curly/straight?’ ‘Why does her mummy use strange words?’

It’s important not to shy away from answering such observations clearly and honestly. In most scenarios, the questioning child is just trying to make sense of the world around them. This provides a valuable opportunity to express an interest in all our apparent differences and similarities. The more this concept is grasped in the earliest years, the quicker, broader and deeper the understanding of diversity becomes.

How can sharing music help to increase an understanding of diversity?

Increasing amounts of research point to the fact that musical exposure and learning are hugely valuable. They contribute to increased activity in the brain, which feeds into every aspect of our development. Furthermore, music is fundamental to a well functioning society, both through independent learning and the ways in which it fosters social cohesiveness.

For these reasons then, music provides the ideal teaching tool in the Early Years. Using musical examples as a springboard for developing an understanding of diversity is therefore a fabulous approach to adopt.

There are so many diverse examples of cultures, ethnicities, languages, genres, histories and geographies we can share with our children. By using a variety of bite-sized snippets, we offer the children a glimpse of worlds sometimes so different to their own that they serve as conversational starting points and explorations of discovery. Alternatively, uncovering unexpected similarities and familiar contexts provides the children with emotional comfort and the opportunity to identify with characteristics close to their own life experiences. Either way, the music provides an accessible and enjoyable resource for all.

Where should you start with including positive musical diversity in your practice?

Below are some suggestions. Alternatively, join our 2021 Dynamic Diversity Challenge where we provide weekly links and resources to our musical diversity recommendations.

Firstly, you might want to review your current practice.

Are you offering a diverse range of musical examples and experiences to your groups? Do the activities and resources reflect the demographics of the children in front of you? Or in your wider local community? Or across your country? What do you do well? What could you do better?

Then take some time to reflect on the ways in which you relate to the children and their carers.

Do you make any attempt to include their cultural practices and understandings into your own approaches?

Think about the way you phrase questions. Do you use ‘value-laden’ or limiting language when talking to others? (e.g. ‘Are you from France?’ which is a closed question implying a certain range of assumptions, rather than ‘Where are you from?’ which is open, allowing the respondent conversational space in their reply).

Think about your own behaviour.

Is your delivery respectful and understanding towards those who perhaps don’t know or understand the cultural and social routines that are followed in your setting? Do you point out differences and similarities with positive-framing?

Share your own infectious curiosity.

Find short, interesting musical snippets that you can easily use within your own setting. Talk enthusiastically about the examples you share and approach them with energy, imagination and individuality! Approach every example as a journey of discovery and engage with the music and the children. Without doubt, over time, and through adopting a consistent diversity practice, you will find these become magical musical moments for you all!

Maya Angelou addressed diversity directly in this quote. Although we may not all be parents, as educators we can certainly join in with the spirit of her thoughts:

It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.

Dr Clare Seymour
Clare has spent much of her professional career (over 30 years) in international settings. Part of her Doctoral research involved exploring the often hidden aspects of institutional racism. As a result she has a longstanding interest in, and passion for, promoting positive Diversity.

In addition to school music-teaching, Clare also has over 10 years’ experience working as an international music examiner – an understanding and respect for Diversity is so crucially important in every aspect of her practice.