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How Development in Early and Middle Childhood Affects Elementary Music Teaching:

An Application Paper

Rachel E. Ollestad

Ball State University


In 5 years I see myself surrounded by bubbly, excited, elementary school children who

are eager to learn. Teaching music in an elementary school setting has always been my goal and

remains my future career plan. To impart a love of and passion for music to children appeals to

me because I believe very strongly that music can touch aspects of human lives not able to be

touched by other subjects. Elementary school children have a sense of wonder and an open mind

that motivates me, and I cannot wait to be able to share my love with them no matter the size,

location, or demographics of the school. I understand, however, that before I can teach these

children, I must first understand them. It is vital that any teacher understand how his or her

students develop physically, cognitively, emotionally, and socially because by knowing how

students develop, you can better comprehend the motives behind their actions and better meet

their learning needs. The early and middle childhood years are years during which children show

much physical growth as well as cognitive, emotional, and social development. It is during this

time childrens motor skills develop at a rapid pace. They enter into two consecutive stages of

Piagets Cognitive Developmental Theory, and they develop emotional characteristics in line

with Eriksons Initiative vs. Guilt and Industry vs. Inferiority stages. Lastly, children in the early

and middle developmental stages begin relying on peer groups for social interaction, creating

bonds that affect their sense of self and social development in later years.

Children in elementary school show rapid development, especially in their motor skills.

Each child, however, will display a different rate of development depending on several different

factors. During early and middle childhood children will gain more control over their gross and

fine motor skills. They will demonstrate better flexibility, agility, running, and jumping, and they

will also have better control over hands and fingers, allowing them to draw and write better

(Berk & Meyers, pp. 301-304, 419-422). There are several influences that affect how a childs

gross and fine motor skills will develop. Heredity is a factor that may help or hinder motor skill

development. A child may have a disability that prevents him or her from having control over

their body. Their environment could also affect how childrens motor skills develop. A child in a

home that places emphasis on building athletic abilities will have a developmental advantage

over a child in which the parents do not encourage hands-on play that promotes motor skills.

Lastly, parents can also affect their childs motor skill development by encouraging gender

stereotypes. Oftentimes, girls are discouraged from participating in more athletic activities and

are instead redirected towards more domestic activities, meaning their gross motor skill

development may be behind those of some boys.

The individual differences in development of motor skills during early and middle

childhood directly affect me especially because I am a music educator. I have the rare

opportunity to allow my students to move around in the classroom instead of sitting and working

at a desk. It is important for me to know which level my students are at in terms of their motor

skill development: some may have illegible handwriting, and others may not be able to perform

all of the musical tasks I require because of fine motor skill limitations. Standard 1 and

substandard 1.1 of the Indiana Developmental Standards for Educators discusses the need for

teachers to recognize individual differences students have because of influences by their

environment (AGS 1.1). This standard directly relates to the need for me to understand

individual motor skill development and respond well to differences in my students. Similarly,

Standard 5 is centered on providing a healthy learning environment. Its substandard 5.3 states

that teachers should have, the ability to plan and adapt developmentally appropriate learning

environments that reflect cultural competency; are responsive to the characteristics, strengths,

and needs of each student, and promote all students development and learning (AGS 5.3). I have

the opportunity to meet this standard by providing personal and, when necessary, adapted lessons

for my students in order to challenge them to be the best they can be. While I must do my best to

challenge my students, recognizing aspects of motor skills that challenge them also means I need

to be understanding and encouraging. In Tracy Cutchlows 2014 article entitled Why Some

Kids Try Harder and Some Kids Give Up, she discusses the need to encourage a growth mindset

in my students. A growth mindset is one in which my students believe that challenging activities

will allow them to grow instead of giving up when they come up against a challenge. By giving

positive praise to my students in difficult situations, they will be encouraged to persevere when

facing difficulties. Keeping this concept in mind, I can create an environment in which I can

engage all students, encouraging them to be their very best at all times.

Similar to the development of motor skills during this time, children are also

experiencing gains in their cognitive abilities with the emergence of Piagets Preoperational and

Concrete Operational Stages. In Piagets Preoperational Stage, children are beginning to have the

ability to recognize and partake in symbolic activity. They understand that objects can be a

symbol for other things. Children in this stage, however, struggle with dual representation: the

idea that an object can represent more than one other thing at a time (Berk & Meyers, p. 311). In

his Concrete Operational Stage, Piaget stresses the ability of children to have flexible, reversible

thinking. They can better classify objects based on quantitative data and can use better spatial

reasoning. Similarly they are able to count and order objects better. Childrens growth in these

areas may extend even past what Piaget originally thought; children at this stage have begun to

demonstrate reasoning and recognition of cause and effect relationships (Berk & Meyers, pp.

429). While abilities to think logically develop drastically, children in this stage will still struggle

with abstract ideas, meaning they will struggle to comprehend concepts such as freedom,

morality, and love.

Piagets stages affect my teaching because I can use his information to understand the

cognitive abilities of my students. Standard 2 of the Indiana Department of Education Teacher

Standards deals with understanding learning processes. Substandard 2.2 discusses the ability of

teachers to understand how children acquire critical and creative-thinking skills (AGS 2.2). It

would be unreasonable for me to try to facilitate cognitive growth by conducting in-depth

conversations about the emotional impact of certain pieces or composers with first or second

graders because they have not developed the critical and creative-thinking skills necessary for

that type of thought. It is unrealistic to expect my students, especially the younger students, to

understand the deeper, more abstract ideas associated with music. In like manner, understanding

Piagets Stages will help me to promote discovery and hands-on learning that is sensitive to

individual differences in learner development. This concept is closely related to Standard 3 in

which teachers must understand how to plan and give lessons in the classroom that engage all

students and help them achieve their goals. Substandard 3.8 also mentions the need of teachers to

plan lessons that are learner-centered, which ties very closely to research on using Piagetian

concepts in classrooms (AGS 3.8). An article in The English Journal entitled Practical Piaget

in the Classroom talks about the importance of recognizing different levels of Piaget cognitive

ability in the classroom. Author Christy Hammer emphasizes the importance and effectiveness of

separating students into groups based on their cognitive development. She says that, in instances

where grouping like this is not possible, children can still learn by being grouped with children

of other levels. The importance is on providing interactive, hands-on, group work (1981, p. 56). I

can use this information to better organize and create collaborative group activities that are

appropriate for my students cognitive levels.

Another concept that children display during the early and middle childhood years is

Eriksons Initiative versus Guilt (page 358). The Initiative vs. Guilt conflict describes the time in

which children begin to develop their self-concept. Younger children are eager to try new things

and have a more unrealistically high image of their self-esteem. They take more risks and are

more curious about their surroundings (Berk & Meyers, p. 358). As they grow older, though, a

new conflict begins to emerge: industry vs. inferiority. Children nearing the upper end of middle

childhood start realizing which activities and skills they can accomplish well and which are more

difficult for them. They start to compare themselves to their peers, and this comparison also

affects their self-esteem as they feel positively about their accomplishments and negatively about

their failures (Berk & Meyers, p. 473). The initiative vs. guilt and industry vs. inferiority

conflicts aid in the development of self-consciousness and emotions like guilt, shame, empathy,

and sympathy, and these emotions will affect how children interact with their peers.

The development of self-conscious emotions and the struggles of initiative vs. guilt and

industry vs. inferiority affect my classroom because they affect the willingness of my students to

participate in activities. In the early elementary school years, my students will be very eager and

willing to perform activities in front of the class. They will not worry as much about the opinions

of their peers. As they grow older, students may be much less willing to participate in solo

activities because of social anxiety or perceived pressure from peers. As a teacher, I must be

understanding of those students but develop lesson plans that can still provide individual forms

of assessment. One of these forms of assessment could be the use of soloing in front of the class

with a group accompaniment or the incorporation of group improvisation into my lessons as well

as doing individual assessments. In the 2013 article, Teaching Improvisation in Elementary

General Music: Facing Fears and Fostering Creativity author Rachel Whitcombs discusses just

how important teaching improvisation is in the elementary classroom. She states that many

teachers are not trained enough and are fearful of teaching improvisational skills. She argues,

however, that teaching improvisational skills can be a useful form of assessment and encourage

children in their musical expression (n.p.). Knowing which instructional practices to use ties

directly in with Standard 3 and substandard 3.4 in which teachers must know the advantages and

disadvantages of certain instructional practices (AGS 3.4). In my case, it will be the advantages

and disadvantages of making solo performances mandatory for my students. Standard 5 and

substandard 5.5 discusses another aspect of the development of self-concept that I need to

address: providing a positive environment for all of my students (AGS 5.5). Holding my students

accountable for their behavior by adopting a zero tolerance policy towards bullying is essential in

promoting a healthy learning environment, and implementing a positive rewards system for good

behavior and fostering good communication and positive interactions will help all of my students

to feel more secure in their abilities.

The last area of development shown in the early and middle stages of childhood is the

social area. In this area children begin to develop friendship bonds and peer-acceptance will

become increasingly important. In terms of friendship in early childhood, many friendships will

be based off of simple things such as shared interests or common characteristics (Berk &

Meyers, p. 368). As they enter the middle stage of development, foundations of friendships will

be based on deeper emotions like mutual trust (Berk & Meyers, p. 489). A childs friends make

up only a small portion of his or her peer group, and peer group interactions have a profound

affect on self-esteem. There are four types of children when it comes to peer group interactions:

accepted, rejected, neglected, and controversial. Accepted children are those who are well liked

by their peers. They are generally seen as popular children and tend to have positive interactions

with those around them. Rejected children are seen as unpopular and are disliked by their peers.

Controversial children make up an interesting group; they are both liked and disliked, meaning

they receive positive and negative attention from peers. Lastly, the neglected children are those

who are largely ignored by their peers and are rarely talked about (Berk & Meyers, p. 490).

Which category students belongs to will not only affect their self-esteem but also their school

performance. Authors Gary W. Ladd, Becky J. Kochenderfer, and Cynthia C. Coleman

conducted a study to see how peer group acceptance affects academic involvement and they

stated in their conclusion that, childrens peer relationships contribute to their school

adjustment (1997, p. 1195). They found that students with healthy peer relationships were

more involved in school, and their study even found evidence of the reverse: that students who

were more involved with school had better peer relationships. Student dispositions will

obviously have a large role in how I teach my class.

In the case of peer interaction, using some Piagetian classroom techniques will also be

beneficial. Promoting group learning by planning many group activities into my lessons will

provide my students with the opportunity to interact with their peers as much as possible. Music

also provides a great way to discuss differences between different countries and cultures.

Standard 2, substandard 2.4 states that teachers should have, knowledge of the role of positive

relationships and supportive interactions as a crucial foundation for working with children, with

a focus on childrens individual characteristics, needs, and interests (AGS 2.4) To satisfy this

standard, I can allow children to choose groups based on their similar interests. Seeing any need

for alterations (such as evidence of rejected or neglected children), I can choose to create groups,

too. Likewise, Standard 1, substandard 1.3 states that teachers should promote the development

of self-esteem, peer interactions, and decision-making (AGS 1.3). Through the incorporation of

activities that require choice, I can allow my students to have some autonomy and the ability to

socialize with other peers. Another aspect of teaching that will have an affect on friendships and

peer interaction is the way in which I choose to arrange my music classroom. There may be

instances in which I allow my students to sit by their friends, but by requiring them to sit by (and

work with) other people, I can foster a better sense of cooperation and positivity.

I am certain that my work teaching elementary students will be exciting and challenging.

The elementary school years are years full of such drastic changes in physical, cognitive,

emotional, and social development, and simply knowing what is happening in my students

bodies and minds will allow me to relate to them and teach them better. Children will be making

gains in their gross and fine motor skills at different paces, dealing with Piagets Preoperational

and Concrete Operational stages of thinking, finding out in what aspects of their life they

succeed, and are developing a sense of self-esteem that is directly related to peer interactions.

After learning about these concepts, I feel I have a strong grasp on how to recognize them in

children and develop lessons that will be most effective in teaching my students. My first goal

for the future is to learn even more about specific music teaching methods that deal with the

concepts I have discussed. Secondly, I would like to interact more with children in the

elementary music classroom so that I can observe these developmental concepts first hand and

watch a professional teacher deal with issues that arise because of these changes. Lastly, I want

to have the opportunity to teach children in some kind of guided setting. I want to be able to ask

a professional for help and ideas when necessary and discuss how these developmental changes

affect the students and affect us as our students teachers. In order to accomplish my goals, I plan

on attending several different professional development opportunities offered by Ball State

within the next three years. These opportunities will also help me to complete InTASC Principle

#1: learning how children grow and develop and implementing appropriate lessons. Seminars on

how to adapt lesson plans to meet the needs of every student, teaching workshops, and my music

education classes will better prepare me to deal with managing a classroom. Also, I plan to

observe teachers in the workplace setting and implement what they do well into my own

practice. Finally, the opportunity to student teach during my last semester here will give me the

most information on how to be the best teacher I can be. I know that my knowledge of these

developmental concepts will help me better to share my passion for music with my students.


Berk, L., & Meyers, A. (2012). Infants, Children, and Adolescents (8th ed.). Pearson.

Cutchlow, T. (2014, September 16). Why Some Kids Try Harder and Some Kids Give Up.

Retrieved December 14, 2015.

Hammer, C. (1981). Practicing Piaget in the Classroom. The English Journal, 70(7), 56-58.


Ladd, G. Kochenderfer, B., & Coleman, C. (1997). Classroom Peer Acceptance, Friendship, and

Victimization: Distinct Relational Systems That Contribute Uniquely to Childrens

School Adjustment?, Child Development, 68(6), 1181-1197.

Whitcomb, R. (2013). Teaching Improvisation in Elementary General Music: Facing Fears and

Fostering Creativity, Music Educators Journal 99(3), 43-51.


Standard 1 (pp. 3, 8) Student Development and Diversity

Teachers of grades P12 have a broad and comprehensive understanding of student development
and diversity and demonstrate the ability to provide instruction that is responsive to student
differences and that promotes development and learning for all students, including:
Substandard 1.1 (p. 3) major concepts, theories, and processes related to the cognitive,
linguistic, social, emotional, physical, and moral development of students in grades P12,
and factors in the home, school, community, and broader environment that influence
student development
Substandard 1.3 (p. 8) typical developmental challenges for students from early
childhood through grade 12 (e.g., in relation to independence, self-esteem, peer
interactions, physical development, self-direction, decision making, goal setting,
involvement in risky behaviors, and identity formation) and the ability to help students
address these challenges
Standard 2 (pp. 5, 8) Learning Process
Teachers of grades P12 have a broad and comprehensive understanding of learning processes
and demonstrate the ability to facilitate student achievement, including:
Substandard 2.2 (p. 5) processes by which students construct meaning and acquire
skills, including critical- and creative-thinking skills, and the ability to facilitate these
processes for students with diverse characteristics and needs
Substandard 2.4 (p. 8) knowledge of the role of positive relationships and supportive
interactions as a crucial foundation for working with children, with a focus on children's
individual characteristics, needs, and interests
Standard 3 (pp. 5, 7) Instructional Planning and Delivery
Teachers of grades P12 have a broad and comprehensive understanding of instructional
planning and delivery and demonstrate the ability to plan and deliver standards-based, data-
driven differentiated instruction that engages students, makes effective use of contemporary tools
and technologies, and helps all students achieve learning goals, including:
Substandard 3.4 (p. 7) knowledge of the characteristics, uses, benefits, and limitations
of various instructional approaches appropriate for students at different developmental
levels, and the ability to apply research-based best practices to meet a variety of
instructional needs, make content comprehensible and relevant to students, and promote
students' active involvement in their learning
Substandard 3.8 (p. 5) the ability to plan and adapt learner-centered instruction that
reflects cultural competency; is responsive to the characteristics, strengths, experiences,
and needs of each student; and promotes all students' development and learning
Standard 5 (pp. 3, 7) Learning Environment
Teachers of grades P12 have a broad and comprehensive understanding of student learning
environments and demonstrate the ability to establish positive, productive, well-managed, and
safe learning environments for all students, including:
Substandard 5.3 (p. 3) the ability to plan and adapt developmentally appropriate
learning environments that reflect cultural competency; are responsive to the
characteristics, strengths, experiences, and needs of each student; and promote all
students' development and learning
Substandard 5.5 (p. 7) knowledge of developmentally appropriate classroom management
approaches and positive guidance techniques, including relationships between specific practices
and student learning, attitudes, and behaviors, and the ability to use this knowledge to create an

organized, positive, and productive learning environment that maximizes students' time on task;
facilitates learning; and encourages student self- regulation, responsibility, and accountability