Music To Their Eyes: Music lessons--and even simply listening to music--can enhance spatial-reasoning skills. That conclusion comes from a set of small, ongoing studies at the University of California at Irvine. Researchers there observed 33 3-year-olds enrolled in two Los Angeles County preschools. They gave 19 of the children weekly 10- to 15-minute keyboard lessons and daily 30-minute singing sessions. The rest of the children didn't receive the special lessons. At the end of four months, the children who had music lessons were already outscoring their peers on tasks that required them to rearrange pieces of a puzzle to make a picture. And the gains continued over the course of the eight-month study. (The two groups of students performed similarly well on tasks that did not require spatial-reasoning skills.) In a previous study, the researchers--Frances Rauscher and Gordon Shaw--found that listening to 10 minutes of a Mozart piano sonata increased the spatial IQ scores of college students. Spatial-reasoning skills are critical for scientists and engineers, the researchers write in a paper presented at the American Psychological Association's annual meeting last summer. "We hope our research will help convince public school administrators of how crucial music instruction is to all children,'' they said.
What's The Subject?: A report published in the September 1994 issue of Developmental Psychology offers some insights for educators trying to teach young children about sentence structure. Researchers Fernanda Ferreira of Michigan State University and Frederick Morrison of Loyola University at Chicago followed 48 5-year-olds for two years. At the start of the study, half of the children were just entering kindergarten, but the other half were a few weeks too young to start school. The researchers periodically asked the children to identify the subjects in as many as 96 sentences. In the beginning, most of the children--even those who hadn't yet started school--could name a simple subject in a sentence. They had trouble, though, when the subjects were pronouns or consisted of a string of words. By age 7, however, most of the children successfully picked out the pronoun subjects--regardless of whether they were in 1st grade or kindergarten. "Whatever factors are responsible for this specific difficulty with pronouns seem to exert less effect as children become older,'' Ferreira and Morrison write, "not as they become more schooled.'' By contrast, the children's ability to name two- and three-word subjects did improve with schooling.