By Cheryl Castro, CNN
Listen to CNN Radio's podcast on music in the classroom from Cheryl Castro.
(CNN) – There is much research to show that music can improve academic performance. But what about behavior? Kindergarten teacher Shelvia Ivey sees the effects every day in her classroom.
"It's fun to see the shy ones blossom and music is a way for them to do that," Ivey said. For "some of the more aggressive children who have a hard time controlling their instincts, it's a time for them to express themselves, too and it's easier for them to control their instincts. And they're allowed to be expressive, and be unique."
The kids in Ivey's class are bright-eyed and about as focused as you can expect from 5-year-olds and younger. About a dozen of them hop, dance and clap along at a metro Atlanta Primrose school, a private school that offers programs for infants through kindergarten.
Over the fall, Primrose added The Music Class to the curriculum at all 240 of its schools spread across 16 states. Jason Caesar’s two active young sons, 2-year-old Kingston and 3-year-old Phoenix, attend the school. "The music definitely tames the savage 3-year-old," Caesar said.
Primrose Vice President Mary Zurn says the point of The Music Class is to help kids with their social and emotional development, which can lead to better self-control and better behavior. "We know that children, from the time they're able to toddle, are working toward being in control of something because they don't get many opportunities to do that," says Zurn. She said the way The Music Class curriculum is structured, gives kids "a lot more control.”
Rob Sayer, founder of The Music Class, explains how incorporating music in the classroom works.
"For example, at the very end of the song, we might have a fun activity like a clap or a jump and so they learn to wait, wait and then bang there it is. That whole process of waiting and that self-control element I think is very, very valuable."
But it may not work for all kids, according to Atlanta psychologist Sheri Siegel. Her practice includes lots of young children and she says music can be helpful in teaching coping skills for some kids, but not all. For kids with anger problems, "music will just annoy them," says Seigel. For other kids, "music will calm them down, help them get their aggression out rather than take them out physically. Music probably benefits more kids than not."
Researchers in England measured the heart rate and temperature of unruly kids in classrooms, and then added calming music to the environment. The kids had lower heart rates and temperatures after the music, likely improving focus and behavior, says Susan Hallam, professor of education and dean of faculty at the University of London’s Institute of Education.
"We do know that music has a big impact on your mood, so while you're actually making music it's probably going to make you feel good and therefore may have an impact on behavior."
"Happy" was how just about every kid described their feelings during music instruction at the metro Atlanta Primrose school.
OK, so we have these toddlers and pre-k kiddos feeling good and focusing more – but what's the effect years down the road in, say their middle school and high school years?
Primrose School's Mary Zurn makes a thought-provoking link.
"When you get children hooked on music early on in their lives, you're giving them an avenue that gives them something that says I'm good at this,” says Zurn. "The children who end up being bullies don't have that sense of that self-esteem."
The Music Class' Rob Sayer's says that's why folks don't usually think of musicians and artists as bullies. "One is not dominant over the other," Sayer says. "We learn to work together. We learn to listen. We learn to exchange with each other. … That's part of what it means to be a musician and not a bully."
But Susan Hallam thinks early childhood music instruction as an anti-bullying cure is kind of a stretch.
"I think the music would have to be carrying on," Hallam says. "I can't imagine that making music when you're 2, then stopping, (is) going to have an impact later on in your life."
And continuing music through elementary and middle school is costly. Many U.S. schools consider music a luxury they can no longer afford in the face of trying to fulfill federal testing requirements.
The No Child Left Behind Act went into effect in 2001, tying state testing results to federal funding in public schools. Trend data from the 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts show a drop in school-based arts education offerings, especially since 2001.
Primrose’s Zurn deplores this trend.
Music and the arts are not “extras," Zurn says. “I see them as vital to human development."