(ARA) - As students head back to school, ensuring they have the tools to succeed is top of mind. One class in particular has proven to provide an arsenal of support, including improvements in learning, stronger social skills and overall higher self-esteem in children. Music education, both in schools and in private lessons, helps students strengthen skills in a variety of academic subjects and other aspects of day-to-day life. Learning about music is an experience that goes beyond a recital or the classroom - it strengthens character, builds confidence and teaches critical skills. Additionally, music has been shown to help reduce stress and enhance a child's self-esteem. Research shows that studying music helps with math, science and language learning and response times - especially in younger children. One study reported by Forbes magazine showed 90 percent of a group of 4 to 6 year olds improved vocabulary skills, accuracy and reaction timing after studying the fundamentals of music for only 20 days. And another study done by the University of California in Irvine showed a 46 percent increase in spatial reasoning IQ in a group of preschoolers after eight months of keyboard lessons. Even though the research gives good support for music education, it's becoming more and more difficult for school districts to afford music programs, resulting in band, choral and orchestral programs to be removed from curriculums. Schools districts are also under pressure to improve STEM - otherwise known as science, technology, engineering and mathematics - education programs. The U.S. continues to lag behind a dozen other countries in STEM academic achievement, even after attempts to reverse this trend, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Dr. Milton Allen, an educational consultant for Music & Arts, the largest band and orchestra instrument retailer and lesson provider in the country, finds irony in the fact that schools are creating a competition between STEM classes and the arts. In fact, music education is just as important to the core curriculum as anything else. It is proven that music and arts improves a child's abilities to learn and problem solve. "The value of the arts is being placed under increased scrutiny," Allen says. "Given that the impact of music lessons and appreciation on development and academic performance is well documented, why not equip your students to compete by involving them in an arts or music program? From preschool-aged through high school students, it has been established that musical training forms a solid foundation for learning in other areas." Allen encourages children to participate in school music programs where available, and for parents and educators to take additional steps to nurture an appreciation for music and develop talent in children. Private music lessons can supplement school programs (or provide an introduction when school options aren't available), and costs aren't necessarily prohibitive. Additionally, parents can take an active role in introducing music to children by taking them to free concerts, encouraging them to learn a new instrument and exposing them to a wide variety of music genres, among other things. Community centers often offer small group lessons at affordable rates. And music stores are a helpful resource in finding local teachers, offering lessons and procuring new or gently used instruments. Music education is a great tool in helping children perform well in other school subjects, and musical performances are wonderful for encouraging self-knowledge and confidence. A tapping foot to a great rhythm is just one sign of what the power of music can do for an individual.
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