Singing and music play an important role in our culture and are present in a variety of our social and educational activities: theatre, television, cinema, celebrations, worship etc. From birth, parents instinctively use music to calm and soothe children, to express their love and joy, and to engage and interact.
Research undertaken in the 1990s showed that the exposure to music from early childhood onwards helps children to speak more clearly, develop a larger vocabulary, and strengthen social and emotional skills. Children who also had musical training (minimum of three years) outperformed other children in tests on non-verbal reasoning, auditory discrimination, vocabulary and fine motor skills.
The psychologist Howard Gardner had previously stated in 1983 that music intelligence is as important as logical and emotional intelligence. This is because music has the ability to strengthen the connection between the body and brain to help them work together as a team. When a child is dancing and moving to music, they develop better gross motor skills - they gain greater control over their movements. When a young child sings along to a song it helps them to practise their singing voice and improve their language skills and when they join in with an action song, they also improve their fine motor skills. This can be especially beneficial to young children who haven’t yet developed their verbal skills: they are able to join in with communication at an earlier stage and this will help build their confidence. Exposure to music supports children with their development processes to learn the sound of tones and words and also benefits a child’s social and emotional development too.
Music has the ability to impact our emotional and psychological states. When we listen to calming or happy music the body produces ‘happy’ hormones similar to the ones released when we are cuddled and bring with them the feelings of pleasure and happiness. If parents play happy, lively music they can help cheer their children up and equally playing calm music will help with relaxation.
Music can help children express their emotions. Playing sad music can have the effect of making the listener feel sad and this can help small children express these feelings (during times of stress or difficulty). It could be part of a mindfulness exercise for your little ones. Alternatively lively music can have the opposite effect
Music can help with forming long term memories. Listening to music seems to fire up the hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for storing long term memories. So, while many things might be going on at the time of making the memory, it’s the music that is likely to form a particularly strong association with that recollection. Those suffering with Alzheimer’s and dementia can even be aided in recalling previously lost memories through the use of music.
Parents play the most important role in musical education and the more exposure that a child has to music and music play at home improves a child’s music ability far beyond those who have no exposure.
Music and singing are used throughout our Baby College classes: from the very beginning with our Look Around You hello song, then with dancing, music play, action rhymes all the way through to our parachute ride and Goodbye Song. We use traditional nursery rhymes and modern variations to support English language development and to give parents inspiration for play at home. We even listen to beautiful pieces of classical music to help babies learn about quiet time and concentration.
Ideas for parents:
• Dancing with your baby whilst listening to your favourite songs
• Singing nursery rhymes
• Tapping out the beat onto your baby (feet, legs, hands) when you are listening to music or singing nursery rhymes
• Bouncing baby on your knees to the rhythm of the song/rhyme
• Older children – pots and pans drum set
• Make homemade shakers for/with your child
• Action rhymes and clapping songs
• Experimenting with different styles of music to give your babies and little ones more choice and to help them to develop a broad musical appreciation