Music has many powerful benefits for children. Music has been demonstrated to support learning in a variety of ways, beyond the ability to use the voice or fingers to create music. Music helps to stimulate pathways in the brain involved in language, analytical skills, and memory. But most importantly, music is fun and can be an enjoyable activity for the whole family.
Music is a wonderful way to encourage physical development for children of all ages. Their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination can be improved by playing musical instruments. Research shows that children who play wind instruments or sing improve their asthma symptoms. In addition, the rhythms of music can encourage even the most sedentary child to move. Families can enjoy music and movement together by putting on an upbeat song and dancing around.
Music and language have very similar qualities. Both use rhythm and pitch, and both are forms of communication. Singing to babies and young children can assist in language development by drawing out and accenting certain components of words, helping the child pay closer attention to the consonants and vowels. Because music is processed in a different area of the brain than language, it can help to create different pathways in the brain to assist with language development. Parents can help a young child learn language skills by singing rhyming songs and doing fingerplays.
Can you name all 50 states in alphabetical order? If so, you probably learned the song, “Fifty Nifty United States” as a child. Almost all young children use music as a mnemonic, or memory, device, to learn the alphabet by singing the Alphabet Song, to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”. Music as a mnemonic device can be a great way for older children to memorize facts in school by making up a song or using a familiar tune. Learning to play a musical instrument can also help a child develop concentration and patience, which will also help him when he must focus his attention on other subjects in school.
Following directions is an important social skill for all children to learn, and music can be a fun way to practice this. Parents can sing songs like “The Hokey Pokey” or help children learn concepts such as “fast,” “slow,” “quiet,” and “loud” by demonstrating them while playing simple shaker-style instruments. Older children may participate in a musical group to help them relate to others and learn to work as a team. Making music can be a great way for families to bond together, whether through traditional forms such as singing around a piano or campfire or more contemporary methods such as creating a rap.
From the moment children are born, they demonstrate a love for music. Singing lullabies or other special bedtime songs is a great way to introduce a baby to music and also helps to create predictability in the bedtime routine. Families can have fun making up silly songs to prompt the start of other routine activities, such as putting pajamas on or picking up toys. Other songs can be used to make mundane activities, like hand washing or brushing teeth, more fun. Here is an example:
Hand Washing Song
(to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”)
Wash, wash, wash your hands
Get them nice and clean
Rub and scrub, scrub and rub
Germs go down the drain
*Sing twice to make certain you are washing your hands long enough!
One of music’s greatest attributes is its power as a form of self-expression. Listening to music can help to match a person’s mood, which can provide him or her with a sense of comfort and support. Putting on a favorite toe-tapping tune is an example of how music can also change a person’s mood, creating energy and exuberance. Creating music is an especially powerful way to express oneself, whether it is through singing or playing an instrument. Songwriting can be a powerful tool for teenagers to give voice to their ideas and emotions. Many teens will compose poems to express their thoughts and feelings, and they can take this creative form of self-expression to another level by singing their words instead of speaking them and thereby creating songs.
Families with both younger and older children can reap the benefits of music when it is incorporated into family activities. From a developmental perspective through emotional teen years, music can help families bond and connect.
Caroline Stout, MSW, LSW, has a bachelor’s degree in music therapy and works for the Infant and Toddler Connection of Rappahannock Rapidan. She loves incorporating music into her work with young children and their families as well as at home with her two daughters, ages 2 and 4.