Music and development in children
As exciting as discovering the next musical genius is, music and movement classes offer developmental opportunities for all children.
Modern science is quickly coming to the conclusion most parents have made intuitively through the ages – music is good for children’s development and singing to babies is just the beginning of a lifelong journey of learning.
Studies conducted at the Universities of Cornell and Toronto show that babies are born able to understand complex musical rhythms. This innate musical ‘radar’ is hardly surprising as foetuses are actively listening to their world from inside the womb, months before their birth. Their mother’s steadily beating heart gives them their first taste of percussion. Further studies have shown it is particularly worthwhile cultivating this musical ability from the ages of 0 – 7 years and not just because you want to be the next Mozart’s mum. Musical activities in these formative years makes a fundamental difference to how children’s brains work.
At birth, the brain is not fully developed, but hearing is the most developed sense at this time. Newborns will turn their heads to identify where a sound is coming from. They will also recognise their mother’s and other relatives’ voices from the get go. Early audio experiences stimulate and enhance brain growth, formation of synapse connections and development of nerve cell networks. That’s why it’s never too early to provide an enriching environment to help a child’s brain reach its full potential in later years. Just like training for a marathon, the hard yards put in initially, pay dividends further down the track.
Pathways to Success
Providing musical activities has been found to develop the same neural pathways used in abstract reasoning, because children use reasoning to organise notes in their brain in order to make melodies. Music has also been found to enhance other higher brain functions such as those required to understand science and maths. This was supported by a study that found preschoolers who received piano lessons scored 34% higher on spatial and temporal reasoning tests than those who had spent the same amount of time studying computers. By studying the piano, these children were forming pathways they could follow, time and time again, for other educational activities.
The Read and Write Stuff
Participating in music develops language and literacy skills in a similar way. The rhythmic and melodic delivery of words within songs encourages children to form words and remember them. Learning these skills forms the pathways they will use to recognise spoken and written language. This was highlighted in a study of first grade students who learned folk songs for seven months. They were found to have higher reading scores than students who had no musical exposure. Whilst the use of songs combined with dance movements yielded the best results in a group of five year olds asked to name body parts, compared to a group given verbal instructions only. The song and dance group probably had a more fun learning experience too.
Beyond the Brain
Learning music goes beyond developing the brain and many parents note that the benefits of learning music has a knock-on effect on their children’s broader lives. Music can shape attitudes, interests and discipline within children by helping them focus, improve listening skills and gain confidence and self-esteem when mastering a particular instrument, song or dance. This can form the blueprint for them to succeed in many academic areas or in defining their character as they grow older, by breeding a more positive attitude to their learning in general. The freedom of creative expression found in music can add depth to their emotional expression as well.
Everyone's a Winner
As parents it’s natural to see genius in every glimmer of talent expressed by our children. They swing a tennis racquet with wild abandon and we dream of them lifting the Wimbledon trophy. They dance the hokey pokey and we see standing ovations for their performance of Swan Lake. The key thing to remember during these daydreams is that participating in music early on will benefit a child’s life regardless of whether it becomes their grand passion.
As difficult as it may be, it’s more productive to keep your own ambitions in check, even if your kids do decide to drop the violin and start banging on a drum set in the garage! There’s no point pushing them too hard in a particular direction as this will often result in them pulling the opposite way. So keep music fun and relaxed with games, dancing and group sessions with other children. Treat it as a time to bond, connect and explore the world together. Break into spontaneous song in the car or make up the words to a song with your child as the main character. The more you weave music into your child’s life, the more they’ll benefit. If there’s a true maestro hidden within, they’ll soon make themselves known.
Make a Song and Dance Of It
Scientific study is supporting the idea that developing children’s inbuilt musicality appears instrumental in cultivating intelligence, with a rare mini Mozart thrown in. Ultimately, the objective shouldn’t be to create a musical genius, but a well-rounded, confident and intelligent individual. Music and movement programs can certainly play a big part in this, with teachers guiding parents in how to make music more appealing for youngsters. They can also ensure that lessons are pitched according to children’s developmental stage and abilities for maximum benefit. And if somewhere along the way you find you’ve got a Beethoven on your hands, buy yourself some comfortable shoes and get ready to give a lot of standing ovations.