SingaporeMotherhood | Parenting

September 2014

The Power of Music in Child Development

Music has an excellent reputation in the world of baby and child development. It’s been touted to increase brainpower, soothe the ‘savage’ baby (and sometimes even the petrified parent). Scientists have also found that music is the best stimulator of the human brain .

The good news is that you do not have to restrict yourself to Mozart or classical music to reap the benefits of melody. Almost any type of music can do the job. In fact, a variety of music for children is recommended and it does not necessarily need to be only children’s songs – the key is to expose kids to music.
“Some believe that babies in a mother’s womb can already hear sounds projected by the mother. Be it classical, folk, contemporary or jazz, what is most important is that the music must interest the child,” says Dr Carol Loy, Curriculum Director of Kinderland.

As young children learn through experiences, the activity linked to the music is just as important. For example, lively, happy music linked to smiles and laughter will help the child to connect positively and meaningfully to the music, she adds.

Dr Loy and Dr Noel Chia, Assistant Professor for Early Childhood and Special Needs Education (ECSE) under NIE (National Institute of Education), tell us how music and the learning of it can help boost your child’s development.

Why introduce music to children?

Music is important in contributing to a well-rounded early childhood education. Research has shown that music affects brain development in various ways:

Music helps develop language and literacy skills

Singing and music help stimulate the various senses and help children in learning and developing language skills. According to a paper published in 2012 – “Frontiers in Cognitive Auditory Neuroscience” by Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and University of Maryland, College Park – “infants listen first to sounds of language and only later to its meaning”. By repeating sounds associated with words, they remember vocabulary and basic parts of speech.

Music helps develop communication skills

Music develops listening, reading and writing skills, improving fluency of speech and communication.

Music enhances physical development

Music boosts motor skills, and improves rhythm and movement.

Music helps develop cognitive skills

Music improves memory, concentration, spatial intelligence, and thinking skills.

Music enhances individual development

Music helps develop kids with better self-control, higher self-esteem and confidence.

Music’s form and structure can bring order and security, enhance communication and help improve discipline

At Kinderland preschools in Singapore, signature tunes are introduced to communicate specific instructions for the children, such as for nap-time, and when to wake up. In addition, soothing tunes played during nap-time help calm the children down. Even if they do not feel like sleeping – they will lie still and fidget less rather than feel inclined to call out for attention. Music is also played is when a child undergoes a cool-down period after a series of intense exercising. This helps to slow down the pulse and heart rate, lower blood pressure, and calm the child.

music sheet

Why is it important to start music education early, in preschool?

As the early years of childhood is a period of rapid development, researchers believe that the earlier a child is exposed to music, the more the brain responds to different music tones. The earlier a child studies music, the more rhythmic integration, movement and learning can strengthen the brain.

Music aptitude can be influenced in the early years, and music training (through playing and listening to music) before the age of seven has significant effect on parts of the brain related to planning and motor skills.

Studies have also shown that exposure to music at an early age helps to fully stimulate the brain, engaging both the left and right sides.

How can we bring the benefits of music to the home?

Let musical experiences to go beyond scheduled music class time, as young children learn through projects and activities rather than by subjects. Parental involvement is always a good way to cultivate an interest in music or any subject. Music can be introduced whenever a parent feels comfortable. During playtime, it is good to use happy rhythms and tunes to create the mood of quiet play. During bedtime, the tempo would be much slower to allow the child to wind-down and prepare for rest.

There are also various ways to bring music to pre-schoolers at home, such as through singing, introducing various types of music, or simply making music with items around the house. Apart from playing their favourite songs at home, parents may also learn to play a musical instrument with the child. In addition, parents may also attend concerts with their children to expose them to a variety of musical genres such as African rhythms, South American salsa and famous Asian tunes.

Does learning music help children with special needs?

Music as a form of education and therapy can help to improve the quality of life for children with special needs in terms of physical, emotional, and psychological needs, and can make a lasting positive impact in their lives. Benefits from music can come in many ways such as increased language development in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and improved self-esteem in youths at-risk.

Several studies have suggested that music can improve the speech of developmentally delayed children and in children with ASD. For instance, with the main focus on communication through music, findings of several studies have found that many children with ASD show at least a short term increase in social interaction and attention following a directed music therapy session (e.g., the Melodic Intonation Therapy increases communication skills by using singing to teach language). There is also a close link between language and music in which music can be used as a channel to improve language development.

Children with emotional, mental and psychological disturbances have also found to benefit from music. For example, a child with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder finds that he can focus better than before (when playing the piano), or an aggressive kindergartner at-risk can express his anger through drums; a teenager with depression can also find a positive means to express her sadness through songs.

Current research studies indicate that the music is especially helpful for children who are unable to communicate through language and for children suffering from behavioral disorders.

With technological innovation, all children can now enjoy and learn music. Newly developed music technology software has provided children with hearing impairment or limited mobility with opportunities to enjoy and learn music through interactive interfaces too, such as by using motion sensors to detect movements and render sounds.

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The Power of Music in Child Development