Music is a natural part of life for young children. From dancing to nursery rhymes to turning everyday objects into musical instruments, children love to engage in musical activities. And like all the best learning experiences in early childhood, exposure to music simultaneously promotes development across multiple domains. Read on for an overview of some of the different ways that music can benefit child development.
Social Emotional Development
Connecting with your baby in a musical way comes naturally, even if you can’t carry a tune! When parents all over the world speak to their little ones, they adjust their voices to make them more lyrical, more rhythmic-- in essence, more musical. And babies love listening to the sound of a parent’s voice. Researchers have found that singing-- more than talking-- keeps babies calm and can lead to stronger social bonds with parents, improved health, and even greater language fluency (Corbeil, Trehub, & Peretz, 2015). The experience of being soothed also helps babies learn to soothe themselves, supporting the development of self-regulation. Music also provides opportunities for young children to interact with their peers and caregivers in collaborative ways when each participant is encouraged to add their sound or voice to the mix. It can also encourage turn taking through call-and-response songs or, when children are very young, through caregivers simply repeating the sounds a baby makes with his voice.
A sensory environment rich in a variety of tastes, smells, textures, colors, and sounds is beneficial to early brain development. Music is one many forms of sensory input which can promote cognitive development. Almost every piece of music has a pattern or sequence built into its melody or lyrics, and learning to anticipate patterns and place objects or events in sequence helps build critical early math and early reading skills (Parlakian & Lerner, 2010). Music also introduces children to the sounds and meanings of new words. A recent study found that exposure to music sharpened infants’ brain responses to music and speech in both the auditory cortex and prefrontal cortex, which manages cognitive skills such as controlling attention and detecting patterns (Zhao & Kuhl, 2016). In addition, the rhythm and repetition of songs helps to strengthen memory skills. The link between music and memory is why you can probably still sing along, word for word, to many of your favorite childhood songs!
Music is a physical activity, supporting both fine and gross motor skills. Playing musical instruments or fingerplay songs, such as "Open Shut Them," can help support the development of small muscles in children's’ hands. Dancing to fast and slow music can help children build the muscles in their arms, legs, and trunk. Moving their bodies to music can help children gain body awareness, balance, and coordination.
Tip: Look for opportunities to get your child moving to the beat. Share songs that go along with simple hand motions or dance moves, such as "The Itsy Bitsy Spider," "The Wheels on the Bus," or the "Hokey Pokey." Children will have fun singing and moving!
Music is a unique and powerful way for children to connect to their roots. It transmits culture and is an avenue through which beloved songs, rhymes, and dances can be passed down from one generation to another. Lullabies and folk songs can introduce your baby to your family’s heritage in a way that goes beyond words or pictures. And connecting to their roots is another way to make children feel safer and more secure.
Music has the power to support young children in all of their growing capacities, and best of all, music is a wonderful way to connect with your child. So enjoy music- playing, singing, or dancing- in any way that feels comfortable to you! And check out the resources below for some great ideas for how you can share music with your child.
Read tips on Playing with Music at Home from NAEYC.
Learn about how to Create Your Own Lullaby with this tutorial from Too Small Too Fail.
Corbeil, M., Trehub, S., & Peretz, I. (2015). Singing delays the onset of infant distress. Infancy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1111/infa.12114.
Parlakian, R., & Lerner, C. (2010). Beyond twinkle, twinkle: Using music with infants and toddlers. Young Children, 65(2), 14-19. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file/201003/ParlakianWeb0310.pdf