By Caroline Crabbe, General Manager at Jo Jingles (www.jojingles.com)
Encouraging your child to enjoy music is a great way to strengthen your bond as a family now and in future years. For some this means simply listening to music, for others it is about singing or playing a musical instrument. But whatever your preference, it is important to recognise that regular exposure to music also provides some very real benefits to a child’s ongoing physical and mental ability which will aid them in their early development prior to starting school and throughout their educational journey.
Sadly, over recent years music education has suffered in the UK amidst budget cuts and overcrowded schools which means it is now more important than ever, that regular exposure to music starts in the home. For younger children, indulging in more regular song-time at home will also provide your child with clear learning progression as they grow because even at the early stages music can help with language development and reasoning. Scientists believe that the left side of the brain is better developed for music and that songs can help to imprint information on young minds.
If you have older children that are interested in playing a musical instrument or learning to sing different songs, this is to be encouraged because it can also be a great memory booster for children. It is widely know that musicians who are regularly reading sheet music are constantly using their memories to perform and these skills can serve children well in their later school life, when exams become important and memory retrieval takes centre stage in some cases.
For preschool children, the transitional phase from nursery to school is an important time in the early years’ development process. Your once ‘babbling’ toddler has grown into a little person, with their own opinions, ideas and conversations – not to mention a relentless thirst for learning. Increased exposure to music and singing in advance of full-time education can really make a difference to your child’s development, helping them to hit the ground ‘sprinting’ when they start school.
The great thing about music is it’s universal; it appeals to all cultures, all ages and all abilities. It’s also an important part of the school curriculum and it isn’t difficult to understand why. Listening to music and actively taking part in singing, dancing or playing a musical instrument are all important in stimulating a child’s learning curve and developing a range of physical and emotional skills. Children who are involved in regular exposure to music at school can be more emotionally developed too because music helps to develop skills such as empathy towards other cultures, high self esteem and can be better equipped at coping with anxiety.
Language and motor skills
For instance, you can help to boost your child’s language skills by focusing on nursery rhymes. It’s no great coincidence that popular nursery rhymes are quite repetitive – think about ‘Row, row, row your boat’ or ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little, star’ – the repetition is key to this process of creating linguistic building blocks upon which little brains can start to make meaningful associations and melodic experimentations via simple rhythmic patterns. The use of repetition along with actions will help to inspire coordination, balance and speech development.
Singing songs with numbers in them can also help young children to learn to count; some traditional songs even contain elements of subtraction (i.e. Five Little Ducks) so you might not realise that your child is being exposed to some of the simplest forms of mathematics through music and song. Exploring concepts such as colours, animals, transport and even telling the time through song, will all help with your child’s motor skills and general coordination as they prepare for school.
But it is not just younger children who benefit from music. Older children who practice with musical instruments can also improve their hand-eye coordination. Just like playing sports, children can develop motor skills when playing music.
Whether you have young or older children, try to encourage movement alongside music wherever possible. You’ll recall how many nursery rhymes come complete with a set of ‘actions’ ‘I’m a little teapot’ or ‘If you’re happy and you know it’ for example. Children can express themselves through movement long before they can verbalise. They also need to learn to hone their sense of balance and to control their limbs. Movement to music has also been shown to help a child express feelings and moods as they learn to interpret the music that they hear.
Introducing music in the early childhood years can help foster a positive attitude toward learning and curiosity too. Artistic education develops the whole brain and nurtures a child’s imagination.
And finally, don’t forget about all of the social and emotional benefits associated with music. As mentioned, it helps to strengthen the bonds of trust and communication between adults and children of all ages and encouraging this kind of musical activity in advance of starting school can really help with their self-expression and confidence in later life.
Some people believe that exposing a child to music will increase their intelligence and although this is not absolutely scientifically proven, what musical activities and signing can do is to help develop the processes that will give a child the tools it needs to investigate the world.
Here are a few simple tips for unlocking you child’s musical mind from a young age:
- Sing with your child regularly, it doesn’t matter where or when you do it, just do it as often as you can. Don’t worry if you fluff the words or think your sing out of tune – the reality is, be enthusiastic about it and your child will be too.
- Make music actively – it’s not enough to just put on a CD or play a track, if you don’t interact with your child in the moment, it will wash over their head.
- Don’t over complicate things – young children respond best to easy and simple songs and nursery rhymes rather than those more suited to a nightclub.
- Use simple actions where possible – it is great fun and will help your child’s coordination no end.
- Make some home-made instruments to get truly musical – banging yoghurt pots together, or using a cardboard crisp tube with a handful or dried pasta – makes a great shaker. Equally saucepan lids are great self-made cymbals!
- Remember that music can also be relaxing which is a great stress-buster for busy parents and soothing music can also help your child or baby to relax too.
- As your child grows, if they show an interest in playing a musical instrument it’s worth trying as many different things as possible, so your child can find something that suits them and their personality. It’s also worth remembering that music can also promote a sense of achievement. Learning to play an instrument is challenging but a formidable goal.