Singing with Kids Is Good for Their Brains

Your rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” may be better than you think. Singing with young kids helps develop their budding mental abilities, even if your voice isn’t exactly opera-ready.

In a recent study in the European Journal of Neuroscience, two- and three-year-olds who were surrounded by their parents’ singing and lots of musical play at home had more advanced listening skills than those without this advantage. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Helsinki and University of Jyväskylä in Finland.

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Developing Listening Skills

The study included 25 preschoolers, whose parents were asked how often they sang to the children and how often the kids themselves sang, tapped out rhythms, or danced around the house. Researchers then measured the children’s brain response to different sounds in a lab.

The more these kids were exposed to singing and musical play at home, the more mature their auditory skills tended to be. That makes sense. Prior research had shown that the auditory system in the brain is highly changeable early in life. This is how the brains of young children become attuned to the specific sounds of a culture’s language and music.

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Enhancing Social Skills

Another recent study showed that musical play has important benefits even before babies can walk or talk. For this study, published in Developmental Science, parents and babies took part in weekly music classes for half a year, beginning when the babies were six months old. The research, led by David Gerry, PhD, at McMaster University, was funded by the Grammy Foundation.

Some of the families were randomly assigned to active music classes, where they learned lullabies, nursery rhymes, and songs with matching actions. Parents were encouraged to repeat the songs and rhymes daily at home. The other families took part in passive music classes, where they were free to explore a variety of toys while recorded music played in the background.

Babies who took part in the active music classes showed early sensitivity to the pitch structure of music. Specifically, they preferred a piano piece played in key, compared to the same piece played with off-key notes. Babies in the passive music classes didn’t show this preference.

But it wasn’t just musical awareness that differentiated the two groups. Babies in the active music group also had more mature communication skills, such as pointing at objects out of reach or waving good-bye, than those in the passive music group. Plus, they smiled more, were easier to soothe, and showed less distress in unfamiliar situations.

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Singing with Your Child

As the first study showed, formal training isn’t needed to get young kids off to a musical start in life. If the charm of the “ABC Song” has started to wear thin, one place to find fresh inspiration is on the National Association for the Education of Young Children website, which features tips for playing with music, as well as a song of the month.

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