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
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.
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
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.
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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