by Kathy Kucsan, Ph.D. | Education Director
At the Center for Musical Arts, we’re often asked if the hype is true: do brains develop faster and better if children experience music from a young age? From the research that’s coming out daily, the answer is yes – and we should pay close attention. Music helps children learn in a number of ways: cognitively, kinesthetically, emotionally, and socially. Music contributes to developing early literacy and numeracy.
We know that the ear is the first sense organ to develop in utero. By the age of 4-5 months, the auditory system is fully functional. Fetuses can hear and learn to respond to certain sounds, particularly the mother’s voice. We are wired for sound from the beginning.
In the first few years, children are little sponges, learning how to connect sound with meaning and pattern with significance. Brains are growing, 1% per day in the first months of life, with 90% of brain growth occurring before Kindergarten! Music connects the brain and body, supports development of motor skills, language acquisition, relational skills, and much more.
Music contributes to early childhood development in these ways:
Music Helps Cognitive Growth
Children start to learn about patterns, sequence, and symbolic/abstract thinking. Sound is associated with patterns and sequences, and memory and recognition develops. Repetitive songs reinforce sequence and pattern: “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” or nursery rhymes like “Humpty Dumpty.” If you have contributed to the 4 billion views of “Baby Shark” on youtube, you’re actually contributing to your toddler’s cognitive growth.
Music Teaches Young Children Literacy / Numeracy
Music helps children learn the rhythmic and tonal structure of their native language. Most children recognize the rhythmic patterns of songs or nursery rhymes before they actually begin to speak. Children growing up in a bilingual family have an extra advantage of learning the structure and tonality of two languages at once. Counting or word songs (“This Old Man” or “The ABC Song”) help children with memory, pattern, and sequence.
Music Aids in Physical / Kinesthetic Development
Since we’re wired for sound, we automatically want to move to music. This can start as early as infancy, with a parent rocking a child and singing a lullaby. There is no shortage of youtube videos of babies and toddlers moving, waving arms and legs, or bouncing to music. Toddlers develop balance by moving their bodies to music. Fine motor skills can develop through interactive fingerplay songs (“Where is Thumbkin?”). And bilateral coordination activities and music help children to coordinate both sides of their bodies.
Music Builds Social and Emotional Intelligence
Music is, by nature, a social activity. Making music in community, school, or families builds and strengthens relationships. Music connects us, helps us to learn about differences, develops cultural awareness, and connect to emotions. We sing about feelings (“If You’re Happy and You Know It…” or “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” from Trolls. Really. You can find the track online.)
Education Director and Co-Founder
Campbell, Don. The Mozart Effect for Children: Awakening Your Child’s Mind, Health, and Creativity with Music. Morrow, 2000.
Brewer, Chris and Campbell, D. Rhythms of Learning. Zephyr, 1991.
Elliot, DJ. Praxial Music Education: Reflections and Dialogues. Oxford University Press, 2009