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Music: A Natural Connection to Growth & Development

February 3, 2010
Times Observer
BY HEIDI WOODARD, RESOURCE & REFERRAL COUNSELOR, CHAUTAUQUA OPPORTUNITIES

Music is a part of life in every country and every culture. Music is used as part of our celebrations, holidays, religious or worship experiences, as well as for pure entertainment. Although no one can quite explain the reason why music has such an important role in our every day lives, it does. Music inspires, soothes, excites, and bonds people of all ages and from all walks of life.

When a baby is born, somehow we know to cradle and sing to him or simply hum a melody while rocking him to sleep. Music affects and works on all levels of development: social, emotional, physical, and cognitive growth.

Music and Social Interaction

Music is a natural connection tool. It brings people together and helps them interact with one another. It is part of many social events. The same sort of connection can happen between you and your child. Play music and you'll see children respond. Children will sway, swing, move, bang out a rhythm on a table, and bob their heads. Music is an easy way for parents to relate to their children. When an infant hears you sing to them, you are connecting with them, and they are connecting to you. It doesn't matter what the song is; just sing. It is making a difference.

Music and Emotional Development

Music is associated with our earliest memories, and experiences throughout our lives. It definitely has an emotional impact. Think of a song or piece of music that stirs up strong emotions every time you hear it. Almost no one is unaffected by its power on our moods.

Music has the ability to comfort and soothe children. Children will often sing to themselves as a way to self-soothe. You can use music to help calm your baby, or get your toddler to relax for naptime. If your preschooler is sleepy in the morning or sad, you can sing a song or play music that is cheery and makes them want to jump around and get moving.

Music and Physical Development

Music and movement naturally go together. Children most naturally respond to music by moving and being active with it. Music helps children learn about rhythm, timing, orientation, and coordination. You can use music to get children marching, jumping, and hopping, or during any kind of physical activity.

In addition to being fun for children, The "Hokey Pokey" dance, line dancing, square dancing and all group dances help children learn: their body parts (put your right foot in, raise your hands), sense of direction (turning around, going left and right, moving back and forth), or rhythm patterns (tapping to the beat).

Music and Cognitive Development

Toddlers and preschoolers love rhymes and songs. Not only do they enjoy them, but they also help them learn about numbers, letters, and sounds ("ABC song", "This Old Man"). As children's brains are developing at their fastest when they are very young, with 80 percent of brain development occurring by age 3, and 90 percent by age 5, music helps with making connections in the brain.

Although there is some controversy on exactly how much music affects children's learning abilities, it is known that music is linked to improved math, memory and reading skills. When children are creative and make up their own rhymes and songs, they are also building their knowledge of words and sounds. They are building the connections in the brain. It doesn't matter what kind of music they hear or create, all music matters.

Incorporate Music into Learning Activities

Children enjoy music. Incorporating music into activities at home and in childcare can help make learning enjoyable and therefore easier for children.

Many childcare programs already know that music is a great way to help children prepare for transitions from one activity to another. For example, there's the "Clean Up" song that can be sung to tell children to clean up behind themselves and put their toys away. You can have a song for brushing your teeth or taking a bath that children will associate with that activity. Children love routine and making songs or music part of routines makes activities and learning fun.

Childcare programs can ask children to bring in and share their favorite instruments and let the entire group play as a 'band'. Homemade instruments can be made as well, using pots, pans, lids, and maracas made out of cups and beans.

For older children, you might consider letting them learn to play a musical instrument. Playing in a band or orchestra helps children with social and emotional development. Learning an instrument like the recorder or violin helps with hand-eye coordination. Reading music helps children think differently.

Music is an important part of the human experience. It is also a very creative medium. It allows for children to be able to express themselves in their own unique ways as well as contribute to their overall development. Find ways to expand how you use music with your children at home and in childcare.

Heidi Woodard is a resident of Jamestown, NY. She graduated from Jamestown Community College with honors, and earned an Associates degree in Social Sciences. She also graduated from SUNY Fredonia with highest honors earning a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work. She is currently employed with the Chautauqua Child Care Council a service of Chautauqua Opportunities, Inc.

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