Early Literacy | Jan 08, 2015
Susan Ramsay, Early Literacy Specialist HFL&A
January 2015 has arrived and the sounds of Auld Lang Syne echo in my mind even though my holidays have ended and festive songs no longer play in stores. The power of music is undeniable. Music, in every culture past and present, enables us to express emotions and a sense of community. The Happy Birthday song, national anthem, campfire songs, playing in a musical group, and dancing all prompt us to listen to one another, join in and become part of something bigger than our individual selves.
In recent years western society has tried to link exposure to classical music with children’s intelligence. The Mozart Effect, a term based on a study that showed children improved in spatial rotation tasks when they listened to Mozart, was popularized through a book written by Don Campbell in 1997. This perceived link between listening to classical music and improved IQ or math skills among children is still pervasive though the Mozart Effect hasn’t been validated through subsequent research. Laurel Trainor, professor and founding director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind, explains that the power of music is rooted in humanity’s social and emotional needs. From an academic perspective, listening to and playing music is linked to learning through its impact on improved concentration, memory and attention.
Babies experiment with sounds before they learn to speak. Regardless of whether babies gurgle, coo, shriek or cry, or whether they bang or tap pots, spoons or toys (their first musical instruments), pitch, tone, volume and tempo of their sounds can express their emotions long before they have the words to explain them.
Intuitively parents know that singing, humming, rocking and dancing with their infants and preschoolers is good to do. They see it soothe, calm, excite or energize their children. They may be less aware that singing lullabies and nursery rhymes slows oral language down. It uses repetition, and rhythm, helping infants and children learn vocabulary and understand patterns in speech more easily. Music grabs children’s attention. Fussy babies typically stop to listen when adults suddenly break into song. Repeated and familiar songs help children anticipate and join in with actions or words that come next. Varied genres and ethnic styles of music prompt young children to listen and concentrate.
Trainor’s research indicates that parents in North America sing less to their infants now than ever before. Trainor tells us that putting on a CD is not as enriching to babies’ brains and emotions as being sung to face to face. In a parent’s or caregiver’s arms the sounds of music are enhanced with facial expressions, and the scent, feel, movement and responsiveness of the adult. The activation of all of these senses builds stronger pathways in a child’s brain.
Adults who lack singing confidence may find it comforting to know that monotone singers have the same ability to hear pitch and sound as those who sing professionally. All they have lacked is exposure, opportunity, and encouragement to listen and experiment with their voice. Young children are ideal audiences for timid singers. Children are not concerned about how we sing with them. They only care that we do.
In a TVO interview called “Music and Your Child”, host Cheryl Jackson asked Trainor what her advice would be for parents regarding music and their children.
“Have fun with your children especially from newborn and preschool age. Instill in them a love of music. If you’re motivated, they’ll do anything.” (http://tvoparents.tvo.org/video/162408/music-and-your-child )