Think about some of your favourite songs and how they make you feel. Music gives thoughts and feelings an outlet for expression. Can you remember what some of your first experiences with music were? Engaging with music is a beautiful experience, and this engagement starts early in life.
Music makes the brain work in new ways. When a young brain listens to music, it’s much like hearing new words for the first time. It stimulates the brain to listen for something unfamiliar, expanding the brain’s repertoire for making distinctions between different sounds. We learn language the same way, by being exposed and familiarized to different letters, then words.
Music is itself a language. Long before it’s possible to identify a D sharp or a B flat, the brain is learning to recognize the difference between notes and how these differences can build something greater than the individual parts, much in the same way that building an understanding of different letters and words allows us to express thoughts and feelings with verbal or written language.
Engaging with music also fosters mathematical learning. The same way that verbal language has a rhythm and cadence, music is a language with a mathematical foundation. Rests, tempo, and rhythm in music foster an understanding of inherent structure that can be coded and decoded. There’s a reason that nursery rhymes are so effective in teaching counting and early number sense. In addition to the memorization and repetition involved in learning about numbers this way, there is something embedded in the medium of song that inseparable from mathematical understanding, well before concepts like ‘half-time’ or A-B-A-B patterns can be fully understood.
Young children are constantly learning through their senses, taking the world in through sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell, and parsing it out for meaning. This is how we explore our world and make sense of it. Can you think of certain lullabies that bring your baby a sense of calm when sung by a parent? Much in the same way that talking to your baby or being face to face with them, serving and returning stimulus, a parent singing to their baby stimulates their young brain across many different areas of development. It’s not just musical ability or skill; these experiences foster language development, attachment, and belonging.
This language of music is a powerful tool for understanding and expressing one’s self. Even now, as an adult, think about some of your favourite songs. Some songs make you feel like dancing energetically. Some songs make you feel somber and reflective. Some songs make you feel unbridled joy. Music is a powerful tool for putting ourselves in touch with our deepest feelings and expressing them. This is another way that music can help us situate ourselves within the world around us, giving our experiences more detailed shape and shaping our ideas about ourselves. We connect with ourselves and others through music, invaluable for social and emotional development in the early years.
We don’t have to use expensive instruments and intensive lessons to foster learning through music. We can fill our children’s lives with music in little ways, singing to our babies, learning songs and rhymes with our toddlers and preschoolers, and pointing out sounds and music in daily life. And you don’t have to be a world-class singer, either! Baby’s brains are highly responsive to the sound of their parent’s voice. Your baby loves your voice no matter how you think it sounds, so keep singing!
Here at the Peterborough Child and Family Centre, we include music in all our Family Play-to-Learn drop-in programs, having a regular circle time when we join as a group to sing and move together. We also offer infant programs that focus on music like Parent Child Mother Goose and Songs and Signs. You can go to our website www.ptbocfc.ca for information on days and times for these programs.
Click here if you’re interested in reading more about the benefits of music in the early years.