Benefits of Music for Child Development
Music is a staple in every stage of child development: newborns are soothed with their parents’ singing and humming, babies bounce and sway to songs, toddlers engage in sing-alongs (e.g., “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes”), and older children express themselves through music via dancing, singing, and even playing a variety of musical instruments. Music not only adds joy to everyday activities for children, but it also benefits overall development. In this blog, we will be discussing the many ways music benefits language, social, and sensory development.
Did you know that music and language development are processed in the same area of the brain (ie., temporal lobe)? It is no question that music positively affects language acquisition. If you think about it, the spoken language even has a musicality to it, based on all of the different ways a speaker changes his or her pitch, volume, and speed.
According to a study in 2016 at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute, early musical experiences in childhood were found to accelerate brain development in the areas of language acquisition and reading skills.
During early development, research has found that singing and dancing along to music specifically helps with the following:
- Eliciting words through verbal routines (filling the missing lyrics of a song)
- “Twinkle, twinkle little…”, “…star”
- Building vocabulary through repetition of words, phrases, and actions
- Strengthening of auditory memory skills with songs that include sequences
- Check out the musical story, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly
- Promoting auditory discrimination skills, or the deciphering of different sounds in words
- Promoting phonological awareness, such as rhyming and alliteration
Even in ancient times, music has been a universal social tool. We use music in a variety of social contexts: celebrations (e.g., “Happy Birthday” song), religious gatherings, ceremonial gatherings (e.g., graduations) – the list goes on and on.
According to a 2013 review study, music used in a group setting was found to unveil several mechanisms — trust, empathy, and cooperation — which, perhaps, is the reason why music exists in every culture of the world.
Research now allows us to understand the reasons behind why people all over the world should incorporate more music in social settings:
- Encourages learning through imitation of others –
- Builds empathy –
- According to a study in 2012, children who participated in a musical group for 1 hour per week, scored significantly higher on empathy measures compared to same-aged peers who participated in non-musical activities
- Promotes positive feelings towards others –
- According to research, when we synchronize musically (e.g., swaying together), we feel positive feelings towards those who we’re synchronizing with. Coordination of the movement with another person is linked to the release of endorphins, or pleasure chemicals
- Increases trust towards others –
- A study was shown that singing together for 30 minutes significantly raised oxytocin levels, which is a neuropeptide that is known to increase bonding and trust between people
- Increases cultural cohesion –
- Music may increase a sense of belonging in a musical group, as many will feel a sense of safety and belonging. Research has revealed that social cohesion is increased within families and peer groups when young people listen to music together
Ever wonder how and why a baby stops crying when their caregiver sings a lullaby to them? A big factor is that music can be a full-body sensory experience. Music has been demonstrated to reduce anxiety and pain by as much as 50% (Nyugen et al., 2010). Music can also aid with the following:
- Soothing a child and/or increasing energy level, depending on the type and tone of music
- Supporting self-regulation, as children will mimic their movements to the speed and melody of the music
- Increasing coordination, body movements, balance, body awareness, and motor planning skills
To incorporate more music in the home setting, you can use simple strategies such as using music in everyday activities (e.g., singing the “clean up” song when putting toys away) or using music to narrate events (e.g., singing “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring”, when it is raining outside). In addition to the plentiful ways that music benefits overall development, music is such a joyful activity that can enrich the life of every child.
Happy singing, dancing, playing, and listening to music to all of you!
Andrea Scola, M.S., CF-SLP
Exceptional Speech Therapy Blog Writer