Watching your child play with musical toys can be an incredible experience. Even before children are able to speak, the joy that they feel from creating sounds, songs, and music is evident in their bright and beaming smiles as they press buttons and bang on drums.
Listening to music can soothe an unsettled child to sleep, spur impromptu dancing, and give you an opportunity to sing and clap your hands along with your child.
Many parents know that learning to play a musical instrument can be an incredibly creative and confidence-boosting outlet for children. But did you know that listening to music can actually be an important part of your child’s development too?
Here are 4 surprising ways that listening to music helps your child.
1. Listening to music can lead to better grades later in life
Exposing your child to musical experiences while they are young increases their capacity to learn. As children learn to recognise melodies, they are also accelerating the rate at which their brain matures.
This of course applies to musical skills, such as the ability to keep time and to distinguish pitch and rhythm. However, this also helps to boost other skills directly related to scholarly success, such as:
- Increased overall literacy
- Social and emotional connection to the world around them
- Improved reading and language skills
- Increased ability to retain information.
These effects are amplified when students take music lessons rather than just listening to songs. A study conducted in Switzerland found that students who actively participate in music lessons generally outperform their peers in most academic subjects.
Listening to music primes the brain to separate meaningful sounds and melodies from extraneous noise and sounds; however practicing playing an instrument or singing enhance the brain’s ability to adapt, as well as the nervous system’s ability to prepare the body to learn effectively.
This is because playing music requires a more complex set of skills, such as interacting with other musicians, keeping time and rhythm, and quickly making connections between desired pitch and the movement of hands or vocal chords.
Children who do not actively play musical instruments, particularly smaller children, can still reap some of these benefits by actively listening to songs as they are played. To help your child engage with the music around them, you can ask them to identify separate instruments or to clap along with the beat, which will help them to distinguish different elements of the songs and foster their cognitive abilities.
2. Learning songs can improve your child’s memory
Listening to music can boost your child’s powers of memory in several ways. The first is that listening to music can cause your brain to release dopamine. Dopamine is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter that boosts feelings of well-being and confidence and, conversely, diminishes feelings of stress or anxiety.
We learn more effectively when not under pressure or have feelings of stress and, as such, experience improved memory when we are relaxed and confident. Though their brains are still developing, the same is generally true of children.
Your child can also exercise their memory skills by learning the words and melodies to their favourite songs. Memorisation is not reserved exclusively for times tables and spelling bees!
When your child learns to sing their favourite song, some entirely from memory or to hum along with the radio on their way to school, they are also improving their ability to memorise information from other parts of their life, including their schoolwork.
3. Listening to music can help your child concentrate
An active music listening experience will encourage your child to perform multiple tasks simultaneously:
- Clapping along with the beat
- Remembering the lyrics
- Singing the melody
- Anticipating the upcoming pieces of the song
- Dancing and moving to the music.
Integrating multiple senses and several skill sets into one experience is great for your child’s development. In particular, it helps them to develop their powers of concentration. Much like the age old “rub your tummy and pat your head” multi-tasking exercise, your child will need to focus on doing several things at the same time, which will improve their ability to concentrate on individual tasks too!
Research has also demonstrated another way in which music can help your child to focus on a single task. The human brain struggles to concentrate on one thing exclusively for long periods of time; our minds start to wander and daydream after an initial burst of dedicated focus.
However, our attention can be divided into two subsets: conscious attention (what we are trying to focus on) and unconscious attention (the part of our brain that wanders and operates in the background).
Unconscious attention operates on a more fundamental, emotional level. More importantly, this part of your child’s attention span does not stop wandering when they are trying to concentrate on a specific task, such as homework or playing a game.
Playing music in the background can provide a “buffer” between your child’s unconscious attention and potential distractions, occupying the wandering part of their mind so that they can focus more easily on the task at hand.
4. Music encourages children to dance, which improves overall motor skills
During your child’s formative years, listening to music can (and should!) be an interactive experience that encourages them to dance, clap, stomp their feet, and use their bodies. Plenty of children’s songs specifically invoke dances and hand motions:
- The Hokey Pokey
- The Itsy-Bitsy Spider
- Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes
- Five Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed
These types of interactive songs give children a fun way to practice both gross motor skills (such as jumping and general control of their body movements) as well as fine motor skills, such as controlled finger motions.
Dancing spontaneously is also a fun way for children to boost their . Dancing can help your child to perfect their sense of balance, build important muscular and cardiovascular strength, and improve general coordination awareness.
This includes both balancing movements of the arms and the legs as well as spatial awareness (understanding where they are in relation to the world around them).
Listening to music can be an interactive way to monitor your child’s auditory and physical development, as well as a way to set them up for success as they grow up.
Setting aside time to learn new songs and dances with your child can provide an opportunity to teach them to learn a melody, to keep time with the beat, and to express themselves in a different way than they can experience through other forms of play.
Best of all, music can be a bonding experience between you and your child!