For decades scientists have studied the effect of music on child development. So far there have been no definitive answers from the dozens of studies conducted.
But most of these studies have shown some consistently positive results in certain areas such as motor skills, communication, hearing and emotional development.
Many parents and teachers themselves have reported significant cognitive, emotional and behavioural improvements in kids taking part in music activities whether it’s singling along, hand-clapping, dancing or learning how to play an instrument.
These benefits start as early as infancy. So early exposure even to something as simple as a sing-along children’s melody can help infants recognize and learn speech way before they are ready to talk.
As they grow older, the benefits grow bigger and more significant. Here’s a look at some of the biggest benefits.
Several studies looked at the effect of handclapping on children’s motor skills.
Kids received practice in rhythmic handclapping over several weeks. Compared to children who did not receive any training at all, these kids were found to be better at various motor skills such as handwriting.
Learning more complicated instruments like drumming or violin shows even more drastic improvements in motor skills.
As they keep learning and practicing, their movements during other everyday tasks become more precise. They also show better hand-eye coordination.
For toddlers who can’t yet learn a music instrument, clapping can help them enhance their developing motor skills. For older children, getting into instruments can help in other areas such as calligraphy, drawing and art and crafts.
Emotional and Personal Development
Another major link researchers have explored is between emotional development in children and music. The study results have been mostly positive.
Researchers have found that music learning and participation helps children better express their emotions, improve their self-esteem and better understand their sense of self and how it relates to others.
This can have significant extended benefits as kids grow up and become more vulnerable to issues like depression and anxiety.
As they hit their teens, having music skills – whether it’s singing, dancing or playing an instrument – allows them to better navigate their complicated emotional and behavioural changes.
While research has not shown that music directly improves social skills, having well-developed emotional intelligence can help kids make friends and have better relationships with those around them including their parents and teachers.
Learning and Language Development
The effect of music on language development goes as far back as the first year of a child’s life. Exposure to different forms of music, especially simple rhythmic melodies sang to them by caregivers, can boost language development.
Babies recognise melodies even before they understand the words. With time they try to mimic the movement of your lips as you sing to them.
In pre-school music is a strong learning tool. Educators use it to teach the alphabet, numbers and even proper manners.
In older children music has been linked to faster learning. Kids involved in active music activities tend to learn faster and do better in class.
The internet has connected the world into one global village. But going online is not enough to help children understand different cultures and appreciate them.
Exposure to diverse music from different places, genres and backgrounds can give children a better understanding of various cultures.
It’s also a good learning challenge and lots of fun for them to learn different types of music such as Irish, Indian and jazz music.
How to introduce music to children
For older children of school-going age, make sure they are enrolled in a music programme at school. Let them choose what they want to do, something that they will find fun. It can be dancing, learning a specific instrument or singing lessons.
If there isn’t a music program at school check whether there is a local music centre for children.
For toddlers, focus on fun songs and melodies. Toddlers love silly and funny songs. Repetition is also important.
Good activities include clapping to a rhythm, sing-alongs, dancing and listening to recorded music. You can also get them toy instruments like a mini drum set, a karaoke machine or a flute.
For infants you have to do most of the work. They respond better when someone sings to them instead of listening to recorded music. Look for or make up simple melodies and sing to them during feeding, changing and other interactions.