For centuries music has been used to entertain, soothe, heal, inspire or even dictate pace and rhythm (see battle marches and sea shanties). It is a very powerful tool and has diverse uses, creating deep emotions. It is used to accompany some of our most serene and emotional moments in life: weddings, funerals as well as many other celebrations, including the winning of football matches.
Babies are used to the tone and pitch of their mother’s voice even before they are born. After birth they soon pick-up on the give and take of human conversation, paving the way for their own language learning.
Even the youngest children enjoy translating the music they hear around them into some form of swaying and dancing, often to the great amusement of their parents. Yet this is their natural reaction: turning sound into movement.
Learning to listen carefully to something is an invaluable skill that will pay dividends over and over during a child’s schooling. Teachers adore children with good listening skills as they are ones who progress quickly. Children who can listen without losing the “thread” , learn much quicker. That our fast-paced, gadget-orientated world does little to foster this vital skill, is becoming increasingly obvious. There is now also evidence to suggest that not only can children exposed to music, and later on playing an instrument themselves, “listen” better, they are able to do so against the noisy backdrop of other sounds. How much more important has this skill become in our noisy world of almost constant background noise?
Developmentally-appropriate music activities help children develop their language skills, making them also more receptive towards learning the sounds of a second, even third language without much difficulty. They may also help children exercise their bodies as well as their minds when they involve movement. In recent studies music is increasingly being linked with brain development, especially when an individual engages in making the music him or herself. This does not have to be playing the violin to grade 10 level. It may just be tapping, or clapping or shaking in rhythm. A young child can work on hand-eye coordination so easily when tapping on a toy drum or shaking a tambourine.
Music exercises the memory, leading to links made with objects, faces, words and countless other things. Just think of the ABC song. Times tables are learnt much better later on in life when learnt with an accompanying tune. This is true for the learning of all – otherwise somewhat dry facts. Music heard at certain moments in our lives helps us recall those moments with greater ease.
One way of exposing young children to music is to sing to them, as often as you can, at bedtime, in the car, anywhere. Just sing your heart out. Unlike your siblings or friends, small children are uncritical and quite as well entertained by your own rendering (or is it murdering?) of a famous tune, as they are by the original playing on the CD player. They listen intently to all styles, even classical music; you can spare yourself the eternal nursery rhymes, literally anything goes.
Another way of giving them music in their youngest years is by taking them to Kindermusik; an early childhood music and movement programme, based on the ideas of a diverse selection of some of the world’s most notable musicians, ranging from Shinichi Suzuki to Carl Orff. The programme uses a range of tunes on high-quality recordings, which are combined with the use of movement and instruments, as well as the written word, to create a pleasing multi-sensory experience for young children. This exposure may foster the foundation of a life-long love of music, in addition to having a profound effect on other aspects of child development.
The programme involves activities which prompt children to grasp such concepts as starting and stopping an activity, the idea of fast and slow, high and low pitch, rhythm and beat.
Whatever way you decide to bring music into your children’s life, you can only be doing a good thing. Do not feel that you have to take them somewhere and formally expose them to music. However, allowing them to listen with you, rather than through head-phones on their own, makes this a shared experience. Talking about music, or singing together takes this a step further. Remember, apart from the calming and pleasant experience you are sharing, these are their memories of times with you. Sit back and enjoy them.
Agnes Holly, BA English and German; MA Comparative Literature; Hornsby Dipl Special Educational Needs. Agnes has more than 25 years' teaching experience in various roles ranging from university to nursery teaching, in addition to on-going work bringing up 5 children.