How Music Trumps Reading For Childhood Development
an improvement in IQ among students who receive music lessons. Advantages in the classroom have
So how is this study different, apart from its focus on early childhood?
Crucially, its findings are based on situations where the child’s musical activities were informal and shared, typically with a parent – essentially a playful social experience.
Simple and fun musical activities can have enormous power in developing numeracy and literacy: try improvising a counting song, or making up new rhymes to familiar tunes.
But the true power of musical play lies in the unique blend of creativity, sound and face-to-face interaction; the learning is strengthened by its basis in a positive, empathic emotional relationship.
Parents are increasingly enrolling very young children in specialist music classes - undoubtedly a positive development. Reading, however, is rarely “outsourced” in this way, and this study suggests that parents should feel encouraged and empowered in tapping their own inner musician before looking outside the home.
As with most aspects of parenting (in my personal non-scientific experience), there is no substitute for a parent’s personal involvement, even if it involves long-forgotten modes of behaviour such as taking simple pleasure in making sounds.
Being playful with sound is something we’re all born with – indeed, toddlers are humanity’s greatest virtuosos in that regard - yet too many are silenced over the years by the “better seen than heard” brigade.
It’s no accident that we talk about “playing” a musical instrument; a turn of phrase that too easily becomes sadly ironic if formal music lesson structures calcify into strictures.
So recapturing a sense of play (if you’re an adult) is crucial to the process of shared music-making, and this research invites parents to focus on the element of “playing” music with toddlers, using any tools at hand.
The human voice is a great place to start, and the kitchen cabinet contains a wealth of percussion instruments. Whistles and bells could be the next step, followed by a toy piano for more ambitious stage parents.
Long before conventional music lessons start, jam sessions with your toddler (not of the messy sticky preserved fruit variety) can be an enormous developmental asset.
You might even find it a two-way street – if children can teach adults anything, it’s how to play. So take the time, play with your child, and “play” music together.
Along with the newly-confirmed bonus benefits for baby, you’ll both be connected to music: a fundamental component of a happy and healthy life.