The Impact of Music on Child Development
I had the opportunity to interview the lovely Nancy Kopman on the importance of music in child development. Nancy is a songwriter and recording artist who specializes in creating educational music for children that helps foster their development. To her, music is more than a universal language. She believes that music is a communication tool that works far deeper than words. Music can soothe, reassure, comfort, validate, stimulate, relax and elicit joy in people of all ages, cultures, abilities and intellectual capacity.
- What do you see as the most important benefit of using music in child development?
There are so many benefits, it’s very hard to close in on just one. From a parenting perspective, listening to music and singing together provides for the opportunity to bond in a very permanent, meaningful way. Using calming music at bedtime to encourage relaxation as you lie down together promotes comfort and trust. Singing songs together while driving in the car is a bonding moment that connects you on the same wavelength, as you experience the joy of music together — which is especially valuable in a world filled with distractions. From an educational perspective, a song with a purpose is an easy way to teach children important information. There are also multiple scientific studies that have shown evidence that music stimulates the brain in ways that promote diversification of neural pathways and neuroplasticity. Music is patterning, building on patterns, variations of patterns, inversions of patterns…exposure to familiar and new patterns is a very healthy method of developing brain activity, flexibility and function…especially in babies and young children, who are hearing new sounds, frequencies and patterns for the first time!
- At what age do children begin to reap the developmental benefits of music?
Considering that there have been studies on the effect music has on babies in utero that has determined that a fetus responds positively to musical exposure, I would say it’s never too early to expose little ones to music — and the earlier they’re exposed, the more intensely they seem to benefit. If you’re asking when I typically see children expressing/generating signals of appreciation/understanding of musical patterns, I have to say it’s entirely up to the child — they’re all so very different from each other. I do regularly see babies bouncing up and down, flapping their arms and squealing/laughing/responding with happiness when they hear songs they recognize. If I had to choose an age when children begin to demonstrate that they have benefitted from being exposed to music, I would say as early as 2–3 months old.
- Do you see music as a positive outlet for children?
We all know that music can promote/elicit feelings of happiness and excitement, which is what we might visualize when we think of music as a “positive outlet”, but music also serves as a very effective tool for helping children explore other emotions. Think of “sad” music, “angry” music, “pensive” music and other “colours” of emotion we can feel throughout a song with a certain pace, pitch, orchestral arrangement, etc. As an educator, I’m very focused on promoting positive emotional development and processing experiences for children as they learn about the different feelings they (and others) have. I feel that a song can be one of the most useful outlets we can use to help children explore AND manage feelings they are learning about. A good example of this is my song, “Hard Feelings”, which is not only arranged musically to serve as a pensive song, the lyrics serve as a guide towards identifying and learning from what triggers hard feelings, then encourages processing those feelings: Closing their eyes, taking a breath, taking some time to think and work through the feelings they’ve had. Having a reference song for difficult times that serves as an emotional map? I’d call that a very “positive outlet”…and that’s just one example!
- What is the parent's role in exploring music with their children? How can parents incorporate music into their lives and routines?
That’s an easy one to answer! Do you drive a car? Play music every time you get in your car that is designed to teach and nurture your children. Start early! Sing along. Sing key lyrics from the songs you’ve been listening to as a reference during real-life experiences, to get your child’s mind thinking of the rest of the song. Choose quality lyrics and quality music. The music we expose our children to early in life will influence their future musical choices, and their brain development will continue to be stimulated with the choices they make — just make sure you instil an appreciation for music early!
Parents can also use music for transition times, like bedtime. If you go to my blog on my website, www.nancykopman.com, you’ll find an article that offers song suggestions for a bedtime routine that helps children register on a subconscious level that it is time to wind things down and rest their minds and bodies. Here’s the article.
- How does music help develop language?
Language IS music. Every sentence we speak has a musical lilt to it, no matter what accent you hear. Language is IN musical lyrics. Lyrics are, therefore, language PRACTICE. Every sentence children listen to within a song, and every time that song is replayed is practice for using that sentence in future speech. Rhyming is also a natural byproduct of many songs. It exercises prediction/anticipation skills as we guess which word comes next. This also graduates into the skill of making up unique lyrics to songs, which might sound or feel silly, but it’s actually a very effective language development practice.
Music can even teach children about other languages: Try playing a song in a completely different language, and see how easily your little one starts replicating phonetic sounds. An exercise like this also really drives home how effective music is in terms of developing an awareness of letter sounds, vowel sounds and how combining them creates language. Listening to music develops perceptive language skills and singing exercises diffusive language skills. Music has it all when it comes to developing language!
- How can music be used for developing gross motor and fine motor skills?
The easy answer: Find a song you enjoy and get DANCING! My more detailed answer: Use songs that are designed to move specific parts of the body/follow directions. For example, my song, “Bicycle” gets legs moving around and around, up and down, twist and turn, in and out…this exercises leg muscles as it teaches action words. You can also use this song with arms, for additional gross motor exercise, or take it to a fine motor level and use individual fingers to do the actions. Sing fingerplays with your little one to develop those hand and finger muscles. I have lots of gross motor AND fine motor exercise songs you can pop on and follow along with in my “Follow Nancy” playlist from my YouTube channel.
Using music as a tool to teach children is one of the easiest and most readily available resources we can find. Using children’s music with a purpose — that’s my speciality. Visit my website for more information about my mission, method and purpose with the songs I’ve created for educators, parents and caregivers.
Be sure to check out Nancy’s website for more information!