Music has always been near and dear to my heart. For as long as I can remember, I have been singing and dancing, and they are two of my favorite things to do as an adult. Neither of my parents were very musical, but they always encouraged music to be a part of our home. Music is a life-long pastime and is so very important to integrate into a child’s continuing development.
Babies are born with literally billions of brain cells. We spend our entire lives creating and strengthening connections between our brain cells. Cynthia Ensign Baney, the author of the article Wired for Sound: The Essential Connection Between Music and Development, tells us “instead of picturing the brain as a sponge, visualize a sort of cosmic, 3-D dot-to-dot. The dots represent neurons, which are waiting to be connected via new pathways of information called neural bridges. Each time a child is stimulated to think, either new neural bridges are formed or pre-existing ones are strengthened.”
So often, we use the comparison of a brain to a sponge. When I thought of it as a dot-to-dot as suggested, it made so much more sense! It’s an image that is recognizable to parents and educators and simplifies brain development, which can often be an intimidating topic to broach. I can now easily picture how music helps create and strengthen pathways for all different kinds of learning. Think about it: when you sing popular action songs like “Tony Chestnut” with children, you’re not only reinforcing melody, rhythm, repetition and rhyming, but also incorporating body part identification, gross motor movement and emotions. (Psst. If you’ve never heard of “Tony Chestnut,” check it out!) You’re connecting those dots for children!
Children who take part in music lessons are further creating and supporting pathways. In fact, a study in 1998 at the University of Texas shows that music is perceived in several different areas of the brain. In the article Music for Babies-Music for Teenagers, it is described that “rhythm is tracked by the cerebellum, melody perceived by the temporal lobes and interpretation of musical notation accomplished in areas on the right side of the brain that correspond to areas on the left that process language… In language, sounds are combined into patterns—words. Music does the same patterning with melodic phrases.”
Unfortunately, music instruction is being downsized or eliminated in many of our schools, so where can the children get these experiences? They can very easily be embraced in our homes and child care programs. You don’t have to know how to play a musical instrument or have the best singing voice. If you do, by all means, utilize your talents to help enrich the children’s musical experiences! But if not, bringing in guest instructors who do have musical talents, playing simple drumming beats or teaching a song in a different language (Christmas carols like “Stille Nacht,” “Feliz Navidad” or “Adeste Fideles” are great examples) can connect those dots between the different areas of the children’s brains.
Personally, my favorite children’s song is “Fifty, Nifty United States.” I learned it in second grade for a grandparents’ day concert and I still know it to this day. I taught it to my second-grade class at the end of the school year and gave them the opportunity to perform for their kindergarten teachers. I can’t begin to tell you how useful it has been to know all fifty states in alphabetical order. I joke with my fiancé that if we’re ever on the game show Cash Cab and have a state-related red light challenge, I’ve practiced singing the song in 30 seconds to cover every possible answer! I’m amazed when I think of all the dots I’ve connected with that song… what songs have connected the dots for you?