Angie Coates, Monkey Music's founder and CEO, discusses the value of music for baby and toddler development.
Since humans learned to speak, music has been a foundation of cultures the world over. Used to communicate about love or war, history or dreams, joy or sorrow, it is a universal medium that connects us, transports us and determines who we become. Its influence starts from birth. As well as shaping the culture we are born into, music accelerates infant development and creates bonds between parents and their babies.
Some parents think they can’t sing or dance. I don’t think that is true – these are pleasures everyone should enjoy regardless of ‘ability’. Even if you wouldn’t sing in public, give it a go with your children or you’ll both miss out on some fun and important learning opportunities.
Music and child development
The ear is the first organ to develop fully in the womb and from the moment a baby is born, music will support their learning and development. Babies recognise your voice before your face and that recognition is a powerful bond making them feel loved and secure.
As they grow, the multi-dimensional nature of music (infinite combinations of instruments, pitch, volume, rhythm, lyrics) aids their development in numerous ways: physical; literacy; numeracy; social and emotional. The health benefits never end - throughout our lives music will trigger memories and ‘feel good’ chemicals, such as serotonin and endorphins.
But babies only get a fraction of the potential benefits music offers by just listening to a CD… by watching, mirroring and reacting to what you do they learn the emotions, words, actions and so much more. And at the same time they are of course bonding with you.
You, baby and music
I have found some parents are reticent about singing to their children and I wish nobody would be. While you may feel self-conscious singing in front of other people, your baby will think you are the most incredible singer and dancer ever – I will confidently promise you looks of utter adoration. And all the time you are stimulating their brains, helping them with so many areas of their development. Music forms a lifelong bond between parent and child and in my experience the earlier you start that journey together the more likely you are to continue to share it as they grow and then start to experiment with their own musical tastes.
How to enjoy music with little ones
Other than playing music too loud (little ears are sensitive), there is no wrong way to enjoy music with baby but there are plenty of things you can do so that it makes your life more enjoyable and supports your child’s development.
From a very early age the combination of acting out songs while singing along improves both comprehension and co-ordination. As a new parent I tended to sing-song our way through the day and that is why at Monkey Music we have so many songs about things like ‘Going Shopping’ or ‘Driving in the Car’ or ‘Walking Round the Garden’. I might have sounded a bit crazy singing about what type of bread we were buying as I worked my way around the supermarket but my baby seemed to like it which I took as a good sign of her general well-being! As she got older, using songs to encourage tidying up was simply a godsend.
While singing the same songs over again can feel tedious to us, babies (and toddlers) find it hugely entertaining, rewarding and reassuring as their mastery of words, tunes and actions improves each time.
Music also provides a fantastic bridge between siblings of different ages. The older ones can teach the younger ones songs, they can sing together and they can dance together. Again, it provides a bond they can share growing up and continue into adulthood.
Hopefully by starting them young and encouraging them, music and dance will become lifelong pleasures even if, as they get older they choose concerts or headphones over your melodious voice.