Super Foods for the Brain: Music & Second-Language Learning

When it comes to healthy eating, some super foods seem to be easier sells to kids than others. Avocados, Bananas, and Greek Yogurt? Yes! Kale, Bok Choy, Edamame…not so much. (Well, maybe with a side of ranch or ketchup.)

Of course, young children need more than super foods for their bodies. They also need super foods for their growing brains, too. Second-language learning and music offer super foods for the brain that children love! (No ranch or ketchup necessary!)

What Happens to the Brains When Kids Learn a Second Language?

When compared to adults, young children use both hemispheres of their brains and gain a greater understanding of a language’s social and emotional contexts. A few other advantages of learning more than one language include higher density of gray matter, more brain activity when engaging in a second language, and better executive function.

This TedX video by Mia Nacamulli explains more benefits of a bilingual brain:

Benefits of Bilingual Brain


Music, Multi-sensory Learning, & Language Learning

Around here, we often say music is like spinach disguised as ice cream. After all, music is rich in benefits, yet children gulp it down (and ask for more!) like the best ice cream sundae. Using music as a tool for teaching second-language learning instantly engages children in a multi-sensory learning environment. Take this ABC English & Me video as an example.

The Just Me! music video incorporates a multi-sensory teaching approach to support visual, auditory, and tactile learning:

Just Me Kindermusik@Home

Visual learning happens through seeing. Children can watch the kids in this video waving their hands, pointing to their knees, and touching their toes. The arrows pointing to the various illustrated body parts also aids children’s visual learning.

Auditory learning happens through listening. Children will listen to the song “Head and Shoulders,” which names the parts of the body. Listening to this song over and over will help children learn lots of new vocabulary.

Tactile learning happens through moving, touching, and doing—sometimes called TPR, or Total Physical Response. Children can mimic the movements in this video. Encourage children to point to their nose, touch their shoulders, and to follow along with all the movements in this song!

Learn more about using music to teach young children in English Language Learning Programs or in international schools.

Contributed by Lisa Camino Rowell, a freelance writer in the Atlanta, Georgia, area.

Babies Benefit from Learning Two Languages at the Same Time

Baby learning two languagesWe get fired up about the importance of early childhood education. The reason is simple. In the first seven years of a child’s life, their brains are firing up with learning—literally! Every new experience lights up the synapses in the brain and repetition makes those pathways stronger.
At the age of two, a child’s brain includes over a 100 trillion synapses. That’s 50 percent more than we have as adults. While these new connections form rapidly and are strengthened through repetition, the brain also prunes connections not used frequently. This strengthening and deleting that happens in young children’s brains ultimately helps them process thoughts and actions more quickly.

Babies’ brains ripe for learning more than one language

All that action in the brain makes children under the age of 7 the ideal age for engaging in new experiences, including learning more than one language. In fact, new research conducted with six-month-old infants in Singapore indicates a generalized cognitive advantage that emerges early in infants raised in a bilingual home and is not specific to a particular language.
“As adults, learning a second language can be painstaking and laborious,” explained co-author and Associate Professor Leher Singh in a press release. “We sometimes project that difficulty onto our young babies, imagining a state of enormous confusion as two languages jostle for space in their little heads. However, a large number of studies have shown us that babies are uniquely well positioned to take on the challenges of bilingual acquisition and in fact, may benefit from this journey.”
The study found that:

  • The infants raised in a bilingual home become bored with familiar images faster than children brought up in a monolingual home.
  • Those same infants paid more attention to new images when compared to babies living in a monolingual home.

So what does that all mean? According to the press release, previous studies show that a quicker response to familiar objects and interest in new objects can predict preschool developmental outcomes, including non-verbal cognition and expressive and receptive language. Think about it. Children learning two languages at the same time are exposed to the sounds of more than one language and must learn to distinguish between the two. This makes for more—and stronger—neural connections! See why we get fired up for early childhood education?

Rocking the bilingual brain

At Kindermusik, our ELL curriculum, ABC English & Me,  uses songs, story time, puppets, and Total Physical Response for English Language Learning. Research shows that music ABC English & Me - Teaching English to Children through Musichas a positive impact on learning a second language. For example, in class ELL students may hear and repeat the rhythmic language of a nursery rhyme or song multiple times. The repetition creates stronger connections in the brain and helps children learn to speak and later read in English as their English language phonological awareness increases.

Learn more about using music to learn English as a second language at

Where did I read that? A wrap up of bilingual stories online

Expats Since Birth: Bilingual Siblings and Their Language Preferences, Expats Since Birth

You can’t choose whether your child will like Mozart or Madonna – and you can’t choose which language your child will prefer to speak. Each child develops his or her own preference for language at his or her own pace. And in a family of multi-lingual siblings, children will make choices. Parents can choose to support that process.

For example, Uta is a multi-lingual parent of multi-lingual children living in the Netherlands. She recently wrote about an experience with her toddler who refused to speak Italian as a reaction to moving to the Netherlands.

"In my experience, you sometimes have to adapt your language situation within your family to the individual needs of your children," Uta wrote on her blog, Expats Since Birth.

Uta shared some support she’s received on the topic in a book, Bilingual Siblings: Language Use in Families by Suzanne Barron-Hauwaert.

In Defense of the Bilingual Child, On Raising Bilingual Children

If you’re in the process of raising a bilingual child, you might discover a range of reactions from loved ones, educators, even friends. Research continues to support the long-term benefits of a bilingual education for children, showing improved brain functions, problem-solving skills, and language acquisition. Regardless, it’s still a new concept for many people. This blog post helps parents be prepared for some of those surprised reactions.

The Psycholinguistics of Bilingualism, Psychology Today

As interest grows in bilingual research studies, new areas of interest are being discovered, such as the Psycholinguistics of Bilingualism. In Psychology Today, psychoanalytics professor Francois Grosjean, Ph.D. talks about a new book on the topic. Grosjean and co-author Professor Ping Li explore how many languages might be involved in the language process of listening or talking; how learning a second language might actually affect behavior; and what happens when a word is literally "lost in translation."

Who ever heard of an impolite Teddy Bear? Nobody! Introducing Unit 4 of ABC English & Me, Hello Teddy

Is there such a thing as impolite Teddy Bear? No! This lovable toy provides a sense of comfort to every child — and every parent who was once a child. In this unit, Teddy Bear will help children learn polite greeting rituals, label different colors and clothes when he gets dressed for school, and he’ll help young children develop gross motor skills and learn to follow directions through simple games such as throwing and catching a ball. All while being huggably polite.

Additional movement activities help children develop an internal sense of control as they play instruments along to the music — stopping when the music stops, speeding up and slowing the tempo.

Target concepts

Following directions
Inhibitory control
Developing gross motor skills such as throwing and catching a ball
Polite rituals and greeting vocabulary

New and reinforced vocabulary words

bear, farm, horse, town, bus, car, bed, kitchen, tractor
teddy bear puts on…, t-shirt, jeans, shoes, socks, sweatshirt, green, blue, red, yellow, white, black, brown

New movement concepts

Turn around, touch the ground, show your shoe, dance on your toes
touch your nose, tap your head, go to bed, wake up now, take a bow
wave your hands, side-to-side, walk, tiptoe, skip, leap
sit down, tap your head, touch your nose, reach up high

Music activities

Playing with sandblocks: tap, up high, down low, fast, slowly, stop, “Let’s play with the music!”
The drum! Focused listening activities include counting and tapping the drum, as well as taking turns with the drum

Available now in the Digital Teacher’s Guides.
To learn more about digital teacher’s guides and Kindermusik, click here.

In one bilingual school, music supports the unique needs of dual language learners

The British American Preschool is located in Milan, Italy and offers ABC English & Me. Take a look inside the Milan, Italy preschool devoted to the unique learning needs of bilingual children. Click the image above and scroll down to watch the video.
The British American Preschool in Milan, Italy is devoted to the unique learning needs of young bilingual children. In addition to meeting the child’s changing language needs, the school is focused on helping children develop a balance of interests and skills — from studies in science to the arts.

“Early childhood is a period of rapid mental growth and development,” according to the school’s Web site. “Young children need a rich foundation of stimulating experiences that will be essential for later learning, a strong sense of self-esteem, and excitement and curiosity for learning.”

The school incorporates the Jean Piaget theory that “play is a child’s work.” Based on the school’s mission to learn through play and to develop a variety of skills, ABC English & Me is one of the programs that the school offers its students.

Here, the school’s director, Debbie Chilver, talks about how the music based activities in ABC English & Me help to develop English language skills, as well as the child’s attention span (in Italian of course! Scroll down for the English translation).

Debbie Chilver, Director at the British American Preschool of Milan – Italy

English and Me è un programma che coinvolge molto i bambini. E’ sorprendente vedere come bambini così piccoli partecipano alle attività. Si può notare facilmente che la loro capacità di attenzione viene sviluppata durante le lezioni e che esse sono finalizzate al raggiungimento di obbiettivi tipici degli “early years”.

Possiamo prendere un semplice gesto come su e giù, per esempio. Lo si fa nel rituale dei saluti e poi si ripete in altre attività, come in una delle storie o con gli strumenti. La lezione è strutturata in maniera tale da promuorere la consapevolezza di tutto il corpo.

Si può anche vedere che le lezioni sono ben pensate. Non appena i bambini sono in procinto di distrarsi l’attività cambia e ci si muove. Si può notare che gli obbiettivi e la sequenzialità delle attività volte al loro raggiungimento sono state testate.

Sento che la musica è uno dei più grandi veicoli per l’insegnamento. La musica è un eccellente forma di comunicazione per l’insegnamento di una seconda lingua. Cominciare presto, sviluppa nei bambini un apprezzamento per la musica che li accompagnerà per il resto della loro vita. E’ come piantare questo seme in tenera età e poi vederlo crescere.

In English

ABC English and Me is a program that gets the children extremely involved.  It’s amazing how such small children participate in the activities.  You can see that their attention span is really being developed by this class.

After having looked at the scope you can see that it is very structured towards early years objectives.  We can take a simple movement like up and down for example. You do it in the ritual greating and then it is repeated in other activities like in one of the stories or with the instruments. The lesson is structured with full body awareness in mind.  You can also tell that the lessons are well thought out.

As soon as the children are about to get distracted the activity changes and they do a movement.  You can see that the scope and sequence of the lessons have been tested out also.

I feel that music is one the greatest vehicles for teaching. Music is a form of communication that is great for teaching language as a second language.  Starting children young will develop music appreciation for the rest of their lives.  You can lay this seed at an early age and then watch it grow.

Parents and children participate in ABC English & Me at the bilingual school in Milan, Italy
The British American Preschool focuses on the unique learning needs of bilingual children.

Visit the English Language Learning category or Subscribe to our blog for current news on ABC English & Me, ELL research, and Kindermusik programs around the world.

ABC English & Me Unit 3: Good Morning, Good Night!

Introducing Unit 3, Good Morning, Good Night! Everyday rituals become a musical, English-learning game with our new unit, Good Morning, Good Night! Each class begins with a hello song, and with each lesson children learn the words for new greeting rituals such as “Good Day!” and “Good Night!”

Daily rituals become a musical, English-learning game.

Good Morning, Good Night! will be available in Digital Teacher’s Guides next week (October 15 – 19).

Favorite American Children’s Songs such as “Wheels on the Bus” take us to school, and the “Mulberry Bush” helps to introduce and reinforce new vocabulary words and concepts with additional verses about a child’s daily routine at home.

“This is the way we wash our hands,” … “brush our teeth,” …  “comb our hair,” … and “put on socks!”

In addition, children learn the English word and the animal sound to their favorite farm yard animals — sheep, cow, dog, rooster, and pig. And using movement games, concepts are explored with “Stand up!” “Sit down,” “Turn around,” and “Shake your hands!”

Children Learn English through Music and Rituals

Children can begin to speak English in a continuous flow using ABC English & Me’s simple songs and begin to apply English words to their everyday rituals at home, such as going to bed, washing faces, hands, and brushing teeth.

Make learning English a part of your daily routine with ABC English & Me!’s newest Unit, Good Morning, Good Night!

Kindermusik@Home - Online Learning Games for KidsUsing English @Home

When parents download the Home Audio Good Morning, Good Night! from the ABC English & Me @Home website, they can use the class songs about brushing teeth, getting dressed, and going to school to bring a rhythm and routine to busy mornings and evenings at home!

Speak in a continuous flow

Using the melody from the American song “Mulberry Bush,” children will sing “this is the way we wash our hands, wash our hands, wash our hands.” Additional verses adapt to describe more daily routines such as “brush our teeth,” “comb our hair,” and “put on jeans!”


Children play musical instruments, one for each hand, and as the teacher passes out the instruments, the children count with her, “1,” “2.” And during interactive puppet play, children help to “Wake Up!” puppet on the count of “1, 2, 3, … Wake Up!”

Movement concepts

Stand up, sit down, jump up, turn around, shake hands, tap your head, say good night, go to bed

Animals and animal sounds

cow, moo, sheep, baa, dog, woof, mouse, squeak, pig, oink, rooster, cock-a- doodle-doo

Talking about daily routines

go to school, wash our hands, wash our face, brush our teeth, comb our hair, put on our… clothes, shirt, jeans, socks, shoes

New vocabulary words

bus, wheels go round, people go up and down, driver says, “Move on back,” wipers go wash, horn goes beep, babies go “waa”, mommies go “shh”

Conversational terms

Where is he? Is he here? Yes, he is, No, he isn’t. He’s sleeping. Wake up. It’s time to get up. Good morning. How are you? I’m fine, thank you.

We are excited to bring this new curriculum to English Language Learners across the globe!

Visit the English Language Learning category or Subscribe to our blog for current news on ABC English & Me, ELL research, and Kindermusik programs around the world.

ABC English & Me - Teaching English to Children through Music

Inspiration behind the Mother Tongue Lullaby Project

Experts say linguistic diversity is a crucial component to preserving disappearing languages around the world. This video – as well as all the Kindermusik Educators in over 35 countries around the world – inspired the Mother Tongue Lullaby Project.

With this project, we’re hoping to record mothers and fathers from around the world singing their first language lullabies. These soothing songs are one of the first ways we, as children, experience language, comfort, and bonding. Before we could understand the words and their meaning, lullabies could communicate that “music is in the house, all is well. Everything here is safe enough to soothe and sing to you. ”

As you can hear from the hand full of lullabies we’ve already recorded and posted, these lullabies still communicate an unbreakable bond between the parent, or grandparent and child.

If you’re a Kindermusik Educator, a parent, grandparent, or loving uncle, or aunt; or you simply have a favorite lullaby to sing for us in your Mother Tongue language, please let us know. We’d love to record you.

We can record your songs over the phone, and we’ll post the recordings to the project’s sound cloud account, as well as on the project’s tumblr site.