Science Center Stage: Music May Boost Language Learning in Babies

Language Learning

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]In our regular science feature, Science Center Stage, Dr. Boyle explores music’s role in boosting language acquisition in infants. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]That first word! Parents wait for it and when it comes the world knows. We rush to Facebook and every other social media platform to share the news. I remember really reaching with our first. I stretched every sound out of that kid’s mouth into crazy multisyllabic words.

“I think he just said onomatopoeia!”

My wife was always the voice of reason.

“That was a burp, dear.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Now, here’s the reality: our kids aren’t going to spout of titles of Dickens’s novels at nine months, but regular exposure to music early in life may have a positive impact on language acquisition. A recent study conducted at the University of Washington found that routine play sessions involving music had a positive impact on both music processing and recognizing new speech sounds.

“Our study is the first in young babies to suggest that experiencing a rhythmic pattern in music can also improve the ability to detect and make predictions about rhythmic patterns in speech,” said lead author Christina Zhao, a postdoctoral researcher at I-LABS.

“This means that early, engaging musical experiences can have a more global effect on cognitive skills,” Zhao said.

UW Today/Molly McAElroy

[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=””][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Other academics have chimed in on the study. Dr. Deanna Hanson-Abromeit, Assistant Professor of Music Education and Music Therapy at the University of Kansas School of Music feels music classes are key to development.


“Music classes can be beneficial for parents and infants…These classes can build community and provide resources to parents to teach songs and music-based experiences to build comfort in using music within the home and everyday life.”

HealthDay/Randy Dotinga

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]It doesn’t stop in infancy. A five year study at the Brain and Creativity Institute of the University of Southern California produced results that mirrored the UW study.

“The researchers began following 45 children, all from economically disadvantaged, bilingual households (most are Latino, one is Korean) in Southern California, starting when the children were 6 and 7. The initial group was split into three: One set of 13 students is receiving music instruction through the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles, one group is playing soccer, and another is involved in no particular after-school activity…

Two years in, the students in the music group were more able to identify differences in musical pitch on a piano than other students. The brain scans also showed that these students had more-developed auditory pathways than their peers.

The authors write that this development in auditory processing also affects students’ ability to process speech and language—which means it could have an impact on students’ academic progress as well as their musical abilities.”

Education Week/Jackie Zubrzycki

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]It’s very difficult to ignore this science, friends. Two separate studies indicate that exposing children of all ages to music has a positive impact on language acquisition and development. The key in both of these studies is regular participation in structured musical activities. So get them out there! And get them out there early. Remember, we have classes for kids starting from birth! When you’re ready, we’re here for you. [/vc_column_text][class_finder_form css=”.vc_custom_1469449348470{padding-top: 20px !important;padding-right: 20px !important;padding-bottom: 20px !important;padding-left: 20px !important;}”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Music & Movement Benefits: Playing with Sound

Little Egg CollectorAccording to the authors of the book Ladders to Literacy, “…playing with the sounds of words encourages children to practice perception, production, word recognition, and memory  for words, phonemes, all important foundations for phonological awareness.” Phonological awareness, the ability to recognize that words are made up of sounds, is an important first step towards success in reading later on.
So, while it may seem a little silly, playing with rhymes, parts of words, or the beginning sounds of words, will actually help your child be a better reader.  And music and rhythm-based activities are a perfect way to “practice” and keep the learning fun.
Ideas for Parents and Kids: Watch the video, “Morning Sun Has Risen,” from Kindermusik International’s newest curriculum, ABC English & Me.  Play with the different sounds that animals make, echoing the sounds back and forth or even making up silly rhythm patterns or songs with the animal sounds.  If you happen to have a different Mother Language other than English, have a little fun making the animal sounds in both your native language and in English.  And if anyone asks, it’s Mother Language Day today!

Sometimes ACTIONS are louder than WORDS

Have you ever sat in a movie theater, and several people in the row behind you are all talking? I bet you found it difficult to concentrate on the movie.

What does this have to do with your child in a Kindermusik class? Just imagine this scenario: your Kindermusik teacher brings out a basket of rhythm sticks and sings “two for you and two for your grownup”. Most of the grownups in the room start encouraging their child to go get the sticks. They encourage them with their voices and now we hear 10 adults telling their child to go get sticks. At this point, some of the children will start to “tune you out”. I like to call this “selective hearing loss”. (I have teens at home and I am very familiar with this temporary, albeit sometimes annoying ailment.)

Although we highly encourage you to talk to your child throughout the day and label movements, sounds, and objects to help with language acquisition, there are times when we have to allow them to figure out what to do without being told. Allow them to problem solve.

I want to share with you an experiment we did in a few of my classes. I asked the adults not to give directions to their child during this class – just sing when it was appropriate in the lesson. The toughest part was the “no talking”. But they all agreed and were curious to witness their child in this somewhat altered environment. I encouraged them to guide their little one by being a model and using non-verbal cues.

Here is what some of the adults said at the end of class:
* They showed more patience
* They were more “in the moment” with their children
* Their children were more attentive and focused
* Their children felt freer to create, explore, and express themselves

Try a version of this experiment at home. Take time to explore with your child without giving them opinions or directions. Be a model for them through your actions and not your words. It’s not easy, but it may allow you to be “in the moment” with your child in a way you have not been before.

Special thanks to Kindermusik educator Cathy Huser for sharing this insightful post from her blog.  Cathy’s program, Kindermusik of Cleveland, has been a top ten Kindermusik Maestro program for 10 years running.