Much research has been conducted on the effects of music (both listening and performing) on the development of children. In general, the research supports the theory that music can have a positive effect not only on the child’s senses and cognitive development, but also on their physical development.
In the Womb:
Beginning around the 24th week of pregnancy, a child’s hearing begins to develop more rapidly, and many pediatricians recommend talking to the baby and gently exposing it to music. This auditory stimulation is part of what prepares the child for the outside world. Much anecdotal evidence suggests that babies in the womb will begin reacting to familiar voices, and even show preference for the mother’s voice. Of course, dad’s participation is important too. Playing music for the baby will also help the child become familiar and comfortable with your taste, and may even be a useful tool in training the baby to hold regular sleep patterns. Some have theorized that exposing the baby to music in the womb may even help cognitive and creative development, although this has not been studied or proven extensively.
After the child is born, exposure to music will continue to have real effects that have been studied. One study on the effects of music on premature babies showed that exposure to music promoted a stronger heartbeat, lower blood pressure, and faster weight gain than premature babies not exposed to music. Neonatal units in hospitals are known to play music for this reason. Full-term babies and older children would likely benefit in similar ways.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that newborns will continue to react to music that they became familiar with in the womb. This illustrates a child’s development of memory, and may even be used to train a baby; for example, music could be used to help baby sleep through the night. Lullabies and soft classical music have been used for this purpose, and there are plenty of people who vouch for the effectiveness of this approach.
Toddlers and Preschool Aged Children:
Children in this age group naturally begin to incorporate musical performance into their play. Whether vocalizing melodies, or banging on objects to form rhythms, children naturally seem to be attracted to music by the time they are in the toddler years. I recall one moment with my nephew when I put one of my headphones in his ear. He stopped moving for a second, and looked at me with a big smile on his face.
There has been a considerable amount of research done on this age group that measures the relationship between exposure to music and a child’s development. Studies have examined effects on visio-spatial skills, motor skills, math skills, and even verbal skills. In many of these studies, results have been encouraging. At this age, many parents begin teaching their children musical instruments
Children who begin to learn a musical instrument (especially before the age of 5) have also been the subject of many studies. These children have shown very clear cognitive advantages to children who do not learn musical instruments. It has also been theorized that music can open new pathways in the brain, which in turn make the child more intelligent, although this has been difficult to prove.
Think about how music affects you as an adult: Melodies tend to influence emotions; whether you notice or not. Background music may be used to help you focus and work. Some adults also like to listen to music later in the evening to help sleep. Rhythms also tend to influence emotion and energy levels. These effects are also likely happening to young children when they are exposed to music.
As a young child becomes aware of music and melody and rhythm, it could be a fantastic time to get them involved with it. Music is a fantastic skill to have, and makes a great hobby. In addition, all of the music lovers in the world need some good music to listen to. It all starts at a young age when the future Mozarts and Metallicas and Miles Davises are developing their senses.
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