It’s no secret that toddlers and preschoolers love music. But what you might not know is that music plays an important role in your child’s development, benefiting early literacy skills and building fine- and gross- motor skills.
A 2016 study from the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute found that having musical experiences in early childhood boosted brain development, especially in the areas of language and reading skills. Pretty amazing, right?
So what, as a parent or caregiver, can you do if you can’t keep a tune? No problem! There are lots of ways to expose your child to the benefits of music.
Music plays a crucial role in the early childhood classroom, so why not at home? Teachers use songs to indicate transitions, such as time to clean up, as well as for teaching numbers and letters, days of the week, etc. The use of repetition also helps children build on their skills, says Parenting Educator and Preschool Teacher Ali Jonhson. “I purposefully repeat songs that we sing in Circle Time because repetition helps your child to build on the language skills they are learning from our songs,” she says. “Repetition also benefits their memory, and it builds their self confidence because they can anticipate what comes next.”
Ali has created a series of virtual Circle Times videos as part of Parenting Now’s Virtual Support Options, designed to help parents while in-person groups are postponed. Her videos offer guided songs, mindfulness activities, and movements to do in coordination with the songs. “I love to sing multicultural songs (for exposure to other cultures); songs about nature and peace (for introducing them to mindfulness and for social and emotional development); counting and rhyming songs (for language development and pre- math and pre-reading skills); and silly songs where we can act out the emotions (for the healing power of laughter and social/emotional development.),” says Ali. Her favorite songs to sing with preschool age children are: “Peace Like A River,” “5 Little Monkeys Jumping On the Bed,” “The Earth is Our Mother (Hey Yana Ho Yana Hey Yan Yan),” “I Find My Joy in the Simple Things,” “The Finger Band,” “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” and “Mr. Sun.”
Using more than just your voice
Music can be more than just singing a song with your preschooler or toddler. Songs that include finger play or movements encourage your child to use their gross-motor skills, such as jumping or balancing, as well as fine-motor skills—not to mention help get their energy out!
A fun twist on your family’s music time could be to add instruments, such as egg shakers, musical triangles, drums made out of homemade materials, etc. Using an instrument teaches rhythm skills, counting, and keeping a beat. You could also incorporate non-musical items, such as ribbons or scarves, into a song as a way to flex your child’s imagination muscle and fine- and gross-motor skills.
“By grasping the scarf your child is strengthening their fine motor skills. These skills stimulate hand and eye coordination, which is a wonderful pre-writing skill. By alternating hands your child is crossing the midline of their body, which is another pre-writing skill as well as a pre-reading skill,” says Ali. “As your child moves the scarf all around in many different directions and patterns, they are acquiring kinesthetic awareness (a subconscious sense of how the body feels when it moves in a certain way) and developing their sensorimotor systems, both of which are prerequisites to cognitive learning.”
Academic and social-emotional benefits aside, music is just plain fun! Carve out some time in your day to devote to music and movement with your child. “The easiest way to avoid wrong notes is to never open your mouth and sing. What a mistake that would be.” – Pete Seeger
Parenting Now’s Circle Time videos can viewed on YouTube.
This article appeared in the July 6, 2020 edition of the Register-Guard.