Parents should sing to their children every day to avoid language problems developing in later life, according to a consultant. Too much emphasis in the early years is placed on reading, writing and numeracy, and not enough on the benefits of singing, according to Sally Goddard Blythe, a consultant in neuro-developmental education and director of the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology.
Singing traditional lullabies and nursery rhymes to babies and infants before they learn to speak, is "an essential precursor to later educational success and emotional wellbeing", argues Blythe in a book. "Song is a special type of speech. Lullabies, songs and rhymes of every culture carry the 'signature' melodies and inflections of a mother tongue, preparing a child's ear, voice and brain for language." Blythe says in her book, The Genius of Natural Childhood, to be published by Hawthorn Press, that traditional songs aid a child's ability to think in words. She also claims that listening to, and singing along with rhymes and songs uses and develops both sides of the brain. "Neuro-imaging has shown that music involves more than just centralised hotspots in the brain, occupying large swathes on both sides," she said.
Growing numbers of children enter nursery and school with inadequate language and communication skills, according to the National Literacy Trust, often because their parents have not helped them develop communication skills. Blythe believes that singing to and, later, with a child is the most effective way to transform their ability to communicate.
"Children's response to live music is different from recorded music," she said. "Babies are particularly responsive when the music comes directly from the parent. Singing along with a parent is for the development of reciprocal communication."
Beverley Hughes, the former children's minister who established a national curriculum to set down how babies are taught to speak in childcare from the age of three months, agreed that nursery rhymes can "boost child development".
Hughes cites research showing that music and rhyme increase a child's ability in spatial reasoning, which can enhance a child's mathematical and scientific abilities.
"Singing nursery rhymes with young children will get them off to a flying start," she said.
Daniel Dwase, editor of the online Child Development Guide, agreed that nursery rhymes set to music can aid a child's development. But, he added, teaching a child to dance is also important.
"Music assists in the development of a child's speech," he said. "Singing nursery rhymes and simple songs teaches children how language is constructed and assists with the acquisition of language. Singing songs with your child will also teach them about tone, beat and rhythm.
"Even better than just singing, though, is to teach songs with actions and encourage your child to dance along to the music, they will learn balance, co-ordination, body awareness and rhythm," he said.END
According to Steven M. Demorest, a professor of music education at Northwestern University, all children are born to sing, and telling them they lack the talent to do so can have lasting repercussions.
"Research shows that many adults who think of themselves as 'unmusical' were told as children that they couldn't or shouldn't sing by teachers and family members," he explained in a recent essay he wrote for The Conversation. "My own research found that if children have a negative view of themselves as singers, they are much less likely to participate in music of any kind. These self-perceptions of a lack of musical talent can then become a self-fulfilling prophecy."
And that's not all: Demorest went on to explain that adults who drop out of music as children may lose their singing skills through lack of use and opportunity. And kids who love music but do not think of themselves as musical could miss out on many of the social and cognitive benefits of music participation, as well as the experience of feeling connected to others through song.
"These benefits have nothing to do with talent," he writes. "Children are natural musicians, as they readily sing, dance, and play music from the time they are infants. People ask me all the time how they can tell if their child has musical talent. I assure them that their child—indeed every child—has musical ability that can be developed into a satisfying and lifelong relationship with music. However, as they get older, some children begin to get messages from peers, family members, the media, and (unfortunately) music teachers that they may not be very musical—that they don't have 'talent.'"
So sad! And of course, shows like "American Idol" don't help, he explains, since they promote the notion that singing is a rare ability reserved for the talented few, and that those without such talent entertain us only by being ridiculed and weeded out.
"This talent mindset of music runs counter to what psychologist Carol Dweck calls the 'growth mindset' that is considered critical for learning," Demorest says. "Students who view their success as a result of hard work will persevere through challenges, while students who believe their success lies with some innate ability—like 'talent'—are more likely to give up."
So how can we send children the message that singing is for everyone? Demorest says the change could begin both at home and school.
"If you are a parent, you could sing the music you loved growing up and not worry about how good you sound," he offers. "Having an adult in the home committed to music and singing without shame may be the most powerful influence on a child. You could sing with your kids from the time they are little, sing with the radio, sing in the car, or sing at the dinner table. As for my fellow music teachers, I ask that you encourage all of the children in your classrooms, schools, and communities to sing whenever and wherever they get a chance. The sad truth is, when we, the musical experts, discourage a child from singing, it can deliver a fatal blow to the child's musical self-image."
Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of two who writes about parenting and pop culture. Check out her websiteholleeactmanbecker.comfor more, and then follow her on Instagram and Twitter.