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Music & Development

by Amber on February 16, 2010

Music is a powerful tool for both engaging and energizing children as well as encouraging development. But how can music help your child? I spoke to two experts to find out how you can harness the power of music in your own home.

Joe Rothstein is a speech pathologist who works with many special needs children.

He uses various intervention techniques to connect with kids, including PECS and PROMPT, but he is also a musician, so of course it makes sense that he would try music as a means to encourage language development and create a CD with that in mind, Power Tunes.

And guess what? It works!

Obviously Joe isn’t the first to stumble onto this truth. Michele Valeri, a professional children’s performer, has also been using music as a means to encourage little ones, toddlers and infants, to move in and think about the world around them. Her CD, Little Ditties for Itty Bitties, focuses on just that.

You may be wondering: “Why is music so powerful?” I asked my two experts, and here’s what they had to say:

  • Little Ditties for Itty BittiesMusic makes us happy.

    As Michele points out: “Music produces joy. When children are happy they take in the world on a deeper level. They learn more from every experience when they are joyful.”

  • Music motivates all children, no matter what their level of ability.

    Joe says that after working with many children over the years, he noticed that “music has a way of motivating and including all children, regardless of developmental levels or disabilities. Some children are able to participate by singing or playing instruments, and some participate by dancing or attentively listening.”

  • Music is expressive.

    Michele says that “the rise and fall of the human voice in a song is more expressive because the music raises the expressiveness of the words and helps children to develop expressive speech.”

I also wanted to know how I could use music at home to encourage my child’s development. Joe and Michele had a lot to say on this topic, too:

  • Use music to make believe.

    Joe says that “playing make believe is a wonderful way to teach skills because it encourages children to actively think about concepts and look at them from different perspectives.” So dress up and pretend to be firemen or princesses; pretend to make a meal or wash the dishes; make believe your couch is a boat and you’re sailors. By adding a song to the mix, you just solidify this experience. As Joe says, “children learn best when a variety of teaching modalities are used.”

  • Move to the beat.

    Michele says that we should find music with a good beat. Kids can learn to move and stomp to the beat, and this can actually help them with their speech acquisition, too. “The term steady beat refers to musical pulse,” says Michele. “Steady beat in music helps children to develop speech, both understanding speech and producing speech.”

  • Michele Valeri.

    Michele singing with some itty bitties.

  • Sing to grab your child’s attention.

    Some kids may be delayed or have disabilities interfering with their learning processes; other kids may be too busy to stop and listen. Either way, “the fact is that when speech doesn’t reach them, music does.” Michele has seen this first hand and insists that “speaking doesn’t hold the attention of our youngest learners the way singing does.”

  • Use music to enhance memory.

    Quick, which letter comes after “C”? Did you say “D”? Of course you did! Why? Because you remember your ABC song. Joe points out that “music is an especially powerful tool in helping children remember concepts. For example, children can memorize all 26 letters of the alphabet in sequence by learning the alphabet song. The rhythmic and melodic components of the song provide a vessel for remembering the information.”

  • Keep things meaningful.

    Joe points out that it’s important to keep songs both developmentally appropriate and meaningful. Sing about things that your kids will understand or that are important to them. “When I am working with a child I think about what is developmentally appropriate, what is functional and meaningful for the child, and how I can present the skills in a way that makes it easy to learn.”

  • Keep it catchy!

    Pop music is catchy for a reason: it makes us listen and pay attention. Make sure the songs you sing “follow predictable patterns, making them easy to
    learn.” Joe says that melodies should also be “catchy and easy to sing, making
    them accessible to both adults and children.”

Finally—Have fun! Remember, the more enjoyment your children have in the learning process, the more they’ll grow!

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