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By Amanda Thielen
My musical talents end at using one finger to play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star on the piano, but music has always been an integral part of my life. From the very beginning, I remember enjoying music in the car with my dad or cleaning the house with my mom. A decade or so later, I’ll admit I thought their music was for “old people” and had developed my own tastes, but my love of music was stronger than ever.
It has always felt normal and comforting to have music playing in the background, regardless of what I am doing. This also immediately became the case for my daughter, Em, when she was born. Even when she is asleep, she demands that music is playing. And if you have so much as met a two-year-old, you probably know that they are skilled at getting their demands met.
I would have never guessed that exposing her to music early would have her talking in grammatically correct and unusually long sentences by the time she was two. While I find her eclectic love of music both amusing and admirable, the types of music that added to the development of these skills is a bit surprising. Who would have thought Taylor Swift’s music has the capability to build useful language skills? I would have never guessed that I would ever be backing Taylor Swift’s music as a strategy for teaching my kid.
My taste in music truthfully began with Taylor but had gravitated towards the eclectic style of Minnesota Public Radio’s (MPR) The Current and away from mainstream media.
It feels a bit ironic that my toddler has pulled me back into listening to some of the first music that I discovered in my early teens. As much as she loves Taylor, her love of music expands to all types and she’s always willing to rock out with my husband and I to The Current…for now.
I’ve also found that introducing music to her that I like has been a unique bonding experience. I’m dreading the day that she tells me MPR is for old people. It has also been entertaining to see what types of music she is pulled to and adds, even more, variety. We have been pretty liberal in letting her explore different music styles and artists.
Benefits of music in the early years are not exclusive to Mozart; that’s not to say that classical music is without unique benefits, but rather that all music should be embraced during early childhood and beyond.
Soon after Em began talking, she began using connecting words in her speech and by the time she was 18 months old, she was talking in complete sentences. Hearing her favorite songs repetitively, which were a bit non-traditional for her age, seemed to help her understand how sentences are put together. Listening to music has also introduced tons of mostly valuable words into her vocabulary.
I have to admit that I regret introducing her to my favorite artist, Regina Spektor. Every day for the past six months she has demanded Regina be played more than a Top 40 radio station overplays the newest hits.
Researchers agree that music has an effect on speech development; one study found that “experiencing a rhythmic pattern in music can improve the ability to detect and make predictions about rhythmic patterns in speech” (Zhao, 2016). Simply put, music helps your kids understand how sentences are made up, how words should sound, and everything in between.
As Em grows older, I expect that I will discover even more ways that music adds to her intelligence, development, and personality. Recently, I have noticed that she has become increasingly good at singing her favorite songs from memory. I am interested to see how continued exposure to music could affect her long-term memory, especially if she continues her insistence on listening to music while sleeping. The first thing I remember memorizing as a child is lyrics. Thinking back to elementary school, I can still remember the words to a number of songs from choir.
Em is also is making up her own songs. She makes up lyrics to tunes she knows or invents her own melody. Listening to the songs, particularly the words she makes up have been some of the most entertaining moments of parenthood. I can’t wait to show her friends the videos at when she’s older.
All music has rhythm. It doesn’t matter what genre of music your kids listen to as long as you get them listening. So break out your favorite tunes, within reason, and grab your kid for a dance party that triples as a hidden learning opportunity. Work dance parties into your daily routine and you’ll also benefit from the extra physical activity and bonding time but perhaps that is a discussion for another time.
Take the chance while you can, before long they will be teenagers telling you your tunes are outdated.
The teenage years are easier than the terrible twos, though, right?
Oh, shit. I think she just told me to turn my “old person” music off.
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Zhao, C. (2016). Music improves baby brain responses to music and speech. Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences. Retrieved from: http://ilabs.washington.edu/i-labs-news/music-improves-baby-brain-responses-music-and-speech
Images: Featured image by Giu Vicente via unsplash.com. Other by Kristina Litvjak via unsplash.com.