Music and Child Development

We’ve talked about music in terms of resilience and mental health – but what other benefits can children gain from experiencing music?

According the Environmental Rating Scales Institute, children can gain language skills, fine motor skills, social skills, balance and coordination, expressing emotions, creativity, a sense of rhythm, and listening skills through music and movement. It can also promote group learning in settings like a small group, child care, or preschool. Awesome things for our kids, right?!

Plus, music can also support cultural diversity for children. According to our publication Supporting Cultural Diversity, which can be found under any age on the Everyday Parenting page of Science of Parenting, music supports cultural diversity through “instruments, music, folk songs, and dances from different countries. Music activities are great activities for building relationships and learning English and other languages. The repetitive nature of songs allows children to become familiar with new words and phrases.”

With all of these benefits related to music, the next question is, “now how do I help my child get all of these benefits?” Well have we got some good news for you – music can be super easy to incorporate into your child’s life. Some simple strategies can include listening to (age-appropriate) music together in the car together, singing your child’s favorite songs before bed, encouraging your child to use instruments (simple ones like maracas for your younger kiddos or having an older child involved in band), or even just having dance parties on the weekends.

Learn more about the science behind music and the child’s brain from our previous blog, Is it Magic? Or is it Music? from guest blogger, Elizabeth Stegemöller, PhD and Board Certified Music Therapist from the ISU Kinesology Department.

After all this music talk, let us know how you incorporate music throughout the day to encourage your child’s development!

Mackenzie DeJong

Mackenzie DeJong

Recent Family and Consumer Sciences grad and Human Sciences Program Coordinator serving four counties in Northwest Iowa. Background editor and occasional contributor of the "county perspective" for the Science of Parenting blog.

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Music and Mental Health

Last week, I spoke of a lyric in a song that sparked an entire blog post. That idea is the perfect lead into what I wanted to write about this week, as May is Mental Health Awareness Month – music as a tool to help regulate emotions and support mental health.

As someone who has experienced both anxiety and depression I know the importance of finding the right outlet for my emotions. Although struggles with mental health are not always solved by practicing self-regulation, oftentimes they help to de-escalate a situation. An individual may choose to go for a run, meditate, or talk to a friend. For me, music helps.

Music is not only about a musician playing the right notes on a staff – it can provoke a physical and emotional response from many that allows movement and reflection. An upbeat song might get you tapping your toe or up out of your seat. A slow song might be just what is needed to drift off to sleep for a brain that is otherwise anxiously analyzing the next day. Songs with good lyrics also can have a strong impact – like last week’s blog post mentioned, a song might encourage you. Sometimes, there’s a tearjerker that helps you process your emotions in a way that you couldn’t on your own.

I can’t forget to mention that it’s not just about listening to music –there is benefit to singing and playing the music yourself. For me, singing a song as loud as possible in the car for is liking writing those thoughts out in a journal for others. I also play the cymbals, and I’m sure you can imagine the physical release that those allow.

Music can help both children and adults regulate their emotions! In place of “Stop. Breathe. Talk.” My tactic in a high-stress situation might actually be “Stop. SING. Talk.” When our littles are crying hysterically, humming a soft tune might help steady their breathing and calm their mind.

Next week, we’ll look deeper into the “science” side of Science of Parenting and discuss more benefits of music and movement for children!

Mackenzie DeJong

Mackenzie DeJong

Recent Family and Consumer Sciences grad and Human Sciences Program Coordinator serving four counties in Northwest Iowa. Background editor and occasional contributor of the "county perspective" for the Science of Parenting blog.

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Music and Resilience

This morning as I was driving to work, I was listening to the new song, “Youth,” by Shawn Mendes and Khalid. The lyrics spoke about feeling hopeless but not letting pain turn to hate, which really hit me in relation to the last few blogs. The words made me think about experiencing situations that might have a negative effect, but then reminding myself “nope, I’m not going to let those feelings overtake me. I’m going to find ways to overcome this.”

Last week, Mackenzie Johnson talked about the research and reality of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), child abuse prevention, and starting at home.

Often, when talking about ACEs, we get the response of “okay, so what now?”. I’ll be the first to admit that when someone asks me this question on the spot, I get a little clammy trying to decide which resource would be the best fit, how to quickly and effectively respond to meet the needs of their situation, and how I can include all of the crucial pieces without oversimplifying. It’s that step of the process in which we help to build RESILIENCE, but the whole process of trauma informed care can feel complex.

Although there are many ways to reach the end goal, the ACE Interface explains that the structure of a successful trauma-informed community is three-tiered in what they call “Core Protective Systems.” Thriving communities support caring and competent relationships (like a positive parent-child connection), and these relationships support individual capabilities such as self-efficacy and self-regulation.

Individual capabilities lead to a sense of security, the ability to regulate emotion, and adapt to social situations, among other things. It gives us the ability to step back and say the words that were echoed in song, as I heard this morning.

Individual capabilities also give us the ability to know which tools work best to help us express self-regulation, like listening to music – but I’ll talk more about that next week.

Mackenzie DeJong

Mackenzie DeJong

Recent Family and Consumer Sciences grad and Human Sciences Program Coordinator serving four counties in Northwest Iowa. Background editor and occasional contributor of the "county perspective" for the Science of Parenting blog.

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Disco Creates Drive

**Flashback to 2014**

Ok, disco music doesn’t really create the drive to do things but it sure can HELP! Elizabeth’s blog last week, got me thinking about all the ways that I utilize (or have utilized) music to accomplish or complete different things throughout my life. It’s a pretty long list, but I thought the ones below were worth sharing.

  1. Playing the Top 40 on the radio to study my high school geography notes and connecting locations to the lyrics of the songs (…her name was Rio…).
  2. Using a Disco Micky Mouse record (yes a vinyl record) to help my three year old classroom kiddos expend their energy before nap time.
  3. Gathering multiple cd’s to take to the hospital when they told me it could take more than 24 hours to birth my child and I would want to be distracted.
  4. Downloading an hours worth of music to my music player to help convince my body it wants to keep moving and work up a good sweat.

From live radio to recorded downloads music can motivate us, relax us, energize and calm us. It connects to our feelings and emotions in a way that can keep us moving forward. Driving us to accomplish and complete.

As you reflect back on your life and the music in it, we would love to have you share with us the different ways that music has supported or helped you to ‘finish’.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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At Home with Nature

Children running on meadow at sunset

My childhood memories of nature include holding soft baby kitties, bicycling on the dusty gravel road, watching ants in the grass, hanging upside down in the swing in the big oak tree, collecting rocks, and digging tunnels in snow drifts. What are your favorite outdoor memories? Did you know that those experiences, in an unstructured, extended time frame, form the foundation of curiosity, learning and development of empathy? Scooping and dumping sand, making mud pies and stacking wood scraps were how you might have begun to learn physics and mathematics? Climbing a tree, running on uneven ground and carrying branches help a child develop body awareness, strength and visual spatial skills. Want your kid to be able to parallel park when he learns to drive? Give him outdoor experiences manipulating large natural materials and chances are he’ll be at the head of his driver’s ed – or graphic design – class. Kids also learn to manage risk and problem solve when they have early experiences in natural settings. Pokémon Go the virtual reality game may be a way to get kids outdoors, however unless they pay attention to the surroundings and explore those spaces, it does not substitute for actual experience with nature. Geocaching is another way for families to explore the out of doors.

I’ve been a certified Nature Explore trainer since 2009.  Thousands of Iowa early childhood professionals – teachers, child care providers, naturalists, parks and rec staff and parents – have learned to use tested design principles to help children connect to nature. Imagine my joy when I was invited to participate in a research project on Nature Explore backyards in Iowa City.  It was magical to watch  families embrace the concepts and open their backyards to transformation.  My memory of watching a toddler explore sound in his family’s new outdoor ‘classroom’ sustains me whenever I do a design consultation or teach a workshop. Excerpts from that research are in the book At Home with Nature.

My own backyard contains the Nature Explore principles and I’m having fun seeing how they will change over time as my 16 month old granddaughter grows up. Watching her pick and eat berries for the first time, check out the wren’s nest and sing back to the momma and papa birds, stack river stones, fill a pail with pinecones, turn sea shells over and over in her tiny hands and swing in the mosquito netting hammock all fill my heart with gratitude and hope for her future.

How do you help your kids connect to nature?

Kristi Cooper

Kristi Cooper

Kristi’s expertise in caregiving, mind body skills and nature education inspires her messages about healthy people and environments with parents, professionals, and community leaders.

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The School Can’t Cut the Music Program – Can They?

bandThe call goes out – help save our music program! When school districts face tough financial times, music is often one department on the table for cuts.

A first reaction may be to focus on arguments like: music is important for a well-rounded education; music is the only thing that keeps some kids interested in school; music teaches kids concentration, coordination, and perseverance; and performances are an important part of athletic events and school functions. Well, that’s all true but then the same could be said about other departments.

You might want to hone in on how music can help children with both reading skills and math. In a nutshell, the researchers who look at cognition, think that participation in music increases both the brain’s efficiency and effectiveness. The strongest studies support the value of music-making in spatial reasoning, creativity, and generalized math skills. Other studies link music education to helping children improve reading skills. Now you are beginning to talk the language that could influence the decision makers.

Sometimes parents assume the role of advocates for their children. And if that time comes for you, it helps to focus on facts rather than only emotions. Has your school system struggled with financing the music department? What has helped keep music a viable part of the school your children attend?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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Do I Have to Practice?

pianoThose old upright pianos – you’ve seen them in church basements, gathering dust at the back of stages, sitting unclaimed at auctions. While they’ve been replaced by smaller pianos and keyboards, these music instruments provided the setting for early music lessons for many kids. I remember staying in town after school a couple of times a month to walk to a home for music lessons. Then there was the daily practice in an unheated room pounding away on an old piano donated by a great aunt and uncle. My great aunt was the church organist and maybe she thought I might be her replacement someday. Each year I learned my pieces for the recital and managed not to humiliate myself.

So did I become an accomplished pianist? Nope – quit the lessons in high school. Were the lessons worth the time and money? I like to think so. Did I ever wish I’d continued lessons? Well, many years later as an adult I took lessons again for a year. The funny thing is I found I still wasn’t very good at playing and I still didn’t like to practice.

The point of my story is that I did learn a couple of important life skills. I found out quickly that it took a lot of patience on my part (and the teacher’s) to learn to play an instrument. It did not come easy; it was not always fun; and no matter how much I practiced, I still made mistakes. Learning to play a piano was my introduction to perseverance. The list is long of all my life experiences where it was not easy or fun and I made mistakes. But I kept working and practicing and did my best.

Want to know the rest of my story? In the living room, I have an old player piano that belonged to my grandmother. I taught the 3 daughters how to read music and they all played it to varying degrees. The grandchildren took their turns. And on a quiet afternoon or evening I am sometimes drawn to the keyboard where I play for my own enjoyment. Patience and perseverance and now relaxation – that’s a pretty good return on the investment.

Donna Donald

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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