The power of music -®
The power of music:
stimulating children's brain development
part 2
By Galina Zenin, Music & Early Childhood Consultant
According to the latest research, brain development is most rapid in the early years of life. "When the quality of stimulation, support and nurturance is deficient, child development is seriously affected" – (UNICEF, 26 July 2013).

Effective nurturing of the developing brain in children's first five years can have an impact that will last a lifetime, which is why it is so important that we have an adequate understanding of the brain in early childhood. How is it structured? How does it mature and develop? How can we maximise its potential?

While the complexities of the brain continue to be uncovered and explored by neuroscientists, what we do know is that music can play a vital role in supporting and enhancing brain development.

Science says sing

Neuroimaging clearly demonstrates that singing uses both sides of the brain, improving the connections between the sides. It is clear that music and singing play an incredible role in enabling children to learn to think and communicate effectively using language. In addition, research shows that rhyme and music can enhance children's capacity for spatial reasoning, paving the way for children to excel in areas like math and science.

Music and neuroimaging specialist Gottfried Schlaug, (MD, PhD) says: "Listening to and making music is not only an auditory experience, but it is a multisensory and motor experience. Making music over a long period of time can change brain function and brain structure”. And the greatest impact on the brain is seen in children under age seven, meaning that early childhood educators have the opportunity to assist children's brain development through music at the most crucial time.

Making music matters

While listening to music has its own set of benefits for adults and children alike, the key in connecting music and brain development is that the children need to be actively involved in creating the sounds. And while much of the research refers to learning an instrument, taking on the rhythmic, melodic, tonal and memorisation requirements of singing is very closely related. Add in some actions with singing songs and the whole body is involved in creating music.

As Nina Kraus, Director of Northwestern's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, said, it is “through the active generation and manipulation of sound that music can rewire the brain”. More than just rewire, many researchers now say that creating music can change the physical structure of the brain, increasing the white matter - a key component of the central nervous system that enhances the connectivity between the various sections of the brain.

Benefit every day

While many of the studies on the impact of creating music on the brain are based on learning an instrument in one or two lessons per week, it is clear that creating music with our voices and bodies via singing, clapping, clicking and stomping is closely related. I am dedicated to delivering a way that children can experience music activities from age two not only for 30 minutes once a week, but every day.

If children are taking part in creating music and singing on a daily basis, we can only imagine the significance of this on their brains. Although perhaps we can do more than just imagine, as often the result of children's involvement in making music is evident in their academic ability, behaviour and wellbeing. I see these outcomes on a daily basis, as do the parents and educators at other centres implementing the Bonkers Beat music program across the country.

Time for music

Many educators feel that their days are just too busy to incorporate music into their daily routines, but here are just a few ideas of when you might use music, even to just create an atmosphere that's conducive to relaxation. This in itself can benefit the developing brain, lowering cortisol (stress hormone) levels and anxiety, and clearing the way for mindfulness and the promotion of resilience.

Here are some times when music can be slipped into the day with little to no effort to enhance children's brains and learning:
  • Smooth classical music to create relaxing atmosphere on arrival during family grouping time
  • Transitional songs to reduce stress during transition times
  • Nursery songs and musical games to engage children throughout the day
  • Relaxation music to promote wellbeing during rest time
  • Classical music including Mozart to stimulate creativity during art/craft sessions
  • Yoga music to support yoga sessions
  • Meditation music to promote mindfulness during meditation, relaxation or breathing time
  • Smooth classical music to create calm atmosphere at the end of the day during family grouping time
  • Multicultural and folk music to encourage spontaneous dancing and bonding during family grouping time or community events

The outcomes

So what are the outcomes of the impact of music on the development of the brain? Without sounding too dramatic, it can affect almost every aspect of children's learning, from literacy and numeracy to coordination, wellbeing and everything in between. I'll explore music and these topics in my future articles.

Science has left no question about it - music changes children's brains for the better. And while learning an instrument at early age can be demanding, time consuming and sometimes expensive, bringing singing and musical experiences into children's lives every day is not just doable – it's essential.

To learn more about great benefits for teaching and learning through music, keep your eyes open for our next article 'The Power of Music: Enhancing Children's Wellbeing'.

To find out more about the first music kinder in Australia visit the Bonkers Beat website. To share your ideas and views, visit the Bonkers Beat Facebook page.

Previous articles

The Benefits of Teaching Children through music Part 1
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