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How to Use Music to Aid Your Child’s Development

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How to Use Music to Aid Your Child’s Development
You may have heard that singing to your child is one of the most important things you can do, but if you are not a natural performer then what’s the best way to get started? Lose Your Inhibitions
The first rule about singing to children is to go for it. However particular your little one may be about anything else (like which colour bowl breakfast comes in), they really don’t care whether or not you “can sing”. Children respond to enthusiasm, not perfect pitch. So forget what Simon Cowell would say, give it a go and enjoy yourself. Singing releases endorphins which are happy hormones and feeling happy together is a great way to build and strengthen the connection between you and your child. All you need to do is pick a tune....
Take a Trip Down Memory Lane
If you’re not sure where to start, classic nursery rhymes are called classic for a reason. Even if you haven’t sung children’s songs since you were a child I guarantee that there’s at least 1 or 2 you remember. ‘Twinkle Twinkle’,’ Incy Wincy Spider’, ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’? Not only will you feel more comfortable with a song you know well, nursery rhymes are hugely beneficial for your child. The rhythm and rhyme of simple songs helps children to build the foundations of language as they start to recognise the patterns. You can also incorporate early maths skills with counting songs like ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Once I Caught a Fish Alive’ or ’10 Green Bottles’.
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Don’t panic if your child wants the same favourite song over and over (and over) again, it’s completely normal and highly beneficial. Children learn through repetition as it helps them to form effective and lasting neural pathways in their brain. These neural pathways provide connections between different parts of our brain and help us start to understand ourselves and our environment.
Songs can be particularly useful to help your child understand the routine of the day and when it’s time to change from one activity to another. ‘Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush’ is one of my favourites at home for this reason – “This is the way we brush our teeth/wash our hair/put on our clothes”. It’s also why the ‘Tidy Up Time’ song is always a hit with parents in class!
Get Silly
Once you and your child are familiar with songs you can start to play around with them. Changing the words to a well known tune will make it easier for you to remember and helps to develop your child’s listening skills. You can start simple by substituting your child’s name into songs like ‘5 Currant Buns’, changing the activity in ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’ or putting some zoo animals into ‘Old MacDonald’. As your child grows you can encourage their creativity by asking them to fill in the gaps themselves. New versions of old songs are also great and can give you a bit of variety whilst still keeping the benefits of repetition, for example ‘5 Brown Teddies Sitting On a Wall’ or my personal favourite:

“Incy wincy spider climbed up the trees, Down came the snow and made poor Incy freeze, Out came the sunshine and melted all the snow, So Incy Wincy spider had another go”

I always look forward to winter so I can use it in class.
Grab ANY Instrument
There are lots of lovely instruments available for babies and children, many of which are suitable from birth, but playing music at home doesn’t need to be expensive. Upside down saucepan drums with a wooden spoon are always a winner and pasta in a screw top pot makes a great rattle. A kitchen roll filled with rice and taped at both ends is a lovely rainmaker and there are hundreds more ideas available on Pinterest. Just remember not to leave babies and young children unsupervised with homemade instruments in case they manage to find a way in to the bits in the middle! Playing with instruments is great for babies and young children and if you do decide to buy some they really are toys which will grow with them.
For young babies, listening to someone shaking a rattle then looking towards it is an early foundation of spatial awareness and visual tracking so start in front of them and then slowly move the instrument around so they can follow it with their eyes. Try up and down as well as side to side. Once your baby can grasp they can start to hold a small rattle, don’t worry if all they do is chew it! Babies learn through touch and our mouths have more touch nerves than anywhere else in our body. Just make sure what you give them is suitable from birth and quite light in case they bop themselves with it!
Start to encourage toddlers to try playing along to a tune they know or copy a short set of beats. Long before they actually master the rhythm they will be improving their listening skills and hand co-ordination. Creativity is still vital though so do find a good tune for some freestyle jamming too.
Get Moving
As a former Paediatric Physiotherapist action songs are my absolute favourite and I could go on about the benefits for hours. Even tiny babies will be learning early body awareness from action songs as you sing ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ whilst touching the relevant body part for them. They also benefit from the gentle movement of songs that take them up and down such as ‘Humpty Dumpty’, ‘Horsey Horsey’ or ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’ as it works the vestibular system in your ears which is vital for balance. The trick here is to pay attention to your child’s level of head control. For teeny tinies just place them on your knees facing you and move your legs up and down gently in time with the words. You can start to sit them up more and make the movements larger as they grow.
Once babies are sitting up they often love to clap and any song which encourages this is great. Using two hands together works both sides of the brain and forms strong connections between them which is vital for co-ordinating all the two-handed tasks we take for granted as adults. Think ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’, ‘Wind the Bobbin Up’ and ‘I Hear Thunder’.
Structured action songs are great for supporting pre-schooler’s co-ordination; whole body songs like ‘The Hokey Cokey’ are great for developing gross motor skills like jumping, whilst finger songs like ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ focus on fine motor skills which help when it comes to learning to write. Body awareness comes from learning everything our bodies can do though so just playing your favourite tune and having a boogie together is brilliant and it’s good exercise too.
Try A Class
Singing in a group has benefits for both you and your child. It has been linked with improved mental health due to the release of oxytocin which can lower stress and anxiety. It can also provide a great place to make new friends and learn new songs. Children who attend a group regularly increase their social confidence as they learn to interact with the other children and become familiar with the routines and class leader.
Take time to find the right group for you and your child. Have you heard recommendations or read good reviews? Would you like a mix of familiar songs and new favourites? Do they encourage your child to participate using instruments or props? Most importantly though, is it FUN?
Many groups, including Caterpillar Music, offer a free trial so you can test them out first and I promise that no one is judging you or your singing voice. Give it a try (even if you’re nervous) and both you and your child will reap the benefits.

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