This portion of my Toddler Tuesday series is the first part of a mini-series on music in early learning that I’m excited to share with you. I have a few post ideas lined up that I can’t wait to get out, but I thought it would be beneficial to first explain why song has such an important role to play in being with children. Please
Singing and music is a vital part of early childhood for a variety of reasons. You can find a vast amount of research and instruction on using song and music with children from a wide variety of sources, but one of my go-to books (which I have sitting beside me here for reference as I write this) is What’ll I Do with the Baby-o? by Jane Cobb. It is an amazing resource for parents and caregivers, chock full of research and information on child development and early learning, includes a wealth of different nursery rhymes, finger plays and children’s songs for all ages, and even comes with a CD with 36 of the recorded songs to listen to.
So, what does music offer for children? Singing has the power to capture a child’s attention. You can often find me singing (both real and made-up songs for the moment) with children throughout our days, as we carry about our activities and routines (no matter how loose a routine is, it is still there). But why?
The Power of Song in Early Learning
Singing fosters attachment by connecting with children in loving and caring ways. It can change the state of emotional arousal in whatever way need be (think lullabies at bedtime and jumpy, and bouncy songs to keep children engaged during activities). By singing during moments that ten to be more stressful (washing hands, changing diapers, getting ready for your day) we can help everyone move through the experiences with positive feelings and direction, rather than resorting to more controlling ways that tend to bring out the frustration in both children and adults. When we sing to keep a situation calm and moving smoothly, we are teaching emotional regulation and self-soothing, as well as self-expression.
Singing fosters language development. When we sing, we change the pitch of our voices, elongate our vowel sounds, make use of tempos and rhythm, focus on smaller syllables of words, and we are often exposed to new words as we learn new songs. All of this is very valuable to learning to communicate and use language. We also often use actions, which pre- and early-verbalizers can join in on if they are not strong in their voices yet, offering more chances to experience communication and build on those language skills.
Singing fosters brain development. In our brains, words are stored in the left hemisphere while melodies are stored in the right. By singing, we integrate the different sides of brain function. The repetition we hear in songs helps to build memory skills and capacity (repetition, in general, is very important to children, so please don’t be dismayed when little Tommy only wants to read the same book over and over and over – one day he will move on, but right now, this is what he needs). Singing helps us learn concepts (up/down, fast/slow, etc) and inspires creativity (especially when we are flexible with wording and allow children – and ourselves – to know that it’s okay, and even exciting, to change up the words or rhythms of a song). Research also shows that singing helps to encourage problem solving skills by learning to perceive patterns.
Singing fosters social skill development. Music has a magical way of bringing people together. Watching their peers and other adults (especially when we arrange ourselves into a circle) as we sing, dance and perform actions of the songs, or engage in singing games involving others, we are facilitating the development of cooperation, social-emotional cognition, and social skills – very important for a future of learning and success.
So how do we facilitate music and song to encourage all these amazing benefits?
Sing. Just do it. Any time. All the time. As much as you can.
You think your singing voice is terrible? I’m quite sure your little one could care less if you sounded more like a foghorn than Celine Dion. You don’t want to embarrass yourself? Well, you may not be comfortable yet to make up a little ditty about potatoes and milk in the middle of the packed grocery store (something I often do), but you can still step out of your comfort zone when there are no other “scary” adults around.
Children experience many situations that we might be mortified to find ourselves in (falling face first in the parking lot, tugging on an adults leg to find it’s not your parent, soaking through your pants in the worst way possible, and so on), and they get up and move on with life. If they have to go through what some might find awfully embarrassing to carry on learning and growing, the least we can do for them is to sing a silly little song and watch their eyes light up as they stare in delight and (hopefully) join in on the fun.
You don’t know many (or any) kids songs? Well, realistically, the songs and music you use with children don’t have to be “kids songs”. Children can enjoy and learn from a wide variety of music, so don’t feel like you can’t pop in one of your CDs and let them take in the rhythm of your favourite band (although I would suggest choosing music with age-appropriate language and concepts – your child’s preschool teacher may not be super keen on little Jane spontaneously teaching her class a verse of Eminem’s latest album).
There are also a lot of fantastic resources online for finding songs for early learning. I have already published a few posts of my own, which you might find helpful. I encourage you to check these out, and then to branch out on your own and find some songs that speak to you. Maybe you remember something from your childhood, or a particular melody seems to grab your attention.
Check out these posts for more musical resources:
To get you started, check out this post on Beating the Baby Boredom that includes sections on finger plays and songs that little ones often enjoy (includes a link to find more early learning songs on another fabulous website). These songs could be classified as baby songs, but are appropriate for toddlers and preschool children, too.
Here is our favourite interactive song, perfect for one-on-one (or two-on-one – I’ve even managed three on my lap before, actually). My toddler loves this one, and will ask repeatedly, daily, to sing “Bumpy Road!”
I awkwardly recorded myself performing a few of my most useful songs for engaging children with actions or preparing and facilitating transitions (getting ready to go for snack, cleaning up, etc.). Feel free to check this post out here, and if you laugh at me, I won’t feel bad.
These early learning song cards have been very useful to me, and enjoyed by many children in my personal and professional life with little ones. You can check them out and download your own free printables here.
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I’d love to hear from you. What is your favourite song to sing with your kiddos? Comment below or at any of the social media accounts above. Happy melodies!!
*Disclaimer* I have included in this post an affiliate link to Amazon.ca, in order to easily direct you to the resource book I mentioned. If you were to purchase a copy of this resource through my link, a small portion of the sale would come back to me as a commission, which would help to keep this blog up and running. As always, if I recommend it, it’s because I really think it’s great, and all thoughts and words here are mine alone.