Language Enrichment Through Music

insights from Susan Cohn & Associates

By Sarah Oarbeascoa MA, CCC-SLP September 19, 2018
I am not a singer.  I do not even think I have a good ear for humming.  When my son was born though, it didn’t matter anymore.  I sang every song I could think of, and the great part was, he didn’t notice I was so bad.  When my son was about one, I began taking him to music classes.  This was a wonderful way for us to bond and interact socially with peers.   The next ‘stage’ in our home was Sesame Street, with “C is for Cookie” and “Elmo’s Song”.  Then came the preschool songs such as “ABCs” and “Days of the Week” sang to the tune of the Addams Family. 
I have to admit, these children’s songs, so happy and repetitive, same rhythm over and over, have started to wear on me. I’ve started to wonder if I’ll ever gain control of my music again? It is so tempting to just listen my songs!  However, before I begin deleting my son’s songs from my devices, I think it’s a good time to remember WHY those songs are so catchy, and why they are so important to so many areas of childhood development.
From “Beyond Twinkle, Twinkle, Using Music with Infants and Toddlers” by Rebecca Parlakian and Claire Lerner. 

Music promotes development in a number of ways.  
  1. Social-emotional skills are developed by singing about emotions (“If you’re happy and you know it…”)
  2. ‘Call and response songs’ such as “Who Ate the Cookies from the Cookie Jar” are great for sharing and taking turns.
  3. Gross motor and fine motor skills are developed through dancing and finger plays (“Where is Thumbkin”, “Open, Shut Them”). 
  4. Music positively impacts cognitive skills.  One way to enhance cognitive skills is with counting songs (“Five Little Monkeys, “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe”).  Rhythm and repetition helps children to learn the sequence of number patterns.  Songs with a clear beginning, middle, and end can help children learn story sequences also.  How often are you in a store or in the car when you hear a song playing that triggers a memory? Some of my earliest memories are paired with a song.  Research shows babies as young as 8 months old can recognize a familiar piece of music.  Whether learning a new concept such as days of the week or chant an acrostics to remember the planets (My Very Excellent Mom Just Served Us Nine Pizzas = Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto), music has proven to boost memory.    
  5. Music helps with language development. Music is a way to practice spoken language, and build receptive language by listening to words children may understand, but can’t say yet.  
  6. Music is also a wonderful way to explore other cultures and languages.  One of the first songs my son came home singing from preschool was “A Ram Sam Sam”, which is a Moroccan folk song. Since I had never heard this song, it was an opportunity for us to learn more about not only the culture, but also the words to another language (I had to investigate what “a rafiq” and “guli guli” meant!)    Phonemic awareness (how well a child can hear, recognize, and use different sounds) is also an area developed when listening to music.  Music supports this through rhyming.
You don’t have to have the radio on to incorporate music into your life! Here are just a few fun ideas: 
  • Create your own songs using your favorite tunes.  My son LOVES garbage trucks.  There aren’t many songs out there about garbage trucks, so I made one up using the tune of “Do You Know the Muffin Man?”  This is how “Do You Know the Garbage Man?” was born in our household.  Let your creativity flow with your favorite tune! 
  • In the car, sing the ‘Alphabet’ song together or chant a song such as “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see?” only change it to “Child’s name, Child’s name, What do you see?”  
  • Anyone in your family play a real musical instrument?  Bring it out and sing along.
  • Make pretend musical instruments out of household items and jam away!
  • Find a local children’s performer and take the kids to their first ‘concert’ in a kid-friendly atmosphere.
  • Take school-age kids and older to concerts where the crowd and atmosphere are appropriate (make sure to bring ear plugs). A friend just took her first and fifth graders to see Norah Jones and Jack Johnson.  The kids loved both shows and now sing those artists songs out loud; her son even wanted to start guitar lessons.  
Now, for those moments when the catchy repetitive tunes really start to grate on the adult nerve and you want to rest your singing voice, then DO turn on the radio in the car or dock your phone to crank some tunes.  Make a child-friendly playlist to include music of all different genres so to expose children to an eclectic mix (make sure to include some of your child’s favorite songs in the mix too, of course). This will encourage a love for music.  

Music is an art form.  It expands the mind and allows for improved memory, creative thinking, and language.