Songs and dances makes for clever kids

By Jenny Wilkinson, Hey Dee Ho

Nature versus nurture?… This is an age old question. Every year more and more studies are published to show that childhood development is influenced by a variety of factors.  As a parent you not only supply the gene pool for your child but directly influence their everyday activities and environment.

Everyone is born with a complex system of brain circuitry, but how that circuitry is wired is dependent on external forces – i.e. nutrition, stimulation, and surroundings – in other words, their environment.

The development of language is influenced every day in every way by parent-child interactions. From the very beginning of your pregnancy it is important to talk, sing, and read to your baby. This enables your child to recognise and learn the sounds of their native language. In addition to learning the sounds of speech, during the first six months a child's brain begins to learn which mouth movements go with the sounds. Lots of face-to-face conversations with your baby helps them to interpret the world around them. Cooing and then babbling are milestones in language acquisition.

Babies like to mimic what they hear. By speaking to your baby and imitating the baby's sounds, a parent not only teaches the child sound patterns but encourages taking turns, a process necessary for conversation. Studies have shown that children whose parents spoke to them more often know many more words by age 2 and scored higher on standardized tests by age 3.

Music is the one medium that uses both sides of the brain. The left side of the brain is dominant when it comes to language. It takes in what we hear, processes it and is also pretty much responsible for speaking. It is the logical side of the brain. The right side of the brain looks after our spatial awareness, movement and face recognition. It helps us make sense of what we see and as far as language is concerned, helps us interpret the meaning and tone of conversation. Research shows says children who have music in their lives have a 15 percent larger corpus callosum, which is a network of nerves connecting the two hemispheres of the brain.

Here are some example of things you can do at home:

  • When your baby is on the change table sing songs with simple hand actions – Twinkle twinkle little star, Incy Wincy Spider, 1 2 3 4 5…. There are many fun nursery rhymes that will enthral your baby.
  • Celebrate dinner time with some fun music that ties in with the food you are eating .. one potato, bananas in pyjamas, on top of spaghetti ..
  • Some fun music at bath time -  splish splash, rub a dub dub …
  • And finally some gentle music at bed time.

Remember, the first 4 years of life is the most critical period of the brain’s development, more so than at any other time. This is the time to immerse your child in as many experiences as possible.

Early experiences contribute significantly to the structure of the brain and its capacities - the effects are lifelong. The quality, quantity and consistency of stimulation, such as music, determines how the brain is formed and can even enhance I.Q.

So the advice is sing, sing and sing some more. Sing with or without music and don’t worry how it sounds. Put on your favourite music and dance around the house together. Not only will you enjoy yourself but your baby will be developing valuable skills.

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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