On one of our puppy’s first car rides, he began to whimper and tremble in distress.
“Try singing to him,” suggested my 7-year-old. And so I began to hum “Baby Mine,” a lullaby I have sung to my children every night since they were born. It’s what I sing when they wake up to nighttime thunder at 3am. It’s what I sing when they are sick and need some extra soothing. Sometimes I even catch myself humming it to myself before I give a presentation.
And as my son predicted, my puppy settled down by the second verse.
It’s not that particular song that’s special — it’s simply that act of singing. As Dr. Anita Collins, author of “The Music Advantage: How Music Helps Your Child Develop Learn and Thrive,” told me, “Song is our very first language, and it is an incredible mechanism to connect with babies and other human beings.”
Here are three reasons we should sing to our kids.
1. Sing to build connection.
Don’t worry if you can carry a tune, Collins said. “Your baby doesn’t care. They are picking up that you are a safe person, that you are a person they are connected to. You are your baby’s favorite rockstar.”
There’s a reason we instinctively use sing-song sounds with young children. Before they learn speech, they learn sounds — and melody is highly appealing to young children. Think about how kids light up when we do song-based finger plays with them, such as “Five Little Monkeys” or “Where is Thumbkin.” Preschool and children’s librarians know that an engaging opening song can grab kids’ attention and quickly build a sense of togetherness. Schools and faith traditions use songs to foster community. And a family dance party or karaoke night is a great way to get the wiggles out and make memories.
2. Sing to support brain development.
Nina Kraus is a neurologist who has spent years studying the effects of music on the brain. When it comes to helping kids develop the skills they need to learn, “music is the jackpot,” she told me. According to her research, music builds attention, working memory, and language development. It’s also highly motivating and emotionally satisfying, which is also key to learning.
And before kids ever take a music class, simply singing to them, rocking them, and bouncing them really pays off. Rhythm is directly linked with learning how to read. In fact, school-age children who struggle with keeping a beat are more likely to have reading challenges.
“Strengthening one’s rhythm skills, which is something that music does inherently, creates a biological foundation that helps with language and literacy,” Kraus said. When we sing to our kids, their brain is exposed to sounds, rhythms, and rhymes that are the building blocks of reading.
3. Sing to teach routines and skills.
If I asked you to recite the alphabet, chances are you would sing it to me. If you can recite all fifty states, you might have had an elementary school teacher who taught you a song about it. And there’s a reason every “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” episode contains a strategy song. Songs are memorable! Kids are still developing their executive function skills — including working memory — so putting a routine to music makes it easier for them to remember.
Singing to and making music with our kids is a winner. It builds connections, enhances feelings of safety, promotes brain development, and teaches skills. So don’t worry about the quality of your vocals. You really are your child’s favorite rockstar.
-Reposted from PBS; written by Deborah Farmer Kris