Building Brains by Singing with Your Children

Parents, did you realize that children develop essential skills that help them learn how to read long before formal reading instruction begins? These are called early literacy skills, and they include vocabulary, print motivation, phonological awareness, print awareness, letter knowledge, and narrative skills.

How do children gain these skills, exactly? The answer is simple. Through everyday nurturing interactions with you! When you talk, read, sing, and play with your children, you are helping them build these foundational skills, and you’re strengthening your bond with your child in the process. Win, win!

*This is the third post in a series of blogs about utilizing the early literacy practices (talk, read, sing, play) to foster your child’s development. This entry focuses on the practice of singing.

No musical training? No worries! It is your voice that soothes and comforts your child, describes the world to your child, lets your child know they are loved. Rest assured, your singing voice can do all of that, too. The benefits of singing and engaging your child in musical experiences extend across all domains of development, including the following:

Language/Literacy

  • Singing fosters phonological awareness, the ability to hear and manipulate units of sound.
  • It reinforces and develops vocabulary, especially if unfamiliar words are explained.

Social/Emotional

  • Singing to or with your child is a positive and nurturing interaction that strengthens your bond.
  • It can ease transitions between activities and help a less desirable activity be more fun.
  • It can calm a fussy baby or toddler (and a hardworking parent).

Cognitive

  • Singing and related musical activities promote the development of crucial executive functioning skills. These skills are deemed essential for school readiness and include a child’s ability to focus attention, utilize working memory, and exercise self-control. Learn how to use music and other everyday activities to foster these skills in your child from Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child.

Physical

  • Young children strengthen muscles and develop gross motor skills as they move to music.
  • Young children develop fine motor skills when they practice fingerplays (e.g., Itsy Bitsy Spider, Where Is Thumbkin, etc.).

Tips

Add more music to your family’s routine by trying one or more of the following activities:

  • Make up a lullaby for your child. Find inspiration with the endearing Carnegie Hall Lullaby Project.
  • Insert your child’s name into familiar tunes, like “Old [Mateo] Had a Farm.”
  • Share fingerplays and action rhymes with your child. Check out the library’s Fingerplay Fun videos to expand your repertoire.
  • Make a shaker, like these. Or these!
  • Make a drum set with pots, pans, food storage containers, and wooden spoons for mallets.
  • Make a playful craft microphone for you and your child, and put on a show.
  • Plan a family dance party or a family lip syncing contest.
  • Read musical books! View a handy dandy musical book list here.
  • Read nursery rhymes! View a handy dandy nursery rhyme book list here.

Enjoy singing and engaging in other musical experiences with your child! Find information and tips about the other early literacy practices here: talking and reading.

Additional Resources 

Baby Music: The Soundtrack to Your Child’s Development

A resource from UNICEF on how making music, not just listening to it, impacts child development. Includes a link to a related Mini Parenting Masterclass (5 minutes).

Beyond Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

An article from NAEYC and Zero to Three on how music supports each domain of development and what early childhood professionals can do to enhance early learning experiences with music.