How Music Stimulates Cognitive Development
In recent years, research has given further insight into the development and functioning of the brain, with a growing evidence base to support the benefit and importance of music on infant development. But what does this mean for us as parents? How can we foster an early appreciation of music in our young ones, and at the same time, capitalize on the cognitive benefits it provides?
Other than singing the usual lullabies and nursery rhymes to our children, or playing The Wiggles greatest hits CD on repeat, how else can we provide our infants with opportunities to actively engage with music in meaningful ways? Ways that are not only going to support, but enhance, our little ones’ cognitive development, but also whilst steering clear of adding ear-muffs to our collection of must-have-mom-accessories or avoiding becoming the noisy house our friends despise visiting, at least not without taking a couple of Tylenol first.
As babies we are born with billions of brain cells, called neurons, which form connections with other neurons, known as neural pathways. Recent research using functional brain imaging yields some surprising science behind what music does to our brains. When we listen to music, it is processed in a number of different areas of the brain, activating neural pathways responsible for a range of skills such as creativity, memory, mathematics, spatial intelligence, language and emotional intelligence.
The use of brain-imaging technologies has also led to the discovery of the key areas of the brain responsible for seven different learning styles, such as visual, aural and verbal, to name a few. Therefore, there are a number of critical windows for acquiring specific types of intelligence, particularly during the first three years of life. So providing our toddlers with the right musical toys, does in fact, support building the basis of their future cognitive abilities.
Neural pathways are strengthened through regular use, so as parents we have a valuable opportunity, if not a responsibility, to provide the experiences and stimulation to help strengthen the neural pathways that lay the foundation for our children’s cognitive development, with listening to music being a key ‘brain-building’ experience.
During this early stage of development, almost half of our brain cells undergo neural pruning, a process whereby brain cells of the less established neural pathways die off, helping to organize the brain and make it more efficient.
As a result, learning that requires skills not developed through the established neural pathways, is much more difficult, if not impossible, once this critical window of brain development has closed. By choosing the right type of musical toys, (as opposed to those toys that use nerve-grating sounds that can barely claim to be music), we increase our children’s ability to continue to learn the skills and knowledge necessary for success later in life.
Supporting Neural Development Through Music
Supporting our children’s growth and development through exposure to, and active engagement with music during these significant brain building stages, is therefore essential, in order to activate the neural pathways necessary for enhanced learning and brain functioning.
Music inspires creativity, stimulates auditory development and encourages movement. And aside from introducing music foundations such as beat, rhythm and tempo, it is also a powerful tool to teach key knowledge and concepts, including the alphabet, numbers and counting, colors, days of the week and months of the year, to name just a few.
Through involving more of the brain during learning, we are more likely to remember more of what we learn, and through providing our children with exposure to music and educational musical toys, we can positively support and enhance their cognitive development. With this in mind, it obviously makes sense to provide our children, right from early infancy, with high-quality musical toys and activities that will have a lasting positive impact on their overall development.
Despite the proliferation of headache-inducing products on the market, and our instincts as parents to avoid equipping our already, at times noisy, toddlers with a greater repertoire of ear-splitting tools, it is important for us to acknowledge that not all musical toys are created equally, and that by making the distinction between those ‘musical’ toys that are just plain noisy (and more often than not, simply annoying), and the quality musical toys available that provide stimulating, engaging, interactive and highly educational opportunities to enhance infant and toddler cognitive development, means the difference between a headache and a head-start.
“Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education” – Plato