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The nursery rhymes your mom sang to you when you were little. The hokey pokey at a childhood birthday party. The song you jammed out to while driving your first car. The first dance at your wedding. The nursery rhymes you now sing to your own children. There’s no denying it: music is a powerful part of our lives. But…can it actually make us smarter?
Research says yes. While loud, cacophonous music has been found to–of course–be a distraction and impediment to learning, music done the right way provides a slew of academic benefits. Here are just a few:
When playing a musical instrument, singing a song or learning a dance step, children experience a unique melding of mind and body. In the brain, this means that neurons are firing away, brain activity is moving across both hemispheres, and sensory integration is occurring. So, how does this equate to the classroom? Sensory integration (using and interpreting the senses simultaneously) is crucial for reading, writing and math.
Spatial-temporal reasoning is the ability to visualize spatial patterns in one’s mind. It’s a skill needed for engineering, architecture, art, science, games and math. So, how do you improve spatial-temporal reasoning? Through music, according to the MIND Research Institute. MIND did a study where children were engaged in a series of computer games involving math problems; simultaneously, they received musical keyboard training. What researchers discovered was further proof of the “Mozart Effect”–the idea that listening to a piano sonata enhances spacial-temporal performance. Why? Music has a structural pattern that mimics math: listening to patterns and symmetries in music aids in concepts like counting and fractions. The takeaway? Music makes kids better at math.
Music has also been found to aid in mood improvement. This concept is a simple one: happy music = happy kids. Calm music = calm kids. Wild music = wild kids! Students take social cues for appropriate behavior from the music they hear.
Incorporating Music at Home and School
- CDs: An obvious answer is the good ol’ CD player. Play songs in the car, when your children are your captive audience. One rule: You control the dial! You may even be able to sneak in some Mozart here and there.
- Instruments: If you are able to provide music lessons for your child (and if they’re willing to participate), lessons are wonderful, especially during the formative elementary and middle school years. But, if formal lessons aren’t in the cards (or budget), opt for some simpler alternatives, like a tambourine, rhythm sticks, or a hand drum.
- Music Programs. There are also several stellar, research-based programs out there specifically designed to combine music with learning. One of the best is Rock ‘N Learn, a series of over 50 CDs and DVDs that uses music (like really fun, hip music) to teach everything from division to phonics to Spanish. Not only does Rock ‘N Learn set concepts to a catchy tune (read: aids in memory), but it also makes learning very positive for children (read: fun). The CDs and DVDs are affordable, too, ranging from $10-$20 each.
The moral? More music = more learning. Now that’s worth singing about!
Sources: Keith, Kimberly. http://childparenting.about.com/cs/k6education/a/mozarteffect.htm
MIND Research Institute: http://mindresearch.net/cont/programs/prog_stmm_desc.php