Six months can go by quite quickly – but six months is a long time in toddlerhood. In this post I’m looking at the benefits of toddler music and how music can inspire toddlers and help them communicate. This is how music enriched the day-to-day life of one particular toddler…
How singing prepares the brain for language
Back in our daughter’s toddler days, in the lost world of my journals, we vaguely knew that toddler music was beneficial for young kids as well as being fun. A few years later, I read this article: www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/may/08/singing-children-development-language-skills by Amelia Hill, describing how singing prepares the brain for language. The article refers to the book “The genius of natural childhood” by Sally Goddard Blythe, a consultant in neuro-developmental education. She advises parents to sing to their child every day, as this is the most effective way to boost their ability to communicate. Live music is best, where the child enjoys rhyme, rhythm and melody first hand. Songs carry the “signature” melodies and inflections of each language, and exaggerate the rhythm, so the songs prepare the brain for that particular language.
Amelia Hill’s article then looks further ahead into the child’s future. It describes how neuro imaging has shown that singing and listening to songs develops both sides of the brain, paving the way for future educational success and emotional well-being. The spacial reasoning involved in action songs provides a basis for future maths and science. Later on, action songs evolve into dance. Dance improves balance, co-ordination, body awareness and rhythm.
13 months old
In this post, following on from my posts on singing with your baby, singing with your baby part 2, and music groups for babies, we’re rejoining our toddler – via my journals – at 13 months. If I open up one of the journals and start reading, I’m transported back in time. Whenever I can see one of the benefits of music in this post, I’ve written it in bold.
Our toddler is mixing up crawling with toddling now, so her hands are freed up to use for other things apart from patting the floor. She sees the world from a new perspective as she toddles around and explores. And the world takes on a new perspective for us as well, as we imagine dangers around every corner. In this part of the journal I’ve been reading about how music inspired our toddler. At the time I didn’t realize how music would change our lives.
For a while our toddler has been saying “Nyeh-nyeh” to protest at things she doesn’t like. Her first words – the first sounds she makes which have a specific meaning – turn out to be “du” (duck) for birds and “di” (dog?) for furry animals. We’re in the playground and a dog gallops past. She stares after it: “Di! Di!” Out of all the things which fascinate toddlers and kids in the early years, animals seem to be the most engaging. Her first words aren’t requests for something she wants, they’re comments about what she sees. We humans love to share our thoughts with each other. Could sharing be just as important as getting what you want?
At the same time she does have her demands. Baby signing is a support to her while she’s learning to talk. Sitting in her highchair in the kitchen, she taps her head with both hands and smiles to ask me to sing “Heads and shoulders knees and toes”. She’s started to join me in the actions for two songs – “Open shut them” (hands) and “Shake up high, shake down low” (hands). Here she is joining in with “Open, shut them, open, shut them, give a little clap…”
She loves playing in her den (my improved name for a playpen) as long as she can relax by listening to music she knows. She stands up against the wooden bars to show me she’s had enough and wants me to lift her out. The limit of tolerance seems to be 20 minutes, so I know how much free time I’ve got. I know that some people view these “pens” as a sort of prison for babies, but babies don’t know about the implications of bars and while they’re in there you know they’re safe. The key is to make it cosy and let them keep control – get them out as soon as they’ve had enough.
Now she can manoeuvre herself backwards down the step into the garden, feet first onto the prickly mat – and from there sharpish onto the patio. This is her entrance to a new world to be explored, the outdoors. Today she makes this move even trickier by taking her toy tambourine with her. She resorts to crawling to the patio door with one hand, holding the tambourine in the other. Very awkward. I’m puzzled – until I see the aim she has in mind: to bang the tambourine on the recycling bin around the corner. She’s discovered that she can use the bin like a drum, or put stones on it then bang it with her hands and watch the stones jump around. The tambourine already makes a noise, so maybe she thinks this will be amplified on the recycling bin. Her inspiration comes from playing with percussion in Gymboree Play and Music sessions.
She’s now saying “ha” as well as putting her hands on her head as a prompt for me to sing “If you’re happy and you know it”.
Our toddler signs “listen” to ask for certain songs – “listen, open shut”. And she signs “more” for more songs. She stands in front of the TV signing “more” to ask for the Sing and Sign DVD, then watches it from start to end and cries at the end. Or she signs “signing” to ask for it, and looks pleadingly into my eyes.
Now all the songs she likes have signs or actions or gestures. The meaning is really important to her now – she isn’t just listening for the rhyme, rhythm and melody as she was at 10 weeks. She waves to predict the end of the “Miss Polly” song on the DVD and knows which song is coming up next.
She still likes lying in her den and relaxing among the toys, listening to her music.
At Gymboree music group she sits waiting for the session to start, signing “more more” (“let’s get started”).
At lunch: “listen (sign) ee ee!” That sign followed by a squeak means she wants “Old MacDonald (had a mouse)”. At mealtimes she signs “Signing!” from her highchair when she wants me to sing action songs or signed songs. I’ve become a toddler’s entertainer/cook.
She hears me say “open and shut” in conversation with Daddy and immediately opens and shuts her hands, as in the song. She’s transferred this idea from the song into everyday life. She gives me a closed bag and opens and shuts her hands to ask me to open it. My washbag attains a new name: “open shut” in sign. She can’t wait to rummage through it and empty the contents onto the floor.
She’s selective about the songs she wants to hear. She gives me the video remote control and says “sheep” if she wants her favourite, Old MacDonald. Playing with her toys, she chooses an animal, gives it to me and signs “more” to ask for a song about that animal. I never realized before that there are children’s songs about most animals. She hands me her soft toy Red Elephant, then is very happy when I get the hint and sing “L’elephant il se douche douche douche”. In English we do the action rhyme “The elephant goes like this and that”.
Now she’s developed a dislike for certain songs, like “Hickory Dickory Dock” and “I love to ride in my car”, throwing her head back to show her disapproval. When a music CD finishes she waves bye bye at the CD player to tell me I need to take action and find something else. She waves at me to show that her French CD is about to finish – she knows it’s the final song. Watching a new music video, she turns and smiles at me when there’s a song we know (“We know this one”). It’s nice for us both to share the recognition of “our” song.
Our toddler’s using 30 spoken words and 19 signs by now, so to be exact she has a vocabulary of 49 words. Like all toddlers, she understands a lot more words than she can produce herself.
The sign for “more” comes in useful for all sorts of demands. On one occasion I think she means “more” yogurt so I go to the fridge to get the yogurt tub, but she cries and signs “listen” – I’ve got it wrong, she wants “more listen” – more of our French action songs. Watching signing and animals videos, she looks round for my reaction to songs we know. One of her favourite songs is “The Grand Old Duke of York”, on my lap, with me lifting her for the men to go “up” and “down” the hill.
I put her music on in the living room and go into the kitchen. It’s very quiet so I go to see what she’s doing. She’s lying very still on the sofa against teddy, listening to the music, and when I go into the room she signs “listen” (“I’m listening”). She still loves her mobile above her cot which plays music and sends animals circling around above her head.
She chooses a video from her video pile – “shee(p)….music (sign)”. Our day is peppered with little songs and rhymes, especially at mealtimes. We now have eight French songs and rhymes in our repertoire as well as many English ones. There seem to be a lot more traditional French songs than German songs for kids, so we sing along to modern children’s songs by the German singer Detlev Jocker: “Der kille-kitzel Monster…” (the tickle monster – he’s after you).
The toddler signs “more more” if she sees something that interests her, perhaps an animal picture, and she wants me to sing a song about it. She realizes that there’s a song for most things in her toddler’s world. The German CD is one of her favourites and she waves bye bye when she recognizes the last track. She prefers the singing and signing animal videos to the simple animal documentaries. She signs “music” to ask for a CD to be played. Then she sucks her thumb and listens. The sign “more more” is to ask me to sing a song about something we come across in a book we’re reading. So that often means a song for every page in the book. “Music…signing…more.”
She’s constantly asking to go to signing or music in the pram. She doesn’t realize they aren’t available on demand. Gymboree music group is only held on Mondays. One day we go to Petit Poucet French club. She smiles at the songs and rhymes she knows from home and cries between the songs. So the teacher asks the other (older) children to choose another song “vite!” to stop her crying.
Singing has become a way of life. Off we go up the road again, with the toddler facing me in the buggy and me singing on demand. [At the time of writing, in 2019, my singing doesn’t go down at all well with her, especially not in the street]. We’re not going to get this time again, and so I register us for a term’s “Sing and Sign” baby signing lessons, run by the founder and owner of Sing and Sign, Sasha Felix.
We go on a special train journey to Aldrington (Hove) to Sasha’s first session of the term. It’s a good reason to get some sea air, and we combine it with a walk by the sea and some play in a huge sand pit. When all the parents and babies are settled in a circle and Sasha starts to sing, our toddler has eyes like dinner plates and turns to me to see my reaction. She knows the songs already, from our Sing and Sign DVD at home. For most of the session she sits motionless, staring at Sasha. Maybe she even recognizes Sasha from the Sing and Sign DVD: there’s no way of finding out.
Back to the present
Nowadays, at age 15, my daughter’s main activities outside school involve music and dance. I have no idea whether her early “immersion” in music sparked this off or whether it was innate. Of course, in life we never find out what would have happened if we’d taken a different path!