The power of music is undeniable. For people of all ages and levels of development, music can calm and soothe, it can distract during stressful moments, and it can also be exciting and stimulating to the point of wanting to get up and dance! Young children enjoy music in many ways, such as moving to the beat and dancing, beating a drum, doing actions that accompany a song, and singing along with familiar words. Singing with your children regularly can have a very positive impact on their language development.
Children’s songs are beneficial for language development because they often use simple verbiage and repetitive language.
Simple verbiage is particularly important for children who are not speaking yet or who are beginning to speak. Why is this? Simple language increases attention and children are more likely to imitate something that is on par with their cognitive development. Longer and more complex sentences can be overwhelming to children, and they often lose attention and interest when listening to higher level language. Songs written for children are usually shorter in length and use common words that most children are familiar with.
Repetitive language improves children’s understanding of words and phrases and increases opportunities for children to practice imitating. Typically, the more children are exposed to a type of food, an activity, or a place, the more comfortable they become with it. This same idea applies to songs and the words in songs. When a song is more repetitive, children learn to better anticipate the words/actions that are coming. This is very helpful in eliciting more vocalizations and attempts at imitating.
Here are a few simple tips that will help you make singing with your child a learning experience that will enhance both their communication AND social skills:
· Be face to face. Encourage your child to make eye contact with you, so they can learn from your facial expressions, words, and actions. Making silly or dramatic faces and using lots of variation in your voice while you sing are two fun ways to help hold your child’s attention.
· Sing slowly. Singing slowly and clearly helps your child learn the words of a song and the actions that go along with it.
· Create fun opportunities for your child to participate. How you choose to do this depends on your child’s age, developmental stage, and their personal interests. You could find household items for them to use as a “drum”. They may enjoy doing some of the actions while you sing. They may also try to sing a few key words in the song. The important thing to remember here is that you want your child to be motivated to participate and remain engaged in this activity, so feel free to get creative!
· Pause and wait. Once a song has become familiar to your child, you can pause at key points in the song (such as the end of the line) and encourage them to fill in the blank. For example, when singing Old MacDonald, pause before “farm” (Old MacDonald had a _____) and before “O” (E-I-E-I-___). Next, wait and look expectantly at your child, and they may try to fill in the word. If they haven’t tried after about 5-10 seconds, you can fill in the word for them.
· Repeat, Repeat, Repeat! It is not uncommon for young children to have a favorite song that they just never seem to get tired of. If your child likes a song, you can sing it over and over again. As mentioned above, this repetition helps children learn the words to songs and helps them understand what those words mean.
· Perform the actions in the songs you sing. Choose a song and start by performing the actions yourself while your child watches. Songs such as “Itsy Bitsy Spider” can be a great place to start. You can look up videos online to learn the actions in many children’s songs, or you can simply make up your own actions to go along with the words. Once your child has watched you perform the song several times, you can try to help them do the actions. If they resist, don’t worry. Go back to showing them the actions and allow your child to participate however they feel comfortable doing so. This will likely change over time, too.
If your child doesn’t like it when you sing to them, you can try to play music on Pandora or Spotify and sing along with it. You can also take the tune away from the words and turn the song into more of a poem. Maintain the natural rhythm of the words and see how your child reacts. Similarly, nursery rhymes (Jack and Jill; Humpty Dumpty) and fingerplays (Five Little Monkeys) have rhythm and repetition build into them, and many children find these enjoyable.
The most important thing to remember with this activity is to HAVE FUN! If your child sees you enjoying yourself while spending quality time with them, this will not only strengthen your parent-child bond, but it will also encourage them to participate, learn, and grow alongside you.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding your child’s communication, feeding, or swallowing development, please do not hesitate to reach out to Believe Therapies for more information on how our team of speech-language pathologists can be of service to you and your family.
Written by: Anna Hinze, M.S., CCC-SLP