Sing…Sing a Song! How Singing Builds a Strong Foundation for Language in Babies and Toddlers
This spring I’ve been involved in standardizing a new test for infants and toddlers which means I’ve met some fantastic new families and their typically developing babies.
One of the prompts on the test is asking mom (or dad or grandma – whoever is the caregiver during my visit!) to sing a familiar song or nursery rhyme to the baby to gauge his or her reaction.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve heard my share of standards:
Old MacDonald, Itsy Bitsy Spider, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Patty Cake, to name a few.
But then something unexpected happened!
In all my years as an SLP, I’ve never heard variety and creativity like I did last week!
When asked to perform this task, a grandmother beautifully sang every note of “These are a few of my favorite things” to a set of squirmy twins who both stopped (momentarily anyway!) and listened to her rich tone. Me too! I haven’t heard that one in years!!
A few days later, a 20-something mom who’s also a special educator introduced me to,
“Uptown, funk it up. Uptown, funk it up.”
As she sang those words I wasn’t sure I understood…
But it didn’t matter,
Because her 6 month old was enraptured!
When I left that eval, I couldn’t wait to find this video on youtube! Catchy song! I do love Bruno Mars!
Later that same day, I asked a dad to show me a song or game his baby liked. He sang something like…”Jump-a baby jump-a! Jump-a baby jump-a! Now you up-a!” His 9 month old anticipated the actions and then belly laughed while his dad lifted him high over his head.
This made me remember a lesson I learned when my own children were babies:
It doesn’t really matter what you sing to a young child, just sing! The truth is that most kids like all kinds of music.
Now occasionally, especially when working with toddlers with developmental delays, we will encounter a child who may not always respond so well to your attempts to sing. If a child covers his ears while you’re singing, it’s always more about her than you! Ear covering nearly always means that the child has an auditory sensitivity, not that you have a terrible voice! Chanting usually works for those kids, so channel your inner cheerleader! Rather than using your regular singing style, rhythmically chant the words to the song instead.
The benefits of singing with babies and toddlers are numerous, but the ones that intrigue me most as a pediatric speech-language pathologist are these:
1. Singing captures a young child’s attention almost better than anything else. It’s different than listening to someone talk. Novelty is what makes us all stop and zone in when something changes. This reminds me of one of my favorite tweets I saw about a year ago…”Attention is the gate keeper for learning any new skill.” I wish I could remember who posted it to give them full credit! This is a HUGE lesson! We have to get and keep a child’s attention BEFORE we can teach them anything. Singing is a great way to redirect a busy baby’s or wild toddler’s focus. When all else fails, SING!
2. Singing promotes connectedness between an adult and a child. Professionals in disciplines across the board, from medical to psychological to educational fields, recognize the importance of helping babies form strong attachments to loving parents as the foundation for a lifetime of healthy relationships. As an SLP, I can tell you that you don’t have to birth the child to experience that sense of “I get you and you get me.” The warmth that bubbles up inside when you elicit that special spark from a little one feels pretty darn good to a grown up too!
3. Singing prepares a baby’s brain to learn to understand and use words. When a baby listens to a song, especially one he hears over and over, he’s imprinting the speech sounds of his language and forming important neural pathways… in other words, he’s getting smarter and smarter!
There are oodles of other developmental benefits of music too: learning to imitate hand motions, improving fine and gross motor coordination, increasing body awareness, setting the stage for literacy, etc…
The good news is you don’t need to be able to name any of those to know that singing is a fantastic activity that all families can enjoy, even if their song choices and taste in music isn’t the same as yours!
My take-away message from the last few weeks has been to eagerly anticipate the new songs a family can teach me, rather than coming up with my own playlist for a little friend. If a family wants some ideas and guidance, I will certainly provide that, but I can’t wait to be surprised by what I might hear when I ask them to “sing whatever your baby likes.”
If you’re a parent, an SLP or another professional who would like some new ideas and guidance for using music, social games, and easy, early play routines with late talking toddlers, take a look at my book Teach Me To Play WITH You.
Need some new ideas? Check out my book Teach Me To Play WITH You which is filled with over 50 different songs and finger plays and rhymes along with step-by-step instructions for helping a child learn to “do his part” during these social routines. If you’re not sure what I mean by, “do his part,” then take a look!
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