When discussing the impact of music on child development, it is crucial to focus on the development of speech. The analogy between development of language communication and musicality is visible already in infants.
Music imprints itself on the brain deeper than any other human experience...
–Dr. Oliver Sacks
Babbling, which is the first step of child’s speech development, conditioned by motor functions, is independent of both the physiological hearing and the language used in child’s environment. At this stage of prelinguistic verbalization, a child is playing with sound, vocalizing to see the reactions of environment, and attract attention of his or her caregivers. The child is using his or her own voice, having fun with the pitch, intensity and timbre of the sound.
Above all, the child interacts with his or her environment, as vocalization is an extremely important preparatory step for the following stages of speech acquisition. At this time, the dialogue between a newly-born human and his or her loved ones takes place only at the suprasegmental level of language, which contains rhythm, melody and intensity of sound. Thus it is vital to stress the analogy between music and speech, as music contains these elements too.
It is natural that a child begins to communicate in language which surrounds him or her. He or she attempts to mimic adult speech because this model enables him or her to interact with others.
An informed parent knows that it is not enough to just talk to a child. It is important to create spaces for him or her that are suitable to the level of development, where the child has time to form his or her own reactions and responses.
Back to music and inborn musicality, which are at the basis of speech development, it is important to remember that there are ways to consciously help in the language acquisition process precisely through music.
As a member of the Musicon team, I have the opportunity to observe children and their enormous need for direct contact with music. By emphasizing the analogy between the stages of speech development and musicality, I want to make both parents and educators aware of how often musical education is reduced to just listening to music.
Growing up, a child has little opportunity to be actively involved in music creation. What is more, over time, the lack of sufficient musical stimulation contributes to the gradual loss of musical abilities, which disappear irretrievably. As a consequence, upon entering the education system, a child is unprepared for further musical development. Musical education, which more often than not prioritizes listening to music often not adjusted to a child’s developmental level, is incomprehensible. To develop to his or her full potential, a child requires appropriate stimulation.
Music is a natural medium for each newborn human. The development of musical ability is invaluable for the development of creativity and abstract and logical thinking. Music has a positive impact on the development of imagination and nonverbal communication. It is collective and brings joy that it helps to express. While language is sometimes incomprehensible to a young child, and it divides people into groups, sometimes preventing communication, music is universal, it does not need language, but language needs music.
Watching children who were given a chance to make music together, I am sure that music is a vital step in language and communication skills development. Any cooperation, such as composing a song together requires dialogue. Music also requires concentration and the ability to be silent, so that it can be heard. To create something together children need to listen to one another. Contact with live music also makes children aware of the value in pausing and listening to others, which are essential part of any communication,
I encourage parents to play music and rhythmic games initiated by their children. Caregivers should react to children's musical provocations by answering with rhythm and melody. A child’s joy will be their reward, and a confirmation that they are on the right path in music stimulation. Logic is not relevant in children’s games, so a child should be setting the tone with his or her perception and reception of music.
The environment and immediate surroundings provide parents and educators with a wide range of various instrumental games, and a wealth of songs that they remember from childhood. These can be an inspiration for musical improvisation.
It is impossible to describe in a few sentences how much caregivers and educators can offer a child by using their own creativity inspired by an awareness of how essential it is to introduce a child into the world of music.
As I have been working with children, I believe that they are the future and hope for a better tomorrow. As a speech therapist, I want to teach them how to have a conversation, rather than just talk. This is why I strongly emphasize the influence of music on the development of communication and many other important cognitive processes in child development.
Iwona Milerska, MA