Children learn language best through interaction and dialogue, and singing is a great way of engaging with children long before they can speak. All babies love the voice of their mothers and fathers, so the “I can’t sing!” excuse does not fly.
“If you can walk you can dance, if you can talk, you can sing”
– Zimbabwean proverb
Frequent, child-centered, and highly simplified communication between a parent and a child is “a strategy that is eminently more successful than conventional language instruction”.
When parents sing to their babies, they naturally “adopt a conversational or turn-taking style , pausing to accept infants’ contributions of coos, gurgles, yawns, and smiles.” Babies are very much engaged by this positive way of singing and parents can attract and keep their babies attention longer. The happy sound also develops the babies’ social skills, helps them learn to pick out individual words and to remember them.
It should be noted that the benefits were found when parents sung to their children, instrumental music or recorded songs did not have the same effect.
(reference and further reading: Language, Music and the Brain, edited by Michael A. Arbib)
Not only is singing beneficial for the small child’s language development, songs are also magnificent representations of the parent’s cultures. By learning to love this part of their heritage early on in their lives, children feel closer to the culture and can go on to learn more about the music of their background.
Children who are sung to become used to and interested in music – it is great if parents can build on this and have the chance to let children study music early on. According to research children under nine who had one hour of music tuition a week showed a “higher ability to learn both the grammar and the pronunciation of foreign languages, compared to their classmates who had learned a different extracurricular activity.”
Once you get going, why not have the whole family sing together – singing is great for all ages!
… and now excuse me, I need to go and sing my little grandson a lullaby!