Children and Learning

For years, we’ve known that listening to music has benefits for children’s development. CD series like those from Baby Einstein have become extremely popular with parents of babies because experts have recognized that listening to classical music is not only engaging to very young children but actually increases their brain’s ability to perform spatial reasoning. When a baby is born, he/she has billions of brain cells. As the baby develops, those brain cells form connections with other brain cells. When babies listen to music, especially classical music, they make strong music related connections in the brain. Over time, continued listening to classical music actually changes the way the child’s mind works by creating brain pathways that would not have been there otherwise. Listening to music does not increase IQ, per se, but can make the mind perform many important tasks more easily and with greater skill. Listening to music has been shown to prime our brains for spatial tasks, like putting together puzzles. Even adults who did not listen to music regularly as a child can experience a short-term burst in spatial capabilities after listening to music. Why Classical Music? Classical music has been shown to have the most impact on creating brain connections in children because of the complexity of the music. Classical music has a very complex musical structure. Studies have shown that babies as young as three months old can detect the special structures in works such as those of Mozart, Beethoven and Bach, and can recognize music they’ve heard before. It is this complexity that leads researchers to believe that classical music is the best music for building these pathways in the brain. However, all music is good for the brain. Research has also shown that children who have early and frequent exposure to music are better at math, emphasizing the relationship between pathways built by listening to music and the brain’s function. Special Benefits to Children with Special Needs We’re fully aware of music’s benefits to all children. But, researchers are becoming more and more aware of potential additional benefits to children with learning disorders like Down’s syndrome, Autism and other learning disabilities. Children with Autism Autism is a neurological disorder that affects socialization and communication. It is a spectrum disorder that affects roughly 0.6 percent of the population, occurring four times more often in males. There has long been a connection between autism and music. Autistic children, though deficient in language, are generally able to process music as well as children their age who do not suffer from a learning disability. This often makes music of special interest to autistic children, and there have been many case studies regarding autistic children who are musical savants. In very practical terms, many parents of autistic children have found that listening to classical music can calm and soothe their children during bouts of acting out. Like repetitive motions, such as swinging and rocking, music can sometimes also be used to prevent outbursts by helping children to calm in advance of a potentially stressful situation. Classical music has been shown to actually calm the nervous system. Children with Down Syndrome One of the most important therapies for Down syndrome children is auditory therapy. Down syndrome children have great difficulty in auditory vocal processing. They have trouble learning to coordinate the movements of the lips and tongue that are required for speech. In addition, they are highly prone to ear infections, which often lead to hearing loss. When children suffer hearing loss, it further impacts their ability to speak. Music is a key element of the auditory therapy needed by Down syndrome children. Most music therapists use classical music in auditory therapy because of how it stimulates the brain and calms the nervous system at the same time. In addition to how classical music can help improve cognitive function, it helps improve auditory function, which is of special concern to these children. Children with Down syndrome can actually improve their ability to respond to the full range of sound frequencies through sound therapy using classical music. Other Learning Disabilities There are studies to indicate that classical music provides benefit to all children because of its ability to create pathways in the brain, stimulate the brain and calm the nervous system. These features are particularly important to children with any sort of learning disability. Improved ability to focus, concentrate and remain calm are positive affects for children with hyperactivity disorders, Asperger’s syndrome and ADD. In addition, the stimulation of the brain and creation of new pathways may help these children to improve their ability to perform certain tasks, especially spatially related tasks. Music holds a special place in the lives of many people. Most of us have specific songs that trigger responses and memories each time we hear them. So, it’s no surprise that music has a profound effect on our minds. We also now know that these effects can be used to improve our minds and our cognitive abilities, especially in children with learning disabilities....

Music and Learning How Playing A Musical Instrument Benefits Creative Thinking   As part of our current series of blogs on music and learning, this week we’re looking at how learning to play a musical instrument can benefit creative thinking.    What do Oscar winning director Steven Spielberg, Albert Einstein and Charles Dickens all have in common? Well it turns out that these three highly creative minds all played musical instruments.   Spielberg plays the Clarinet, Einstein played the Violin and Dickens played the Accordion. But is it just a coincidence or an indication of the positive effect music has on the mind? It turns out that studies are suggesting that music does indeed help to boost creativity and creative thinking, especially in young people.   According to Dr. Michael Thaut, who is one of the leading research authorities on using music to change the brain - ‘the arts are the cognitive base for thinking in abstraction.’ In other words, learning to play a musical instrument helps the mind to think about things in a different way.   This of course has practical applications for problem solving 2 in the classroom, but it’s also got boundless possibilities for children to look at things in a more creative manner, than those who may not be learning to play a musical instrument. We learned last week [link to last week’s blog] that playing a musical instrument, engaged both sides of the brain, akin to a full body work out for the mind. This high level engagement of the brain allows for benefits to IQ, but it also allows the person playing the instrument the power to focus on the present and the future simultaneously, by thinking of the notes they are currently playing and the others still to come.   All of this gives our brain an opportunity to practice abstract and creative thought on a regular basis. Indeed, Vanderbilt University psychologists have found that professionally trained musicians more effectively use a creative technique called divergent thinking and also use both the left and the right sides of their frontal cortex more heavily than the average person.   3 One of the most creative minds in the modern computer era, is Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft. And yes you guessed it, he plays a musical instrument too! Paul says music “reinforces your confidence in the ability to create.” He began playing the violin at age 7 and switched to the guitar as a teenager. According to the NY Times, even in the early days of Microsoft, he would pick up his guitar at the end of marathon days of programming. The music was the emotional analogue to his day job, with each channelling a different type of creative impulse. In both, he says, “something is pushing you to look beyond what currently exists and express yourself in a new way.” Have you noticed any creative benefits for you or your child since learning to play a musical instrument? Then comment below ...

We’ve come to the final part of our current series of blogs on music and learning and this week we’re looking at how learning to play a musical instrument can benefit a child’s social skills and their self-esteem.   It was Aristotle who said: ‘music has a power of forming the character and should therefore be introduced into the education of the young.’ There’s no doubting that music has many important benefits especially for children, as we’ve uncovered over our series of blogs on music and learning, but its role in boosting confidence and improving social skills is just as important as its role in areas such as IQ and memory. As many parents know, low self-esteem or issues with social skills can be detrimental to a child’s development and can lead to negative experiences in school life, so could learning to play a musical instrument help? Anecdotally there is lots of evidence to support the claim. By learning to play a musical instrument, children begin to set and achieve goals for themselves and ultimately feel a great sense of pride and boosted sense of self-esteem when they learn a new piece of music. According to Beth Luey and Stella Saperstein, authors of The Harmonious Child: Every Parent's Guide to Musical Instruments, Teachers, and Lessons; mastering this new skill allows the child to experience the sensation of doing something entertaining for themselves and others. And ‘as they learn additional skills that allow them to play well, their self-esteem will increase, as they discover they are able to reproduce musical selections on his or her instrument.’ In other words, each time a child practices a piece of music they will visibly see their abilities improve, achieving important goals along the way. Of course it won’t always go right, but this act of learning and overcoming obstacles will help them feel an innate send of satisfaction, which in turn boots how they feel about themselves. Ultimately it should help give them the confidence they need to interact more positively with their peers, have the self-assurance to participate There’s also the very real element of performance, whether it’s in a recital setting, for an exam, or just for family and friends, the act of getting up and playing a musical instrument in front of a group of people, is something that takes huge amounts of confidence. When a child has taken the time to practice their instrument in a positive learning environment, they take that boost of achievement and channel it into the ability to perform, which could have far reaching positive effects for them throughout their lives. Have you noticed your child’s self-esteem boosted since they began to learn a musical instrument? Then comment below...

As part of our brand new series of blogs on the area of music and learning, we’ll be exploring the incredible effects music can have on our bodies, our brains, our behaviour and crucially its role in learning! This week, we’re looking at how music can help improve a child’s IQ and memory. For many years it’s been anecdotally bandied about that children, in particular, can really benefit from learning to play a musical instrument. Teachers and parents noticed greater interaction from these children, improved recall of information and an overall improvement in grades. But it seems that there’s now real science to back up this widely held belief. In fact, some scientist are now concluding that learning to play a musical instrument can even increase your child’s memory and IQ levels! Pretty amazing, right? But just how does it achieve this? Well incredibly enough, learning to play a musical instrument requires you to use both sides of your brain, sort of like a full body workout for your cerebrum! According to Lutz Jäncke, a psychologist at the University of Zurich: ‘Learning to play a musical instrument has definite benefits and can increase IQ by seven points, in both children and adults.’ Crucially though, studies have shown that it’s the physical and mental participation in learning to play an instrument, rather than just listening to music that’s the key factor. Indeed, a recent study from Northwestern University in the USA, revealed that in order to fully reap the cognitive benefits of a music class, children can’t just sit there and let the sound of music wash over them. Instead, they have to be actively engaged in the music and participate in the class. ‘Even in a group of highly motivated students, small variations in music engagement — attendance and class participation — predicted the strength of neural processing after music training,’ said Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory. Additionally, the study showed that students who played instruments in class had more improved neural processing than the children who attended the music appreciation group!’ So it seems music literally helps fire up your child’s entire brain resulting in more engagement with their learning, allowing them to process information in a more efficient way. Indeed, a recent study from the Boston Children’s Hospital, also found a correlation between musical training and improved ‘executive function’ in both children and adults. What’s Executive functions (EF) you might ask? Well it’s very much what we are seeing from the children in the classrooms, such as better attention, interaction, discussion and retention of information. EF are classed as highlevel cognitive processes that enable people to quickly process and retain information. Nadine Gaab, PhD, from the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children's went on to say; "Since executive functioning is a strong predictor of academic achievement, even more than IQ, we think our findings have strong educational implications."...