Music and Language Milestones in Babies and Children
Updated: Nov 12, 2020
There is so much uncertainty in our lives right now. But one constant is that our babies and children continue to grow and develop—no matter the Covid-19 case count in your city.
What can you do from home to support your child’s healthy development? Turn to music.
“Music,” says Dr. Ibrahim Baltagi, speaking for UNICEF's parenting initiative, “ignites all areas of child development and skills for school readiness, particularly in the areas of language acquisition and reading skills.”
Do you know how to recognize your child’s language milestones? How about musical milestones? We’ll show you how music with Mi Casa Es Tu Casa® influences not only babies’ musical development, but also their language development at all the different stages.
First: the golden rules of getting the most out of music with Mi Casa Es Tu Casa®.
When you sing to your baby or attend class with Mi Casa Es Tu Casa®, you are strengthening baby’s ability to pick up language. Some experts argue that music is actually a biological necessity because babies are so wired for the melodic elements of speech. Simply put: "Without the ability to hear musically, it would be impossible to learn to speak."
In the beginning, you may notice your baby listening intently, with wide eyes, absorbing the new sounds —this is an important learning phase. As classes progress, you'll notice your baby start to move and babble in response to the music (as you can see in the video above). You can encourage language production by repeating the sounds back. Allowing your child to see your facial expressions while you sing and talk gives baby input and context.
At home, read the book that comes with your materials and play the songs whenever you can!
Your baby can sit up and crawl (watch out!). This allows for a new advantage to observe and participate in class — let baby explore props, and instruments. Even when your baby's attention wanders, it's okay for parents to just continue dancing and singing until baby rejoins.
The more you play the songs at home, the more you'll learn which ones your baby prefers, and which ones can magically change his or her mood.
Your toddler can now take your hand and walk you to the place in your home where you do online music classes, and even ask for certain songs. While it may seem unnatural to listen to a song on repeat, it's how children learn. And studies even show that we all gravitate toward repetition in music. Indulge your child when you're asked to play the same song again and again. It's good for both of you!
How exactly does music help our young language learners? This study from the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS), emphasizes the benefits of the rhythmic patterns in music. Young children exposed to musical rhythms go on to have an easier time detecting speech patterns.
Now you know why it’s so important to keep the beat in class with your child! Your child benefits when you maintain the structure of a song’s rhythm.
Language is pouring out of your toddler. Even if strangers don't understand your child, you can act as translator. Practice audiation, the ability to feel and stay with the music even when you're not hearing it, by singing a familiar tune and stopping just before the last phrase or note. Your child will eventually be able to fill it in for you, and it becomes a fun game.
Your child now finds it funny when she's told a cow goes "meow" or a train goes "toot, toot!" Meaning is being connected to sounds at rapid fire rates. Actively participate in musical dynamics with your child. Your participation is key to their learning! Read books in Spanish to your child, even if your pronunciation isn't perfect. What matters is the intention.
Your child is full of energy—and capable of so much. Children this age can concentrate and follow along for longer stretches, but may still need to take a break to be goofy, wander off, explore and come back during class. That's ok! Your child is able to better understand what the songs are about, and you can reinforce meaning at home: Sing the song about washing up while in the bathtub; sing the one about stoplights when you're driving in the car; sing about farm animals when petting a new animal friend.
Your big kid is at ease with the routines in music class, and can take on a leadership role, answering questions posed by the teacher, demonstrating activities, and being a model for the babies and toddlers in class.
At home you can allow your child to lead you in a song, you may even find yourself being the "student" while your child is the "teacher." Embrace it. Continue to read books in Spanish and encourage your child to use Spanish words on a daily basis to reinforce the vocabulary learned in class, but remember to avoid translating directly from Spanish to English.
At this age, and sometimes even earlier, it might be tempting to translate the Spanish lyrics into English. But it’s not actually necessary! In fact, if you do translate, it undermines their ability to develop understanding for the target language. It’s enough to touch your head while you’re singing about your “cabeza,” or spray water while singing about “agua” or moo like a cow when singing about a “vaca.”
Join us in our next musical adventure to continue learning about your child and making the most out of these precious first stages of their lives.
Take a look at the programs we offer.
Resources for Learning About Language in Children
For more about the language development and milestones discussed here, visit Mayo Clinic , CDC.gov, and Baby Center, and take a look at the paper, “Music and Early Language Acquisition” published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
You can even read other posts from Mi Casa Es Tu Casa® on the subject: “Why Are Kids So Good at Learning Languages”, and this post rich in research-based information about why music classes are so beneficial to babies.
If you want to go even deeper, read Barbara Zurer Pearson’s book “Raising a Bilingual Child: A step-by-step guide for parents,” which explains not only childhood bilingualism, but how we learn language to begin with.
What you need to learn about Speech delay in Toddlers is a good place to start if you have concerns about this subject.
Alice Gray is a writer and editor living in Austin, Texas. She has attended classes at Mi Casa es Tu Casa® since her daughter was 2 years old, and is a big believer in the benefits of early childhood movement, music, language, play, and connection.