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How music makes learning more meaningful

Baby playing guitar

Singing optimizes language learning. To get maximum benefit from music, mix it up! Nubabi’s speech and language therapist, Carianne Vermeulen shares how to make your home more musical.

Music offers a special way to interact with your baby and toddler, as children often communicate and connect during music long before they can actually say any words. If you change the way you sing to your baby regulalry, it will encourage your baby’s social, cognitive, and communication development, while the two of you connect and have fun together!

Strategies to boost language learning with song

  • Turn a song into a little “conversation” between you and your baby by creating opportunities for your baby to participate during the song.
  • Use the natural repetition of words and actions in songs to let your baby hear the same word over and over, and to help him learn what actions are coming next.
  • Sing the same song many times over days and weeks.
  • Sing when your baby is calm and alert. She will have an easier time focusing on you at these moments, and will look at you with great interest if when you sing! Also sing during daily routines. Sing while changing your baby’s nappy, dressing or feeding her or going for a walk in the stroller.

As daily routines happen regularly, they provide many opportunities for your baby to hear the same song over and over again. This repetition helps your baby learn the song so she can anticipate the words and actions and participate with gestures and sounds.

When singing with your baby, watch for signs that your baby has had enough or is getting tired. If your baby starts to fuss, turns her head away, or doesn’t look at you, it may not be the best time to sing. Try again another time, or perhaps try a soothing lullaby that will calm your baby and lull her to sleep.

How to sing

It doesn’t matter what you sing (or whether or not you can even carry a tune!) Your baby will enjoy this time of connection with you. Here are some simple tips to help make singing an enjoyable learning experience for your baby that will promote her communication and social skills:

  • Be face to face - this allows your baby to make eye contact with you and watch your face, and learn from your facial expression, actions, and words.
  • Sing slowly - this helps your baby hear the words and see the actions.
  • Think about how your baby can participate - once a song is familiar, your baby will be able to participate in some way, depending on her age and stage of development:
  • Get them to participate.

    • A very young baby (under 6 months) might become quiet when you sing, increase her activity (eg. kick her feet), turn her head towards you when you sing, look at you, smile at you, and even start to coo or make noises when you sing. Babies start to imitate facial expressions at a young age, so you might find your young baby watching you and trying to copy your facial expression as you sing!
    • Older babies (between 6-12 months) can grasp objects and may enjoy holding and shaking a rattle or, later on, banging on a drum. Older babies also enjoy making sounds back and forth with their caregivers, so your baby may try to “sing” along with you! Older babies may also try to imitate your facial expression, actions and sounds, or move their bodies to the rhythm. Around 8-9 months of age, babies start to clap their hands, and may enjoy doing this while you sing.
  • Pause and wait - Once you know how your baby might participate during a familiar song, you can help her to do so by pausing and waiting during key moments in the song. A good place to pause and wait is at the end of a line of music. You can pause before you say the last word and see if your baby reacts. For example, when singing “The Eensy Weensy Spider”, you might pause before saying “out” (“Down came the rain and washed the spider… (WAIT) out”). If you wait and look expectantly at your baby, she may look at you and smile or move, or an older baby may try to make a sound or do an action. Remember to give your baby a long time to react and respond – at least 10 seconds. If you’ve waited a long time and your baby doesn’t react, fill in the word/action yourself, with emphasis. Perhaps your baby isn’t ready to participate yet, or it could be that the song isn’t familiar enough yet to your baby.
  • Help your baby copy your actions – Older babies (between 9-12 months) who have started to imitate actions may respond well when you take their hands and help them to copy your simple actions during the song. For example, your baby may allow you to take her hands to help her clap during the song once you have demonstrated this yourself. However, if your baby doesn’t like that, don’t continue. The main point of singing with your baby is to create a fun experience so she will want to interact with you and have fun.
  • Repeat the song. If your baby likes it, sing the song over and over again. This repetition helps babies become familiar with the words, sounds, and actions, and anticipate what comes next during the song. Watch carefully for any attempt to communicate - babies’ attempts at communication can be very subtle and easy to miss. Be sure to watch your baby’s facial expression, eye gaze, movements, and sounds when you sing. Your baby may be trying to participate in her own way.Interpret anything your baby does during the song as communicative. For example, if your baby turns away, this may mean she doesn’t want to sing anymore. Or if she says “ahhh” when you pause at a key moment in the song, this may be her attempt to sing along. Watch for these subtle messages and treat them as if they are meaningful, even if you are not sure if they are. In this way, you will reinforce your baby’s subtle attempts at communication and encourage her to do more.
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