Music: A Magical Tool for Learning!
Note: This was the article that I wrote for “A2Z Homeschooling”–a wonderful online website for homeschoolers hosted by Ann Zeise
I was born with music in my heart. Growing up, whenever I heard music—either in nature or on the stereo—I always stopped to listen. To this day, birds are my favorite creation—why? Because they sing. I am equally passionate about music’s ability to help children learn. As a mother of five boys and author of Good Music Brighter Children, I want to share with you why music is so important to learning and some ideas on how to incorporate music into your child’s schooling experience.
My third son Brandon suffered a traumatic birth that left him with severe learning disabilities. As I studied different ways to help Brandon learn, I discovered that he, like so many children, loved and responded to music. So, I used musical games, rhymes, and songs to help him learn his school lessons. I also played classical music for him while he was studying, and I taught him the piano. I was convinced that parts of his brain, rather than malfunctioning, were in need of the kind of exercise that one gets from studying a musical instrument. It was true—music became the catalyst for him to learn and process information.
Seeing what music did for Brandon and carefully researching the science behind music, I have come to understand that music can be a vital part of the learning process for all children. Music makes learning stick and music makes the learning process easier. Here is why:
Music strengthens the auditory, visual/spatial and motor areas of the brain. These areas are important to speech and language, reading, reading comprehension, math, and brain organization. Scientific research shows that kids involved in music have better language skills, reading and math skills; are more organized; have better attention skills and do better on standardized tests.
Here are five simple-to-implement musical ideas that I used with my sons that you may want to use with your children:
#1: Classical music for studying: listening to certain pieces of classical music changes the way the brain processes information and helps us to absorb, retain, and retrieve information better. When we listen to specific pieces of classical music, the electromagnetic frequency of the brain changes and when this happens—learning, memory, and retention of information increases.
Suggestion: Try playing Handel’s “Water Music” or Bach’s “Brandenburg’s Concertos” as background music while your children are studying their lessons. It will help them learn the material easier and retain it better. (See the Resource Section of GMBC for more musical suggestions)
#2: Marching for Brain Energy and Organization: If your child has difficulty concentrating or seems tired and needs a boost of energy, put on marching music and march around the house or yard to the beat of the music. Marching to music wakes up the brain, organizes the brain, and gets the brain working on all four cylinders. It helps children focus and helps them to “stick to their tasks.” In our family, we made it into a game. The boys woke up to marching music and whenever they moved—they marched—into the bathroom, making their beds, getting dressed, putting their schoolwork together and then downstairs to eat breakfast. Marching is similar to what crawling does for a baby—it organizes the brain.
Suggestion: Incorporate marching into your daily routine. Movement is an indispensable part of learning; a must for building and organizing the brain and for keeping your kids focused. Try playing the marches of John Philip Sousa such as ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever,” or “Semper Fidelis.”
#3: Rhythm, Singing and Learning: Music is built upon melody, harmony and rhythm—with rhythm being the most important element of music. It is what enables us to recognize a piece of music and motivates us to tap our feet to the beat of the music. Singing or chanting spelling words or math facts to a repetitive rhythm helps kids learn and commit this information to memory. Find a piece of music or a nursery rhyme with a strong rhythm that your child enjoys. Use the rhythm and incorporate spelling words, math facts, or even geography or history facts into the song as a fun and effective way to teach these subjects.
Suggestion: There are some wonderful nursery rhymes with a strong beat that work perfectly when learning addition, multiplication or spelling, etc. For example, “Miss Mary Mack” is great, or I love the sing-song rhythms found in “The Alphabet Operetta” by Mindy Manley Little. As your kids get order, try the strong rhythms found in rap music—eliminate the lyrics and using the repetitive rhythms, clap out, beat out (with rhythm instruments), or sing out multiplication tables, spelling words, history facts, etc. Remember—any time you set learning to music—it sticks!
#4: Reading and Music: I’m a big advocate of reading to your children every single day. The benefits are too numerous to mention here, but those of you who read to your kids daily know what I talking about. When our boys were growing up I read many books that incorporated music, (think “Lentil” by Robert McCloskey) but I also tied other subjects to the book such as science, social studies, language arts, history, etc. Not only does it make the book come alive in many ways, it is a creative way to stimulate your child’s critical thinking skills.
Suggestion: Read, “Moses Goes to a Concert.” It is a delightful story about a little boy who is deaf. He and his classmates go to a concert where each child is given a balloon to hold so they can feel the vibrations of the music coming through the balloon. Use this book to teach your children about many different subjects such as: children with physical disabilities; particularly children who are deaf; American Sign Language; the science of vibrations; what they are and how they are created; the composer Beethoven and how after he went deaf he sawed the legs off his piano and put it on the floor so he could feel the vibrations coming through the floorboards. Let them experience how to feel a vibration through kazoos, percussions instruments, or balloons, (hold the balloon next to a speaker with music playing). You can also stretch a rubber band between your teeth and while strumming it feel the vibrations on your lips. Have your children watch the excerpt from Jurassic Park when the children see the water moving in the glass caused by the movements of the dinosaurs (another vibration).
#5: Music Lessons: A Must!—absolutely get your kids playing a musical instrument or taking singing lessons. My book teaches you how to choose an instrument, a teacher, and how to get kids to practice. Scientists have found that because music involves the brain at every level, the following occurs:
People who learn a musical instrument or sing have larger brains—5 percent larger than non-musicians.
Musicians’ brains are more analytical and better at math and reading, and have more sophisticated language skills
Playing a musical instrument refines the development of the brain in a way that cannot be done by any other activity.
Playing a musical instrument is vital for the total development of the brain
People who are involved with music lessons have greater coordination, concentration and better memory skills.
In short, people who play a musical instrument or sing have bigger, better brains! (for more information on this see my blog, “Why Music Lessons Build a Bigger, Better Brain”).
Suggestion: Involvement in music should start early and never stop. Check out your neighborhoods for teachers and programs. Kindermusik or “Let’s Play Music” are both excellent programs and offer lessons starting around 18 months of age. Google choral, band or orchestra programs in your community and sign your children up. Keep in mind that the voice is an instrument so singing is wonderful for many children. Getting your kids involved in music is not just about building a bigger, better brain—it is also about the friendships they will make and the values they will learn in the process. Music really does make a difference in a child’s life!
These are just five ideas of how you can incorporate music into learning and I include many more ideas in my book along with a 50-page Resource Section chock full of fun educational ideas, books, music, games, etc.