Tune kids into music, and watch other skills hit higher notes

We hear about the added push for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. We also frequently hear of cutbacks in arts education. Less often do we hear how music can help with math, science, and language arts—really, just about any academic skill.

Almost a quarter century ago French researcher Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis coined the term “Mozart effect” to capture findings from his fascinating research on the brain. The results have often been mischaracterized or oversimplified as “listening to Mozart makes you smarter.” While it’s neither quite that simple nor straightforward, the value of music in early childhood is immense.

In 2012 Laura Lewis Brown, authored ”The Benefits of Music Education” for PBS Parents. In it she cites multiple specialists who claim that music helps with language development. She also reports that “Research has also found a causal link between music and spatial intelligence, which means that understanding music can help children visualize various elements that should go together, like they would do when solving a math problem.”

The NAMM Foundation “celebrates and promotes the intrinsic value of music education.” NAMM stands for the National Association of Music Merchants. In “Telling the Story: Advocating for Music,” the Foundation website notes, “A majority of those outside the fields of music and the arts do not understand the whys or the hows concerning the process of arts education. Provided with a clear understanding of those whys and hows, and supported by quality arts education in practice, people begin to realize the value of music and arts education.”

As we know, education comes in many forms. On the Artists Helping Children website is a section titled “Musical Instrument Crafts for Kids: Make Your Own Homemade Drums, Kazoos, Flutes, and String Instruments for Children, Teens, and Preschoolers.” They include directions for a stringed box banjo, a rubber band bass guitar, paper mâché maracas, African djembe drums, and much more.

You can also help your child make a very basic musical instrument simply by wrapping a rubber band around a coffee can. Have him or her pluck the rubber band and discover what happens, noting that the rubber band moves, or vibrates, to make a sound. Experiment with six thick rubber bands stretched around a plastic box to make a guitar. Tune it by tightening some of the rubber bands on the edge of the box to make different notes. Or stretch several rubber bands of different widths across a pan. Again, pluck them to make sounds. Ask kids to listen carefully to hear which bands make the highest and lowest sounds. Do the tightly stretched rubber bands make higher or lower notes than the looser ones? Encourage forming a theory about why the more tightly stretched rubber bands make higher notes. Voilà. Those are scientific inquiry skills!

Even preschoolers can develop their academic skills with music. For example, for reinforcement of early counting skills, consider pairing the Counting 1-10 workbook with the MP3 download “On the Road from 1-10” song, which uses the same charming, joyful imagery as the workbook. Similarly, work on rhyming with the adorable story Hug Bug, available as iOS eBook or Kindle eBook and its companion MP3 download song. “Pink bug, purple bug, orange bug, green. Bugs can look happy, bugs can get mean.” The chorus is all love: “You’re my favorite cuddle bug. You keep me very warm and snug, you like to give a big bear hug, you’re my Hug Bug.”

Let music and learning play a great duet in your home with kids of every age.