Born to Sing: How Music Enriches Children’s Language Development

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

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Born to Sing: How Music Enriches Children’s Language Development

By Ann Gadzikowski, former Grants Coordinator, Chicago Children’s Museum

When I was a preschool teacher, I had a child named Lizzy in one of my classes. She rarely spoke. At three years old, Lizzy usually communicated with me by tugging on my sleeve and pointing her finger at what she wanted. Yet I wasnít at all worried about Lizzy. My confidence in her was so strong because I knew there would be at least one time every day when I would be sure to hear her voice during music time. Quiet Lizzy came alive whenever she heard music. She clapped, she danced, she even sang along to class favorites such as “The Wheels on the Bus” and “This Old Man.” Her favorite song was “Where is Thumbkin?”

Eventually, Lizzy did begin to speak and soon was able to talk and communicate like other kids her age. She taught me that music is a powerful tool for giving a voice to a quiet child.

All children benefit from experiences with music. Music enhances learning, especially language development. Children’s experiences with music build vocabulary, listening skills, and language acquisition.

Music, language and the brain: Recent brain research tells us that when children sing and move to music, their developing brains are entirely engaged and stimulated. Both the left and right sides of the brain are activated when we sing. And the process of singing stimulates both new learning and memory. For example, music has been shown to help children remember their addresses and phone numbers. Even older adults can often remember the songs from their childhood days.

The more senses that are engaged, the more learning will take place. When children sing and dance the “Hokey Pokey,” they are using their voices to produce language, rhythm, and pitch. They are using their ears to listen to the voices and sounds around them. They are using their eyes to follow the movements of others. And they are using their whole bodies to develop rhythm and coordination. When it comes to active learning, “that’s what it’s all about!”

The Rhythm of language: Like music, language has a rhythm. As we talk, our speech has a beat and a tempo. Like a line of music, a spoken sentence has a cadence as it rises and falls.

It’s not surprising, then, that language learning is enhanced when children experience the rhythm of music. In studies conducted by educator Phyllis Weikert, a child’s ability to clap or tap a steady beat was directly linked to language learning. For example, clapping or tapping the rhythm of an unfamiliar word often helps children learn new vocabulary. Can you imagine teaching a child to say “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (from Mary Poppins) without singing it?

Song and dance: Today’s technology allows children to hear a wide variety of music from all over the world. But it’s important for parents to know that listening to recorded music does not offer children the same benefits as making music with real people. At Chicago Children’s Museum, the exhibit Now Youíre Talking! tells the exciting story of how children acquire language. This interactive exhibit demonstrates the important role that parents and caregivers play in a childís language development.

At home, sing with your child. It doesnít matter if you have perfect pitch or performance skills; only your enthusiasm is required. Simple, familiar songs with easy movements are best for the baby-to-preschool crowd. Top hits include “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and the “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”

Sweeten the mix by adding your own words to familiar songs. You can personalize the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” by adding the name of a family member to each verse (“If youíre Jason and you know it clap your hands”).

And when it’s time to read a bedtime story, try a book you can sing. The illustrator Iza Trapini has published a series of picture books based on familiar childhood tunes, such as “I’m a Little Teapot” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Another good choice is Alan Katz’ book, Take Me Out of the Bathtub and Other Silly Dilly Songs.

Wherever there’s music, there is sure to be plenty of language learning going on. Of course, there’s more to music than just language learning. Music can evoke powerful emotions in children, such as joy, delight, and excitement. Music enriches the lives of all children; and for some, like Lizzy, it can become one of the first paths for connecting to others.


Books for Parents
Good Music, Brighter Children: Simple and Practical Ideas to Help Transform Your Child’s Life through the Power of Music, by Sharlene Habermeyer
Word and Music Games for Toddlers and Twos, by Bonnie Macmillan
Nurturing Your Child with Music, by John M. Ortiz Books for ChildrenTwinkle, Twinkle Little Star, by Iza Trapini
I’m a Little Teapot, by Iza Trapini
Row, Row, Row Your Boat, by Iza Trapini
Hush Little Baby, by Sylvia Long
Wheels on the Bus, by Paul O. Zelinsky
Take Me Out of the Bathtub and Other Silly Dilly Songs, by Alan Katz
This Land is Your Land, by Woody Guthrie and illustrated by Kathy Jakobsen


Resonant learning or Resononsense?

Morphic Resonance

Rupert Sheldrake (born 28 June 1942) is an English biochemist and plant physiologist. He is known for having proposed an unorthodox account of morphogenesis and for his research into parapsychology. His books and papers stem from his theory of morphic resonance, and cover topics such as animal and plant development and behaviour, memory, telepathy,perception and cognition in general. His publications include A New Science of Life (1981),Seven Experiments That Could Change the World (1995), Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home (1999), and The Sense of Being Stared At (2003). 

Sheldrake’s ideas have often met with a hostile reception from some scientists, including accusations that he is engaged in pseudoscience.
25 March – 27 June 2009

An experimental project for PSL by artists and artist collectives nominated by artist-led spaces from across the North of England. For the first 6 weeks the artists will be working at PSL using it as an extended studio space moving towards an exhibition from 13 May. Co-curated by Zoe Sawyer of theartmarket, the project examines the urge among artists to control the dissemination and production of art. PSL is open to the public throughout.

*The term ‘Morphic Resonance’ describes ‘the basis of memory in nature… the idea of mysterious telepathy-like interconnections between organisms and of collective memories within species’ (Rupert Sheldrake 1981).

Essential to Sheldrake’s model is the hypothesis of morphic resonance. This is a feedback mechanism between the field and the corresponding forms of morphic units. The greater the degree of similarity, the greater the resonance, leading to habituation or persistence of particular forms. So, the existence of a morphic field makes the existence of a new similar form easier.

Sheldrake proposes that the process of morphic resonance leads to stable morphic fields, which are significantly easier to tune into. He suggests that this is the means by which simpler organic forms synergetically self-organize into more complex ones, and that this model allows a different explanation for the process of evolution itself, as an addition to Darwin’s evolutionary processes of selection and variation.


noun \ˈre-zə-nən(t)s, ˈrez-nən(t)s\

Definition of RESONANCE

a : the quality or state of being resonantb (1) : a vibration of large amplitude in a mechanical or electrical system caused by a relatively small periodic stimulus of the same or nearly the same period as the natural vibration period of the system (2) : the state of adjustment that produces resonance in a mechanical or electrical system
a : the intensification and enriching of a musical tone by supplementary vibrationb : a quality imparted to voiced sounds by vibration in anatomical resonating chambers or cavities (as the mouth or the nasal cavity)c : a quality of richness or varietyd : a quality of evoking response resonance the scandal seems to be having — United States News & World Report>
: the sound elicited on percussion of the chest
: the conceptual alternation of a chemical species (as a molecule or ion) between two or more equivalent allowed structural representations differing only in the placement of electrons that aids in understanding the actual state of the species as an amalgamation of its possible structures and the usually higher-than-expected stability of the species
a : the enhancement of an atomic, nuclear, or particle reaction or a scattering event by excitation of internal motion in the systemb : magnetic resonance
: an extremely short-lived elementary particle
: a synchronous gravitational relationship of two celestial bodies (as moons) that orbit a third (as a planet) which can be expressed as a simple ratio of their orbital periods

Examples of RESONANCE

  1. the resonance of the singer’s voice
  2. His story didn’t have much resonance with the audience.


Middle English resonaunce, from Middle French resonance,from resoner to resound — more at resound 

First Known Use: 15th century

Learn more about “resonance” and related topics at