How Singing Can Help Young Minds Grow

Researchers believe we’re innately wired to be musical. And how can you deny it when you watch your children bopping to a beat or mesmerised by a lullaby? These behaviours haven’t been learned. They’re a part of us. 

But for adults, singing out loud and with others rarely feels natural. For many of us, it just feels awkward. We didn’t start off this way. As kids, we would have made up our own songs, inventing tunes and lyrics on a whim. 

Yet these days, we’re hesitant to sing with our children. And that’s a shame because singing with and to little ones — and encouraging their own creative musicality — has benefits for all. Let’s look into the distinct benefits of singing in early childhood and how you can encourage fun music-making in your home or early learning setting today. 

The importance of singing in early childhood

A newborn’s senses are mostly dimmed at birth. They have little control over their movements and a limited sense of taste and smell. Their world is a blur. Yet their hearing is almost impeccable. 

The sound they’re most familiar with? The one they’re probably listening out for? It’s the voice of their parents or guardians. Singing to them can help calm them down, lull them to sleep, or stimulate their mood. 

“One of the most important sources of auditory information is parents’ and caregivers’ voices. Your baby might not be able to see you clearly for the first three months, but they know who you are through the unique qualities of your voice … Hearing voices that they are familiar with helps them feel safe, familiar and provide some consistency to the vocal sounds they are hearing.”

Dr Anita Collins, The Lullaby Effect

But singing isn’t just about regulating their mood, calming them, or inviting them to sleep. It has a greater impact on a young child’s development than we could have ever imagined.

How does singing help in child development?

During our infant years and early childhood, our brains are developing new neural pathways. Research has shown that singing can help with many different aspects of neurological development by engaging many different parts of the brain.

In the early years, singing doesn’t just help musical development (such as pitch, rhythm, and timbre). It also helps a child’s motor development, psychological and emotional development, and educational development. 

Even more importantly, new research shows that singing with someone else also activates neurological areas that deal with social interaction. 

A list of benefits of singing in early childhood, including activating the cardiovascular system, exercising upper body muscles, delivering more oxygen to the blood, and increasing alertness

(And what I particularly love: The benefits of singing don’t end with early childhood. They apply to every age, from infant right the way through to retirement age.)

Singing helps children get to know and use their bodies

Think about the act of singing. It requires great lungs full of air to belt out an aria. Of course, your little ones won’t exactly be Pavarottis (or at least, not for a while) but the same process still happens in their amazing growing bodies. 

If singing activates the cardiovascular system, it means more oxygen is delivered to the blood, increasing your child’s alertness (by the way, this happens for adults too so if you’re struggling to focus, it might be time to channel your inner Dolly Parton). Singing also exercises those upper body muscles. 

When accompanied with movement, singing helps children explore and understand their bodies. It can help them build body awareness, discover and strengthen their muscles, and enhance balance and coordination.

Songs to help your child’s physical development:

  • For fine motor development, try Where Is Thumbkin or The Wheels on the Bus or 5 Little Ducks
  • To help them learn about different body parts, try Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
  • For balance and coordination, give Oliver Twist a go. 

Singing helps children with social skills

Plenty of studies have proven the social benefits of singing in group situations or between mum and bub. 

A study by Dr Laura Cirelli found that babies pay more attention when their mothers are singing to them than when they’re speaking to them. Singing to your baby (particularly as their guardian) also helps moderate both your baby’s and your own emotional states.

When you sing to your children, you synchronise, matching moods during singing. Baby is more aroused when you show excitement, while they calm down when you sing soothing lullabies. Isn’t that beautiful?

Then we turn to social settings. Participating in singing games teaches toddlers important social skills, such as cooperation, turn-taking, and structure, while also promoting a sense of belonging. 

In his book Brain Rules for Babies, John Medina made an important observation that as children learn different musical tones, they also start recognising different emotional tones and develop greater empathy.  

Songs to help your child’s social development:

Singing helps develop an understanding of music

Children engage deeply with music. Singing helps them understand musical structure, phrasing, timing, pitch, and volume. They learn to match the tone, keep a steady beat and develop musical memory. 

Singing helps kids feel good

Whether we’re belting out a tune or being serenaded, singing is good for us. Music therapy research has frequently proven that singing can decrease cortisol and stress, lower the heart rate, and boost your mood. 

This is true for both kids AND early childhood educators and parents. Lullabies have a soothing effect on babies that help them drift to sleep. But active singing triggers the endocrine system and can help us boost our self-esteem and a positive outlook

Researchers have found that listening to and actively making music increases activity across the whole brain, including in the amygdala, the orbitofrontal cortex, and the ventral striatum — areas associated with reward, motivation, and pleasure. 

Singing’s a great emotional outlet but with kids, it can also provide stability by creating a clear and predictable structure for routines and transitions throughout the day and building a connection to their loving grown-ups. 

The perfect song to boost the mood

Singing could help in the classroom 

Singing—and musicality in general—has a positive impact on a child’s academic growth. 

“Music learning increases our executive functions, especially the ability to pay attention and not get distracted, and these are the brain functions that have been found to increase intelligence and academic achievement.” 

Dege F., et al. 2011.

To start, there’s the act of singing itself, which requires rhythm, rhyme, repetition, and pacing, naturally helping promote speech and language development

When children are exposed to the same nursery rhymes, they learn about expression and broaden their vocabulary. This helps them put consonants, vowels, words, and even sentences together while providing context during play to increase children’s comprehension.

One study led by Kali Carr shows a link between maintaining a steady beat and reading. The study found that preschoolers who could keep a steady drumbeat have likely developed the same neural connections needed for reading, indicating they were ready to read. 

Music is also built on rhythms and recurring beats, which help introduce children to simple maths concepts while songs can be important educators in themselves, helping teach kids about:

  • Numbers
  • Counting up and down
  • Creating and recognising patterns and shapes

Songs also help commit learning to memory. What are the chances you learned the alphabet by first learning the ABC song?

Songs to help your child’s educational development:

Do I have to sing or can I just shuffle a Spotify playlist?

We’re so innately musical that singing is natural in parents and their babies. Yet adults are quick to jump to the conclusion that because they can’t perform vocal gymnastics like Mariah Carey, they can’t sing

Nothing is further from the truth. Let’s say that again. Repeat after me: I CAN sing! Plus nothing sounds more wonderful to a child’s ear than their parent’s or guardian’s voice.

We naturally slide into a sing-song voice when speaking to our children — so much so there’s a name for it: motherese or parentese. When we speak to our babies, we exaggerate our speech so they can hear the differences in sound.

Have you noticed? Go on, give it a go! We even do it to our pets—my favourite example of parentese is the way my father speaks to his beloved dog.  

Once you realise this, it’s not hard to take it a step further. Whether you can sing in tune or not, singing to your littlest ones has tangible benefits that help them process the complex sounds that make up speech. 

You might be tempted to whack on a Spotify playlist. But active singing—together with your children—can be far more beneficial than passive listening.

Making music and singing together helps you:

  • Adjust your pace and pitch to suit your children
  • Communicate more directly with your children
  • Add creativity to your music-making as you can respond to their ideas
  • Simplify music, allowing your children to process it better without lots of layers of sound.

Plus it’s the easiest and most convenient way to calm children in a new environment: You don’t need anything but your voice! Singing is a brilliant way to let them hear a familiar, soothing voice that’s telling them, “Hey, I’m here. You’re safe”.

Ready to embrace more active music-making?

Ready to bring more music-making into your early learning centre? Get our Music Making Made Easy Professional Development to bring more music making into your early learning setting under the Early Years Learning Framework. 

Grab our FREE 5-minute Guide to Effective Music-Making in Your Early Learning Setting and start making joyful music in your classroom today.

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