When I had my babies, I developed a new skill (or should I say talent 😉) - being able to make up a song in the spur of the moment about ANYTHING, obviously making it rhyme as well, like I said it’s a talent!!!!
I still do it to this day - my teens hate it (but I’m sure they actually secretly LOVE it!) but when they were little it was honestly a saving grace. It would turn a poo nightmare into an entertaining interlude (for me at least); it would make a screaming baby who was desperate for their supper quieten down in the car until we got closer to home.
And, although I didn’t know it then, these made-up songs were doing amazing things for my babies! Research has shown that singing encourages the development of language skills in a baby’s developing brain.
Babies naturally respond to music – they love the patterns, sounds and rhythms of song and they find it soothing. Research has shown that they have been able to hear music from within the womb from the last trimester of their development, and they immediately relate to the sing-song way in which we, as adults, talk to them when they are tiny.
Babies prefer higher-pitched sounds, probably because they are more tuned in to the sound of their mother’s voice since they have been hearing her, albeit in a rather muffled way, from within the womb. They actually prefer high pitched singing too (so get that shower singing voice out!!!). Singing to a baby or small child seems almost instinctive, doesn’t it?
We talk to our babies in that sing-song sort of voice. This is called ‘motherese’ or ‘parentese’, and is the best way for babies to learn to focus on language and for us to communicate with them at this early age. Even though you may feel a bit silly talking like this, you are actually helping them to learn to talk themselves and to communicate with others, which is clearly a crucial life skill! Let me explain more…
Singing helps develop literacy and language skills
Who would have thought that those simple songs that I made up for my babies were doing something so cool! Singing helps develop your baby’s language and literacy skills! It develops:
- Their vocabulary
- The ability to hear different sounds and to differentiate between them
- The ability to hear specific sounds within words
- The ability to remember the sounds that we hear and recall them
- Their listening skills
So how does singing songs develop my baby’s vocabulary? Through the songs you sing, you will introduce your baby to new words (especially if it’s a song that you are making up in response to a situation (like poo-gate!). The more you sing them, the more likely they are to pick up the words because songs are really repetitive and often have a catchy tune. All this helps your baby remember the words and store them in their brain for later use.
Singing provides a really good model for language because it demonstrates phrases, words and sentences, and helps your baby pick up how their language actually works. (Remember, all babies are born as a ‘baby of the world’ and could learn any language if they were exposed to it, so they need to tune into the language that they are going to actually use and need).
Songs often rhyme as well, which helps your baby to remember words, and if you add in actions, you really are doing all you can to help your baby build their vocabulary!
What about the ability to hear different sounds? This is the ability to identify and distinguish between different sounds in a language. Each language has its own set of sounds and your baby needs to learn them. It is a crucial skill for language development. By listening to songs and hearing them repeated over and over again, this ability is developed, probably because we often slow words down to fit them into the music, which breaks up the sounds within the words.
Apparently, babies listen to the sounds of a language before they listen to the meaning (which makes a whole heap of sense, doesn’t it - if you think about learning a song in a different language to your own, you learn the sounds without possibly ever knowing what the actual words mean) and by repeating sounds, the ‘muscle memory’ sets in, and these sounds are remembered. Singing helps this process along.
How is singing developing my baby’s ability to hear different sounds within a word? Often words in a song rhyme and this helps a child to tune in to the different sounds that they are hearing. Words that rhyme will have some common sounds in them and that helps the learning process.
This ability to recognise sounds and identify rhyme is very helpful in the process of learning to read. It is a pre-reading skill. Even though your baby may be really tiny at the moment, you are actually teaching these skills as you sing them songs!
OBVIOUSLY, they don’t know they are being taught - they think you are singing them a lovely song (which you are), but as a side effect of that lovely song, you are also building their brain, you are giving them exposure to those pre-reading skills, you are beginning to lay really strong foundations down for them… how cool is that?!
What about the ability to remember sounds?
Well, this is a really important skill. It refers to the ability to hear a sound, to process it, keep it in the brain, and then to remember it and use it appropriately. A child who develops a good auditory memory will find it much easier to learn to read in the future. Songs which are repetitive in nature help a baby develop their auditory memory over time. It seems that learning something through a song helps the brain to remember it more easily. Just think how many lyrics of songs from years past you can remember, and yet it is hard to recall what you read in a book five minutes ago! I taught my eldest child my phone number through a song when she was tiny (which she was to sing to the police if she was ever lost!)
And your baby is also developing their listening skills as they focus on the song you are singing to them. This starts from an early age. The ability to listen and to focus are vital life skills and help future learning development. A baby who has developed listening skills and focus early on will have a key skill for life and school. (And when they are teens, I PROMISE you, you will thank yourself for having taking the time now to give them the skills of listening (even if they choose not to use it, you will at least know that they CAN if they want to!)
Singing helps a baby to learn to communicate
So, singing helps your baby learn loads, but it also helps them learn to communicate! Through the singing that you do, you communicate your love to your baby – as you do that, you are also showing your baby how to express their love. You are also helping them feel comforted and safe and you are also showing them how to have fun!
Through your facial expressions, your actions, the volume or speed of the song and the style of the song, you are communicating different things to your baby – and amazingly what you are doing is actually modelling how they can communicate with you. Your baby is learning heaps as you sing that silly song to them (even if it IS about the fact that their supper is at home and you and them are in the car and that you know they are super hungry!)
As your baby gets older, they will adopt the same approach to communication as you have. They will use their voices, their gestures and their facial expressions to tell you what they want, or don’t want! So the more expressive you are able to be, the more expressive they will become.
They will be ‘talking’ to you before they have any spoken language of their own through their sounds, gestures, and non-verbal communication, and of course their facial expressions. And loads of these skills are learned through the singing you do with them every day, your smile, your use of your eyes, the way that you look at them, the way that you use your hands in the song to emphasise a word etc.
So, by singing to your child, loudly, quietly, gently, wildly – you are helping them to learn to communicate and starting their incredible journey towards have brilliant speech and language. Which is amazing, isn’t it? After all, you thought you were just singing a silly song about changing a nappy and how stinky it was!!!
When we understand the learning that we are giving our babies through the simple things we do each day, we feel more connected, we feel more sure that we are giving our babies all that they need to develop to the best of their abilities, we improve our communication with them and we improve our babies’ outcomes, but most of all, we improve our confidence as a parent. All of these are the things that the Olliki app is proven to help parents with. The Oliiki app gives parents 1000+ simple daily activities to do with things from in and around the home. It explains what your baby is learning from each of the activities that you are doing so that you can have confidence that you are doing amazing things for your baby, and giving them the Oliiki 5 Cs (improved parental confidence, improved knowledge of child development, improved communication between both parents, improved parent-child interactions, and improved child outcomes).
If you would like to give the Oliiki app a try,
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