After giving birth to the kind of baby we might call a “spirit,” I quickly understood why there are so many lullabies.
Our baby cried when we changed his diaper. He cried in the bathroom. He would cry if I left him for a moment to, for example, take a shower. But if I sang to him, he would stand still and look at me. Becoming a parent made me a regular one-woman show. I found myself making songs to get him to eat or tolerate daily activities. (“Dry-Dry-Dry Dry Off the Baby” was really crazy.)
It was clear that my son responded powerfully to music. Soon, she was making her own songs, and the years that followed were filled with songs, dance parties, family groups, and songwriting classes—a musical life that inspired my new children’s picture book , “How to Be a Rock Star.”
Related: Are babies born to dance?
It turns out there are good reasons to encourage kids to love music, although making them smarter isn’t one of them. Contrary to years of advice to parents, listening to classical music will not increase children’s IQ, said Joan Koenig, founder of L’Ecole Koenig Preschool & Music School in Paris and author of “The Musical Child.” But he said what music does is profound and helps kids develop skills that matter more than IQ.
“Now we know that children prefer music to a spoken voice. They’ll stay focused longer and engage,” she told TODAY Parents. Music is a tool for learning, developing creativity and emotional regulation, as well as just plain fun.
Here are seven easy ways to incorporate music into your child’s life:
1. Start early
Koenig called music with a caregiver “the first duet,” a form of preverbal communication that allows children to synchronize, for example, by clapping to a beat. Rhythm, melody, and repetition help children recognize patterns, which helps them figure out what you’re saying.
Simply tapping wooden spoons on a pan with a question-and-answer rhythm gets a child in sync, observing, predicting what will happen next, listening and waiting for their turn, Koenig said. That’s a lot to learn from an improvised drum set. Bonus: it’s fun.
2. Add music to routines
The kinds of songs I sang in a panic are actually a great way to add music to a child’s life, said Rachel Lipson, founder and CEO of Blue Balloon Songwriting School.
Songs can help establish routines for young children while making music an integral part of their lives, Lipson said. Try to rhyme with a song they already know and ask them to come up with lines. She suggests turning your phone number into a song so they’ll always remember it.
“Using music as a tool for children to explore and experience the world around them in a playful and fun way instills both a sense of connection with you and a joyous love of music,” Lipson said.
3. Make it playful
Brian Harris, a music psychotherapist and professor at New York University, calls music a “powerful tool for play and expression.” This is true for adults as well, but especially important for children, who learn through play.
“Play is the root of children’s learning. When they get into the music space, they get into the game space and there’s a whole world of possibilities.”
4. Share the experience
Children want music to be active – they love to dance, tap, clap and sing. Even if you have no musical training, you can sing and dance with them.
Koenig encourages parents to make up a song for your child: Take any melody and change the words to include your child’s name. They will love to hear something about themselves and get the message that they can create music too.
5. Give a soundtrack to life
The best way to get children to love music is to surround them with it. Play music around the house and in the car and attend sing-alongs or concerts when you can.
“Make a playlist for dinnertime, sing songs at bedtime, play music at breakfast, take them to a concert in the park (or for older kids, take – them an extra ticket to your favorite band’s show when they’re in town!)” said Lipson. “Being around music is like learning another language, and one of the best ways to learn is to immerse yourself in it.”
6. Be creative
Lipson’s music school focuses on a creative approach: making up songs rather than memorizing them. She suggests using the same creative thinking with apps that allow kids to make their own music or try a karaoke night and change some lyrics. You can write lyrics on a walk and make them spontaneously free from what they see.
“When children have experiences around music that spark creativity and joy, the innate love of music that most children are born with will last a lifetime,” Lipson said.
7. Find the right type of lessons
Koenig suggests lessons that focus on creativity and allow children to be social with their peers. He doesn’t like the kind of music lessons many parents had: sitting alone at the piano, memorizing classical music.
“There’s too much content learning, memorization that’s asked of kids in school, and they lose track of the idea that the real goal right now is going to be creativity,” he said. “Being able to create a new idea is going to be key to, you know, maybe saving the planet.”