How Songs, Rhythms and Rhyme Support Early Development

Child dancing at Bookbug Week 2013 flagship event
Category: Bookbug

We know that reading and singing supports cognitive development. Plenty of research tells us that, including an ongoing, long-term research study on Scottish children known as Growing Up in Scotland.

Growing Up in Scotland found that, ‘Doing frequent home learning activities such as reading and singing from an early age is associated with better cognitive ability (vocabulary and problem solving) at age 3, even after taking account of socio-demographic factors.’

So reading and singing supports brain development. That’s important to know, but there’s a danger that we’ll start thinking of songs and stories as doses of educational medicine to give to our children. We need to think differently. Instead of songs and rhythm being something we do to our children we need to recognise that they are part of babies’ and young children’s existence and it’s our job to tune in to them.

Before they’re born babies are steeped in rhythm – their mother’s heartbeat is key. From birth babies respond to a higher pitch than ordinary adult voices and respond to the up and down musicality of parents speaking to them (find out more from Professor Colywn Trevarthen).

Babies are born with rhythm and musicality; adults need to tune in and rediscover their own sense of beat and voice.

Finding your beat

Babies are born with rhythm and musicality; adults need to tune in and rediscover their own sense of beat and voice.

Like Gerald the giraffe (Giraffes Can’t Dance), you might need help to find your own moves and grooves. Of course, going to Bookbug Sessions is a great way to remind yourself of songs and rhymes, but the challenge is to bring them into everyday life. What are the rhythms of your day?

Nappy changing is good for dancing little legs about, mopping up messy fingers can be a good time for finger rhymes like Tommy Thumb, and rocking, walking and marching about brings a natural beat to say rhymes too, like the Grand Old Duke of York or The Big Ship Sailed.

Why make the time?

Why not? Music is good for all us. This is not just building babies’ brains, it’s about lifelong emotions, habits and well being:

  • Singing and rhyming and dancing to rhythms makes you smile and even laugh; smiles are catching
  • Music is calming and reduces stress and promotes positive mental health
  • Music means dancing, which means laughter - anything goes when you dance
  • Action songs get you moving, get your blood flowing and takes you into the moment and away from worries
  • Tickling rhymes mean eye contact and cuddles which help parents/adults and children feel close
  • Touch and cuddling mean oxytocin flows – the love hormone!

And of course there are huge benefits for young children’s language and communication.

Gaining a sense of pitch – what’s high and what’s low - helps you pick out the sounds of words more easily. If you can hear the building blocks of language it helps you speak and later on it will really help you make connections between spoken words and written words.

Music is calming and reduces stress and promotes positive mental health

Retaining your sense of rhythm helps you with reading. Language is full of rhythm – tuning in to the starts and stops and repetitions of words makes it easier to feel how spoken words begin and end.

Getting started

Go to Bookbug Sessions or if you can’t make those (there are loads on and they’re free, so we hope you can) find another song and rhyme session.

Listen to Bookbug music online and use your CD – learn the songs and sing them with your baby or child.

Books are a great way into sounds and music. Plenty of stories are song-like – if you read them out loud with changes of pitch (high and low) and changes in pace (fast and slow) and perhaps make dramatic sounds for crashes and crunches you’ll be bringing stories to life and connecting children (and yourself) with the sounds and rhythms of music.

If you’re working in early years settings think about how you might break down any division you’ve created between music time and other activities. Stories, books and music, dressing up and dancing are part of the ways children express themselves.

And don’t leave your songs behind at a Bookbug Session; take them with you wherever you go!

Find details of Bookbug Sessions in your area.