Does Music Improve your Child’s Reading Level?

From birth, parents instinctively use music to calm and soothe children, to express their love and joy, and to engage and interact. Parents can build on these natural instincts by learning how music can impact child development, improve social skills, and benefit kids of all ages.

From reception through third grade, a child's ability to read grows by leaps and bounds. Basic learning like reading of letters, words, pronunciation and elementary quantitative reasoning by way of using all sensory learning styles are first taught by the parent at home then further developed in schools. It has long been proven and generally accepted that preschool activities can help or map children's’ learning and especially reading levels. One of such activity is through Music.

A 2016 study at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute found that musical experiences in childhood can actually accelerate brain development, particularly in the areas of language acquisition and reading skills. According to the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation (NAMM Foundation), learning to play an instrument can improve mathematical learning and even increase SAT scores.

Research conducted in US by Dr Nina Kraus has found Learning to sing or play a musical instrument can help children improve their reading skills, especially children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Dr Kraus at Northwestern University involved hundreds of children aged 11-16 with similar IQs and reading ability from an impoverished and affluent areas of Chicago and Los Angeles. In this study, Dr Kraus found that giving children regular group music lessons for five or more hours a week prevented any decline in reading skills.

"Research has shown that there are differences in the brains of children raised in impoverished environments that affect their ability to learn. Music appeared to remodel the brain to improve the connections between sounds and meaning, the process by which babies learn to speak" she explained.

"While more affluent students do better in school than children from lower income backgrounds, we are finding that musical training can alter the nervous system to create a better learner and help offset this academic gap." (Ref: BBC News | Health; “Musical training 'can improve language and reading”| writer unknown | 09 Aug 2014)

Another set of researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Beijing Normal University have found that piano lessons help improve children’s language skills. The study, performed in Beijing, suggests that musical training is as beneficial, if not more beneficial, in improving language skills than extra reading lessons. The 74 children involved were divided into three groups: one received 45 minute piano lessons three times a week; one received extra reading instruction three times a week; and one received neither. The children were 4 to 5 years-old and spoke Mandarin as their native language.

After six months, the researchers tested the children’s ability to differentiate between words based on differences in vowels, consonants, or tone (many Mandarin words differ only in tone). Better word differentiation usually corresponds with better awareness of the sound structure of words, which is a key component of learning to read.

Children who had piano lessons showed a significant advantage over children in the extra reading group in discriminating between words that differ by one consonant. Children in both the piano group and extra reading group performed better than children who received neither intervention.

Most young school-age children are intrigued by kids’ singalong songs that involve counting, spelling, or remembering a sequence of events. School-age children begin expressing their likes and dislikes of different types of music. They may express an interest in music education, such as music lessons for kids. However this drastically evolves with teenagers as they use musical experiences to form friendships and to set themselves apart from parents and younger kids. They often want to hang out and listen to music after school with a group of friends.

One of the most important benefits of introducing music in to a child's life is the enhancement of their cognitive function. Music engages listening, language and brain motor neuron functions which then aid the general emotional behaviour. A child learning an instrument teaches them how to create, store and retrieve memories more effectively by requiring the brain to work at an advanced speed which improves their hand-eye coordination. Music can also enhance the development of maths by understanding beat, rhythm and scales, children are learning how to divide, create fractions and recognise patterns. Therefore we can “soundly” say, reading, languages, social science and a child’s general social skills will improve with the incorporation of music.

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