Fletcher Allen, a Vermont university hospital and medical center, serves all of
Vermont and the northern New York region. Located in Burlington, Fletcher Allen is a regional, academic healthcare center and teaching hospital in alliance with the University of Vermont.
Some Notes on How Music Benefits Children
With the Discover Jazz Festival in Burlington this month, parents have been asking me a symphony of questions about introducing their children to music. Well, let me see if I can tune up everyone on this important topic.
While listening to music is certainly enjoyable, real benefits are seen when children participate by singing, playing, or dancing. Children who are actively involved in music have better focus, concentration and control of their bodies. Their ability to set goals and cooperate with others improves. And they are more likely to do better in reading, math and science.
This is because music helps build reasoning skills and cognitive development. Children who are involved in music also tend to have better peer relationships, higher self-esteem and are more likely to do well on their SATs and attend college.
But the best reason to enjoy music, whether onstage or from the audience, is that it’s fun. Early school years are a great time to expose your child to a wide array of music, from classical to country – and certainly jazz. It's only from third grade on that kids get more focused on popular and up-tempo music like rock, especially if they haven’t been exposed to other types of music.
The best way to introduce music to your younger children is to share songs from your childhood with them. Sing in the car or put music on while you are doing chores or your child is playing. Combine dancing with music to help your child gain better coordination of their body. Dancing to a beat allows them to build concentration and self-control skills.
Make listening to music together a family activity. Introduce a new type of music each week as a family and have everyone talk about why they like it or not. You might introduce your child to computer software programs that let kids compose their own tunes and sounds. Outdoor concerts are great for children because they can dance and move around and not bother others.
When can your child begin learning an instrument? Most children are ready for formal instruction between five and seven years of age, when they have the fine motor control and developmental readiness to learn an instrument, such as the ability to focus for 20-30 minutes. Most begin with piano and strings, which also teach fundamental music concepts like notes and timing. Brass or wind instruments are more physically challenging, so it’s generally better to start those around fourth or fifth grade. Don't force your child to play an instrument because you did it growing up. Do it because your child wants to learn.
Hopefully, tips like this will tune up everyone when it comes to recognizing the importance of introducing your child to music.
Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids.