Hear My Voice: Why We Must Sing to Our Children
I have asked the musically gifted Jen Teh to write a series on music, song and language in our children’s lives. Singing and reading are all important in language development and so loved by children of all ages. Thank you so much Jen for sharing your knowledge and expertise with us here;
There is this thing that’s like touching, except you don’t touch.
Back in the day it just went without saying at all.
All the world’s history gradually dying of shock.
There is thing that’s like talking, except you don’t talk.
You sing. Just sing.
Singing is an intrinsic part of raising children. When a baby cries, it feels right to hum a lullaby. We sing action songs and nursery rhymes with our toddlers and young children. I have even spoken to parents whose adolescent children ask them to sing to them when they are feeling insecure and overwhelmed. Song is a unique way of connecting and communicating, and it carries with it benefits for both the singer and the listener.
Many wonderful things happen when a child is sung to. Songs can be used for storytelling, cultural exchange, to calm, to excite and to incite discussion. For the singer, the act of singing increases cardiovascular function, lowers blood pressure, releases endorphins and lowers stress levels, with consequent increase in immune function. Singing to babies is particularly powerful. All positive mother-baby interaction leads to the release of beta endorphins for both, promoting feelings of well-being and increased relaxation, and this is especially true for when a baby is being held and sung to.
There is a direct correlation between singing and the development of language. The folk songs of every culture carry with them the signature inflections of the ‘mother tongue’ language, and help to wire the child’s ear, voice and brain to engage with this language. If you are worried that you don’t sing well enough, relax! For your child, your voice is the safest and most familiar sound, and is far better than any recorded music. Just as children learn language in interactive environments by being engaged in live conversation, they will gain the most benefit from being sung to directly by their caregivers.
You can begin singing to your child before they are even born – amniotic fluid is a great conductor of sound. Babies begin to respond to sound in the womb from around 18 weeks gestation, and the ability to recognise voices and even songs develops quite significantly by the end of pregnancy. All through my pregnancy with my son Joshua, my husband Jamie sang one song to my belly, over and over again. When Josh was born, Jamie held him and sang that song, and immediately Josh stopped crying and stared quietly at him (and our midwife started to cry instead). Six months on and Josh still settles immediately when Jamie sings “You Are My Sunshine.”
Sometimes it is hard to know just WHAT to sing to your child, and there are many fabulous books out there designed with the intention of being sung to children of all ages – from illustrated nursery rhymes, to sung stories and even pop songs. Other books aren’t necessarily written for the purpose of being sung but seem to naturally lend themselves to it.
In the meantime…
Sing for the bartender, sing for the janitor, sing.
Sing for the cameras, sing for the animals, sing.
Sing for the teachers who told you that you couldn’t sing.
Sing for the kid with the phone who refuses to sing.
-Lyrics in this post have been borrowed from “Sing” by The Dresden Dolls-
Hush Little Baby founder Jennifer Teh has been teaching musicfor fourteen years. She comes highly qualified, with a Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Education from the University of Queensland as well as an Australian Kodaly Certificate in Primary Music Education. Her accolades include an Australian Government National Award for Quality Schooling and a Queensland College of Teachers Excellence Award. In addition to working extensively with choirs of all ages and backgrounds as a music director, Jen has been invited to work with numerous children’s and adult choirs as a workshop facilitator and guest conductor. Jen strongly believes that music and singing should be a part of every child’s life. There is a huge body of research supporting the positive benefits of sharing music with infants and children. Through her baby and toddler classes, Jen aims to give parents and caregivers a fun day out, as well as skills, games and songs that can be taken home and enjoyed over and over again.
Well said, and such an important topic. I’m 23 weeks pregnant and my baby girl kicks and kicks when we go to choral concerts or there’s music playing loudly on a movie. My 3 year old is still comforted by the music I played/sang when I was pregnant. Thank you for sharing!
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