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Getting involved with music and language can help kids learn

Two new interesting pieces of research have been released recently, both of which show that interacting with children in creative ways from a very early age can have a positive impact on their future development.

The first came from Northwestern University and involved a study in which children participating in music class had their brain activity assessed using electrode wires with button sensors on their heads.

It was found that the youngsters who regularly attended the classes and actively participated demonstrated bigger improvements in the ability of their brain to process speech and written words than their peers who were less involved.

Writing in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, the lead author Nina Kraus pointed out: "Even in a group of highly motivated students, small variations in music engagement - attendance and class participation - predicted the strength of neural processing after music training."

Indeed, the neural processing of the students was especially improved for the children who actually played instruments, rather than just attending a music appreciation group.

"Our results support the importance of active experience and meaningful engagement with sound to stimulate changes in the brain. What we do and how we engage with sound has an effect on our nervous system," concluded Ms Kraus.

Further research

The second study came from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and related to language rather than music. Developmental psychologist Lisa Scott examined how talking to babies in their first year - and in particular, naming objects in their world - can offer them learning benefits up to five years later.

She examined response times in a picture-matching game in four and five-year-olds who had participated in training for the task as infants.

Writing in the journal Developmental Science, the researcher said that children who had been trained with individual-level labels (for example, naming their toys) as babies showed both behavioural and neural advantages when it came to recognising faces at four and five.

"Learning in infancy between the ages of six to nine months lays a foundation for learning later in childhood. Even brief experiences can be important for infants, as they are actively building skills that they can use in a variety of contexts later in life," Ms Scott commented.

It is particularly interesting that in both of these studies, learning came about as a result of deeper level interaction with the young children and getting them involved with tasks that can make better neural connections.

The research also demonstrated easy ways of being able to help babies and toddlers to learn at home, well before they go to school. Simply walking around and pointing at objects before naming them could build language skills, while shaking some home-made maracas might boost speech and writing abilities in time for their academic careers.

Of course, it's important to balance out learning time with plenty of play, but the research just goes to show that even fun things you may well be doing anyway can pay dividends in the future.

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