Benefits of Music for Your Child
Can music help a child’s math scores? Is drama a good resource for success-building skills for your child? These questions keep popping up in the media, and the answers are often backed by controversial “research” that confuses parents. So, let me first clarify some things about research. A research study needs to have a minimum of 100 subjects, split equally between a control group and a study group. The length of the study and whether the study can be repeated to show the same results (validity) are also important factors that need to be taken into consideration. Unfortunately, “facts” can be skewed to produce a good media response, so it is important to look carefully at research that confirms a fact. It is necessary to know if there was long-term data; if the professionals who did the research were objective and participated without receiving compensation for their work; and whether the subjects represented a cross-section of the population to make sure that the evidence found was relevant to everyone.
One interesting study that I’d like to share is referenced in Daniel Honan’s October 2011 Big Think article (this study was originally discussed in 1993 in an article entitled “The Mozart Effect” from Nature magazine). According to a neuroscientist named Sam Wang, “passive listening to music appears to have no effect on cognitive ability.” On the other hand, learning to play a musical instrument (like Mozart, for instance, who began to play the harpsichord at three years old) tends to have more influence on a child’s brain. According to Wang, learning to play a musical instrument activates many circuits in the brain, teaches children to appreciate music, and also teaches a lifelong skill. It won’t, however, improve your math scores. Then why do people believe there is an association between music and math? Wang believes it’s due to the idea that “good habits travel in packs.” So, it may be that children from affluent households on average are better at math – or it could be that children from affluent households are more likely to take music lessons. There’s some difficulty in knowing whether music lessons caused the improvement in math ability, or vice versa, or whether some common factor caused both of them.
Wang goes on to point to another carefully controlled study in which the psychologist Glenn Schellenberg gave parents the opportunity to enroll their children in art lessons. Schellenberg separated them very carefully into groups. Some children took music lessons; others received drama lessons; and others were placed on a waiting list. Schellenberg observed a small improvement in math abilities in the music students versus the ones who did not get music lessons. However, there was also an unanticipated benefit that Schellenberg discovered: the children who took drama lessons were better at understanding the mental states of others, and they were more socially adjusted. According to Wang, Schellenberg’s research demonstrated that drama lessons are even more effective than music lessons in influencing a child’s brain development, although these lessons also didn’t necessarily make children better at math.
While these studies are very interesting and both support the benefits of music and art in a child’s life, it still leaves me with a few questions:
- Did the children that were enrolled in the music program have a passion to play?
- Did the children that were enrolled in the drama program have good memorization skills?
- What math tests were given to the children pre and post activity?
I have even more questions – how about you? See, it really is good to sometimes question what you are reading, even while you take away the information you find helpful. So be a good pack leader and give your child the benefit of trying music, art, drama and other creative adventures.
You can learn more activities from the My Baby Compass program to help your child reach his potential.
– Kathy Gruhn, MA CCC-SLP, author of My Baby Compass series