Over the past decade, researchers around the world have uncovered compelling evidence that formal music training, particularly for very young children, permanently improves cognitive capabilities and increases IQ scores.
In 2006, researchers studied 4 to 6 year-olds who participated in musical training using the Suzuki method over the course of a year. According to the BBC, those with training “performed better [than the control group] on a memory test also designed to assess general intelligence skills such as literacy and maths ability.”
Lead researcher Professor Laurel Trainor said, “It suggests that musical training is having an effect on how the brain gets wired for general cognitive functioning related to memory and attention.”
The actual size of music-related areas in the brain, such as the auditory cortex, cerebellum (responsible for motor coordination) and motor cortex increase with music training.
And, importantly for parents of preschoolers, according to a 2004 Scientific American article, Music and the Brain, “the extent of increase is greater the earlier the music lessons began.” These gains produce lifelong benefits: researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong concluded that adults who had studied music as children had improved verbal memory.
Moreover, less directly related cognitive skills appear to develop over time with music training.
Children who received at least three years…of instrumental music training outperformed their control counterparts on two outcomes closely related to music (auditory discrimination abilities and fine motor skills) and on two outcomes distantly related to music (vocabulary and nonverbal reasoning skills).
Duration of training also predicted these outcomes.
There have been a number of references to the correlation between music training and academic performance, including the College Board’s report on SAT scores where students who took courses in musical performance scored 22 points higher in Math and 28 points higher in Critical Reading and Writing (2009 data).
However, research went beyond correlation: they demonstrate a high likelihood of causality in that the control group did not see similar test gains nor changes in brain activity.
Interestingly, studies to date have not determined any particular area of the brain that specialises in music.
Rather, music appears to engage various areas of the brain responsible for other cognitive functions.
ndeed, it may be that the mental gymnastics needed to process music across multiple regions of the brain (including both hemispheres) is precisely the workout that results in the observed intellectual gains.
A recent guest post on “An Amazing Child” blog does an excellent job summarizing the benefits to incorporating nursery rhymes in the regular reading material for young children. The author references research indicating that children’s vocabularies are shrinking in the US, and the gradual disappearance of nursery rhymes in their daily lives may be to blame.
The benefits of rhymes listed by the author include:
A 2012 study from the University of Colorado Boulder confirms what most parents of two to three year-old toddlers instinctively know: missing a daytime nap results in “crankier” kids. The study showed that, “toddlers between 2 and a half and 3 years old who miss only a single daily nap show more anxiety, less joy and interest and a poorer understanding of how to solve problems, said CU-Boulder Assistant Professor Monique LeBourgeois, who led the study.”
The facial expressions of children in the study were videotaped an hour after taking their regular nap, and on a different day after having missed their nap time.
The study showed nap-deprived toddlers completing the solvable puzzles had a 34 percent decrease in positive emotional responses compared to the same children completing similar puzzles after their usual midday naps. The study also showed a 31 percent increase in negative emotional responses of nap-deprived toddlers when they attempted to complete unsolvable puzzles when compared with puzzle-solving attempts after they had napped.
In addition, the study found a 39 percent decrease in the expression of “confusion” when nap-deprived toddlers attempted to put together unsolvable puzzles. “Confusion is not bad — it’s a complex emotion showing a child knows something does not add up,” said LeBourgeois. “When well-slept toddlers experience confusion, they are more likely to elicit help from others, which is a positive, adaptive response indicating they are cognitively engaged with their world.”
The research begs the question whether children who consistently miss naps are at a disadvantage in their development of emotional intelligence, or ability to retain what they’ve learned. Children who are particularly negative may have difficulty making friends or creating positive relationships with caregivers. “This study shows that missing even a single nap causes them to be less positive, more negative and have decreased cognitive engagement” said LeBourgeois.
The reason that sleep is so critical is still somewhat of a mystery, however research published in the September 2013 Journal of Neuroscience , as reported by BBC News suggests that brain cells that produce insulating myelin are boosted in REM sleep. This could be one of many factors that contribute to the positive impact of sleep on brain function.