Baby Needs Music!

Music changes your kiddo’s brain – for the better! According to neuroscientific research, the study and practice of making music actually makes people smarter – including your little ones.

No, I’m not making it up. According to neuroscientists Moreno and Bidelman, “music training provides robust, long-lasting biological benfits to auditory function” as well as “non-auditory functions necessary for higher-order aspects of cognition (eg, working memory, intelligence)”.

Meanwhile, there is no comparable benefit to overall brain function associated with other art forms, or other popular activities for children, such as dance, gymnastics or sports. Researchers are still studying why this is the case, but most seem to believe at least part of the reason is music brings several kinds of brain functions together in a co-ordinated effort. Listening, concentration, fine motor skills, eye-hand-co-ordination, memory, decoding and even mathematical understanding are employed, often simultaneously, in the study and practice of music.

Research in neuroscience also shows that early childhood is likely a sensitive period for learning music – which is to say that, like language, it’s much easier for your baby to learn certain musical skills now and up to the age of 7 than it will be later in life.

However, if your babies are already older than 7, or if you aren’t a parent at all, don’t despair! Music has cognitive benefits at any age. A June 2023 study found that practicing and listening to music improved cognitive function in older adults as well.

Of course, there are many reasons to practice music beyond the benefits to brain health and overall intelligence, including the simple enjoyment of listening; or of mastering the skill to play a piece of music; or of sharing music with friends or family. Music can calm nerves, it can be an outlet for emotion, and it can also reach across cultures and bring people together. The cognitive benefits are just one reason to make sure music is a core component of any childhood education program.


Early Childhood as a Sensitive Period for Learning Music

By Charlotte Thistle & Chat GPT

Music is a vital part of human culture, and exposing children to music at an early age can have positive effects on their development. Research suggests that the early years of childhood are a sensitive period for learning music and that musical experiences during this time can have significant benefits.

A study by Zentner and Kagan (1996) found that infants as young as 5 months old showed a preference for consonant over dissonant music. This suggests that infants are capable of processing and responding to musical stimuli at a very early age. This sensitivity to music continues throughout early childhood.

A study by Strait et al. (2012) found that children who received musical training before the age of 7 had better auditory and motor skills than those who did not receive music training. These findings support the notion that early childhood is a critical time for developing musical abilities.

Other studies have found that exposure to music at an early age can improve language skills, social and emotional development, and cognitive function (Gromko, 2005; Schellenberg, 2004). This is likely because music requires the use of various cognitive skills, such as auditory discrimination, memory, and attention.

In addition to the benefits of early musical exposure, there is evidence that the type of musical experiences a child has during early childhood is important. For example, a study by Lillard et al. (2018) found that children who received formal piano lessons before the age of 7 had better language skills than those who did not receive piano lessons or who received lessons after the age of 7. This suggests that the type and timing of musical experiences are important factors in determining the benefits of early musical exposure.

Overall, the literature suggests that early childhood is a sensitive period for learning music and that the benefits of musical experiences during this time can be significant. Parents and caregivers who expose children to music at an early age may be setting the stage for a lifetime of musical enjoyment and cognitive benefits.


How YOU Can Be Your Child’s Best Music Teacher

For the first year of your child’s life, you talk to them, even though you know they don’t yet understand your words. You don’t expect a coherent reply; you know they are not yet ready to speak.

Their first sounds, perhaps as early as six months of age, are not recognizable words, just sounds like “ba” and “da”. You smile encouragingly because you understand these simple sounds are the building blocks of language, which takes years to master.

After months of making babble sounds, your child begins to put their sounds together to form their first words. It’s such an exciting milestone! And it took months of listening and practicing to get there.

Yet despite knowing how long it takes a child to learn the basics of language, many parents bring their child to a music class, and feel dismayed or discouraged that their little one does not immediately jump in to sing, clap or bang a drum on the first day.

Why would they, though? Music and language are closely related and are learned in a similar way. Yet parents often seem to have unrealistic expectations about how quickly a child should be able to acquire basic musical skills.

For instance, a child who is new to my Music for Tots classes will often simply sit and listen throughout the first class, or even the first several classes (entirely normal and appropriate). Yet I frequently have parents come up and apologize to me that their toddler didn’t participate more.

Worse, sometimes a parent or caregiver will persistently wave a shaker in their child’s face, or shove a drum into their hands, saying “SEE? SHAKE THE SHAKER!” or “BANG THE DRUM!”, and appear discouraged that all their child does is stare back at them, or put the shaker in their mouth.

This is because neither waving shakers in a child’s face nor forcing drums into their hands is a very effective method for teaching music. As with language, your child learns best by listening to and watching what you do. If you sing a song, or play a drum, or shake a shaker, your child will also learn to do these things. So the best way to teach your child music is by allowing them to watch and listen to you sing and play music.

“But I’m not a musician!” you insist. “How can I be a good musical role model when I (fill in the blank) don’t have a good singing voice / can’t find the beat / can’t play an instrument?” But the truth is, your child does not know or care about any of that. You may not be an eloquent public speaker like Barack Obama, but your child still learns to speak by listening to you. You don’t need to be BeyoncĂ© or Wynton Marsalis. You just need to sing your child a lullaby, or play “Pat-a-Cake” with them, or dance the Chicken Dance.

Parents who bring their children to my music class consistently over time report to me that even children who are quiet listeners during class will sing the songs enthusiastically at home. It just takes time, and children will join in when they are ready. Families who actively sing, dance and play instruments with their children – in or out of music class – will undoubtedly see their children progress towards mastering such foundational music skills as singing a simple melody and tapping or clapping along with a beat.

For more information about my music classes, please visit


Choo Choo Boogaloo

Zydeco music is a uniquely American genre that developed in Louisiana as several cultures came together in the 1700s, including French settlers, indigenous peoples (in particular the Atakapi-Ishak), and African-American slaves and freed slaves (who incidentally enjoyed greater rights and freedoms under the French Code Noir than their counterparts elsewhere in America at the time).

French immigrants brought their traditional customs with them and began celebrating Mardi Gras in the area around New Orleans as early as the 1730s. By the 1800s, Zydeco – with its syncopated rhythms and toe-tapping accordion – had become an integral part of Mardi Gras celebrations in the area.

One characteristic of Zydeco music is the tempo often speeds up as the song goes along, forcing dancers to try to keep up – and often producing much merriment and laughter in the process! This family-friendly song by the late, great accordionist Buckwheat Zydeco is really fun to share with a group of kids, especially if you have a basket of egg shakers. Tell the kids the train is starting slow, but they have to pay attention and keep up with the beat as it goes faster and faster.

You can listen to the song on YouTube or purchase the whole album here.

For more information about my music classes, please visit .


Outdoor Education: A Silver Lining of the Pandemic

by Charlotte Thistle

Outdoor education has been around for a long time. It certainly rose in popularity in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but outdoor learning has many benefits beyond minimizing the spread of infectious diseases. According to this article in the Harvard Graduate School of Education News, outdoor learning benefits student mental health and academic performance, and students are often calmer and better able to focus when learning in nature. Little Otter Health (an award-winning online mental health clinic for kids) has compiled a list of peer-reviewed studies showing that outdoor learning has a host of benefits including better physical and mental health for students, improved student confidence, better learning outcomes, better social-emotional and collaborative skills, and increased student engagement.

As a mom, I have observed firsthand the difference in my own daughter (especially as a young child) after an hour exploring nature vs. an hour in front of a screen. After screen time, she was often cranky and agitated, with a low tolerance for anything that didn’t go her way. After time in nature, she was happy, vibrant and resilient.

As a music teacher – especially after seeing what a radical difference outdoor time produced in my own child – it was a natural choice for me to start taking my music students outside to the garden whenever feasible. After all, music and dance are among the most ancient of human activities. For hundreds of thousands of years, people around the world have joined together to sing and dance around campfires or in village squares. It’s really joyful to see children singing and dancing together outdoors!

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, I went a step further and installed a covered fresh-air classroom with a garden view. I’ve been teaching toddler classes out here year-round (it has a heater) as well as ukulele classes for older kids in Spring, Summer and Fall. In December we sang Christmas Carols and drank hot cocoa!

Music and dance may lend themselves better to outdoor learning than some activities, but there are ways to make even subjects like spelling and math more outdoorsy. For instance, Waldorf offers an Active Arithmetic curriculum, and this blog shows how spelling can be taken outdoors, especially in warm weather. I myself taught a small pod of 7-10 year-olds outdoors for two years during the pandemic and led some of the math and spelling ideas listed above, as well as outdoor reading, mad libs, storytelling, and more traditional outdoor activities such as cycling and jump rope. The kids even collaborated to design a logo which we put on t-shirts. I still proudly drink my morning tea out of my “Outdoor School” mug.

Whatever your situation, I hope you’re able to find a way to do some of your learning outdoors! I myself continue to offer outdoor Music for Tots and other outdoor music classes in Seattle, Washington. You can find more information about my class offerings on my website at

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