Can music help children learn ? By Jenny Holt

Helping Children Through Music Therapy

One of the most heart-breaking things we, as adults, witness is the suffering of children. We see a television advertisement showing an abused or sickly child and send them whatever money we can spare; we donate old clothes, toys and books to shelters and hospitals; we even volunteer our time to organisations that help children in need. But what about the children close to us? The ones we rarely realise are suffering. How can we help them? When my autistic son went to nursery, I realised that music therapy is a versatile treatment that could help him.

Stabilising Moods

When a child has an inability to convey expression, no matter what the reason behind it, he or she feels frustration, self-loathing and intolerance. In 1958, Paul Nordoff and Clive Robbins devised a therapy for children grounded in the belief that everyone, no matter their age or circumstance, can respond to music. They found that music therapy offered a way to help children express their thoughts and feelings in a way that doesn’t require words. Through this self-expression, their moods stabilise, their frustrations decrease and they build on their communication, self-esteem and social skills.

Building Trust

The techniques used in music therapy vary depending on the need of the child. Singing helps children develop articulation and breath control but choosing an instrument, such as a guitar, can help them refine motor skills and coordination. Not only can both these methods help them relieve stress and frustration, but spending as little as 30 minutes a day with them playing something such as a musical ‘call and response’ can build on the relationship between you and your child and increase trust and intimacy. Music therapist, Stuart Wood, points out in his work, The Performance of Community Music Therapythat through music therapy, children with conditions such as autism are found to have significantly more and longer periods of eye contact than with those in other types of therapy.

Similarly, composing helps a child to understand their own feels and express themselves, while listening to music helps to develop cognitive skills and encourages a child to pay attention. This was proven in a 2015 study where Dr. Marisa López-Teijón found that foetuses can, as early on as 16 weeks, open and close their mouths and move their tongues in time to music playing outside the belly, almost as if they are singing. She explained that these vocalisation movements helps to stimulate language when they are born.

Nordoff and Robbins’ work included building a music centred climate in schools across the United Kingdom and their charity runs music therapy centres and projects nationwide. Some nurseries and schools now even have ‘sensory rooms’ available on site. These are rooms devoted to developing the child’s senses through music, lights and objects that have an interesting feel to them. They help to create a safe, calm atmosphere and facilitate social skills and communication between adults and children. Imagine what the introduction of music therapy at home, in fostering settings and in other parts of the community can achieve.

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