Imagine a world without music! This is impossible. Our knowledge of sound, song and music making goes back to pre-historic times. It is said that Stonehenge was used as musical stones to accompany song and dance. Our world resonates with vibrations of rich sounds of every shape and size. Music and language go hand in hand, which is why musical moments can support your child’s language development.

Why do we need music to support language?

As a music specialist working with very young children much of my time is spent justifying why music makes a critical difference to a young child’s language development and subsequent life chances. Indeed, why music is important at all? Much of my research, training and practice involves teasing out language development through child- initiated musical play. The results are often illuminating. Enjoying musical activities with young children makes sense. It is nurturing, fun, educational and for the most part, free.

Our voice is driven by the movements of breathing (Power and Trevarthen:214). Using movement to nurture vocalizing, language and music making has been the basis of my practice and research since 1994. We often assume that sounds are only heard with our ears. Is it? How is sound actually made? Is it made through movement? Air moves because we, or something else has moved it. In turn this creates tiny soundwaves. As we all know very young children need to move. They have to move! When young children move – whether in adventure, routine activity or even just drifting off to sleep, sound-play happens.

Parallels of Music and Language

Music and language have many parallels. Try saying the following to a child with no up and down sounds, emphasis on a word, saying each word exactly the same, just like a clock going ‘tick tock’, with as little movement as possible.

“Shall we walk to the park?”
Now try again in your way, putting a little gesture in, a lively, rhythmic demeaner and expression in your voice. Doesn’t that sound more inviting? You have just put a little musicality into a simple question!

Creating Musical Moments

Developing musical play as a professional skill is accessible! Your starting point is to begin to think musically. Thinking musically requires a little knowledge on the ambience, shapes and rhythms that pop up during sound-play and early speech. Here are a couple of musically play-based ideas to try out that help children expand on sounds and syllables.

1. Find a singing note that you are comfortable with and utter this in rhythmical skipping time. “La, la la la la la la la la la… Doo dah doo dah doo dah…”

When you are comfortable with this, find a little movement to go along with this, such as shaking your hands, or wobbling your knees. Now try this with your child – even babies will enjoy this, particularly if you gently wobble their knees as you create the sound. Creating ‘silly’ sounds with movement achieves four things:

  • Encourages the child to focus
  • Spontaneous participation in early speech development
  • Engages adults directly with their child
  • Is emotionally expressive and often comical

2. Here is another fun activity that you could immerse in a routine activity such as putting on a hat.

Look at your child and take a slow, deep breath with lots of playful expression and prepare the hat as you announce going up in pitch (like a piano or glockenspiel).

“Do do do do do do do… da haaaaaat!”

On “da haaaaaaat!” place the hat on your child’s head. As a playful activity your child may vocalize this with you thus, spontaneously uttering new words. This can be transferred to doing other things such as putting on a coat, shoes and so on. The repetitive nature of songs and rhymes also strengthens language development due to the cognitive links to memory recall.

Affectionate vocal interaction with a loved adult plays a critical part in helping a child to develop language, particularly in the context of musical play (Buckley, 2003).

Have fun trying out these ideas. A little bit of expression and musical play does wonders for shared wellbeing, lifts spirits, improves mundane activity and is creative. As a nanny or caregiver with accessible musical skills you will be heads and shoulders above others. Music is fun for everyone including parents. To learn more about how you can incorporate music into play check out these musical education online classes for nannies and caregivers. Parents love to hire a nanny with a robust resume; it’s important to always continue growing your professional development!

Buckley, B. (2009) Children’s communication skills from birth to five years. UK: Routledge
Powers, N and Trevarthen, C. Voices of shared emotion and meaning: young infants and their mothers in Scotland and Japan. In Malloch, S. and Trevarthen, C. (eds.) (2009). Communicative Musicality: exploring the basis of human companionship: Oxford University Press

About The Author

Emma Hutchinson Founder of Music House for Children; music and language developmentEmma Hutchinson, the founder of Music House for Children, has a music career spanning nearly 30 years. Despite early deafness, she studied music, dance and theatre. Emma‘s research and teaching work confirms that multimodal approaches combined with pedagogical know-how in early childhood communication and learning impacts positively. You can connect with Emma at