Music on the young mind |

Music on the young mind

Photo by Ari Steffen/Sierra Sun Ethan King, 2, and his mom, Kathy, have been taking the Music Movement and Me class since Ethan was 6 months old.

It’s the reason we call them sponges – the ability of the mind in its earliest years to absorb, remember and grow at an astonishing rate. Research is proving that by exposing young children to music, their capacity for developing speech, recognizing patterns and responding emotionally can all be increased.”Exposing a baby to music is most effective in the first year,” said 25-year music educator Rita Whitaker-Haun. “And up until about nine years you can have some good effects.”The use of steady beats stimulates the frontal lobes, the planning, organizing, and problem solving portion of the brain. Speech is stimulated by watching mouth and teeth movements and the combination of sound and movement addresses the limbic system, the part of the brain that deals with emotion and memory, Whitaker-Haun said.

In her Tuesday morning toddler class, more than a half-dozen parent-child pairs sing, dance, and create noise together. When the music tempos are low, they crawl on the ground, when the tempos are high, they jump and wave their arms, coordinating their movements with the changing sounds.An interest in the correlation between music and cognitive development led a group of researchers at the Center for Neurobiology of Learning and Memory in Irvine to look at the effects of music on children in 1999.The team of researchers observed 34 preschoolers who were given piano keyboard lessons in which they learned pitch intervals, fine motor coordination, sight reading, and playing from memory. After six months, all the children could play basic melodies by Mozart and Beethoven.”Whatever you give your baby is what they are going to learn,” Whitaker-Haun said.Yet other experts have shown that music can be influential to a baby even before the child is born.

Speaking, reading, and singing to a baby in the womb can enhance the child’s ability to distinguish among sounds after birth, according to international music educator and author Don Campbell. While she was pregnant with her son, Griffin Kutler-Dodd, Truckee mother Traci Kutler would play recordings of a steady beat against her stomach at a set time every morning and evening. “If I was late putting the recording on, even by 30 minutes, he would kick and get violent in my belly,” Kutler said. “And as soon as I would play it – quiet.”Griffin was born one month premature, and for two weeks following his delivery nurses would play him the same beat. Kutler said that her son would clam down instantly. Kutler and her son, who is now 2 years old, have been attending Whitaker-Haun’s music classes for more than a year and a half, and Kutler says that her toddler will repeat the dancing, beats, and patterns at home without being prompted.

“Music has definitely had a huge influence in his life in a positive way,” Kutler said. But Whitaker-Haun maintains that even while her music programs have dozens of lasting cognitive benefits, much of what she focuses on is just having fun with parents and their little ones. “Yes, its cognitive, but it’s also beautiful, and you’re not going to get that at other playgroups,” said Whitaker-Haun. “It’s so enjoyable. There is no pressure here, and I am a fun person. I Know that what I am doing is important, and that the whole community is embracing it makes me feel really blessed.”To learn more about music classes for your child, contact Rita at 582-1341, or at

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