3 Ways Music Improves Kids’ Learning, Relationships & Confidence

When we think of music, often what comes to mind is song. We may think of Broadway musicals, Bach or Justin Timberlake. In our minds, we might imagine orchestras or pianists.

Music has been central to civilization for thousands of years. In fact, before we had language we used musical tones and sounds to communicate. The tone of a grunt signaled a message in our prehistoric ancestors, while the beat of a drum brought village people together in unity far and wide. What we think of a little less often is what music is made of and how it impacts our learning, behavior and social relationships.

Music is all around us as we hear the subway cling and clatter, the pitter-patter of our children’s footsteps and the ambient noise inherent in life. Music engages our sensory, motor and auditory pathways in the brain fostering engagement and synchronicity (Patel & Iverson, 2014).

Curiously, the ability to synchronize with a beat is associated with learning language and grammar (Corriveau & Goswami, 2009; Gordon et al., 2015). At its core music is made of beats and rhythms that create sound, melody and even movement. These beats and rhythms are meaningful scaffolds we can use in school, at home and in life to enhance foundational aspects of our learning, behavior and character.

Here are three ways to incorporate music into your family life to foster growth in learning, behavior, confidence, social relationships and character.

TRUST Engaging in music with your children, classmates and workmates can enhance a sense of cohesion, emotional safety and trust. Our brains and bodies love to entrain, that is, join together in synchrony with others. Moving, tapping and singing in synchrony provide us with a felt-sense of togetherness, safety and trust. Consider for a moment, the smile on an infant’s face as he plays clapping games with his mother. Think about your own emotions as you walk by a classroom of students harmonizing in song.

“Musical engagement provides opportunities to improve social cohesion, psychological safety and trust in our relationships.”

What can you do? Sing more with others. Whether acapella, with the radio or as you complete your tasks of daily living, turn up the music and sing along. Choose songs that are known to all and enjoy the feeling of camaraderie and togetherness as you sing out that tune, together.

LEARNING – Even if you aren’t a musical performer, songs, chants, poems and raps are a wonderful way to learn academic knowledge. Music provides a rhythmic foundation on which to layer information in order to encode it and make it learned knowledge. Further, consistent beats, specifically in 4/4 time, stimulate the brain’s natural interest, comfort and familiarity with patterns and sequences. Help your children learn their math facts, historical knowledge, literature and foreign language saying simple repetitive words with rhythm for better encoding and retrieval of learned knowledge.

“We are musical beings, even our neurons fire like an orchestra.”

MOVE IT – Clapping, tapping, stepping, marching and bouncing to a beat provide a firm scaffold on which to layer learning. Start by clapping or stepping to a simple quarter note at 85-120 beats per minute and increase tempo as the children become familiar with the beat.

On the downbeat add the content to be learned, for example, C-A-T CAT. You can also say the words syllabically, HO – USE HOUSE with a double clap on the fourth beat. Imagine learning your history facts to a beat, “Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, created Thanksgiving Day, he championed for freedom, as the children played.” Mix and match beats with rhythm, movements, sounds and words for an engaging social experience. The words can rhyme, but they don’t have to.

Music is magical. It has the ability to help us calm or energize, connect and reflect, enhancing our thinking skills, learning and character by engaging us as musical and prosocial beings.

Enjoy building confidence, character, and social connections as you chant, sing, move, and create to the sounds of music.

For more musical learning ideas see Musical Thinking and 70 Play Activities for Better Thinking, Self-Regulation, Learning and Behavior.


  • Corriveau K, Goswami U. (2009). Rhythmic motor entrainment in children with speech and language impairments: tapping to the beat. Cortex, 45: 119–130.
  • Gordon R, Shivers C, Wieland E, Kotz S, Yoder P, McAuley J. (2015). Musical rhythm discrimination explains individual differences in grammar skills in children. Developmental Science, 18: 635–644.
  • Patel, A. D., & Iversen, J. R. (2014). The evolutionary neuroscience of musical beat perception: the Action Simulation for Auditory Prediction (ASAP) hypothesis. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 8, 57.

Helpful websites:





70-play-hi-res-150x197Written for teachers, educators, and clinicians whose work involves playing, talking or teaching children who would benefit from better executive function and social-emotional learning skills, 70 Play Activities incorporates over 100 research studies into printable worksheets, handouts, and guided scripts with step-by-step directions, to empower children to learn and behave better. “With 70 Play Activities we aim to improve the trajectory of children’s learning by integrating the newest neuroscience with activities children love!” With over 70 activities designed to improve thinking, self-regulation, learning and behavior, your tool-kit will be full and your creative brain will be inspired to craft your own meaningful exercises. 70 Play Activities is available at amazon.com


How to Overcome Sleeping Challenges with Your Young Child

Lots of young children find it difficult to settle down to sleep and will wake up during the night.

For some people, this might not be a problem. But if you or your child are suffering from lack of sleep, there are some simple techniques you can try.

Every child is different, so only do what you feel comfortable with and what you think will suit your child.

If your child won’t go to bed

If your child won’t go to sleep without you

More sleep tips for under-fives

Help your disabled child to sleep

Help with children’s sleep problems

If your child won’t go to bed

  • Decide what time you want your child to go to bed.
  • Close to the time that your child normally falls asleep, start a 20-minute “winding down” bedtime routine. Bring this forward by 5-10 minutes a week – or 15 minutes if your child is in the habit of going to bed very late – until you get to the bedtime you want.
  • Set a limit on how much time you spend with your child when you put them to bed. For example, read only one story, then tuck your child in and say goodnight.
  • Give your child their favourite toy, dummy (*pacifier) (if they use one) or comforter before settling into bed.
  • Leave a beaker (*cup) of water within reach and a dim light on if necessary.
  • If your child gets up, keep taking them back to bed again with as little fuss as possible.
  • Try to be consistent.
  • You may have to repeat this routine for several nights.

If your child won’t go to sleep without you

This technique can help toddlers (over 12 months) or older children get used to going to sleep without you in the room.

It can also be used whenever your child wakes in the middle of the night.

Be prepared for your child to take a long time to settle when you first start.

You can use strokes or pats instead of kisses if your child sleeps in a cot and you can’t reach them to give them a kiss.

  • Have a regular, calming bedtime routine.
  • Put your child to bed when they are drowsy but awake and kiss them goodnight.
  • Promise to go back in a few moments to give them another kiss.
  • Return almost immediately to give a kiss.
  • Take a few steps to the door, then return immediately to give a kiss.
  • Promise to return in a few moments to give them another kiss.
  • Put something away or do something in the room then give them a kiss.
  • As long as the child stays in bed, keep returning to give more kisses.
  • Do something outside their room and return to give kisses.
  • If the child gets out of bed, say, “back into bed and I’ll give you a kiss”.
  • Keep going back often to give kisses until they are asleep.
  • Repeat every time your child wakes during the night.

See more tips from Barts Health NHS Trust on helping young children to sleep (PDF, 219kb).

More sleep tips for under-fives

  • Make sure you have a calming, predictable bedtime routine that happens at the same time and includes the same things every night.
  • If your child complains that they’re hungry at night, try giving them a bowl of cereal and milk before bed (make sure you brush their teeth afterwards).
  • If your child is afraid of the dark, consider using a nightlight or leaving a landing (*hallway) light on.
  • Don’t let your child look at laptops, tablets or phones in the 30-60 minutes before bed – the light from screens can interfere with sleep.
  • When seeing to your child during the night, be as boring as possible – leave lights off, avoid eye contact and don’t talk more than necessary.
  • Avoid long naps in the afternoon.

Help your disabled child to sleep

Sometimes children with long-term illnesses or disabilities find it more difficult to sleep through the night. This can be challenging both for them and for you.

Contact a Family has more information about helping your child sleep.

The Scope website also has sleep advice for parents of disabled children.

More help with children’s sleep problems

It can take patience, consistency and commitment, but most children’s sleep problems can be solved.

If your child is still having problems sleeping, you can talk to your health visitor.

They may have other ideas or suggest you make an appointment at a children’s sleep clinic, if there’s one in your area.

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.

Child Health & Safety News 6/26: Snapchat Has Searchable Maps

twitter thumbIn this week’s Child Safety News: What The Michelle Carter conviction for telling someone to commit suicide means for YOUR Kids bit.ly/2sLM3LY

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world. Each day we use social media to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we overlook something, but overall we think we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. Still, quite a bit happens every day – so to make sure you don’t miss anything, we offer you a recap of this week’s top 15 events & stories.

  • Signs Your Child Has IBS And How To Fix It bit.ly/2tYiPXJ 2017-06-25
  • Survivors Of Childhood Diseases Struggle To Find Care As Adults bit.ly/2s1yOD7 2017-06-25
  • How to Parent a Sensitive Child in a Less Than Sensitive World bit.ly/2tDdLbV 2017-06-24
  • Choking hazard prompts Britax to recall 207K child car seats on-ajc.com/2tzzm53 Check here for models 2017-06-24
  • Child safety campaign urges parents to ask about unlocked guns when dropping off for a playdate bit.ly/2rIsReZ Would u ask? 2017-06-23

PedSafe Child Health & Safety News Headline of the Week:
A Snapchat update that shows publicly posted images on a searchable map has raised safety concerns among parents. bbc.in/2t4Suud

  • When Should Your Allergic Child Start Wearing A Medic Alert?zpr.io/PJ7zS 2017-06-23
  • Tomorrow, Cars 3 is Sensory Friendly at AMC zpr.io/PJ7Rz 2017-06-23
  • 12-Year-Old Cheerleader Kills Herself After Cruel Bullying Incident bet.us/2tu1aYn Only 12 yrs old! 2017-06-23
  • How to Deal With Ever-Changing Parenting Guidelines bit.ly/2tNMBhN 2017-06-22
  • Is Your Child at Risk for Type 2 Diabetes? cle.clinic/2sR3rzH It’s on the rise in the US. 2017-06-21
  • Talking To Your Kids About Your Cancer zpr.io/Pivr7 2017-06-21
  • “The study found guns killed an average of 1,300 children and wounded 5,700 per year from 2012 to 2014.” bit.ly/2sJSeAf 2017-06-21
  • Mott Poll: Nearly Two-Thirds of Mothers “Shamed” By Others About Their Parenting Skills | Michigan Medicine uofmhealth.org/news/archive/2… 2017-06-20
  • The Dietary Patterns That Increase Risk for Childhood Obesity bit.ly/2sHF1c1 2017-06-19
  • Does My Child Really Need Dental Arch Expansion? zpr.io/PiDLN 2017-06-19

Boredom vs. Structure: Is One “Better” for a Special Needs Child?

There is a lot of parenting buzz about letting your kids be bored because only then will they tap into their imaginations and learn to be self-reliant. Childhood boredom can lead to many wonderful things like invented games, improvised plays and backyard expeditions. Then again, many children with special needs need structure. Some get very anxious when they are unsure where to go and what to do. Others get lost in time and distractions in ways that are not beneficial or can get up to activities that are destructive or unsafe. Throughout this article please understand that when I refer to unstructured time I never mean for it to mean unsupervised time. Safety is crucial! Also, this is not about boredom in school – this is about the summertime, weekend, hanging out at home type of boredom. So how do you balance your child’s need for structure with the healthy benefits of downtime?

I was faced with this dilemma of schedule vs. free time on only the fourth day of summer break, when my special needs child dramatically threw herself on my bed and sighed, “I’m bored.”

As always, take the unique needs of your child and your family into consideration. If you work, if your child is in a summer program or camp or if your child has a caregiver this may not all be up to you. You will need to get input from your child’s team to see how he or she tolerates unstructured time before you can decide how much boredom to allow at home.

Even when it seems like I am letting my kids hang around the house doing nothing, I always have a secret schedule in my mind and am always watching the clock and listening to the sibling rivalry. Sometimes I have to step in and redirect, sometimes I can let it play out. Sometimes I have to force them all to unplug, or go outside or read.

If your child needs structure and scheduling, try building some imagination time into the daily agenda. Start small, maybe ten minutes, and build the time up as your child can tolerate it. Knowing there is an end time may also help the child feel less anxious about free time.

Some children have trouble making choices. In this case you can schedule something like reading time or art time, but allow your child the choice of what book to read or what art materials to use. If that is too overwhelming, you can give your child two or three options and let them choose. Then stop giving the options. Eventually you can work up to giving your child bigger choices, like reading time or art time. Even using the phrase “play time” instead of “free time” may offer the child a hint about appropriate choices during this time. If the idea of unstructured time is very overwhelming to your child, brainstorm a list of things they could do during free time, then post it somewhere or keep it in a notebook so you can consult it as needed. You may even want to make a Boredom Jar so the suggested activities will be randomized when your child pulls one out.

As always, if unstructured time doesn’t work for your child right now that is fine, but as our kids grow up and we try to teach them to be independent you can revisit it at a later date.

Transformers: The Last Knight is Sensory Friendly Tuesday at AMC

AMC Entertainment (AMC) has expanded their Sensory Friendly Films program in partnership with the Autism Society. This Tuesday evening, families affected by autism or other special needs have the opportunity to view a sensory friendly screening of Transformers: The Last Knight, a film that may appeal to older audiences on the autism spectrum.

As always, the movie auditoriums will have their lights turned up and the sound turned down. Families will be able to bring in snacks to match their child’s dietary needs (i.e. gluten-free, casein-free, etc.), there are no advertisements or previews before the movie and it’s totally acceptable to get up and dance, walk, shout, talk to each other…and even sing – in other words, AMC’s “Silence is Golden®” policy will not be enforced during movie screenings unless the safety of the audience is questioned.

Does it make a difference? Absolutely! Imagine …no need to shhhhh your child. No angry stares from other movie goers. Many parents think twice before bringing a child to a movie theater. Add to that your child’s special needs and it can easily become cause for parental panic. But on this one day a month, for this one screening, everyone is there to relax and have a good time, everyone expects to be surrounded by kids – with and without special needs – and the movie theater policy becomes “Tolerance is Golden“.

AMC and the Autism Society will be showing Transformers: The Last Knight, sensory friendly tomorrow, Tuesday, June 27th at 7pm (local time). Tickets are $4 to $6 depending on the location. To find a theatre near you, here is a list of AMC theatres nationwide participating in this fabulous program (note: to access full list, please scroll to the bottom of the page).

Coming In July: Despicable Me 3 (Sat, 7/8); The House (Tues, 7/11); Spiderman Homecoming (Sat, 7/22); War for the Planet of the Apes (Tues, 7/25);


Editor’s note: Although Transformers: The Last Knight has been chosen by AMC and the Autism Society for a Tuesday Sensory Friendly screening, we do want parents to know that it is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, language, and some innuendo. As always, please check the IMDB Parents Guide for a more detailed description of this film to determine if it is right for you and your family.

When Should Your Allergic Child Start Wearing A Medic Alert?

Medic Alert Foundation: Kid’s Medical ID’s

Everyone has a habit- some of us don’t leave the house without our keys while others need to make sure that all of the lights are turned off. Whatever your habit, chances are these are things that were learned easily by repetition. We are all taught at an early age that repetition helps us to remember to do things with less concentration. If your child has severe (e.g. life threatening) allergies, the same can be done to help teach your children to stay as safe as possible each and every time that they leave the house.

Begin As Soon As Possible This truly means as soon as possible. Regardless of what age your child learns about their allergies, it is crucial that they understand the importance of wearing some type of medical I.D. item. From the moment that your child is diagnosed with an allergy, make it part of their daily routine to check for their medical I.D. before they leave the house. Just as we teach them colors and numbers, teach them to advocate for themselves before they even understand that’s what’s actually happening. Always be open and honest with your child and explain the reason for having their allergies easily accessible for those who may need to see it in the event of an emergency.

Medical I.D. is Necessary Many parents feel that having their child wear a medical I.D., especially at an early age, may not be necessary. Parents who are with their children most of the time feel that they can ensure that proper allergy information is exchanged directly from them. Although this is understandable, it may not always be the case. Car accidents can happen at any time. This is one example of the possibility of a parent not being able to speak for their child due to what may have happened to them during the accident as well. Sometimes things happen in life that we do not expect. Should a parent fall ill, become unconscious or be unable to speak or communicate for whatever reason, a medical I.D. would still be accessible in the interim. With a medical I.D. product, everything is clearly seen. If you relay allergy information to a family member or guardian, they may not share the complete information if they are affected by an accident or are under stress.

What is Appropriate? Luckily, there are quite a few items that are available now. There are multiple styles, colors, sizes and ways to showcase the important information that just may save your child’s life. Having more than one I.D. is often recommended as well (one somewhere on yourself and one on your personal effects).

  • Medic Alert Foundation: Medical ID

    Infant car seats can use a D. Wrap as a first line of information if someone was removing your child from the car. If there is an accident, emergency responders instinct is to reach for the car seat- having the wrap attached makes all of the emergency information travel with them.

  • Shoe tags are also recommended. Having emergency information on a car seat is the first step but for parents who rely on babysitter or daycare, shoe tags will still be with your child after they are taken out of their car seat.
  • Necklaces for both boys and girls are available as well. These are items that can always be worn so, in this case, the habit would be to make sure it’s not missing. I do recommend that you research the appropriate items and length for younger children who still like to put things into their mouth.
  • Bracelets are often the preferred jewelry. The reason being- a necklace may slip back underneath your child’s head and become invisible if they are lying down whereas a bracelet will always be on a place where vitals will be checked.

Allergies can be a tricky part of life, especially for younger children and new parents as well. By teaching your children that this is their normal way of life, they will grow up not feeling as if they should have done something differently. Empower your children by letting them pick out their I.D. items and always have open conversations with them on why they need to keep themselves safe. At such early ages, our children are like little sponges of information- let them sink it all in but always let them know that their safety comes first.