From the moment a new baby comes into the world, sound, especially musical sound, plays an important role in their development. Mothers, fathers, and other caregivers make the practice of singing to their babies to provide comfort, lull them to sleep, or calm their cries.
The importance of music does not stop at infancy. Music plays a predominant role at home and in the daycare or preschool setting for children across the world. Children come home every day with new songs learned at school, and they listen to their caregivers sing little lullabies to fill them with that same sense of peace before its time to close their eyes for sleep.
But music does even more than providing emotional and psychological growth and development in each child. It is also a valuable tool for honing hearing and speech perception skills in young children, especially young children who have hearing loss.
At the University of Helsinki in Finland and the University College London, researchers have discovered real benefits in hearing-impaired children who practice hobbies with a musical component. Researchers tested and measured speech sound perception, auditory skills, singing skills, and brain responses to variation in musical sound in children with cochlear implants. One portion of the group of children participated in musical activities while the control group did not.
University professor of Logopedics Ritva Torppa, Ph.D. from the University of Helsinki reported in the study published in Music Perception “Hearing impaired children with cochlear implants who sing regularly have a better perception of speech in noise compared to children who don’t sing. This is an important skill in daycare or school where children discuss and receive instructions in noisy conditions.”
Reaffirming The Importance Of Music
The results of the study reaffirm the importance of musical programs at school and exposure and practice of music of any kind at home for normal hearing children, but for hearing impaired children especially. The exposure to quality music programs and opportunities to listen to and practice music will increase their ability to perceive speech sounds accurately, improve auditory skills, improve singing ability, and respond more accurately to variations in musical sound.
While the quality of music programs vary depending on the culture and the country in which the children live, most schools have at least a minimal musical component to their curriculum. Professor of Educational Sciences at University of Helsinki, Minna Huotilaninen says, “We have an amazingly high-quality children’s music culture in Finland with a wide variety of different musical hobbies. Speech-music play schools are not available everywhere yet but hearing-impaired children can also benefit from traditional Finnish musical play school and music-making and singing at home.”
Children with hearing impairment should not be overlooked because their ability to hear is degraded. All efforts should be made to ensure they are completely included and invested in structured musical programs, informal exposure to music, and music related hobbies such as musical instruments or singing.
In the meantime, more research needs to be done to understand just how effective music can be and to discuss and develop targeted programs for children living with hearing loss that can provide even more opportunities to strengthen their hearing and auditory processing mechanisms.