This time of year, music often plays a bigger role in many people’s lives than it does during the rest of the year. School concerts, religious choir performances, seasonal community events, holiday hits playing on the radio — all offer abundant opportunities to take advantage of the physical and emotional benefits of music.
The magic of music shines exceptionally bright during the holiday season. It is important to encourage people to use this wealth of musical opportunities as a springboard for making music throughout the entire year.
Music can help families on many levels. It promotes development in babies and young children, bonds families across generations, and stimulates areas of the brain involved with motivation, reward, and emotion. Making or listening to music can actually result in increased levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates the brain’s reward system.
Here are five reasons you should be making music with your family this holiday season:
- Music-making is beneficial to development. Music stimulates social, physical, cognitive, and emotional development and promotes language and concentration skills, confidence, and self-esteem. During the early years, active engagement with music promotes brain development and naturally supports growth essential to life and learning, as well as increasing the bond between children and their caregivers. It’s easy to get started making music with children during the holidays: Sing your favorite carols in the car, dance to holiday songs, take children to a holiday concert or musical. A 2014 Harris Poll commissioned by Music Together revealed that only a low 17 percent of parents sing to their child daily. Music development is similar to language development. Imagine if you only talked to your child once a day! We teach children language by continuously talking and reading to them. Similarly, the best thing parents can do to support musical growth is to sing and dance with their children, as often as possible. And what better time of year to bring more music into your child’s life than the holidays, when music is in abundance?
- Music helps us create and recall powerful memories. Music can spark the recall of past experiences. It helps the past “come alive,” giving us access to deep feelings as we remember an event or moment from the past. Singing while you decorate the tree, at a holiday party, or at a religious celebration can help form memories and bonds with extended family and friends that will be recalled for many years to come.
- Music relieves stress. The holidays, while joyful, can also be stressful. Singing can actually relieve stress. Studies show that singing has the ability to slow our pulse and heart rate, lower our blood pressure, and decrease the levels of stress hormone in our bodies. Play music in the car while navigating the mall parking lot or sing along to a holiday recording while getting ready for company. It will help you stay calm and, most importantly, model for your children a healthy way to deal with the stress of everyday life.
- Music connects us. The holidays can be lonely for some people. Singing, especially in groups, can relieve this loneliness by connecting us to others in ways that no other activity can. Recent research indicates that music-making as a shared experience can activate and synchronize similar neural connections in all those participating. This synchronization can result in feelings of empathy and shared intention that can promote positive social interaction and bonding. When you sing with others this holiday season, whether it’s during a religious service, at a community event, or at a family gathering, everyone benefits.
- Singing is intergenerational. Music is an ageless way to connect with older relatives and create ties between youngest and oldest family members. Plus, music supports the aging processes. In later years, participating in music activities helps keep the brain active and engaged and supports us physically, socially, and emotionally. Sharing memories of holiday music-making from their past and teaching those songs to future generations can be joyous for both the elderly storytellers and the family members listening, forming new, pleasurable memories.
Susan Darrow is the CEO of Music Together an internationally recognized, developmentally appropriate early childhood music and movement program for children birth through age seven. First offered to the public in 1987, the Music Together curriculum, coauthored by Kenneth K. Guilmartin and Dr. Lili M. Levinowitz (Director of Research), is based on the recognition that all children are musical. All children can learn to sing in tune, move with accurate rhythm, and participate with confidence in the music of our culture, provided that their early environment supports such learning. Music Together offers programs for families, schools, at-risk populations, and children with special needs, in over 2,500 communities in 41 countries. The company is passionately committed to bringing children and their caregivers closer through shared music-making and helping people discover the joy—and educational value—of early music experiences. More at www.MusicTogether.com and www.facebook.com/MusicTogether.