New research has found that music lessons do more than teach a child how to play an instrument. You may have heard about the "Mozart Effect"?the theory that babies exposed to classical music show more advanced brain development than other babies. But only recently have studies found provable links between musical training and the comprehension of math and science. When children listen to music and learn to play it, they use both sides of the brain, setting up mental pathways and connections they'll use all their lives.
"Music instruction can improve a child's spatial intelligence for long periods of time?perhaps permanently," says psychologist Frances Rauscher of the University of California-Irvine. "If parents can't afford lessons, they should at least sing regularly with their kids and involve them in musical activities." Take them to a local concert or sign them up for the children's choir at church.
In addition to building a child's brainpower, music lessons can also contribute to his overall emotional and social development.
By early elementary school, kids have learned to sit still and pay attention for longer periods of time. They also seem to have a real hunger for learning at this age, making it a great time to start musical training. Patrick Kavanaugh, author of Raising Musical Kids (Vine), believes that the child's interest should be an indicator of readiness. "If your child has a strong interest, almost any obstacle can be overcome," he says. "If he doesn't want to learn, it's better just to wait."
Choosing an instrument depends on your child's preferences and age. You may be limited to instruments that fit her little fingers and body until she's older. The piano, violin and recorder are all good choices for children in early elementary school.
When looking for a teacher, talk to friends and school music teachers for recommendations. Look for a teacher who understands your child's temperament and learning style.
"Keep in mind that you're not looking for the world's greatest teacher, but the right teacher for your child," says Kavanaugh. When you give your child a foundation in music, you're giving her tools she can use forever.
?Suzanne Woods Fisher
Writer and mother of four
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- Raising Musical Kids, by Patrick Kavanaugh
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