Do you have a favourite song or rhyme that you sang to your baby? Or do you remember a song that was sung to you when you were very young? Well it turns out that the more we are sung to or hear language in a rhyming style, the more sensitive our brains are to language, the larger our vocabulary will be and the earlier we could learn how to moderate our moods.
Firstly, how could a song or a rhyme make our brains more sensitive to language? The answer is that babies use their music processing networks to decode language. When they first hear language they don’t hear words, they hear the rhythm and melody of speech. They hear speech in the form of a song. What the brain then does over several years, in early childhood, is separate the different types of rhythm and melody and soon this becomes speech sounds, words, and finally sentences. Our music processing network is responsible for our ability to first process and then make speech.
Secondly, how could a song or rhyme increase our vocabulary? You might not be aware, but while there are over 90,000 to 1 million words in a given language, we don’t actually say that many of them regularly. However, songs and rhymes include less common words, and because they are delivered in a format that babies’ brain’s really like, they tend to remember them and thus increase their vocabulary.
Finally, how do singing and rhyme help babies to self-soothe or self-regulate their emotions? For babies, songs and rhyme activate many of their brain networks and hormones, such as the release of oxytocin (love hormone) and dopamine (happy neurotransmitter), and the reduction of cortisol (stress hormone). But most of all it helps align the baby’s heart rate with the singer, which is a biological indication of connections and safety.
Last of all, are songs and rhymes different inside a baby’s brain? Well, that is a good question. What we do know is both contain rhythm and melody, the melody of a rhyme is narrower and less defined than a song but the rhythm of a rhyme can be stronger than a song. Either way, song and rhyme are wonderful for a baby’s growing brain.