It occurs between the adorable bouncing baby and the able-to-be-reasoned-with three-year-old.
- It’s the time when the answer to everything is "NO!"
- It’s the time when temper tantrums abound. (For both parent and child!)
- It’s a time for gaining independence all the while demanding their own way.
- It’s a time for testing limits.
- There is no pleasing them.
- There is no reasoning with them.
It’s the messy stage, the feeding themselves stage; the potty training stage…it’s the Terrible Twos!
Yet, for the demanding little person we call the toddler, there is an awesome miracle taking place. During the first two years, a baby grows faster and changes more than any other time in their entire life. A bouncing baby doesn’t just grow into an eager three-year-old without external stimulation. Toddlers are sponges for information, learning through experiencing…with pots and pans, by playing games, watching, and imitating. They soak up stimuli from everything around them.
A toddler contributes to their cognitive growth by actively being inquisitive, through experiences, play and baby-size experiments. This stimulation literally changes the toddler’s brain. At birth the brain is packed with an estimated 100 billion neurons. But a newborn brain is not completely formed. Although genes rough out where the brain’s visual and auditory centers will be, it’s the stimulation the child receives that dictate where the regions that govern emotion and the center of higher thought finally get established.
Scientists are finding that a baby’s brain is pre-wired for music, like a new computer is pre-wired for Windows. The brain seems to be a sponge for music and, like a sponge in water, is changed by it. The brain’s left and right hemispheres are connected by a big trunk-line called the corpus callosum. When scientists compared the corpus callosum in thirty non-musicians with the corpus callosum in thirty professional string and piano players, researchers found that the front part of this thick cable of neurons is larger in musicians, especially if they began their training in early childhood. The front of the corpus callosum connects the two sides of the prefrontal cortex, the site of planning and foresight. It also connects the two sides of the premotor cortex, where actions are mapped out before they’re executed. The neural highway connecting the right and left brain may explain something else, too. The right brain is linked to emotion, the left to cognition. The greatest musicians are able to perform quick and efficient technique, while enhancing it with strong emotion.
Children who study piano in early childhood develop a brain function that dies away if not stimulated. And no other activity will achieve the same results of brain function. Once the neuron connectors die, no activity will bring them back. They are gone… forever.
Here are some ideas to create a musical toddler:
- Play soothing music during low energy times…times when the toddler (or parent) is tired or hungry.
- Sing and do rhythmic activities with your toddler. They imitate everything you do. If you enjoy participating in musical activities, they will also.
- Keep their favorite tape or CD in the car; it makes ‘strapped-in’ times easier for them to bear.
- Sing ‘happy’ songs with your toddler. It will cheer both of you. Make up new words to entertain them. Occasionally, intentionally sing the wrong words and let them correct you.
- Toddlers are easily distracted. When they get into things that are not good for them, ‘distract’ them by doing a bouncy lap or floor game. Get down on their level and have fun.
- Let them help make their own rhythm instruments. Oatmeal boxes make great drums, a wooden spoon and a pan lid makes a great band.
- Surround your toddler with musical tapes, videos and CDs. Musical preferences can be guided during this unique time in their life.
- Consider piano/music lessons during these early years, while your child’s brain is forming. All the windows of opportunity are open, and the earlier the better.
- Not only is music a great tool of brain enhancement, but fun, musical activities can de-stress the trying days of the Terrible Twos. Select a fun, fast song with a strong rhythm and get up and ‘dance’ with the toddler. They’ll love it!
- Hang on. The days of the Terrible Twos will soon become just a memory. You will survive! Music’s amazing power will get you through; and you both will be the wiser for it!
Come on kids; let’s make music!