Teaching and learning

How music supports early language development

Sue Newman of Boogie Mites explains how the right music provision supports early language and literacy
A purple cartoon image of an early years educator supporting a toddler to develop their speech and language.
November 22, 2023
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In a rush? Here’s the quick run-down.

  • Neuroscience tells us that good quality music and movement provision in the Early Years is a fantastic way to support the early development of speech, language, and literacy.
  • Studies with 3- and 4-year-olds show us that the brain uses the same circuit of neural pathways for music and movement and processing language. Strengthening these pathways creates the ‘magic triangle’ between the visual, auditory, and motor cortices of the brain.
  • Unsure about what good quality music and movement provision looks like? Famly partner, Boogie Mites are here to help! Their app, Building Strong Foundations For Language and Literacy Through Music has won the ‘Highly Commended’ Award for Communication, Language and Literacy at the 2023 Teach Early Years awards.

We know that evidence-based music and movement provision in the Early Years can boost the early development of speech, language, and literacy.

In the words of neuromusical researcher Dr Anita Collins, “Neuroscience evidence shows us that music learning before the age of 5 has a causal relationship with strong language development and phonological awareness, building the cognitive foundations needed for pre-literacy (learning to read and write) by strengthening the connections between the auditory, visual and motor neural networks of the brain.

But how do we know that we’re delivering the best music and movement provision at home and in our Early Years settings? Sue Newman of Boogie Mites explains…

How music, movement, and speech are connected: The Magic Triangle

Regular practice of music and movement in early years builds strong foundations for speech, language and literacy. Studies with 3- and 4-year-olds show us that for the brain to process the component parts of language, a huge number of messages need to fire around the brain, and they use the same circuit of neural pathways that are developed through regular music and movement practice in early years.

Essentially, to our brains, music is a language. We use an overlapping neural processing system to map both language and music that we call the ‘Magic Triangle’. The Magic Triangle is the pathways between 3 cortices of the brain: 

  • The visual cortex - responsible for processing what we see 
  • The auditory cortex - responsible for processing what we hear 
  • The motor cortex - responsible for how we move

An illustration of the 'Magic Triangle' labelled with Visual, Motor, and Auditory, one at each corner. There is an illustraiton of a brain in the centre.

The auditory cortex and sound processing

Sound is our first sense - we start hearing before we are born. Sound is also our first ‘alarm system’, as it can keep us alert and calm us down.

Within the inner ear is the vestibular system which connects the ear and sound processing to the whole body. This is significant because changes to sound processing can impact global development. This makes our sound processing system a superpower! It also helps to explain its dominant influence on the ‘magic triangle’ network which is key for speech, language, and learning.

Why does rhythmic awareness matter for speech and language development?

Rhythmic awareness is often the missing link for children with language and/or reading delays. Rhythm is an integral part of both music and language, and the rhythm of spoken language is a crucial cue to understanding.  Musical training—with its emphasis on rhythmic skills—can exercise the motor/auditory system, leading to less neural jitter and stronger sound-to-meaning associations that are so essential to learning to read.

“Children with dyslexia find it challenging to hear speech rhythm and speech timing and to perceive musical rhythm and timing. Early Years educators can take simple steps to benefit language skills and minimise the impact of dyslexia. Having a rich early repertoire of singing and musical remediation will help with matching syllable beat patterns to language before they start learning to read.”

Prof Usha Goswami, Professor of Cognitive Developmental Neuroscience, University of Cambridge

The big ideas

What are the best musical activities to support language and literacy development in the Early Years?

Developing rhythmic awareness alongside sound processing skills is key to strengthening the ‘magic triangle’ processing circuit, and the key to strong speech, language, and literacy skills. Therefore, music and movement activities are a very efficient and effective way of developing these neural pathways in early childhood. So which ones are the best?

Firstly we need to know we’re harnessing all of the benefits evidenced by neuroscience and research studies. To do this, we can ask ourselves:

  • Does the activity include lots of rhythm?

For example, keeping the beat or playing with tempo and different rhythms. This is best achieved through the use of recorded music written for this age group and purpose.

  • Does the activity include the use of melody?

For example, playing with dynamics, pitch, listening to harmonies, and exploring different instruments. Again, this is best achieved through the use of recorded music written for this age group and purpose.

  • Does the activity engage and motivate all involved?

This includes the teachers, parents, and children. And the best way to achieve this? Through the use of recorded music written for this purpose

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How Boogie Mites can help

Looking for the best collection of language and literacy-boosting music for home and in your setting? Boogie Mites’ new app, a digital product for home learning through music, has now won the Highly Commended Award for Communication, Language and Literacy 2023. 

In total, the app has over 65 Boogie Mites song videos that will inspire children to participate in singing, dancing, keeping the beat and following actions. Boogie Mites’ musical activities are based on neuromusical evidence that shows us how music can train the brain ready for school. 

The Boogie Mites team have collaborated with artists to produce new music activities to link with their original themed and percussion songs. With a core focus on building strong foundations for speech, language, and literacy for 2- to 5-year-olds, you’ll find three categories of music activities in the app:

  1. Musical Poems

We have collaborated with world-renowned children’s author Michael Rosen, to write songs for 10 of his poems that have been published this year. Each poem provides a wonderful combination of rhythm and rhyme, and beautiful wordplay put to a catchy tune. Each one is performed by a Boogie Mites teacher, who interprets them through role-play or dance. 

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  1. Topical Tunes

We have selected 5 original Boogie Mites songs from topics that interest young children: 

  • Life at sea
  • Jungle life
  • Dinosaurs
  • Transport
  • Fairytales  

The Topical Tunes include action songs, percussion, and role-play songs, that are loved by children and adults alike. Each song is performed by Boogie Mites teachers who introduce them with ideas for props, instruments, and discussion around the theme being explored.

What’s more, they provide parents, educators, and children with musical activities to explore exciting topics together at home, as well as engaging educational entertainment for children to follow on their own.

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  1. Phonics Fun

Boogie Mites have written a song for each letter of the alphabet. The pure sounds are included in short stories written by our partner in India, Nutspace Ed Tech, and performed by amazing storyteller Rohini Vij. Each song provides parents and carers with a way to explore letter sounds at home with their children, to strengthen foundations ready for phonics at school.

Want to know more about the Boogie Mites app: Building Strong Foundations For Language and Literacy Through Music?

Boogie Mites App, the annual subscription, would make a great Christmas present for the whole family to enjoy together, whilst supporting the start of a love of language literacy and music for a lifetime! And Boogie Mites are offering a 33% discount on the annual subscription taken out before end of December.

Please contact sue@boogiemites.co.uk to find out about multi-license package for schools to make the app content available to parents.

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Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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