Jam-Ed: How Music Impacts Learning
Today I am writing to you a word about the power of music and how it greatly impacts learning. I am not classifying this post as part of the learning disabilities series, because I think applies to every aspect of learning and parenting.
So, I have a confession, I love Jesus, and I am not a big praise and worship gal. Don’t go anywhere, let me explain. I promise I have a point (a pretty good one.)
I love music.
And there are some praise and worship songs that I adore. I think it is an excellent means of worship if it speaks to you.
But a while back a got a bad taste in my mouth for praise music. It was in a season of personal heartbreak. And the music director at the church we were attending was quite the showman. People were on the floor, sobbing by the time he was off stage. But I knew something about him, something very ugly.
Stay with me.
And I know, this will sound harsh. But, his worship disgusted me. Later, he was exposed, and a new director was on stage. But my heart questioned the new director. What was he up to? I had learned the lesson of grace, so I knew this director was saved, like me, and like the director before him. And I knew that we were free from the law. And, I cannot sing, but aside from that, the choir directors and I had one other thing in common, a need for Jesus.
But – I am just a girl, and as I said, I had a bitter taste for the “show” of worship.
And isn’t that just like the enemy, to take something good and make it something gross?
Basically, this is the thesis of my first book, Stolen Jesus. But, as I prayed over my list for new blog content there was one topic that I could not shake.
It is powerful stuff. I mentioned in my last post that Sophie, our 16-year-old daughter, is trying to master the entire score of Hamilton. I am sure it is a beautiful ensemble, but I am about to lose it. After breaking for lunch, a welcomed reprieve, she sat down to play again. Our young sons, the vandals, who are 5 and 7, both burst into tears.
“Mommy! Make herms stop it!”
They’ve had all they can take.
Charlie suggested we get rid of Sophie.
Sam, squawked, “NO! I love ‘Fluffy.“ I fink weems just gotta get rid of herms piano!”
Alas, I cannot rid our home of ‘Fluffy’ or the piano. I know that in 15 short months, I will miss those sounds… desperately.
And I know, once she is off and gone to college, were I to hear the score from Hamilton, I will most likely, will be brought to my knees for the longing.
That is what music does. It moves us, infuriate us, cripples us, motivates and inspires us.
Scripture says, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (Col. 3:16)
And that intrigues me, that we teach and admonish one another with wisdom through MUSIC.
This God knows what impels and motivates us.
Our Creator, the Mastermind behind dancing, laughter, babies, the Grand Canyon, and platypuses, knew that music would enchant us.
All that said, I #loveKanye. And, boy bands.
“Nothing makes a woman feel more like a girl that a man who sings like a boy…” (Pitch Perfect 2012)
I have officially divulged too much.
You might find my taste in music offensive.
And I might cringe at your playlist, but that is the beauty and mystery of our creation. Unique, one of a kind, and something you probably could not be talked into or out of.
So, while I cannot promise your children will love your music, I believe it is imperative to respect their love of their music.
I firmly believe that one connection I had and still have with my older children was a respect for what they loved. I am hard pressed to ask Sophie to stop playing the piano, even when I am out of my mind.
My husband and Marine-baby son love some crooning country music.
Sophie and Maggie, our oldest daughter, love a good 80’s music mix. Bless them, they are good girls.
The Hippie-Baby, I don’t know what he hates, because he basically loves anything with melody. He has always truly appreciated and loved music.
And Sam and Charlie, well, they just love big hair bands.
I plead the fifth.
But, I have always believed it was a mistake to criticize or tease any of their choices of song.
As a creative, having my work harshly criticized is always hard. Because the words that flow from my fingers are coming straight from my head and heart. An unkind word translates from “I hate your work,” to, “I hate you.”
And I do not say that to gain sympathy. Rejection is never fun. But when you add the component of true passion, the criticism feels enormously personal.
I have plenty of other information to share with you, and I pray it will bless you. But I feel most convicted to say, respect your child’s preferences. Ask them about why they love what they love. Listen when they share with you, even the mindless chatter of who Taylor is dating now or how so and so and some other guy got in a dispute over lyrics.
Invest your time and mind in hearing them, especially if they are teenagers and willing to talk to you.
The old joke about parents not understanding, the cliche of “TURN THAT CRAP DOWN,” in my opinion has no room in a relationship with our children.
I will use another example of this toxic separation. Do not talk smack to me about millennials. I will go down with that ship. Yes, I know, their generation is like none before them. And yep, it is easy to make fun of that which is new, unshaven, and wearing a toboggan in July. But my millennials can count on their mama to believe in their potential, hear why they believe what they believe, and listen to Blink 182 , until my ears bleed without complaint because I want them to know that I respect them and what they love.
Steps off soapbox and begins to hum a little Rhianna.
So, now that we have that out of the way. You can cross the battle of the bands off your to-do list.
I know I have said this, but here goes, you can’t make someone love someone else. And you aren’t going to convince your child to stop loving what they love through teasing, complaints, or criticism. So roll with it. More than roll with it, embrace it.
Rock on mama.
Lies We Believe About Music
So it is easy to assume that if a child has earbuds in that they are not paying attention to what they are reading or studying. The idea that it must be quiet, two feet on the floor, and all eyes on the book in front of you, has been drilled into us.
Granted, there are some people that this is true for. Some people absolutely cannot concentrate with background noise. Lucky for you, I am not one of them.
I am here to testify, I cannot concentrate without background noise. And this, coming from an educated adult, is proof to me, that every learner is different. I am a visual processor with Dyslexia, ADHD, and a number comprehension disorder, that I think should be documented as a superpower. I can see a number once, as many as 8 digits, and write it out or recall it from memory, for an unlimited amount of time. Backward.
And, I work with headphones in, the television on, or music playing in the background.
Silence is distracting to me.
I highly recommend exploring this with your child or children.
Of course, sometimes you have a child that is not effectively learning under these circumstances. But the proof is in the pudding. Sophie, who is a straight-A student, studies with music. John, our Marine Baby, made up and memorized with lyrics.
One of my favorite memories of John, my most debilitated learner’s, childhood was peeking into his 5th-grade classroom to spy on him during a test. His teacher and I locked eyes and giggled, as my dear boy stopped to ponder a question and then systematically began to bob his head in time, to remember the answer.
Although we have proven the power of song with every toddler who has memorized the alphabet with a catchy and universal tune, we neglect this methodology once they graduate from Kindergarten.
Rhyme is reason. Melody is memorable. And song is instructional.
- Music education helps children improve reading skills, listening and concentration.
- Playing music helps treat and alleviate stress and depression.
- Studying music enhances brain development in young children.
- Listening to music helps to improve sleep.
- Studying music boosts academic achievement in high schoolers. (Didge Project, 2016)
The ability to play music or sing is overwhelmingly powerful in the development of self-worth and purpose. Studying music is an excellent way to stimulate cognition and creativity.
And even if you are saying, “my kid isn’t much into music,” have they had an opportunity to listen to different types of music?
On a recent trip to Tennessee, my podcast partner, Rebecca Huff of thatorganicmom.com’s 10-year-old daughter had just discovered Andy Griffin. The child was utterly enchanted with Andy’s voice and his banjo. Rebecca’s father was an excellent banjo musician. And this sweet girl played “Salty Dog,” every time we got in the car. Rebecca and I could barely contain our giggles. But the fact is, there was meaning in this music to this child. There was history and unique sound that she loved. Yes, we did suggest that we take turns picking songs. But the heritage and adoring curiosities that this evoked in the child, who in their right mind would suppress this?
In a 2015 thegaurdian.com featured an article highlighting learning disabled musicians and discussed the power of music.
One of the musicians said, “I write songs about my feelings. I think of a theme and the words just come to me. My Mother’s Day song is my favorite and the best line is: “If mothers were flowers, I’d pick you.”
But the young woman goes on to give this piece of advice to struggling learners who have a passion for music, “Have a go. It takes a while to get into writing lyrics, but keep writing and the perfect song will come. Then sing it to the people who said you would never do it. Show them that you can and you did.”
What I want to highlight about that statement is this, you, the parent, please don’t be the person that doesn’t believe. Don’t make them show you that you were wrong. Be front and center, even if it makes no sense. If your child is truly moved by music, dance.
Music at Home
If you homeschool it is most certainly easier to accommodate a learner who performs better with music playing.
However, if your child is enrolled in school, I recommend talking to the school about accommodations. And if your child is a struggling or disabled learner who truly benefits from music while they study or as a coping mechanism, go advocate for that provision.
This is my argument any time I hear of learning disabled children suffering from a lack of reasonable educational modifications, if it were any other thing, any other type of handicap or struggle, be it a missing limb, allergy, or blindness, accommodations would be mandatory.
The stigma that I struggle with, and I know so many learning specialists are burdened with also is: just because the recorded norms for learning sweep a larger portion of the population, doesn’t justify or prove that every learner can or should catch up to this projected norm.
Some of the greatest minds and creators fell well below the norm. And yet, they progressed and created and invented some of today’s most brilliant works and advances. And I will have a post about advocating for your child soon, but until then, this is the most important gem I can offer, be on the side of your child.
Be for their music and their creative outlets.
You are their number one fan.
My Kids Hate Each Other’s Music
Okay. I have received no less than 10 emails about this. And one would think, well, that is just kids. But I propose it is a very big deal. Your home is sanctuary. And within the confines of that sanctuary, I believe that you can show the dwellers how to respect each other’s choices by modeling respect for each of theirs.
There is no room to take sides in this. I prefer the music that my girls listen to. However, I respect my other children’s love of music.
Music is personal.
If I came into your home and you were playing Gloria Estefan over your sound system, the rhythm is probably not going to get me, unless it chases me down and bashes me over the head. But who am I to criticize what you love or enjoy? I can not understand it, I personally can even believe it is criminal. But as a guest in your home, it would be nothing less than offensive for me to gripe, “OH MY GOSH! I HATE GLORIA ESTEFAN! YOU LIKE THIS TRASH?”
To what detriment would I endanger our relationship if this was my response to something that holds precious memories for you, that reminds you of something important, or simply gets you shaking your tail feathers?
Later this fall, I have an entire series planned on relationships, and I will be discussing sibling relationships at length. But for now, I believe that it is nonelective to talk to our children about respect. When it comes to music, this is imperative.
One child can bark all they want at another child for what they deem terrible, but it will not change the other child’s heart. And the heart is the essence of favored music. In fact, such criticisms only breed contempt, resentment, and rebellion. It is not just sound, it is a passionate love of something for specific reasons. Just like I was describing in the beginning of this post. I have reasons why I love or hate something.
Amazing Grace will bring me to tears.
And… so will the Eagles’ Sad Cafe.
You already know how I feel about Gloria Estefan’s music.
What I believe we often fail at is the blind acceptance of the old adage, “kids will be kids” and “siblings will be siblings.” Nope. I know my kids are better than that, and I believe yours are too. When we truly explain the nature of music to our children and allow them to discuss, really explore and explain what they love and why we invite siblings into a circle of respect for the human with whom they disagree.
And yes, I know that sounded like a love song. I also know, strong personalities can be a firestorm. However, I stand in the corner of reason when it comes to truly letting our children know we hear them and respect them and expect them to find a way to do the same for each other.
In the end, I love knowing I was created for music.
I adore this God who blessed us with senses that are tantalized by sight, sound, touch, and smell. If you are the parent of a child with sensory issues, I know you know the magnitude by which any of these senses can stimulate. I see you, and I know, it is not always a symphony.
But I encourage you to try song as a form of comfort. It may take a few tries. I wish I had kept count of the hours I spent rocking my sensory plagued son on the porch swing. Wrapped in a weighted blanket listening to the 50 states songs, until I felt as though I had walked cross country.
It was hard back then, worrisome and exasperating.
But having loved him well, catered to his needs, that memory is now music to my ears.
May your floors be sticky and your calling ordained. Love, Jami
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