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Pre-Natal Bonding Lays Foundation for Learning

By Andrea Cannon, NCTM, Early Childhood Music Specialist

Early Childhood BondingJustin watched as his wife played a recording of the Pachelbel Canon for their newborn son, Erik. He was amazed to see his tiny head turn, eyes wide open, toward the recorder and remain focused on it for the duration of the piece. Only when it concluded did the child turn away.

“That’s amazing,” he exclaimed. “The baby remembers that music you played during your pregnancy!” Indeed, his wife Amy had selected the piece to play each day and take time to relax, focusing only on the baby. This was a special way to bond with her unborn child and she planned to use the music after his arrival to calm and comfort, since it would be familiar to him.

Pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton has long shown new moms and dads that their newborns recognize and prefer their parents’ voices, which they have heard prenatally for months. Cradling the baby in his hands, he speaks to it while the parent, mother or father, speaks on the other side. Without fail, the child turns toward and stays tuned-in to the parent. If babies can remember and recognize the sound of their parents’ voices, can other forms of memory be developed in the unborn child?

Since the ear is one of the earliest organs to fully develop, the sense of hearing is perhaps our most direct and reliable connection to the fetus. In his book “The Secret Life of the Unborn Child,” Dr. Thomas Verny writes, “Recent studies show that from the twenty-fourth week on, the unborn child listens all the time.”

Given this, what would be the most important sounds to have in the babies’ environment? By far, his parents’ voices are top choice. Next is music. Early Childhood Music Specialist Dorothy Jones has learned, “Today, because of the wealth of research data available to us, we also realize that music, which all very young children can enjoy from before birth, is the foundation for reading, writing and arithmetic.” 1

Dorothy encourages the expectant mom to choose one piece of music, as Amy did, to play for the baby every day. While listening, focus your thoughts on the baby’s arrival. Talk to your child. Let him or her know how excited and hopeful you are to see him or her soon.

While everyone has their own personal musical preferences, the choice of which music to play for the baby is very clear. “In an arresting series of new studies audiobiologist Michele Clements has shown that the unborn child has distinct musical likes and dislikes – and discriminating ones at that. Vivaldi is one of the unborn child’s favorite composers; Mozart is another. Whenever one of their soaring compositions was put on, reports Dr. Clements, fetal heart rates invariably steadied and kicking declined. The music of Brahms and Beethoven and all kinds of rock, on the other hand, drove most fetuses to distraction. They kicked violently when records of these composers were played to their pregnant mothers.” 2

If a mom or dad isn’t particularly fond of classical music, perhaps a lesson about plants could provide the needed encouragement to ‘branch out’. In 1973, two important books “The Secret Life of Plants” by Peter Tompkins and “The Sound of Music and Plants” by Dorothy Retallack presented striking data on the topic. Both scientists determined through numerous and varied experiments that plants exposed to classical music thrived, growing towards the speakers from which it was played, while those exposed to rock music withered and died.

Repeated exposure to the same song and to its mother’s voice has notable benefits to the child, and another beneficiary is the expectant mom (mom-to-be). This time of relaxation and focus on the coming of the baby produces calming chemicals in the blood which are transferred to the baby through the placenta. These chemicals allow baby and mother to share the bonding experience, laying a foundation for later learning. For example, when mother sings or reads to her baby, the familiar sound of her voice has a calming, comforting effect. It is during these moments that children are most receptive to learning.

Consider this information about the success of pre-natal music programs on the later learning tendencies in children: In a paper presented at the International Conference of the Early Childhood Commission in 1994, Dr. Sheila Woodward discusses the long term effects of prenatal stimulation programs. She lists such programs as being influential in the development of height, fine and gross motor performance and speech and language acquisition. She concludes, “Using standard tests at appropriate ages, it was determined that…children in the experimental sample displayed significantly superior developmental and intellectual achievements than the control group.”

On the same subject, Donald Shetler writes; “One of the findings…is the early development of highly organized and remarkably articulate speech of those children who have been exposed to prenatal music stimulation.”3

Author Susan du Plessis writes about the importance of talking to your children in the March 2003 Issue of “Community Living” Magazine: “Some mothers are by nature quiet and reserved. Others have the unfortunate idea that it is foolish to talk to their babies knowing that they do not understand…The baby learns language in one way only, and that is by hearing language as the parents talk and talk to it.” On the benefits of reading to your child, she states; “Parents should read to their children as often as possible…In the ‘good old days’ there was not the abundance of storybooks that there is today. Parents were compelled-it was also part of the child-rearing traditions – to tell over and over to their children the few stories that they knew or to read over and over to their children the few books in their possession…When a child is a bit older, one should start teaching him nursery rhymes. Research has shown that knowledge of nursery rhymes among three year olds was a significant predictor of later prereading skills even after the children’s IQ and their mothers’ educational levels were partialed out.”

Music can be an effective tool in beginning the bonding process with your unborn child. Once the baby arrives, seek out a quality early childhood music class which stresses repetition, teaches nursery rhymes and a features a reading circle. Above all, continue to sing, talk and read with your baby. It’s not too early!

1) Dorothy Jones, “The Rationale for Suzuki Early Childhood Education”
2) Dr. Thomas Verny, “The Secret Life of the Unborn Child”
3) Donald Shetler, “The Inquiry Into Prenatal Musical Experience,” Music and Child Development, MMB Music Incorporated

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