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Joyce Bibzak, M.Ed., M.S. Using Music and Movement to Help Little Ones Develop Language. Introduction. My background: School Counselor Graduate Degree in Early Childhood Special Education from Elmhurst College Currently a Developmental Therapist Working with Toddlers and Their Families

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joyce bibzak m ed m s
Joyce Bibzak, M.Ed., M.S.

Using Music and Movement to

Help Little Ones Develop Language

  • My background:
  • School Counselor
  • Graduate Degree in Early Childhood Special Education from Elmhurst College
  • Currently a Developmental Therapist Working with Toddlers and Their Families
  • Last But Not Least, a Mom and a Grandmother
  • Our topics will include:
  • Part I: Effective (And Fun) Language Teaching = Singing and Moving. But Why?
  • Part II: The Ear/Brain/Body Connection that Makes It Work; and What Happens If It Doesn’t
  • Part III: How It All Comes Together for Young Children

We know that movement and music seem to help children learn---especially language. WHY?

What is it about this particular combination of activities

that fosters the development of language in young children?


Finger Plays!

YOUR Favorites???


Common Elements of Finger Plays Using

  • Music and Movement:
  • Rhythm
  • Rhyme
  • Often Melodic
  • Movement of Body
  • Usually Memorized
  • Often Passed on Orally

So, how do all these elements come together to teach language?


Listening to (and processing) music involves

discriminating timbre and pitch and recognizing familiar melodies.


Timbre: How we hear the differences between the

sounds of different instruments or voices


When there are auditory/language processing

problems they may present as:

  • Child having difficulty following directions
  • Difficulty rhyming words at an early age
  • Comparatively underdeveloped vocabulary, grammar,
  • syntax and sentence structure
  • Difficulty separating meaningful sounds (i.e. language)
  • from background noise
  • Tendency to confuse similar sounding words
  • Difficulty remembering and reproducing letter sounds

Did you know?...

  • Language-learning difficulties (both receptive and expressive)
  • tend to run in families, especially among male family members
  • Research has found that many children with auditory/language
  • processing delays also have a higher frequency
  • of sensorimotor difficulties
  • So…
  • Using multiple sensory channels and movement
  • will be especially helpful in fostering their language development
  • as well as help in sensorimotor development.


Now we know how our brain hears.

How does our brain move our fingers,

arms and legs to music?


Brain Synapses: Connections and exchanges

of information from brain cell to brain cell

This is how the different parts of the brain

work together

to move in a coordinated way we need two main elements
To move in a coordinated way, we need two main elements:

Vestibular (balance) skills


Propioceptive skills

(awareness of where our bodies are

in the space around us)


If all the systems work together

as designed,

this is what it looks and sounds like…


Three Main Problems That Can Slow Down

  • Language Acquisition Using Music and Movement
  • Activities :
  • Vestibular (balance) problems
  • Motor planning problems
  • Auditory processing delay

Physical Therapists can help children with balance and

motor planning difficulties.

Speech and Language Therapists and Learning Specialists can help with

auditory processing delays


WE can help children put all these pieces together to

help them learn language.



In 1949, Dr. Donald Hebb determined

that when many senses are used at the

same time to learn a skill, there are more synapses firing simultaneously in the brain.

The more synapses fired, the more brain connections are made and the more learning is retained.

This is referred to as “associative learning”.

In other words,

“Cells that fire together, wire together”.


Remember the elements of a finger play?



Often Melodic

Movement of Body

Usually Memorized

Usually Passed on Orally


Of all those elements,

which do you think

is the most important

to the learning of






Dr. Jenny R. Saffra:

“Both music and language require the ability to track

consistent patterns of sound and rhythm.”

Dr. Phyllis Weikart:

“Being able to keep a steady beat helps a person to feel the cadence (rhythm) of their

particular language.”

Dr. Weikart found that using rhythm sticks to tap out

syllables in words helped children develop language.


Phyllis Weirkart: Tapping and acknowledging

each word’s syllable is one important part

of helping children develop language. The other part is the incorporation of the movement

of the child’s hands and arms.

Brewer and Campbell (1991): “Movement and rhythm

stimulate the frontal lobes and enrich language and

motor development.”

That’s the rhythm sticks part… now for the kazoo!



One of the very best ways to facilitate rhythm and movement is to

stimulate the balance (vestibular) system.

One of the very best ways to stimulate the vestibular system is

the use of…

Children as young as 10 months can produce sound with a kazoo.


The vestibular system is also crucial

to the development of language for

another reason…

It enables us to move from side

to side in a coordinated fashion


also to move our eyes from

left to right in a functional

and coordinated way.



Neurophysiologist Dr. Carla Hannaford states that,

“the vestibular (inner ear) system and the cerebellar (motor activity) areas are the first sensory systems to mature. These systems interact,

conveying information back and forth from the cerebellum to the rest of the brain, including the visual system and sensory cortex…This interaction helps us keep our balance, turn thinking into actions, and coordinate moves.”


Here’s an example of children using

associative sounds, pictures, and body movements to

help them remember letter sounds.


And this method of helping little ones learn language

is not limited to English-speaking countries…


So, to pull it altogether…

We need to involve as many senses as

possible to help the brain and its

interrelated systems stimulate

language development in our smallest


As more parts of the brain are being used,

more synapses are being fired, links are

being made, and senses, information and

experiences remembered.

This is learning.


Human beings learn:

10% of what we read

20% of what we hear

30% of what we observe

50% of what we see and hear simultaneously

70% of what we discuss

80% of what we experience


95% of what we’re taught using all channels.

Dr. Carla Hannaford, 1995


References and Acknowledgements

Campbell, D. & Brewer, D. (1991). Rhythms of learning.

Tucson, Arizona: Zephyr Press.

Hebb, Donald. (1949). Quoted in online article, Hebbian, 2012.

Hannaford, C. (1995). Smart moves: Why learning is not all

in the head. Arlington, VA: Great Oceans Publishing.

Saffran, J. (2003). Musical learning and language development.

Annals, New York Academy of Sciences. NY.

Tallal, P. & Gaab, N. (2006). Dynamic auditory processing,

musical experience and language development:

Trends in Neuroscience (2006).

Weikart, P.S. (2009). The Movement Foundation for Music:

A Brain/Body Connection. Presentation delivered to

Missouri Music Educators Pre-Conference.


Illustrations and Photographs

All illustrations and photographs used in

this presentation are available at

All videos used as part of this presentation

are available at or You Tube.

The Jolly Phonics video featuring Victoria Carrolton is available for viewing at You Tube under the search heading, “Jolly Phonics”.