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Promote Infant Cognitive Development with Music Activities

Infant cognitive development is a fascinating thing. Babies’ brains are always learning and expanding, taking in the world around them and forging new neural pathways. Even little things like being talked to, feeling new fabrics, or sitting in a different room contribute to baby brain development. Since every new experience is educational, parents and caregivers have lots of options when choosing activities to aid in cognitive development. One fun way to so this is to add music!

Infant music activities are simple exercises, usually involving basic instruments and singing songs, that help young children through stages of cognitive development. Music can improve motor skills, listening skills, and language comprehension; the melodies provide new sounds for infants to hear and explore, while the lyrics to silly songs like “The Farmer in the Dell” or “Are You Sleeping?” teach patterns and stories. Slower tunes like lullabies can also deepen the attachment between caregiver and infant. There are so many powerful ways music benefits a child’s development! A few of these methods are explored in Alice Sterling Honig’s book The Best for Babies, which features a guide on how best to stimulate children’s cognitive development while also providing tips on attachment and caregiving. Below are some musical activities to help your baby grow.


Old Mac-Shaker

This simple activity utilizes a simple instrument—in this case, a rattle or shaker—to help enhance motor skills.

  1. Place your baby in a spot where they can sit up. This may be in a chair, of the couch supported by pillows, or on your lap
  2. Bring out two shaker instruments, one for you and one for the baby. Some shakers you may already have on hand would be baby rattles
  3. Leaning close to your baby, sing the song “Old MacDonald had a Farm,” moving the shaker in a specific pattern. This may mean shaking it only on the e-i-e-i-o or to a steady beat through the whole song
  4. Watch as your baby shakes the rattle. She may try to mimic your pattern, or she may just shake the instrument at random. Either way, the movement will help build her motor skills

Musical Mash-Up

In this activity, you can expose your baby to different kinds of music, thus increasing cognitive growth.

  1. Find or make a CD or playlist that features many different sounding songs—(slow ones, fast ones, ones with drums, ones with piano, etc.)
  2. Hold your baby and sit near the computer or CD player. Start the first song and see if the child is interested
  3. Switch songs about every thirty seconds to a minute. Babies have very short attention spans, and you want to try and keep yours focused on the music
  4. Study your child’s face to see if they are reacting to the music changes. Do his eyes get wider when a new song comes up? Does he seem to notice the different sounds? The variety of noises will keep his attention and aid in cognitive function as he thinks about what the sounds are and where they are coming from

The Farmer in the Pocket

This activity shows music’s storytelling ability by having acting the song out with puppets, figures, or stuffed animals.

  1. Set up a place on the floor for your baby to sit. Find toy representations of the different characters in the song “The Farmer in the Dell” and keep them in a cloth pocket or paper bag
  2. As you sing or listen to the song, pull each figure out of the back when they come up in the song. Your child will likely reach for or grab the toys; let them explore the song through touch by giving them to her
  3. Periodically stop and ask your baby to repeat words (i.e. “Can you say mouse?”) She may or may not try to copy you, so don’t spend too much time getting her to repeat when the song could keep going
  4. By including visual representations of the words in the song, you further the language comprehension skills of your child while also providing more sensory stimulation, which is good for cognition

Bonding Ballroom

This activity shows how to use music when bonding with your child and deepening the attachment between infant and caregiver

  1. Turn the lights down or go to a dimly lit room
  2. Quietly sing a slow tune of your choice. This could be a classic lullaby like “Hush Little Baby” or a more modern song like Billy Joel’s “Lullaby”
  3. Note: while you could also play quiet music in the background, it is better if your child hears your voice. Your voice is a comforting sound to him and will make him feel more secure
  4. Walk around the room gently bouncing your baby while you sing. Make sure to hold him tightly and securely. Holding and singing to your child shows that you are devoted and will keep him safe. Lullabies in particular have a lasting effect on security because a young child may learn to recognize them and sing them to himself when upset

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