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Hear Me Out: The Importance Of Sound In Child Development

Pause for a moment and just focus on listening to everything around you. Are you hearing sounds you don’t often notice? Maybe the sound of the air conditioner, footsteps, or the distant car traffic. How about the sound of the wind? There’s a tendency to take sound for granted when really, it can play a bigger role in children’s development.

Ms Natalie Tse, founder of LittleCreatures, which provides kids a space to play and learn through sounds, lets us in on the importance of engaging with sounds and how it helps kids discover more about themselves. 

We perceive the world through hearing

According to Ms Natalie, the sense of hearing is one of the first senses to develop in utero (and though not fully proven scientifically, the last to go). It is actually through sounds that we first get a sense of the world around us, such as when mums-to-be talk to their babies in the womb. It is our first form of communication. “Our heartbeats, footsteps are steady beats; we hear the flow of blood and liquid in our mother’s body in-utero—[these are] sounds that gave us a sense of security and comfort as infants,” she said.

It has been revealed in scholarly studies that babies can “respond, regulate and elicit emotional, physical support and care” (Colwyn Trevarthen, 1998) through a concept now known as “communicative musicality,” (Stephen Malloch, 1999) which describes the dialogue between a mum and her child by using musical elements. 

Then as they experience the world, babies become multi-sensory and multi-modal. “They naturally interact by touching or moving objects to produce sounds, turning their heads and eyes to seek a sound source, and experiencing sound by physically moving to a beat or swaying to a melody,” Ms Natalie said. 

But as they grow older, these natural sounds take a more background role. In soundwalks Ms Natalie conducts, for instance, many would cite hearing features of an urbanscape—people talking on the phone, sounds of machinery, etc.—with only a few mentioning chirping of the birds or the sound of their own breath.  

With the need for success through meritocracy, as well as economic development and consumerism, we have sadly lost the basic awareness of our beings. Sound, the ability to perceive through hearing, is really a core part of our being,” she said. 

We gain and grow by listening

It is important to note that learning about the world does not happen through listening alone—all senses should come into play. But underscoring the value of sounds can heighten our experiences and deepen our understanding of our surroundings.  

When one is being aware of the environment and in this case through sound, one is being aware of oneself. When one is aware of oneself, it seems likely that s/he would be aware of others,” Ms Natalie said. It increases the ability to effectively communicate with others. Having an improved sense of awareness could also translate into positive social and psychological effects that will make your child a more well-rounded person as they grow older.

Perhaps you’re now thinking that if listening comes naturally anyway, what else can you do to help your child engage with the sounds around us? Make a habit out of these practices:

  • Kids are naturally curious so don’t simply dismiss them when they stop and make observations. Ms Natalie advises, “If your child stopped to notice a small yellow flower by the roadside, that’s an opportunity to acknowledge and articulate that awareness by saying things like ‘Oh what a pretty yellow flower’, or ask questions like ‘Do you hear the sound of the wind rustling through the flower?’”  
  • Engage with the arts. Despite being highly urbanised, Singapore is also very culturally vibrant with different kinds of performance playing at any given time. You can also bond with your child over various kinds of music!
  • Play outdoors and be more attentive to the sounds of nature.  
  • And of course, parents themselves should listen. “Rather than stopping your child for fear of disturbances, or getting annoyed because you think it’s noisy, articulate what’s happening,” Ms Natalie shared. “For example, if your baby has taken an interest in banging the table with his/her hands, you could say, ‘Oh! What’s that sound?’ or ‘You’re making a lovely rhythm!’ If you’re at home or in a comfortable environment, you may even want to join in your baby’s ‘musicking,’ as Christopher Smalls terms it.”

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