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The magic of music isn't only enjoyment, it can also increase a young child's IQ, says musician and author Liisa Henriksson-Macauley. She talks to Lisa Salmon about her new book, The Music Miracle

From the moment they're born - in fact, probably even before that - children love music.

It's an intuitive love, with more than a thousand research studies demonstrating how music training can boost a child's intelligence, emotional and social development, and self-esteem.

This amazing power is highlighted in a new book, The Music Miracle by musician Liisa Henrikkson-Macauley, which stresses to parents of young children in particular how music training - even less than an hour a week - can unlock a child's full potential.

"Through my extensive collation of research, I discovered that the only activity proven to increase your child's intelligence is music training - started between babyhood and seven," says Henrikkson-Macauley, pointing out that 96% of brain growth occurs during this period.

"This is where the brain is at its sensitive development phase, and the neural connections are formed.

"I wanted to share this message so parents can find a way to help their children that's not only fun, but makes a genuine difference."

A mother of a six-year-old boy herself, Henriksson-Macauley studied 1,200 research papers into the effects of music training.

"Some of the most recent highlights include the discovery that early music learning gives babies an advantage in mental age, communication and wellbeing, that it develops the full-scale creativity of preschoolers, and that it directly boosts their language abilities."

A University of Toronto study in 2004 was the first to find that music training boosts children's IQ - six-year-olds given a year of voice or piano lessons saw a significantly larger increase in IQ than a control group. Further studies have suggested that the longer a child takes music lessons, the higher their IQ and the better their performance at school.

Henriksson-Macauley is keen to point out, however, that this powerful effect, thought to come from the music training helping to develop the connection between both halves of the brain, doesn't come from children simply listening to music. There needs to be proper training to make children understand aspects of music like rhythm, melody and notation.

"Just listening to music and expecting to get an intelligence boost is like watching athletes on TV and expecting to get fitter," she explains.

"You have to do some work to get it - but children love learning music, as long as it's in a fun way."

To help parents with this music training, Henrikkson-Macauley has produced Moosicology - a pack containing CDs featuring educational audio tracks, a children's song book and a parent's guide (available from www.moosicology.com, £47).

However, parents can also try music training on their own; playing babies songs with different time signatures and bouncing babies to the beat of a song, both shown to improve their rhythm and social skills.

Henrikkson-Macauley says: "As simple as it may sound, learning to keep a steady beat is quite fundamental - it's been found that only 10-15% of seven-year-olds have proper rhythmic skills.

"Babies will automatically bounce when they hear the beat of a rhythmic song, but it does need some parental encouragement to make the most of it."

When babies start toddling, they can be encouraged to 'investigate' instruments like the piano, and within a year or two they can move to different beats, clap to them, and be encouraged to recognise when one pitch is higher or lower than another.

The better a child becomes at discriminating between notes, the better they become at reading, says Henriksson-Macauley, who explains that reading is fundamentally linked to the skill of the ear, which is why phonics is used to help children learn to read.

Although most of the brain benefits of music training occur before the age of seven, it's still beneficial after that age, improving the memory of both adolescents and pensioners.

Henriksson-Macauley's passion for the educational benefits of music training stems from her own childhood in Finland, where children don't go to school until they're seven, but parents are encouraged to send babies, toddlers and young children to Musiikkileikkikoulu - a weekly class lasting 45-60 minutes which teaches children music skills.

Henriksson-Macauley points out that despite Finnish children starting school two years later than their British counterparts, Finland consistently sees students outperform the UK in maths, science and reading, and she firmly believes the early focus on music is linked to this.

"The Finnish system doesn't assume that all children want to become professional musicians, it assumes that children have the birthright to learn all these basic musical skills," she says.

"Some may take up an instrument, some may not, but everyone has the basic music education, in a playful fashion that children like.

"It's so fundamental for young children to learn the basic music skills. Music is a universal language, and learning it gives so many brain benefits.."

:: The Music Miracle is published by Earnest House, £16.99. Available now.

Ask the expert

Q: "My baby is five-months-old and I breastfeed him. How do I know when to start weaning him?"

A: Lisa Clegg, author of The Blissful Baby Expert (Vermilion, £10.99. Available now), says: "Current NHS guidelines recommend that a baby should be fed only breastmilk or infant formula milk until the age of six months. Before this your baby's digestive system is still developing, and weaning too soon may increase the risk of infections and allergies.

"If for some reason a parent wants, or needs, to wean their baby earlier, then four months or 17 weeks is the absolute minimum age to introduce solids.

"These guidelines apply to full-term babies and not to babies born prematurely. If your baby has particular feeding problems, such as reflux, or a medical condition that makes feeding difficult, health professionals may sometimes advise to wean before six months.

"There are a few physical signs that your baby is ready on top of being the correct age: can they stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady? This can be in a high chair, not necessarily unaided.

"Can they swallow food? Babies discover their tongue from a young age and love nothing more than poking it out all day long.

"Do they have good hand-eye co-ordination? This is more essential from when you begin offering finger foods, unless you plan to wean using the baby-led weaning method.

"Contrary to popular belief, weaning a baby will not make them sleep better. It's more likely that your baby has slipped into bad habits if not sleeping well at night, or that he's not getting an adequate amount of milk or sleep during the day to enable him to be settled at night."

Learning fun

Plyt

A new board game that helps improve numeracy by challenging players to multiply a number of dice together and then race along the board to reach the winner square before the opposition. Suitable for all ages from four plus, available from www.plyt.co.uk and Amazon, £24.67.

Ubooly

A multilingual, interactive toy powered by either an iPhone or iPod Touch, or an iPad mini, with more than 20 lessons and packs that help children learn through games and activities. Customisable and with speech recognition, Ubooly also tells stories and sings songs, and can interact with other Uboolies. Suitable for ages three to 10 years, £24.95, available at Apple.com.

Chad Valley Junior Touch Tablet

An age-appropriate tablet with LED lighting effects that encourages toddlers to touch and learn letters and numbers, as well as featuring sing-along tunes and listen and learn quiz modes. Suitable for age three plus, available from Argos, £9.99.

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