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Music and Intellectual Development - By Alison Cusack & Linda Repic

As parents we are always looking for ways to help our little ones get everything they need to develop and grow into well-mannered, smart and strong little humans. We take them to all sorts of activities, sports, dancing, library story time, swimming, music programs and anything else we can manage to cram in at home all in the hopes of improving our children’s physical, emotional, intellectual and social development.

Let’s have a closer look at intellectual development. So what is intellectual or cognitive development? Cognitive development refers to how a person perceives, thinks and gains understanding of his or her world through the interaction of genetic and learned factors. It is the construction of thought processes, including remembering, problem solving and decision making from childhood through to adolescence to adulthood ( The most well-known theory of cognitive development is that of psychologist Jean Piaget. Piaget (1952) proposed that children pass through four increasingly sophisticated cognitive stages, each building on from the previous. The stages are as follows:

Sensorimotor stage (Birth – 2 years): The baby knows the world through their movements and sensations. Babies learn about the world through basic actions such as sucking, grasping, looking and listening. Babies learn that things continue to exist even though they cannot be seen (object permanence/memory) and therefore can attach words and names to objects. Babies not only learn how to perform physical actions such as crawling and walking during this stage but they also learn a great deal about language from the people around them, being able to make their first sounds/words.

Preoperational stage (2 – 7 years): Child begin to use symbols, that is they learn to use words and pictures to represent objects.  Children struggle to see things from the perspective of others and while they are getting better with language and thinking they still tend to think in very concrete terms. Language is a major area of development in this stage. 

Concrete operational stage (7 – 11 years): Children begin to think logically about concrete events. They begin to use reasoning skills. Children become better at thinking about how other people might view a situation. They start to understand that their thoughts are unique to them and that not everyone will necessarily share them.

Formal Operational stage (12 years and up): Adolescents develop an increased ability to use logic, the ability to use deductive reasoning and an understanding of abstract ideas. They can see multiple potential solutions to problems and think more scientifically about the world around them.

So how does music benefit the cognitive development of our little ones?

Research has shown that consistent, quality music education promotes rapid cognitive development in children and can improve IQ by as much as 7 points. Music is one of the only activities that stimulates and uses the entire brain, and this has been proven through CT scanning and scientific research.

Through the analysis of brain scans, scientists have identified neural pathways that react almost exclusively to the sound of music. The act of making music through playing instruments, creates high levels of cognitive function in the following areas:

  • Language development
  • Maths
  • Complex problem solving
  • Logical reasoning
  • Memory
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Attention span and focus

The study of music also has a significant impact on social and emotional learning, which are just as important as academic ability. Music helps us to express and moderate our emotions, helps us to relax in times of stress, helps to regulate our energy and arousal levels and helps us to navigate social interactions.

Mini Maestros is a targeted program, in that every activity has a purpose and is linked to the cognitive level of children in each age group.

The use of peekaboo and parachute activities in our babies and 1-2’s classes highlight the development of object permanence, which develops in the sensorimotor stage. Until this has developed, most babies will experience separation anxiety when they are unable to see their carer. By consistently using peekaboo activities, the development of object permanence is quickened and separation anxiety reduced.

Dances are always a favourite across all our age groups, and while they are fun, they of course have a purpose! Dances use patterns which help to develop sequencing and maths skills. The parachute is used in the same way, as is is moved in different ways to match the form of the music.

Our 3-4’s and 4-5’s programs, have a strong emphasis on explicit learning. This includes the beginning of left to right reading, following patterns of coloured spots to play songs on the chime bars and the use of symbols to represent musical concepts such as dynamics, beat and rhythm.

And of course the pinnacle of all our music classes is the use of instruments! The good old stop/start of the music actually improves attention and listening skills!  Playing instruments also builds on our innate feeling of beat, and devlops the concept of mathematical sequencing through changing our action to match the form of the music.  

There is no denying the impact and value of music. It is clear to see and experience in our classes each week when we watch our children and their carers enjoy and discover its magic. Now we know that it is not just a fun activity to do together, but one that provides our children with so much more.

Kendra Cherry, The Four stages of Cognitive Development. Background and Key Concepts of Piaget’s Theory. (

Lester M Sdorow, Psychology 4th Ed, McGraw-Hill, USA, 1998

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