Interview with Dr Anita Collins – By Esther Bertram
Dr Anita Collins is an award-winning educator, researcher and writer in the field of brain development and music learning. She is internationally recognized for her unique work in translating the scientific research of neuroscientists and psychologists to the everyday parent, teacher and student. Over the last two years Anita has interviewed close to 100 researchers in labs across the US, Canada, Europe and Australia. Anita has written opinion columns for The Age and The Conversation, authored papers for international peer-reviewed journals, guest author on international sites and specialist technical writer for OECD Education Framework 2030. Anita is a Churchill Fellow, a TEDx speaker and the author of one of the most watched TED Education films ever made.
In her latest book, "The Lullaby Effect" Dr Collins dives into the science of singing to your child. With the emergence of new neuroscientific and psychological research, we now know more about the power of music and how it assists in your child’s cognitive and physical development. But does it matter what songs you sing, or if you sing in tune, or if you move or don’t move when you sing? The Lullaby Effect helps answer all those questions and more and is ideal for parents who want to understand how singing impacts their child’s development.
Esther Bertram, Mini Maestros Marketing & Franchise Development Manager, had the pleasure of interviewing Dr Collins about her work and book. Here is what she had to say.
Was there a specific trigger or inspiration that led you to want to research the brain and music?
I was trying to find a really interesting topic for my PhD and I came across an article between an educator and four neuroscientists. The last question the interviewer asked the neuroscientists was, “What would you like music educators to understand about your research?”. By the time I had finished the answers I was furious because their responses didn’t help me at all. So, I got inspired to find out the answers to the questions I had myself.
What are the most crucial years for supporting brain development and why?
The most important stage is Day 1. Music and sound are an integral part of every child’s development, so singing to our babies is vital. However, music learning is crucial at different stages of development and for different reasons. Around the age of 3-4, it is vital for language development. From the age of 5-7 it is vital for literacy and reading. From the age of 5-8 it is important for inhibitory control and attention skills. From the age of 8-12 it is important for social skills. From the age of 14-17 it is important for decision making skills and inhibitory control. Basically, it is a developmental tool for every stage of a child’s growth.
What is one daily habit you recommend parents form with their children?
Sing to your children. But I don’t mean sing a song, I mean use song in your speech, be aware of the emotional information and intention you are modelling and sharing in your speech and understand that sound is the biggest source of information that our brains has to process continually every day.
What one thing you wish was different when you went to school and that is still not happening for many children in Australia these days?
I think starting the day with music. Whether it be moving to music, singing together or clapping out a rhythm, music learning is a brilliant primer for all learning.
What is one of your favourite fascinating facts in neuroscience and psychology you think many people are still unaware of?
The fact that makes teachers and parents sit up and listen most often is the research that shows that if a child can keep a steady beat between the age of 3-4 years, it is an outward indication that all the necessary connections that that need to be made inside the brain for reading, have been made. These children are more likely to have no issues when they reach the age of 5 and start reading. Conversely if a child cannot keep a steady beat between the age of 3-4 years, they are likely to struggle when they reach the age of 5 with reading. It is an easy, inexpensive and reliable way to identify children who need support with their brain development in order to be successful in their first real cognitive milestone in school, learning how to read.
Why did you write The Lullaby Effect?
I did a podcast series with Kinderling radio and at the end of it I thought, “I have so much more to share”. So I thought I would try writing a book about it in a way that parents and teachers could easily understand the complex research and try things at home.
Can you give us a brief overview of your book?
The book is about my journey as both a researcher and a new mother as I researched music learning and brain development and had my own little baby to experiment on and learn from. The book covers topics such as if you need to sing in tune to your baby, how music helps raise helpful children and how music can support parents in those times when taking care of a baby becomes overwhelming. Each chapter has ideas and stories you can use with your little one, but also gives you a window into what is happening developmentally for your baby through their interactions with sound.
What are you most excited about when you to get out of bed in the morning?
Honestly reading my Google alerts for new research. I often hear myself saying, “Ooh that’s interesting,” as I read the latest abstract. But after I have finished my research surfing it is actually working with parents and teachers and explaining the research in a way they can easily understand and use themselves. I love seeing the lights come on behind their eyes as they say, “Yes! I have seen that happen. Ah that’s what is happening in her brain.”
Regarding supporting brain development, what three pieces of advice would you give parents with children under 5?
One, recognise sound as the largest producer of information for your baby’s brain. Your baby’s sound environment doesn’t need to be totally quiet or always happy, if anything your baby needs variety, sound at different volumes, silence, happy and frustrated voices.
Two, music learning is as simple and cheap as putting pots on the kitchen floor and letting your baby bang away at them. Exploring sound, how it is made, how you can control it and even the absence of sound are all vital tools to begin decoding what sound means to them.
Three, you are your baby’s favourite rockstar and one of the most powerful ways to bond and understand each other from an emotional point of view is to sing to each other. We do it naturally in the way we infuse the way we speak to babies with so much emotion and positivity. That is as simple as putting more music into our voice.
Can you describe some of positive impacts music has had on your life?
I have spent the last few years trying to figure out if learning music changed the course of my life by helping me to learning how to read. I was a struggling reader, I still am, but at about the age of 8 I learned how to play the clarinet and to read music. I think learning to read music helped me finally decode how to read words. It was a life changer.
If parents want to learn more about you and keep up to date with latest news regarding music education and brain development, where can they go?
I have a large online community called Bigger Better Brains. It is currently a Facebook community where I share new research, videos and resources about music learning and brain development. Soon we will be launching an online education program where you can learn about this field in greater depth and get materials you can use for education and advocacy. There is, of course, The Lullaby Effect website where you can order your copy of the book and find more information about how to use music to enhance your little one’s brain development.
If you had a super-power what would it be and why?
Pretty much anything that Wonder Woman could do, including rocking the costume!
LINKS TO LEARN MORE
The Lullaby Effect Website – https://www.thelullabyeffect.com/
About Dr Anita Collins – http://www.anitacollinsmusic.com/aboutanitacollins/
Bigger Better Brains Project - https://www.facebook.com/BiggerBetterBrainsProject/
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