How to Stimulate a Child's Mind

Music and Television for Children

In many households, the sounds of the television or stereo can be heard for hours every day. So when you bring a baby into the home, you may have to reconsider what's playing when. Experts agree that children should experience music as early as possible. But what about television? On this page, we discuss integrating both music and television in positive ways.

Music for Children

Early development specialists believe the youngest of babies should be exposed to music, and not only lullabies and children's songs. It has been well established that fetuses can hear, and some researchers say infants have shown definite signs of recognizing music their mothers heard before giving birth. A French obstetrician, interested in knowing just what a fetus hears, inserted a hydrophone (an instrument for listening to sound transmitted through water) into the uterus of a woman about to give birth and tape-recorded the sounds. Besides the mother's heartbeat and the whooshing sounds of the womb, the voices of the mother and her doctor and the strains of a Beethoven symphony were clearly heard in the background.

As children exposed to books generally grow up enjoying reading, those exposed to music will almost surely appreciate it all their lives. Many of your infant's favorite toys are probably musical, and he will enjoy whatever music you listen to on the radio or stereo, the music you play yourself on any instrument, and the humming, whistling, and singing with which you accompany your work. Don't worry: It doesn't matter to your baby if you don't have perfect pitch.

At about one year of age, your baby tries to accompany the music you provide by clapping his hands and bouncing to the beat. By age two, he enjoys going to outdoor concerts with you. Provide short pieces of music your child can listen to from start to finish sometimes. Use soothing chamber music at night to induce sleep and patriotic songs and marches to get the morning routine under way. Try folk songs and some of the music of other cultures. Shop carefully to try to give your child the best of whatever kind of music you select.

If your favorite stores do not stock a good selection of children's recordings, you may be able to borrow them from your library. Also, a number of mail-order catalog companies carry children's tapes and compact discs, or you can download music -- either for free or available for purchase -- from the Internet.

Toddlers enjoy folk songs, music from other cultures, records that call for activities, such as exercises and play-acting, and stories read aloud. Some recordings come with accompanying storybooks.

Make your own music. Children enjoy nothing more than making their own music, especially if it involves making up a band and parading around the house or the yard with another child or two. You can buy toys that make sounds, such as a toy piano or a children's guitar, but simple, real instruments are better. Some very suitable for toddlers are bongo drums and tom-toms, marimbas, cymbals, triangles, bells, and tambourines.

Television for Children

Television, some say, is responsible for a new and different kind of American child: a little TV addict who is pale, listless, and apathetic, whose fate is to become a passive adult who has serious gaps in language, reading, and communication skills. These critics believe TV is all bad; it destroys family life and discourages reading and conversation. Some go so far as to banish television from their lives altogether in an effort to pretend it does not exist. At the opposite spectrum are homes where the set is on from early morning until late at night and children are allowed to watch television for hours and hours every day. At its worst, it is used as a pacifier, a convenient babysitter parents don't have to pay.

Many parents are convinced, however, that at its best, television is superb in its capabilities as both entertainer and educator. They believe TV is so much a part of society today that children should start early to learn to use it wisely and get the most out of it. Five hours a week is suggested by some of these parents as a reasonable amount of time for a child age two or three to watch television. Before that age, your child probably watches only fleetingly, if at all, noticing only movement and color and not following a plot. As well as controlling the hours of viewing, you should select age-appropriate offerings on public, network, and local television, choosing topics to which you want your child exposed.

Rather than using TV as a babysitter, watch at least some programs with your child. Watching together can be a little like reading a story. As you cuddle in a big chair, you can point out aspects of the action or characters you want her to notice, as you would if you were reading a story. When a program is over, you can talk about it with your child, answering questions and asking some of your own about her perceptions of the action.

Violence and advertising. Two of the main criticisms of television for children concern violence and advertising. Statistics tell us by the time they graduate from high school, the average American child has watched 350,000 commercials and has seen 18,000 murders on television. For toddlers and preschoolers, the Saturday morning cartoon programs are probably the worst offenders. One study has shown that some 18 violent acts occur during a given hour on these programs; another, that only about 3 percent of the characters injured in outlandish and unrealistic accidents ever require any kind of treatment. Physical and verbal aggressiveness have been found to increase noticeably among three and four year olds who consistently watch the cartoons; it seems the more they watch, the more accepting they become of aggressive behavior.

In the area of advertising, the plain fact is the foods advertised most during children's programming are among the least nutritional -- heavily sweetened cereals, candy, and chewing gum -- and sometimes the most costly. Ads for toys are accused of warping children's values and suggesting all children need and must have certain objects. Recent programs have featured stories with characters drawn directly from toys, so, as some say, children cannot possibly distinguish the ads from the program itself.

Parents of small children can control the least desirable aspects of television to a high degree simply by not allowing the children to view programs they dislike. Say no; parents have the right, and the duty, to pass on their values. Many parents join forces with groups that put pressure on advertisers and children's programmers and lobby for the passage of suitable regulatory laws.

Although television can provide some positive experiences for your child, it's a good idea to get off the couch and get outdoors as often as possible. Being outside provides a different kind of entertainment -- plus fresh air and exercise. On the following page, you'll find some fun ideas for outdoor activites.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.