Music and the Brain

Music does not exist outside the brain. It is simply the movement of air molecules until our brain responds and works with it to create the music we hear, understand and enjoy.

Recent developments in Neuroscience using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have shown just how our brain is able to convert sound waves to music and the results are astonishing.

So whilst The Mozart Effect (1993) and its claim that listening to classical music will make your child smarter appears to have been disproven, there is proof that music is a brain changing past time.

The process that the brain engages in to hear music is a multi-faceted and organic one. It requires the different regions of the brain to be constantly working together to update information. The integration of low-level and high-level processing helps identify the sounds and then the neurons in the brain fire up to link those sounds with historical information and memory in order to identify what is known as music. Ever wonder why there is so much repetition in a music class? This is why. Building memory and firing up the neurons is a critical part of cognitive development.

Aniruddh Patel of The Neurosciences Institute in San Diego regards music as a transformative technology because “not only is it a product of the brain’s mental capacities, it also has the power to change our brain.’

Essentially the goal of all education is to change our brains. We want for our children to learn new things, achieve new milestones and develop as capable and competent people. To do that they need to be engaged in the activity of changing their brains.

Did you know that it is believed that 30-60% of the child’s brain wiring depends on genetics whilst 40-70% develops based on interactions with the environment, including parents?

Sean Brotherson, a Family Science Specialist from the NDSU Extension Service states that, “Children benefit from a variety of different activities…the three critical activities that contribute considerably to overall brain development are music, art and physical activity.” He continues to say that, “Music engages all aspects of the brain and stimulates multiple aspects of brain functioning. Children should be exposed often to many different kinds of music, but especially rhythm, rhyme, and repetition in music and songs.”

Music education and classes such as Einsteinz Music are brain changing events in a child’s day. Each song instantly launches a network of frantic activity in the brain that is firing the neurons and engaging the brain in making new connections.

Providing an enriched learning environment is the best thing you can do as a parent to support your child as a learner. You can do this with four simple steps:

  1. Provide an interesting variety of brain-building activities and think of one new experience you can introduce every few days. Remember, brain-building activities are things like: stroking a pet, rolling a ball, climbing a ladder, playing with a large cardboard box, singing a song…
  2. Encourage repetition of songs, rhymes, stories and experiences every day. A young child’s brain is wired such that they feel safe when repetition is provided and they learn better this way too. Just think of the bedtime routine as a perfect example.
  3. Talk, laugh, sing, play… your child’s language will only develop by hearing language and lots of it! One of the best ways is through story telling, songs and rhymes.
  4. Challenge your child. Encourage them to stretch their ability and work slightly above their current level with your support. Eg. As they master rolling the ball to you slowly shuffle back and encourage them to roll a little further.

 As parents you are your child’s first teachers and you are charged with the almighty task of wiring their brain and establishing their learning pathways. Music classes for babies and toddlers are a great brain-building activity. They are great fun and provide parents and carers the opportunity to engage in a positive and enriching learning experience with their child.


This Much… Infant Drowning Awareness

This Much… Infant Drowning Facts and Tips

this much…

I recently received an email from Jo Butler at Platinum Media and Communications asking me to share this important message. She is part of a team working to reduce the number of babies and toddlers who drown or nearly drown at home in Australia each year by warning parents that an infant can drown in only the amount of water it takes to cover their two airways.

Most people know that young children can drown in the pool or at the beach. Few realise that babies and toddlers can drown just as easily at home. In the bath. In a paddling pool. In a nappy bucket. In a pond. In a puddle. In fact, in only as much water as it takes to cover both their mouth and nostrils.

The “This Much” Facebook page and video message have been created to help get this fact known.

By sharing the message, everyone can be part of this valuable effort. There is no money for advertising. There is only the power of the message and the power of social media. So, we are calling upon Australians to visit the Facebook page at, hit either “Share” or “Like”, post or mention the page in your blog, or just tell someone.

It’s not much to do, but it could make a real difference.

Who’s behind the campaign?

The campaign is a pure “goodwill” effort, with everyone involved donating their time, services and skills. Parents first and marketers second, Stuart Ghent and Nik Robinson of Sydney advertising agency, Cabana Boys, were moved to do something about the issue after a spate of infant drownings and near drownings earlier in the year.

Celebrity support has come from David Wenham, Amanda Keller, Kyle Sandilands, Jackie O, Jabba, Hayden Quinn, Shelley Craft, Georgie Gardner, and Peter Overton.

Medical specialists who have had to look after children and their families after drowning incidents have welcomed the chance to support this campaign. Such specialists include Prof. Danny Cass, Head of Trauma at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, and specialists with CareFlight such as Dr Alan Garner, OAM and Dr. Andrew Weatherall, who also practices anaesthesia at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead.

The announcement was produced, filmed and edited by ex series producer of ABC’s Enough Rope, Harley Oliver.

Everyone involved -­‐ from the originators of the idea, to the featured celebrities, to the video crew, to the publicists, to the news teams, to the medical specialists consulted along the way -­‐ has done so without payment and with no wish for reward.


The Children’s Hospital at Westmead data

  • Since 2006, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead (CHW) has seen 88 kids after a drowning or near drowning. Nearly 1 in 6 of those kids dies (that’s 14 across those 51⁄2 years (or 16%), which still means another 5 kids had a near drowning for every 1 who died
  • There were 21 kids (that’s another 24%) in addition to those who died who needed to spend time within the intensive care unit on life support. So that’s 40% of the kids the hospital sees who either die or need a period of life support.
  • Almost as many the kids seen at CHW had an incident in the bath or another shallow body of water as had an incident in the public pool (14 post-­‐bath vs 15 from public pool). And all 14 of those incidents in baths or other small water areas have happened over the last 31⁄2 years
  • The CHW records show that almost any small body of water puts children at risk. Kids have come in after drowning, not just in pools, lakes and dams, but also:
    • In baths filled with as little as 15 cm of water
    • In inflatable pools
    • Backyard fishponds
    • When having a bath in a plastic bowl
    • The laundry tub
  • The NSW Institute of Trauma and Injury Management reports that in 2008, CHW saw 64 seriously injured kids after all forms of trauma, with three of those children dying. In the same year, two kids died from drowning (with 15 presentations after drowning). So three kids died after being severely injured in car accidents, being the pedestrian struck by a car, major falls, assault and all other forms of accident (< 5% of all kids presenting after sustaining severe injuries) in the same year that two kids died after drowning (13.3% of kids presenting after drowning). That means that drowning on its own killed almost as many children that year as all other forms of trauma put together.

2009/2010 Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report

  • The number of people drowning in Australia increased for the second year in a row.
  • Children, particularly those under five years of age are some of the most vulnerable people in our population. We as a community should be doing our utmost to ensure their safety. Child drowning is preventable, particularly in those under five years of age.
  • 0-­‐4 years stats: 15% of drownings occurred in bath and spa o 58% of drownings occurred in summer
  • Most drowning deaths of young children resulted from the child falling or wandering into water
  • There were 33 drowning deaths of young children (10% of all drowning deaths) in 2009/10, which is 7% higher than the 5 year average.
  • The 2009/10 year also lists children as having drowned in buckets, cattle dip and a spa demonstrating that anywhere there is water there is a potential hazard for children to drown2010/2011 Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report
  • The total number of drownings increased for the 3rd year in a row
  • The number of drownings in the under 5 age group fell for the 2010/2011 financial year (from 33 to 28). Although this is fantastic news, a lot of this reduction was from a drop in the number of drowning deaths in swimming pools. The number of drowning deaths occurring in spas and baths, for instance, changed minimallyRoyal Life Saving National Drowning Report Bath Time Fact Sheet
  • In Australia, on average, 5 children under the age of 5 drown and 47 are hospitalized due to bathtub drowning or near drowning incidents each year. One in four hospitalizations results in permanent injury such as brain damage.
  • The majority of bathtub drowning deaths occur when there is an interruption to the bathing routine such as the doorbell or phone ringing while a parent is bathing a child. The majority of bathtub drowning deaths in Australia are of children less than 2 years old.LIFE SAVING TIPS
  • Check around the house, throughout your day, to see how many times your kids are at risk around water and eliminate this risk
  • Empty out anything you’ve been using or playing with – eg inflatable pools, bowls, buckets, baby baths, eskies
  • Close the bathroom door
  • Let the other thing wait – it only takes seconds for a child to get into trouble
  • Older Kids aren’t carers -­‐ don’t leave your kids looking after each other. Even the most diligent and caring older child doesn’t have the capacity of an adult to prevent a drowning
  • Kids need close supervision around all collections of water. Supervision means eyesight, not earshot. You need to be able to reach your kid!Please take the time to share this important message on your Facebook page, blog, email or in any way you can. If it saves just one life then it has all been worthwhile.

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School Readiness

As the year comes to an end for schools across Australia I have taken a moment to reflect on school readiness. Many parents will be currently holding serious talks with their families, friends and teachers trying to assess whether or not their baby is ready for school next year.

As it stands readiness for school has been and is currently assessed primarily on the age of the child. The NSW Department of Community Services discussion paper on School Readiness states that, “Prior to a specified age, children are generally considered to be ‘just playing’…and …all children in Australia, regardless of experience, and to a large extent genetic make-up, are deemed ready to start school at the age of five years (or even 4 years 7 months in some states). This is the age when children are regarded as being ‘ready to learn’.”

However, when we take a short tour of the globe we see that other countries of the world have differing views on the age at which students are ready to learn. The research on readiness for learning in the United States for example has shown that we need to accept that children are actually learning at an earlier age because their carers are actually educating them, not just babysitting.

So what do we need to look for to assess whether a young child is ready to start school? How do we know they are ready to learn?

Research shows that it’s not just a matter of mastering early literacy and numeracy skills. As well as this young children need certain social skills to effectively manage the nuance of the school environment. According to Hartup (1992) the “single best childhood predictor of adult adaptation is not school grades and classroom behaviour, but rather, the adequacy with which the child gets along with other children. Children who are generally disliked, who are aggressive an disruptive, who are unable to sustain close relationships with other children and who cannot establish a place for themselves in the peer culture are seriously at risk”.

It would seem the health, physical fitness and well being of a young child is also an important criteria for school readiness. Research has shown that being well nourished, well rested and physically healthy is an important precursor for success at school.

Cognitive ability, physical well being, social competence and the ability to abide by the rules are all important indicators for school readiness. But even if all that is neatly ticked on the checklist it is important for parents to remember that the move to formal schooling is a major life change for a young child. A change that needs to be well planned, managed and supported.

Talk to your child’s carer or pre school teacher and work with them to prepare your child for school. Spend time talking with your child’s new school too. Work with the school and become a part of the community as this will assist your child in making a smooth transition.

Five Babies, Five Mums, One Apartment

This week I returned home after five days spent in a beautiful seaside resort with my baby girl. We were accompanied by four other mothers and babies, girls that my daughter has been friends with since she was born almost 11 months ago. After five days with five babies in one apartment I can fully appreciate the saying, “The joys of motherhood are never fully experienced until the children are in bed.”

The women I travelled with were part of my Mother’s Group and I don’t know where I would be today without them. Their friendship has meant everything to me this year. They have been friends, sisters, aunts to my daughter, counsellors, event planners, inspirers, supporters, mentors, coaches and most important of all, they have made me feel ‘normal’ no matter what motherhood threw at me. These women have been advocates for me and my daughter when she was dreadfully ill. They have encouraged us, cared for us, laughed with us and even cried with us. How fortunate we have been.

I was really lucky to find a group of like-minded, professional and caring women who became mothers around the same time as me. Some for the first time and some for the second. I still remember how close I was to not going along to the first meeting of the new mothers… I wasn’t even aware such a thing existed until the midwife conducting the first week check on my baby asked which one I was attending. She was shocked that I hadn’t already been and ordered me to attend the following Monday. Thank goodness she did! If I hadn’t spent three hours getting myself and my brand new baby ready to go to be there by 10am (thanks to my wonderful husband driving me) I never would have met these amazing women.

I still sometimes imagine how things might have been if I hadn’t gone…. how different my life and my daughter’s life would be. My daughter has truly benefited from making friends with these babies from the earliest weeks of her life. She has grown and changed with these babies. She has learned from them and they have helped her become a social, adaptable and contented baby. They can truly say they are life-long friends. How lucky is she!

These women have shared the highs and lows with me. We’ve celebrated first smiles, first teeth, first crawls and first full nights of sleep together! We’ve talked about things so personal I never would have imagined and laughed until we cried at the joys of motherhood. We’ve sat in play pens together surrounded by babies and toys singing nursery rhymes to a captivated audience. We’ve sat in Jacuzzis drinking champagne together too. We’ve celebrated birthdays (each others and the babies) and embraced the opportunity to learn about being mothers together. We’ve succeeded and we’ve sometimes failed to be the mothers we’ve always dreamed of being but thankfully we’ve done it with the love and support of fellow travellers on the journey.

So our week away was the culmination of a year of Maternity Leave for many of the mothers. A celebration of all that we have shared, learned and enjoyed together. The week was crazy! Five babies, five mums and one apartment (albeit a penthouse overlooking the ocean with an eight seater Jacuzzi on the deck)! Packing the cars was like an advanced level game of Tetris and preparing a convoy of three cars to drive with five babies all ready at the same time was like a mission in black ops. But boy did we have fun! We laughed and played and sang and played some more…

I have learned so much about being a mother from these dear friends and I am so excited to see who all our babies will grow to be. They are all such special little human beings and I see so much potential in them all… there’s already the gymnast, the ballerina, the charmer, the little lady, the singer, the gourmet, the mover and the shaker! As the time comes for the birthday parties to begin and our darlings turn one, I am sure we have a whole lot more fun and laughter to look forward to. I wonder what the toddler years will bring?

If you or anyone you know is expecting a baby please remind them of the value of a Mother’s Group. Beyond Blue reports that 10% of Australian women will experience Post Natal Depression and joining a group such as a Mother’s Group can be a wonderful support. I was fortunate not to be affected but I know others who were and it can get really tough. Beyond Blue offers wonderful support and informative materials.

Generally you are informed of your local Mother’s Group by the Child Health Centres in your local area. Ask in the hospital before you are discharged or ring your Local Council. Here is a link to the information that Woollahra Council provides just to give you an idea.

Now it’s time to unpack the bags and do all the washing…oh the joys of travelling with a baby!