Reading and music for children: the value of doing them together with the time of audiobooks, podcasts and voice assistants

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Once upon a time there were the old record players and cassette players for sound fairy tales or children's songs, replaced today by more technological descendants: podcasts and audiobooks, voice assistants like Alexa and Google Home, app and storyteller of various types. Devices that allow children to listen to the reading of fairy tales, entire books or songs even on their own. But what value can these tools have in the context of children's reading and listening to music?

As for device-mediated reading, the pedagogist Monica Castagnetti, trainer of the Center for Child Health of Trieste and volunteer of the Born to Read project, has no doubts: "It can be interesting for older children, around the age of six, who are able to derive pleasure from a story as such. In this case it can prove useful especially in some circumstances such as long car journeys. For the little ones, however, it is much less significant, because in the first years of life reading makes sense as a shared experience of relationship, which cannot be mediated by a device ".

The musician is of the same opinion Antonella Costantini of the national secretariat of the Nati per la Musica project: "In the first years of life, listening to music should be shared, because only in this way can parents and children relate through voice (singing together) and movement (cradling, dancing, playing in various ways) and it is only in this way that the benefits of musical practice can be obtained for the brain and motor development of the child ".

The benefits of reading aloud

"Reading aloud to a child from birth (but, why not, even earlier, during pregnancy) means doing something good for her brain development, provide him with the opportunity to put the sixth on the highway, when the time comes "says Castagnetti. In fact, there are now numerous scientific results that indicate the advantages of shared reading aloud (in other words of reading together) for the development of the child in the short and long term.

As the American pediatrician recalls John Hutton, author of several studies on the subject and promoter in the United States of an initiative similar to Born to Read (, reading aloud promotes the language development enriching the vocabulary and "training" ai mechanisms of narration, teaches to appreciate books, allows learn something new every time, it favors the exercise of memory: all skills that will be very useful when entering school because the benefits acquired in early childhood with reading last over time. Not only that: "Shared reading promotes the ability to identify with a character, preparatory to the ability - later on - to put yourself in the shoes of others"continues Castagnetti.

And again: reading together is one powerful tool to build bonds, relationships between parents and children. Relations that are the real architects of this educational "enrichment" guaranteed by reading together, as well as by shared listening to music.

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The benefits of listening to music

"A good listening to music from early childhood it will positively affect the school life of children"recalls Costantini." On the one hand, in fact, it helps to develop the ability to concentrate, for example by helping to keep the attention on the teacher's voice while the classmates make noise and on the other it promotes the balance of relationships ". 

Read also: Music: why it is important for children according to science

How much to read to small children

Often those who are not familiar with books and reading think that it is a difficult, boring, lonely experience. Well, that's never the case with young children. "For the little ones, books are first of all objects to explore and reading is first of all a game and a relationship tool"recalls Castagnetti. Stressing that reading to children is a simple, natural, economic gesture: "If it is true that books can be expensive, let's not forget that there are libraries. And in the absence of books, it is also very good to read the supermarket promotional flyer together".

Again: reading does not take long, but just doing it "for the time of a story and a cuddle". John Hutton, for example, invites children to read together for 15 minutes a day, which objectively are not many. And as he points out Alfonso Cuccurullo, actor and trainer of the volunteer readers of Born to Read, is something always available: "How many times do you happen to see, on the plane or train, parents reading a story to their children to reassure them during the journey".

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How to read to children

You don't need acting skills and above all you don't need to have performance anxiety, but abandon yourself together with a moment of closeness, which should be as physical as possible - what could be better than reading in mom's lap, or on the big bed next to dad? - and interactive. "The goal is not to read a story without interruptions just to find out how it ends, but to read a story together, to discover together all the worlds that are enclosed there" specifies Castagnetti. For example, with a six-month-old baby it will be enough to follow his spontaneous interest in the book object, observe where his attention points to name the objects depicted, also allow him sensory exploration - yes, often the moment of reading with a child so small ends with a little taste of the book - constantly referring to the child's newspaper: Have you seen this? There is a ball. Do you have a ball too ?.

That's why according to Castagnetti in the first few years of life there shouldn't be much room for devices: "For a child, reading is not just listening to a voice, but physical contact, interaction. However sophisticated, a machine will not interrupt reading if the child is getting bored and will not respond accordingly to inputs sent by the listener , like a surprised look, an exclamation of fear, a laugh ".

According to Cuccurullo, moreover, the reading by the devices leaves no room for the unexpected, for imperfection, for surprise, which are always formidable connections for the creation of relationships and memories. "If reading a wrong word we miss, children burst out laughing, and what could be nicer than laughing with our children? The episode can be so funny that children may ask us to make a mistake on purpose with each new reading of it. word and we will remember for a long time how much fun that word aroused. Ditto if we miss a sneeze, or if the light goes out and we have to run for cover, or if we are interrupted by a loud noise ".

Not to mention that reading in person allows you to modulate the choice of the book to the emotional state of the moment, of the child or of the reader. "If we are calm and relaxed we will be able to choose a book in which these emotions dominate, while if we are angry or nervous we will choose one with angry characters, finding an emotional consonance between what we feel and what we read", advises Cuccurullo. Indicating a strategy that helps the emotional closeness between parents and children and therefore also represents a possibility of emotional education.

For Cuccurullo this does not mean demonizing audio books and the like: "For adults they can be very important for cultural enrichment: we think of those who listen to The Karamazov brothers or War and Peace while traveling for work, to testify that we always need stories. And even for older children they can represent an interesting tool, but not the only means of exposure to reading ".


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When to read to children

Parents who are not used to reading often wonder what is the right time to read a book to a child. "There are no precise indications, other than to train yourself to feel when this moment is, when for example the child is experiencing a void that can be filled with a book" says Cuccurullo. "For sure reading it doesn't have to be an imposition by the adult, but it is very likely that, after the first experiences, the child himself will ask to mom or dad to read something ".

In general, however, a good time is when the baby is preparing for to go to sleep. "We know - Cuccurullo remembers - that it can be a difficult time for many children, who would give anything to stay awake. Reading a story together can be a good way to accompany the little one by distracting him from his anxieties".

How to listen and make music with young children

Again, as for reading, there is nothing complicated. "The music, the sonority, is part of everyone's life. We all have a familiar repertoire of songs, plays, sounds: when a child arrives it is simply a matter of putting a little order in this repertoire, to propose it to him in a way that is coherent with his development "suggests Antonella Costantini.

An interesting exercise to do when the baby is perhaps still in the belly is to reflect on the peculiarities of your voice - that the little one, however, already listens and that it will be a very important means of communication after his birth - e the sound environment in which you live. "For example, you can record your voice while singing or reading in various contexts (from the nursery rhyme to the economics article), to find out how the intonative profile changes. And you can pay attention to the sound sequences that are produced by putting the various daily rituals such as returning home from work (the key that enters the lock, the door that opens and then closes, the shoes that are removed, the greetings), because they will be the ones that at the beginning will allow the child to recognize the various people (mother, father, uncle, grandmother) even without seeing them ". Also to facilitate this recognition it is good in the first months of life do not overload the environment with too many sounds at the same time (TV on, telephone ringing, appliances in operation).

And why not create a sound memories album, in addition to the classic one of photographs? "Not only the wonderful sounds produced by the child, but in general those in which he is immersed: the grandmother who greets him, the house cat purring, the dog barking, the bells and so on", advises Costantini. And when the child is older, because when you go out together, don't use your smartphone not only to take pictures but also to record sounds that will be used to build a sound mapping of the environments explored? This is also a fantastic relationship exercise.

As for music as we usually understand it - songs, melodies - again the advice is very simple. "It is often thought that making music or knowing how to listen to music is exclusively linked to the study of an instrument, but in reality it all starts with a domestic job. re-evaluation of listeningor ". As with reading, the music doesn't have to be a background, but an opportunity for interaction, relationship: sing together, dance together, rock yourself, play to the rhythm of music.

"It is very important that parents and children share both the melodic component, singing, and the rhythmic one, moving in time" underlines Costantini. Specifying that there is no more or less suitable type of music to start: "You can start from what parents like and their family traditions, and then open up to the world. Taking into account the fact that children are much more capable than adults of interpreting any musical repertoire, even what adults can seem more difficult ". The only precautions: avoid listening exclusively to songs for children ("it would be like continuing to give little tasty baby food") and contextualize listening with respect to the moment and the meaning you want to give it. "If it is time to go to bed, or the little one is uncomfortable with colic, he will choose something relaxing, able to cradle and contain. mom or dad ".

Finally, go ahead to any musical laboratories that allow you to experience music listening within a group of peers, which generally allows you to enhance the playful component of the activity.


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Updated on 10.03.2022

  • reading
  • musical education
  • children education
  • report
  • 1-2 children years
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