Music and brain development: My review of Zumbini classes.

I recently had the utmost pleasure of participating in a Zumbini trial class with my kids. Zumbini is new to Quebec, and the first ever class in Laval will begin in January.

I was curious to find out what these classes entailed and by the end of the class, I was more than elated with everything Zumbini had to offer. We keep hearing about the importance of music in a child's life. However, playing classical music for a baby is not exactly what will help them flourish. This popular belief has been debunked by research, but what we have learned is that singing to your child (and with) is what is more important. 

As my 5 month old and 2 year old participated in the class, I observed not only how they reacted, but obviously, as someone with a background in brain science, I decoded all aspects of the class in terms of child development and cognition (memory, executive functions, attention etc).

Here are 3 reasons why I think these classes are fantastic for infants/toddlers. 


1. Singing and reading skills

Scientist have stressed the importance of nursery rhymes for decades. Research has shown that "there is a strong link between nursery rhyme knowledge by the age of 3 and phonological awareness" in the following years (Bryant et al. 1989, Journal of Child Language). Phonological awareness is a strong predictor of a child's early literacy development. Phonological awareness is defined as "the ability to detect, segment and manipulate the sounds of language" (Liberman 1973). Rhyming, such as in children's songs, is known to help children develop phonological awareness and sensitivity to this rhyming begins in babies (Gordon et al, 2015, Frontiers in psychology). This means that babies benefit from hearing their parent sing songs that rhyme and that this begins the process of developing phonological awareness, which in turn develops their early reading skills! (books are also important for here to read a previous post on books).  We had great fun during the Zumbini class and sang lots of songs. The added bonus that I personally LOVE, is that when you register for these classes, you ALSO get a song book with the songs sung during class. This is an added bonus and an important one. I am happy that the creators of this class thought about bringing what is occurring in the Zumbini class into the participants home. Well done! 

2. Building Executive Function skills: 

My favourite reference for executive function skills is the Harvard Centre of the Developing Child. They define executive functions as the follows: "Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses."

Developing these skills starts in infancy. We need to create a stimulating environment to help our children develop executive function skills. Moreover, research has shown that children entering school with stronger executive function skills tend to be stronger in academics

Erna, would sing some songs with words linked to movements, then she would repeat. Creating this predictability is great for working memory and helps children anticipate the movement/word/action that is coming. 

Watching Erna make dance movements and copying her is also great for executive functions. For instance when we were playing with the Zumbini bongos, she would create rhythms by banging it with 1 or 2 hands. She would raise her arms or add a clap and so on. The children would observe this and the toddlers tried to mimic her. 

Games that require active inhibition are also important for development. "Freeze" games such as the one we did in class was a great way to do this. Other active games such as song games with many movements are important and were a large part of the class. 


3. Encouraging Serve and Return:

Even if a baby can't mimic your movements or dance and sing, this type of class is still important given that it provides ample opportunity for the parent and baby to take part in serve and return interactions which are highly important for brain development in babies. Serve and return interactions were another major part of the Zumbini class. As you sing the song to your baby and dance, they respond by kicking, smiling or babbling. In turn, you respond by smiling and singing and kissing/hugging them. 

When the instruments came out, the babies became focused on the sound each instrument emitted. As a parent, you notice their head turn toward that sound and since this class provides you with a multitude of instruments, you can pick that instrument and offer it to your baby.  We also go to play with scarves and there were many fun moves that babies and toddlers alike enjoyed. 


My Take:

Zumbini classes were created by Zumba and Child First. The classes target children 0-4 years of age. We had a great time with our Zumbini instructor, Erna. Her high energy was contagious for both adults and children alike. See info below for class schedule. Don't miss out on a FREE Zumbini demo class on Monday, December 11th at Funtropolis in Laval. 

If you are interested in joining Zumbini in Laval or would like these classes in your neighbourhood, join Erna's facebook page to contact her. Hopefully, we can get these classes in as many community centres, daycare and elementary schools as possible and get parents and children playing, singing and having lots of fun together! 

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Have fun playing!


Cindy Hovington, PhD 

Founder Curious Neuron