Children's songs and clapping games can develop a person's motor and cognitive skills even long after childhood, a recent Israeli study suggests.
The study, by Dr. Idit Solkin of Ben-Gurion University's arts faculty, found a direct link between children's songs and clapping games and the development of important skills, both in children and in young adults, including university students.
Solkin conducted the study over a period of five years by interviewing school and kindergarten teachers and visiting their classrooms, where she joined the children in singing. Her original goal was to figure out why children are fascinated by singing and clapping up until the end of third grade, when these pastimes are abruptly abandoned and replaced with sport.
"This fact explains a natural evolutionary process the children are going through," she said. "The clapping and singing games appear naturally in children's lives around the age of seven, and disappear around the age of 10. In this narrow window, these activities serve as a developmental tool that reflects many of the children's needs - emotional, sociological, physiological and cognitive. It's a transition stage that leads them to the next phases of growing up."
Though the relationship between music and intellectual development in children has been studied extensively - prompting countless parents to obtain a Mozart record or two for their young, just in case - Solkin said that no in-depth study had previously been made of the effect that singing and clapping games have on children's motor and cognitive skills.
"We found that about 20 percent of children in the first, second and third grade take up these songs and demonstrate skills absent in children who don't take part in such activities," she said. "We found that children who clap and sing write better, with fewer spelling errors and nicer handwriting. Their teachers also believe their social integration is better than that of children who don't take part in these games."
As part of the study, Solkin went to several elementary school classrooms and engaged the children in singing and clapping activities over a period of 10 weeks. "Within a very short period of time, the children who until then hadn't taken part in such activities caught up in their cognitive abilities to those who did," she said.
This finding led Solkin to conclude that singing and clapping games should be made an integral part of education for children aged six to 10, for the purpose of motor and cognitive training.
She also found that singing and clapping games have a clear effect on adults: University students who filled out her questionnaires reported that after taking up such games, they became more focused and less tense.
"These techniques are associated with childhood, and many adults treat them as a joke," she said. "But once they take them up, they report feeling more alert and in a better mood."
Solkin grew up in a musical home: Her father, Adi Solkin, collected and published children's songs in the 1970s. "So quite apart from the research experience, working on this was like a second childhood," she noted.
The study was conducted for her doctoral thesis. Dr. Warren Brodsky, a music psychologist who supervised her thesis work, said Solkin's findings lead to the presumption that "children who don't participate in such games are more exposed to problems like dyslexia and dyscalculia. There's no doubt such activities train the brain and influence development in other areas."
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