Music Activities to Boost Cognitive Development in Children

Mind the Music to Help Develop Essential Cognitive Skills

Music is like medicine. When googling music, you can find countless quotes and statistics naming the benefits music has to not only humans but all animals.

Thinking about the first time you heard music is practically impossible considering many of us first heard music while still in the womb.  

Music is known for many advantages such as lowering blood pressure, improving memory, and improving mood - just to name a few. When listening to music, all parts of the brain are at work. Because all parts of the brain are being used, it has been found that music can help develop children’s cognitive skills as well.

In this blog, we will be introducing some cognitive development activities to try at home with children.

Cognitive Development Activities

What are cognitive skills?

Before discussing some of the activities to try at home with the young ones, let’s first understand what cognitive skills are. According to, cognition has to do with how a person understands the world and acts in it.

In other words, our cognitive skills help us carry out every task we do. There are eight core cognitive capacities - sustained attention, response inhibition, speed of information processing, cognitive flexibility and control, multiple simultaneous attention, working memory, category formation, and pattern recognition.

The activities mentioned below will help with developing the eight core cognitive capacities in children.

Sing and Create Songs

While singing is something everyone is capable of, this activity is pretty simple. Singing songs to your child or with your child can help develop cognitive skills - even if it is just the alphabet song.

While singing songs is great, you can help your child expand their vocabulary by creating your own words to the tune of something simple like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." This activity will also help with pattern recognition.

By singing and creating songs, children can memorize information and become more engaged, which can help with comprehension. Songs with bold pauses in the middle make children pay close attention to detail. Depending on the age of your child, try singing a song like "Humpty Dumpty", then ask questions like ‘where did he sit?’.

Play with Musical Instruments

Obviously, playing with musical instruments can help a child’s cognitive development. If you don't have access to an instrument, you can easily use bowls or anything else you find around the house.

For young ones, you can practice drumming and making the little one repeat it. If they don’t repeat it exactly, they are practicing taking turns which is another skill that’s important to learn. If you have a child that's a little older, try changing up the speed or use different instruments and have them point out the changes.

This activity will help your child find where different sounds come from and teach them about different instruments. If you don't have any musical instruments on hand, you can learn how to make maracas and make music with water. Don’t be afraid to give this activity a try!

two little girls playing with musical instruments
Watch how your child uses and responses to each instrument. Image courtesy of Parents Canada.

Music Mash-Up

Music Mash-Up is a fancy name for playing different types of music and songs for your child. By playing different types of music, your child will experience a wide variety of music which will increase their cognitive growth.

You can either complete this activity by playing different songs or have your child hit play. If you are doing this activity with a very young child, try to keep each song on for about 30 seconds since their attention span is relatively short.

While doing this, see if your child points out any changes in the music. This activity will help with your child’s cognitive skills by capturing their attention and having them realize the different sounds and where they are coming from.

Farmer in the Pocket

In this activity, you’ll be using acting out songs. You can act out the song by yourself or by using puppets, stuffed animals, or figurines. The name of this activity, “Farmer in the Pocket”, is because you can easily act out “Farmer in the Dell” but feel free to try this same activity with different songs.

As you sing or listen to the song, act out the song, or hide the figures behind your back bringing them out when appropriate. If the child is engaged, they may reach for the figures. Make sure to let them touch or play with them so they can engage with the representations of the things in the song.

To make this activity even more engaging, you can ask your child to repeat words. If they are very young and can’t repeat, don’t worry. This activity will help to increase your baby’s attention, listening skills, vocabulary, and repetition of patterns.

two little girls playing with stuffed animals. one is holding a dinosaur the other is holding a whale.
Let your children try to act out the song with their stuffed animals. Image courtesy of Pexels.

Craft your own Instrument

As mentioned in some of the previous activities, it is easy to make your own instrument if you don’t have one on hand. This is something you can easily do with your child, and keeps them engaged.

You can easily build rain sticks, shakers, drums, or tambourines. If you need help, has lots of information on how to make instruments with household objects.  

By making these instruments, your child will be engaged and will later know what instrument makes each sound. After the instruments are made, use them to try the activities mentioned above!

step to step photo of how to make a rainstick
This photo shows how to easily make a rainstick with household items. Image courtesy of Buggy and Buddy.

We hope that you get the chance to try out these five activities. If your child needs more guidance - consider trying music therapy. Music therapy has many wonderful benefits that you can read more about on Incadence. If you are looking to try music therapy, Incadence can help find the right therapist for you.

Edited by Cara Jernigan on January 17, 2021

Lydia Bernardo
Lydia enjoys playing piano and spending time outside.
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