Sensory superpowers


Sue Newman on the sensory superpowers of sound processing and rhythmic awareness.

Sound processing is the ability to make sense of what we are hearing. People can hear, but still have problems with sound processing. People can have hearing loss but still have strong sound processing (through bone conduction). Sound processing is not just hearing, it is about making sense of the sounds we hear and being able to reproduce those sounds accurately in language learning, and the ability to read for meaning.

Rhythmic awareness is the ability to sense the underlying pulse of a piece of music. If you can clap in time, in synchronisation with a group clapping in time, to a piece of music, steady beat or different pattern of beats, then you have rhythmic awareness. If you seem to be clapping when others aren’t, you are out of time, you do not have good rhythmic awareness.

Strong sound processing and rhythmic awareness really are a superpower because they allow us to thrive in an education environment and in life. They impact motor sensory integration which impacts speech, language, communication, vision, physical, social and emotional skills, whether children are developing typically or have diagnosed special educational needs.

■ Making sense of the sounds we hear.

Daily music and movement activities are the best tool we have for ensuring that children have optimised sound processing and rhythmic awareness skills by the age of seven. Music and movement activities are a most efficient and effective way of developing neural pathways in early childhood, the dominant influences being strengthening of the sound processing system and rhythmic awareness.

Sound processing
Sound is our first sense. We start hearing before we are born. Sound is our first alarm system, it can keep us alert and calm us down.

Within the inner ear is the vestibular system which connects the ear and sound processing to the whole body. This is significant because changes to sound processing can impact on global development. This makes our sound processing system a superpower.

It also helps to explain its dominant influence on language and learning, and for cross curricular development including social, emotional and physical development.

Rhythmic awareness
Rhythm is an integral part of both music and language, and the rhythm of spoken language is a crucial cue to understanding.  Musical training—with its emphasis on rhythmic skills—can exercise the motor-auditory system, leading to less neural jitter and stronger sound—to-meaning associations that are so essential to learning to read.

■ Developing sound processing and rhythmic awareness.

What music activities work?
Traditional music and nursery rhymes are great, they harness some of the benefits evidenced by neuroscience and research studies

To harness all of the benefits we need to:

  • Include lots of rhythmic activities, keeping the beat and playing with tempo and different rhythms…. best achieved through use of recorded music written for this age group and purpose.
  • Include lots of melodic activities, playing with dynamics, pitch, hearing harmonies, different instruments….best achieved through use of recorded music written for this age group and purpose.
  • Engage and motivate all involved, the teachers, parents and children….best achieved through use of recorded music written for this purpose

Harnessing the power of music in early years education
To harness the power of music we need to provide training, knowledge, confidence and resources to our educators and parents. Currently there is very little, if any, inclusion of music and movement training in early years and SEN Further Education courses, undergraduate degrees or professional training qualifications. You do not need to be a musician to lead effective music making activities in early years or SEN schools, all educators and parents should have access to training and resources so that their children have the opportunity for optimal development of sound processing and rhythmic awareness, to optimise motor sensory integration giving them the best chance to thrive at school and in life.

Sue Newman

Sue Newman BA(Hons) ACA Managing Director Boogie Mites UK Ltd and Community Projects CIC

Facebook: Boogie Mites ABCD Music Community
LinkedIn: @suenewman


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