We simply cannot help but groove to a good beat.  Think about it: your favorite song comes on the radio, and you start tapping your foot or bopping your head to the beat.  Go to a rock concert, and everyone is dancing to the beat.  Turn on your little one’s favorite tunes, and he or she will likely start bouncing or rocking to the beat.  

A steady beat, or a steady pulse, is literally part of our bodies.  We all have our own internal steady beat: our heartbeat. But internalizing and matching an external beat with physical movement (such as tapping along with the beat of your favorite songs) is an acquired skill.  So, while a baby or toddler might bop to a favorite song, he or she won’t have the ability to coordinate bodily movements to match that beat until 3 or 4 years of age.  

What’s the big deal about matching a steady beat, you wonder? Well, the ability to keep a beat is critical for much more than rocking the dance floor at prom.  In fact, in-depth research has shown that the ability to keep and match a steady beat improves a child’s reading and language skills.  

How? Accurately keeping a beat requires the synchronization of the parts of the brain in charge of hearing and movement.  The same synchronization enables a person to translate translate the meaning of a heard sound to a written word, and vise versa. Intently listening to and physically matching a steady beat exercises this connection, leading to stronger reading and language skills.

You can help develop your child’s internal beat-sense and, in turn, boost these skills as well.  Here are some fun ways to engage in steady-beat play at different stages of your child’s development:

Babies hear and feel a constant steady beat (their mother’s heartbeat!) prior to birth, and are born with the ability to keep their own, internal steady beat.  This internal beat-sense can be strengthened by experiencing a steady beat through all the senses.  Rock your baby, tap the steady beat of a song on her body, and shake a rattle to a steady beat so that he can see and hear it.  Your baby will show that he or she has begun to internalize a steady beat through a motion such as rocking, kicking, patting.

For toddlers, a steady beat is a critical factor to beginning to walk.  The ability to keep a beat with help a toddler walk with a smooth and steady gait, which will lead to confident running and jumping later on.  At this age, it is important for toddlers to feel a steady beat with his or her whole body. Hold your toddler under the arms and bounce his or her feet on the floor, to provide the sensation of jumping.  Strengthen your toddler’s coordination of movements and sense of timing  by bouncing a ball together, and encouraging him or her to try to catch it.

For preschoolers, a strong sense of beat helps with movement organization.  This enables a child to use scissors, write smoothly, march or walk in time, or swim.  Engage in activities with your preschooler that require his or her whole body to move to a steady beat – dribbling a basketball, riding a bike, catching or hitting a ball, or jumping on a trampoline.