How Babies Learn to Listen

The mother’s voice is vital food for the unborn child’s psychological and physiological development. According to Alfred Tomatis, a French physician, psychologist and educator, the mother’s voice perceived mainly through bone conduction is rich in harmonics  providing a major amount of stimulation necessary for the growth of the nervous system. The mother’s voice envelops the child in a deep feeling of comfort and security. An experience of being loved and wanted gives the child a sense of belonging.

At birth, the baby immediately recognises his mother’s voice.  However, the child has to adapt to an environment of air rather than liquid which may interfere with the ability to identify her voice. There is a switch from bone conduction within the womb to air conduction after birth and the tiny middle ear muscles come into play for the first time to facilitate the successful movement of sound vibration from the outer to the inner ear.  As the primary sensory organ , the ear has many functions, not only for the purpose of listening but also for controlling balance ( via the inner ear vestibular system) and for stimulating the body with vibratory frequencies.  The auditory system and its nerves are fully functional in utero  and the area in the temporal lobe of the brain where sound signals are received is also functional before birth. The inner ear reaches its full adult size which allows the fetus to receive sound signals via the amniotic fluid of the womb, an effective facilitator of sound travel.

Research indicates that it takes about 10 years for the ear to be fully open over the 11 octaves of the human range of sounds. A child requires that length of time to learn how to decode the sound environment.  This learning process depends on the desire to listen.  Stress, illness or emotional trauma, can scramble the mind and seriously impact on the function of the ears and the communication process. If a child is not hearing the full range of frequencies, the ability to read and also to write, can be affected.  Dr Tomatis, in his Listening Therapy research discovered that if tension is experienced with the mother, the child would be more likely to block out the higher frequencies of the mother’s voice, which would impact on the child’s ability to access emotions and creativity.  In such cases, research has demonstrated that the higher frequencies of Mozart’s musical compositions  can offer healing and can begin to restore neurological connections by relaxing the brain , thus enhancing its ability to  receive stimulation from the environment.  A recent study found that children of nursery age who listened to classical music showed significantly increased spatial awareness which underpins science, technology, engineering and mathematics and is critical to early learning.

Where there is a lack of communication with the father the deeper medium range of frequencies would be affected.    Just as listening to the mother’s voice provides love and security,  listening to the deeper vibration of the father’s voice enables the child to acquire social language, with a desire to grow and to play an active role in the environment outside the home.  The child’s psychological identity requires integration of both male and female nature.  It therefore follows that if the ear is not functioning to its full potential, neither will the child.

 Nursery rhymes are an age-old way of helping children to emotionally connect to their parents.  Traditional cultures had an oral tradition of handing stories down through talking and repetition.  The play actions with fingers and toes, so enjoyed by children and associated with rhymes,  have been passed down from one generation to the next.  When children feel familiar things, they become more confident and comfortable.  Nursery rhymes are short and easy to remember and repetition improves the child’s vocabulary.  The melody of the rhyme is simple and easily recognisable   The rhymes have a natural rhythm and meter and lend themselves to being read or sung aloud.  Singing to infants is part of every culture’s history.  Cognitive neuroscientists have found that lullabies soothe both the mother and her baby and play songs increase the baby’s attention.  The mother endeavours to calm her baby and the baby responds to the mother’s voice, facial expression and gestures. As the baby relaxes, this in turn calms the mother, thus regulating the physiological state between them.

Different song styles help to build a closer bond between mother and child, whether the intention is to be playful or to calm and soothe the child. Singing together and bouncing the child on the knee, ( a repetitive action which later transfers to playground swings, trampolines and slides etc,)  assists spacial awareness and social integration and has a positive impact on language ability, listening, attention and social development.

 Current research indicates that with the advance of technology, parents have stopped reading to their children and little children are no longer familiar with and memorising nursery rhymes.  When children share this enjoyable activity with their parents, it teaches them to listen with their hearts and strengthens their heart connection and the core of their spiritual being which is love.  The world is suffering because of a willful disconnection from our primary spiritual source – love.  A voice raised in anger can affect the child’s ability to hear and carry out an instruction as negative emotion inhibits the ability to think and act. 
 We can restore this loving connection with our children through bedtime stories and rhymes.

At the beginning of his Rule for Monks, Saint Benedict wrote: ‘Listen carefully, my son and attend with the ear of your heart.’


 Sensory Rainbow documents a year-long , funded research project with a random selection of  160 babies, aged between 7 and 12 months , where music was introduced to a control group as a healing agent to accelerate language and improve awareness.

Musical Magic offers originally composed music to accompany daytime play, a bedtime relaxation track with music and voice to instil peaceful feelings and nursery rhymes with sound effects for shared enjoyment with a parent.

You may also like to read:  Nursery Rhymes and their Meaning