Any mother who has ever heard her own words parroted back to her by a young child knows all too well what good listeners children can be. Often, it seems, they're listening when we don't even know it!
Infants appear to focus on the human voice shortly after birth, and some research indicates they can actually become familiar with voices and music while in utero. Studies suggest that hearing is the first sense to develop in the embryo. Dr. Alfred Tomatis, researcher and author of The Conscious Ear, found that babies' hearing becomes functional around four or five months of gestation. Thomas Verny, author of The Secret Life of the Unborn Child, also discovered that five-month-old fetuses responded to sound and melody, preferring soothing music such as Mozart and Vivaldi to heavy metal or rock sounds.
The most important and attractive sound to an infant is the human voice—especially that of his mother. In fact, a newborn baby is able to pick out her mother's or father's voices in the first few hours after birth. "They will prefer their mother's voice to another woman's voice shortly after birth," says Linda Polka, Associate Professor in the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders at McGill University in Montreal. "There is also research showing that if the mother has repeatedly read a story or sung a song in the last trimester, her newborn will prefer that story or song over another one."
Since hearing is such a critical aspect of a child's development, many hospitals have initiated newborn screening clinics. Good hearing is the first step toward developing language. Even if you've had your infant's hearing tested, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders recommends that you should continue to look for signs that your baby is hearing well. Responding to loud noises, smiling in response to your voice, and vocalizing are all signs that your infant is progressing as she should. Older children should also have periodic checks of their hearing, particularly if they are prone to ear infections.
We know that future learning is affected by early learning experiences. Positive interactions with your baby through singing, reading, and sound play will lay the foundation for auditory awareness and future academic success.