10 Ways Musical Training Boosts Brain Power

10 Ways Musical Training Boosts Brain Power

Neuroscience offers more proof that musical training is good for your brain.

Did you play a musical instrument when you were growing up? Do you continue to play an instrument today? Neuroscientists continue to find evidence that musical training tremendously benefits a child’s brain development in ways that can improve cognitve function throughout his or her lifespan.

As the father of a 7-year-old, I am grateful that my daughter is fortunate enough to have access to musical training and has developed a love of playing both the piano and violin.

Unfortunately, budget cuts have put music and art classes on the back burner for most of our nation’s students. Research from the U.S. Department of Education found that 75 percent of U.S. high school students “rarely or never” take extracurricular lessons in music or the arts.

Budget cuts that reduce music programs may backfire in the long run. Musical training lays down neural scaffolding that improves the brain’s ability to hardwire connections between various brain regions. Musical training improves brain power across the board and also nurtures one’s ability to be creative and think outside the box.

It’s no coincidence that Einstein was a master violinist and a revolutionary physicist. Albert Einstein’s mother was a talented musician who made musical expression a part of daily home life when her children were growing up.

Albert Einstein began playing the violin when he was 6-years-old. By the age of 13, he was playing Mozart’s sonatas. Einstein once said, “Life without playing music is inconceivable to me. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music … I get most joy in life out of music.”

An October 2013 study (link is external) found that Albert Einstein’s brilliance may be linked to the fact that his brain hemispheres were extremely well-connected. The ability to use right brain creativity and left brain logic simultaneously may have been part of what made Einstein an incredible genius.

More and more studies are linking musical training with improved brain function and higher academic achievement. Practicing a musical instrument regularly engages all four hemispheres of your brain at an electrical, chemical and architectural level which optimizes brain power.

Musical training also improves focus, reduces stress, and could be an antidote for the pressure that children feel to do well on standardized testing as part of No Child Left Behind and the Common Core Standards.


Ten Ways Musical Training Boosts Brain Power

Improves verbal memory and childhood literacy

Babies who have music lessons smile more and communicate better

Benefits brain plasticity throughout a lifespan

Trained musicians have superior multisensory processing skills

Improves white matter connectivity

Increases blood flow in the brain

Improves executive function

Thickens gray matter of the cortex

Reduces academic achievement gaps

Orchestrates coordinated neuroplasticity in the aging brain

I compiled the list above in chronological order. There has been so much research on this topic in recent years. I wanted to create a timeline that shows the evolution of these findings in recent years.

Before reading any farther please take a few minutes to watch this YouTube video of Nina Kraus—Hugh Knowles Professor of Neurobiology, Physiology and Communication Sciences at Northwestern University—describing the powerful neurobiological roots of music held in the deepest regions of our brainstem.

Below is a more detailed analysis of 10 ways that musical training boosts brain power:

#1. Musical Training Improves Verbal Memory and Childhood Literacy

In October of 2011, researchers from the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University led by Dr. Nina Kraus tested children on their ability to read and to recognize words as related to musical training.

The study(link is external), “Subcortical processing of speech regularities predicts reading and music aptitude in children,” was published in the journal Behavioral and Brain Functions.

The researchers found that the musical ability was related to reading ability. A good score on the auditory working memory test was related to better reading and to the rhythm aspect of musical aptitude. In a press release Dr. Kraus explained this saying,

“Both musical ability and literacy correlated with enhanced electrical signals within the auditory brainstem. Structural equation modeling of the data revealed that music skill, together with how the nervous system responds to regularities in auditory input and auditory memory/attention accounts for about 40% of the difference in reading ability between children. These results add weight to the argument that music and reading are related via common neural and cognitive mechanisms and suggests a mechanism for the improvements in literacy seen with musical training.”

#2. Babies Who Have Music Lessons Smile More and Communicate Better

A May 2012 study(link is external) from McMaster University found that very early musical training can benefit children even before they’re able to walk or talk. Babies who participated in the interactive music classes showed better early communication skills, like pointing at objects and waving goodbye. These babies also smiled more and were easier to soothe.

The research, led by Laurel Trainor and David Gerry, found that one-year-old babies who participated in interactive music classes with their parents smiled more, and communicated better. They also showed earlier and more sophisticated brain responses to music.

The researchers of this study(link is external) concluded that their results suggest that the infant brain could be particularly plastic with regard to musical exposure.

#3. Early Musical Training Benefits Brain Plasticity in Later Life

An August 2012 study(link is external), “Older Adults Benefit from Music Training Early in Life: Biological Evidence for Long-Term Training-Driven Plasticity,” also led by Nina Kraus, found that older adults who had musical training as children but hadn’t practiced their instrument in decades still had a faster brain response to a speech sound than individuals who never played an instrument.

As people age, changes occur in the brain that compromise hearing. Older adults typically have a slower response to sounds that change quickly which can make it difficult to interpret speech. Musicians who continue to practice a musical instrument throughout their life generally offset these cognitive declines.

These findings suggest that early musical training has a long lasting positive effect on how the brain processes sound.

#4. Trained Musicians Have Superior Multisensory Processing Skills

A November 2013 study(link is external) reported that trained musicians appear to have superior multisensory processing skills. The research, led by Julie Roy from the University of Montreal, found that musicians have an enhanced ability to integrate sensory information from hearing, touch, and sight.

To test the ability of musicians to differentiate between different sensory inputs, Roy and her colleagues used an audiotactile task in which participants heard a quick series of beeps, while they simultaneously felt a single vibration on their finger.

The researchers told participants to ignore the beeps and to only report on the tactile stimulation on their finger. While musicians consistently reported feeling just a single vibration, nonmusicians were “tricked” into feeling more vibrations as a result of the multiple beeps they heard. In a press release Roy described the research saying,

“The ability of the nervous system to integrate information from all senses—sight, sound, touch, smell, self-motion, and taste—is critical to day-to-day life, but even more important for some specific pursuits. High-level musical ability requires a variety of sensory and cognitive abilities developed over the course of years of training. Recent research has revealed that long-term musical training improves the brain’s ability to adapt, and shapes brain regions involved with audiovisual processing.”

Roy concluded that musicians appear to be more adept at multisensory processing. The research suggests that well trained musicians are able to segregate or integrate the information from a range of senses with heightened discrimination and better focus.

#5. Early Music Lessons Improve White Matter Connectivity

A February 2013 study(link is external) from the Journal of Neuroscience, “Early Musical Training and White-Matter Plasticity in the Corpus Callosum: Evidence for a Sensitive Period,” suggests that musical training before the age of seven has a significant effect on the development of the human brain.

The research—led by Concordia University psychology professor Virginia Penhune incollaboration with Robert J. Zatorre—found that the younger a musician started, the greater the brain connectivity benefits.

The researchers found that people who began musical training early in life had stronger connections between motor regions. When comparing brain structure, musicians who started early showed enhanced white matter in the corpus callosum, a bundle of nerve fibres that connects the left and right motor regions of the brain.

This research illustrates the relevance of the recent discovery that Albert Einstein had extraordinary white matter connectivity between brain hemispheres.

This study provides strong evidence that the period between age six and eight is a highly “sensitive period” when musical training seems to significantly affect brain development and can produce long-lasting changes in motor abilities and brain structure. In a press release says Penhune concluded,

“Learning to play an instrument requires coordination between hands and with visual or auditory stimuli. Practicing an instrument before age seven likely boosts the normal maturation of connections between motor and sensory regions of the brain, creating a framework upon which ongoing training can build.”

#6. Musical Training Increases Blood Flow in the Brain

A May 2014 study(link is external) found that brief musical training can increase blood flow to the left hemisphere of the brain. The study was conducted by undergraduate student Amy Spray and Dr G. Meyer from the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Liverpool.

The researchers believe that their findings suggest that the areas responsible for music and language share common brain pathways. In a press release Spray explained the findings:

“It was fascinating to see that the similarities in blood flow signatures could be brought about after just half an hour of simple musical training. This suggests that the correlated brain patterns were the result of using areas thought to be involved in language processing. Therefore we can assume that musical training results in a rapid change in the cognitive mechanisms utilised for music perception and these shared mechanisms are usually employed for language.”

#7. Musical Training Improves Executive Function

A June 2014 study(link is external) from Boston Children’s Hospital, “Behavioral and Neural Correlates of Executive Functioning in Musicians and Non-Musicians,” found a possible biological link between early musical training and improved executive functioning in both children and adults.

Executive functions are the high-level cognitive processes that allow us to quickly process and retain information, regulate our behaviors, make good choices, solve problems, plan and adjust to changing mental demands.

This is one of the first studies to examine the effects of musical training on executive functions. Senior investigator Nadine Gaab, PhD, of the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children’s stated in a press release,

“Since executive functioning is a strong predictor of academic achievement, even more than IQ, we think our findings have strong educational implications. While many schools are cutting music programs and spending more and more time on test preparation, our findings suggest that musical training may actually help to set up children for a better academic future.”

#8. Musical Training Thickens Gray Matter in the Cortex

A December 2014 study from the University of Vermont found that musical training might also help kids focus their attention, control their emotions and diminish their anxiety by bulking up the gray matter of the cortex.

The study(link is external), “Cortical Thickness Maturation and Duration of Music Training: Health-Promoting Activities Shape Brain Development,” was published in the Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

James Hudziak, M.D., professor of psychiatry and director of the Vermont Center for Children, Youth and Families, and colleagues including Matthew Albaugh, Ph.D., and graduate student research assistant Eileen Crehan, call their study “the largest investigation of the association between playing a musical instrument and brain development.”

As children age, the cortex—the outer layer of the brain—changes in thickness. In previous analysis of MRI data, Hudziak and his team found that thickening or thinning in specific areas of the cortex correlated with the occurrence of anxiety and depression, attention problems, aggression and behavior control issues. With this study, Hudziak and his colleages wanted to see if musical training would influence those indicators in the cortex.

As expected, Hudziak found MRI evidence that musical training altered the motor areas of the brain, because the activity requires control and coordination of the movements necessary to play an instrument.

Interestingly, these changes were also found to affect behavior-regulating areas of the brain. A child’s musical background appears to correlate with cortical thickness in brain areas that play a critical role in inhibitory control, as well as aspects of emotion processing.

In a press release the authors conclude, “Such statistics, when taken in the context of our present neuroimaging results, underscore the vital importance of finding new and innovative ways to make music training more widely available to youths, beginning in childhood.”

#9. Musical Training Can Reduce Academic Achievement Gaps

An August 2014 report(link is external) from the American Psychological Association (APA) stated that learning to play a musical instrument or to sing can help disadvantaged children strengthen their reading and language skills and could reduce academic achievement gaps.

The findings involved hundreds of kids participating in musical training programs in Chicago and Los Angeles public schools. The positive role that musical training can have for youth living in impoverished areas was presented by Nina Kraus at APA’s 122nd annual convention.

Kraus’ research has concluded that musical training enhances the way children’s nervous systems process sounds in busy or chaotic environments—like a classroom or a playground. After two years of musical training, neural responses to sound were faster and more precise in students who had musical training than from another type of enrichment classes.

The improved neural functions caused by musical training can lead to enhanced memory and attention spans which make it easier for kids to stay focused in the classroom and to improve their communication skills.

Kraus points out that traditionally research on the impact of musical training has been primarily conducted on middle- to upper-income music students participating in private music lessons. In a press release Kraus concluded,

“Research has shown that there are differences in the brains of children raised in impoverished environments that affect their ability to learn. While more affluent students do better in school than children from lower income backgrounds, we are finding that musical training can alter the nervous system to create a better learner and help offset this academic gap.”

#10. Musical Training Orchestrates Neuroplasticity in the Aging Brain

A February 2015 study(link is external), “Musical Training Orchestrates Coordinated Neuroplasticity in Auditory Brainstem and Cortex to Counteract Age-Related Declines in Categorical Vowel Perception,” was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The study was led by the Rotman Research Institute (RRI) at Baycrest Health Sciences in Canada. The researchers found that older adults who had musical training in their youth were 20 percent faster in identifying speech sounds than their non-musician peers on speech identification tests.

Gavin Bidelman, who led the study as a post-doctoral fellow at the RRI, concluded in a press release, “Musical activities are an engaging form of cognitive brain training and we are now seeing robust evidence of brain plasticity from musical training not just in younger brains, but in older brains too.”

Conclusion: Musical Training Can Boost Brain Function Throughout Your Lifespan

Evidence is mounting that musical training boosts brain power and cognitive function in children and adults. The neural enhancements that are gained through musical training early in life extend throughout your lifespan and into old age.

Hopefully, these findings will inspire parents and policy makers to advocate for musical training in school as an enjoyable and fulfilling outlet that also has the power to boost brain power and improve reading, writing, and arithmetic. Musical training keeps your brain sharp as you age and could be an integral part of rehabilitative programs for any older adults coping with cognitive decline.

The ‘Golden 20’ for Academic Success!

The ‘Golden 20’ for Academic Success!

  1. Go to class.

  2. Be on time.

  3. Sit to the front and centerof the classroom.

  4. Bring a pen, paper, notebook, and books.

  5. Dress like a student(not like an athlete, rap star, rock musician, or surfer).

  6. Show respect and enthusiasmto your instructors.

  7. Listen, listen, listen–you can’t learn while talking to your peers during class.

  8. Pay attention–don’t doodle, doze, or daydream.

  9. Try to contribute once per class period, with a question or contribution to discussion. Participation counts–and helps.

  10. Have clearly marked notebooks, with separate sections–or separate notebooks–for each class.

  11. Take notes. 

  12. Use a dictionary.This will increase your vocabulary and teach you correct spelling.

  13. Have a partner/”buddy” system for studying.Have parents, friends, dormmates, etc. quiz you. Form study groups.

  14. Read, read, read. Read magazines, the newspaper, sports books, science fiction, anything you can get your hands on.

  15. Set aside at least three hours a day, six days a week, to study. 

  16. Get some of your homework done during school.Use free periods, extra time between classes, and the time before sports.

  17. Sacrifice and work during times when you know other people aren’t working.Work on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon. It will be worth it.

  18. Volunteer for extra credit. 

  19. Get involved in extracurricular activities. Don’t merely attend classes and go to practice. Join the Government Club or Cultural Awareness Organization, write for the student newspaper, give tours, etc. Get involved.

  20. Work hard and be proud that you are working hard and learning. Realize that education is a key ingredient to many great things that you will accomplish in life.

10 Things Every College Student Should Know

10 Things Every College Student Should Know

  1. No Major? No Problem

Your major as an entering college freshman doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. In fact, in most cases it doesn’t lock you in to anything. If you are unsure of what you want to major in as a freshman, it’s OK—most college students will change their major at least once. You can use your freshman year as a time to explore, taking classes in subjects you never thought about studying before to help you hone in on what you want to do with your life. Look at college as an opportunity to expand your knowledge and build upon your interests.

  1. Your Advisor is an Important Resource

Your school will provide you with a catalog of courses offered, the prerequisites and requirements needed for each class and major, and requirements you must satisfy in order to graduate. If you have a question that goes beyond the catalog, or just need a little guidance, go to your advisor—they can help you with any scheduling or course selection questions you may have.

  1. The Truth about Textbooks

There are two simple rules to follow when it comes to textbooks:

Don’t buy your textbooks too early.

Save money by buying and selling online (or, buy used books at your campus bookstore).

Many schools claim that you are required to buy all of the textbooks assigned on the syllabus each semester. However, just because it’s written on paper doesn’t mean that you’re actually going to use it enough to get your money’s worth. Every student learns differently and every professor teaches differently. If you can, talk to other students who have taken a course to see if you will actually need the textbooks, and then decide if you should purchase them.

Also, if you are a poor college student—aren’t college students broke most of the time?—avoid purchasing your textbooks from the campus bookstore. Prices there tend to be on the high side, and when book buy-back time rolls around during exam week, the return on what you originally paid doesn’t always lead to a pretty penny. If you can, purchase your books online and sell them back online too; you’ll find this to be a win-win situation in the end.

  1. Campus Involvement Builds Lasting Friendships

Your social life is a huge part of the college experience. Getting involved on campus in clubs, organizations, or athletics will help you meet new people and develop lasting friendships. Enjoy yourself and the friends you spend your time with—even if you’re not doing anything at all. College is about the people you meet, the experiences you go through, and the memories you make.

  1. Balancing Work and Play Reduces Stress

Balancing an academic schedule, extracurriculars, athletics, perhaps a job, and on top of all that a social life can be extremely demanding. All work and no play is a sure-fire recipe for unhappiness and will catch up to you in the long run. Learn to balance school work by taking the number of classes you feel comfortable taking on. Don’t over-involve yourself in activities, and if you have to work a part-time job, only work a few flexible hours per week. Keep in mind that you still need to save time in your schedule for rest, relaxation, and socializing.

  1. Your Professors are Not the Enemy

Talk to your professors: introduce yourself, ask questions, visit during office hours, and make sure they know your name. Be sincere in showing your efforts in the classroom. Your professors will begin to see that you are trying and your efforts will pay off. As a result, they will be more willing to go out of their way to help you, and you may even be able to use them as references later on.

  1. Studying Abroad Brings the Classroom to Life

For students studying abroad, living, breathing, eating, and feeling a new culture is definitely an educational experience. Studying abroad allows you to fully immerse yourself in a foreign language, to observe a new culture firsthand, and to experience new music, art, theater, food, and nightlife. Studying in the actual environment brings the classroom to life.

  1. Every Campus Has Safety Hazards

Check with your local police to learn about the areas on and off campus that you should avoid. Learning the areas where the most crime takes place and what types of crime are most common in your college town can help to keep you safe. For an added safety measure, store emergency phone numbers in your cell phone and post them beside the phone in your dorm as well. Also, always be sure to carry identification on you.

  1. Internships Increase Your Hiring Power

Do you have an internship? Well, plan on getting one if you don’t already have one. Job recruiters love practical experience, so plan on getting some before you graduate and you should be in great shape for your first job. Internships will not only provide you with practical, real-world experience, but you may even be one step ahead of the game and land a job offer from the company you intern for you before you even graduate.

  1. Avoiding Debt is Simple

A simply monthly budget will prevent you from overspending and will make paying the bills much easier. Allow yourself a weekly allowance for entertainment purposes and stick to it. Only use a credit card for emergencies, don’t ever use it for entertainment. Sticking to your budget and remembering that little things add up fast will help to keep you debt free.

Tips for Selecting Toys for Toddlers

Tips for Selecting Toys for Toddlers

Toddlers are little explorers who learn by doing. Play gives your child a great opportunity to develop and practice new skills at her own pace by following her unique interests. The toys and playthings your child has available to her can shape her development in important ways.


While it may seem like choosing toys for toddlers should be easy, as you walk into a toy store today, the only thing that’s easy is feeling overwhelmed. There is a huge array of toys that have been developed for the toddler market. How do you choose which are right for your child? How can you tell which are high quality and which will last? Which will engage your child’s interest for more than a few days or weeks? Below are some ideas for choosing toys that will grow with your child, challenge her, and nurture her overall development (her thinking, physical, language and social-emotional skills).


Guidelines for Choosing Toys for Toddlers


  • Choose toys that can be used in a variety of ways. Toddlers love to take apart, put back together, pull out, put in, add on, and build up. Choose toys that are “open-ended” in the sense that your child can play many different games with them. For example, wooden blocks or chunky plastic interlocking blocks can be used to make a road, a zoo, a bridge or a spaceship. Toys like this spark your child’s imagination and help him develop problem-solving and logical thinking skills.


Examples: Blocks, interlocking blocks, nesting blocks or cups, and toys for sand and water play


  • Look for toys that will grow with your child. We all have had the experience of buying a toy that our child plays with for two days and never touches again. You can guard against that by looking for toys that can be fun at different developmental stages. For example, small plastic animals are fun for a young toddler who may make a shoebox house for them, while an older toddler can use them to act out a story she makes up.


Examples: Plastic toy animals and action figures, toddler-friendly dollhouses, trains and dump trucks (and                  other vehicles), stuffed animals and dolls


  • Select toys that encourage exploration and problem-solving. Play gives children the chance to practice new skills over and over again. Toys that give kids a chance to figure something out on their own—or with a little coaching—build their logical thinking skills and help them become persistent problem-solvers. They also help children develop spatial relations skills (understanding how things fit together), hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills (using the small muscles in the hands and fingers).


Examples: Puzzles, shape-sorters, blocks, nesting blocks or cups, art materials like clay, paint, crayons or                     play-dough


  • Look for toys that spark your child’s imagination. During your child’s third year, her creativity is really taking off as she is now able to take on the role of someone else (like a king) and imagine that something (like a block) is actually something else (like a piece of cake). Look for toys that your child can use as he develops and acts out stories. Pretend play builds language and literacy skills, problem-solving skills, and the ability to sequence (put events in a logical order).

Examples: Dress-up clothing, blocks, toy food and plastic plates, action figures, stuffed animals and dolls,                    trains and trucks, toddler-friendly dollhouses, toy tools, and “real-life” accessories such as a wrapping paper                tube “fire hose” for your little fire fighter. The all-purpose large cardboard box is always a big hit for                              toddlers and is free. (Call an appliance store about picking up one of their refrigerator boxes). Boxes                              become houses, pirate ships, barns, tunnels—anything your child’s imagination can come up with!

  • Give your child the chance to play with “real” stuff—or toys that look like the real thing. Your toddler is getting good at figuring out how objects in her world work—like television remotes or light switches. She is also interested in playing with your “real” stuff, like your cell phone, because she is eager to be big and capable like you. Toys like this help children problem-solve, learn spatial relations (how things fit together), and develop fine motor skills (use of the small muscles in the hands and fingers).


               Examples: Plastic dishes and food, toy keys, toy phone, dress-up clothes, musical instruments, child-size                      brooms, mops, brushes and dustpans


  • Toss in some “getting ready to read” toys. Books, magnetic alphabet letters, and art supplies like markers, crayons, and fingerpaints help your child develop early writing and reading skills. “Real-life” props like take-out menus, catalogs or magazines are fun for your child to look at and play with and also build her familiarity with letters, text, and print.


  •    Seek out toys that encourage your child to be active. Toddlers are doing all kinds of physical tricks as they    are stronger and more confident with their bodies. Your job is to be an appreciative audience for your          little  one’s newest playground achievement! Look for toys that help your child practice current physical       skills and  develop new ones.

Examples: Balls of different shapes and sizes, tricycles or three-wheeled scooters (with appropriate                                protective gear), plastic bowling sets, child-size basketball hoop, pull-toys (e.g., toys that your child can                        pull on a string), wagon to fill and pull, gardening tools to dig and rake with, moving boxes (open at both                     ends) to make tunnels to crawl through


  • Look for toys that nurture cross-generational play. While adults and children can play almost anything together, there are some toys that are designed for adult participation. As your child approaches age 3 and beyond, early board games—that involve using one’s memory or simple board games that do not require reading—are fun for all ages to play. Consider starting a “family game night” when all of you play together. Board games encourage counting, matching and memory skills, as well as listening skills and self-control (as children learn to follow the rules). They also nurture language and relationship-building skills. Another important benefit is teaching children to be gracious winners and how to cope with losing.

Common Questions on Choosing Toys for Toddlers


What are the benefits of sounds, lights and music?

Many, many toys for toddlers are ablaze with buttons, levers, lights, music, etc. Often these toys are marketed as “developmental” because the toy has so many different functions. Unfortunately, this often has the opposite effect for the child. The more a toy does, the less your child has to do. If your child can sit and watch the toy “perform”, then it is likely more entertaining than educational. In addition, these toys can be confusing to a child who is learning cause-and-effect. If a toy randomly starts playing music, or it is unclear which button made the lights start flashing, then your child is not learning which of his actions (the cause) produced the lights and music (the effect). In short, the most useful toys are those that require the most action on the part of a young child. The more children have to use their minds and bodies to make something work, the more they learn.


Can toys actually “make my baby smarter”, as the packaging and advertisements often claim?

Proceed with caution. Most products that make these claims have not been proven to increase children’s intelligence. In fact, safe household items (plastic bowls for filling and dumping, pillows for climbing and piling up to make a cave, old clothing for dress-up) are often the best learning tools. Remember, the more your child has to use his mind and body to problem solve and develop his own ideas, the more he learns.

Teaching Your Child to Dress Himself

Teaching Your Child to Dress Himself

Learning to get dress is one of those essential life skills that fosters independence in children, and encourages logical thinking. And when kids are taught to be independent, they grow into self-assured adults who are productive, motivated, and able to stand on their own two feet. So if you’ve been dragging your heels about teaching your preschooler how to dress himself, now is the perfect time to mark it on your growing list of parenting “to dos.” And here’s how to get started.



Let Kids Choose

Get your preschooler excited about dressing himself by allowing him select his own clothes. Don’t overwhelm him with too many choices. Letting him choose from two or three outfits is plenty. And since youngsters haven’t mastered the art of coordinating colors, the outfit options you present should be interchangeable. Once your child has decided on an outfit, lay the selected pieces neatly on a chair so he can easily reach them the next morning.


Make a Morning Routine Poster

A morning routine poster can effectively illustrate to a young child what he needs to do to get himself dressed everyday. Separate a poster board into columns, and then draw a picture of each clothing item (one garment per column). If you’re not handy with markers, use a digital camera to take snapshots of the clothing pieces, and then tape them on the poster board. Make sure you put the drawings or snapshots in a logical order for your child to follow. For instance, you wouldn’t put a picture of shoes in the first column because if your child puts his shoes on first, he won’t be able to get his pants or socks on properly. After you finish the poster, hang it at your child’s eye level in a spot where he can easily see it.

Get up Earlier

Naturally, when kids are learning to dress themselves, they’ll struggle quite a bit. So to prevent chaos, wake up earlier in the mornings to give your preschooler plenty of extra time to get ready. Also, unless your child is visibly frustrated, don’t step in to help him until you’ve given him an ample amount of time to figure out how to put his clothes on.


Start Simple

When you’re first teaching your young child to dress himself, stick with clothes that are easy for him to put on such as pants with elastic waist bands, and pullover shirts and sweaters. Once your child gets the hang of dressing himself in simple clothing, he can graduate to garments with snaps, zippers, and buttons. Use a permanent marker to mark the bottoms of your kid’s socks so he can tell which part of the socks belong on the bottom of his feet. To help your child learn to put his shoes on correctly, use specialty stickers that are created for this purpose. Also, in the beginning, don’t overwhelm your child with the technicalities of shoe-tying. Instead, opt for shoes with velcro straps. You can incorporate tying shoelaces after your child learns to dress himself without struggling.


Master the Buttons and Zippers

“Buttons and zippers can be especially challenging for younger preschoolers who are just gaining control over their small muscles,” says early education center director Patricia Hammonds. So start your youngster off with large buttons and buttonholes that are easy for little fingers to maneuver. If you are handy with a needle and thread, replace all of the small buttons on your child’s shirts with bigger ones. And reinforce any loose buttons so they won’t fall off while your child is fiddling with them. Sit down with your youngster and help him practice pushing the buttons in and out of the buttonholes. To make zipping easier for your kid, let him practice pulling the two sides of the zipper together while simultaneously zipping it up. Kids can also learn to maneuver buttons and zippers with fun activities such as playing dress up with oversized clothing and costumes, or by using “dress me” teddy bears and dolls. “There are tons of teddy bears and dolls on the market that come equipped with clothes that have snaps, buckles, zippers, laces, and buttons. These teddy bears give kids plenty of practice dressing, and are excellent for improving the dexterity in their fingers,” says preschool teacher Erin James.


Curb Criticism

Learning to get dressed is challenging for children – and being critical of them won’t make the task any easier. So resist the temptation to say things like, “Your shirt is buttoned wrong,” or “Your shoes are on the wrong feet again.” Comments like these seem harmless, but they can devalue your child’s efforts and crush his self-esteem. Instead, offer plenty of encouragement and honest praise for his efforts.


Teaching a youngster to dress himself can be taxing for both parent and child. But if you start simple, avoid criticizing, allow plenty of extra time in the mornings, and find ways to help your child strengthen his small muscles, he’ll eventually become a pro at getting dressed!