A Book in the Hand and a Song in the Heart: How Stories and Songs Reside in Children's Long-Term Memory

A terrific book matters to us as human beings. If a book makes children laugh, cry, squeal, shiver or wriggle and jiggle in some way, it takes up residence in their hearts and stays there.

- Mem Fox


We’ve all heard it said that children and babies are like sponges. Even when adults aren’t overtly aware, babies are listening and watching – and taking in everything in their surroundings. Because of this, what we say and what we do is of utmost importance. And although it might not feel like it, the stories, songs and rhymes you share with a baby now will stick with them. They become a part of us and become part of the way we think, feel and experience the world. 

The idea that these early experiences can lodge themselves in the brain in a permanent way is called procedural memoryProcedural memory is part of our long-term memory. These memories are being formed without us even realising it. It’s the reason certain events, words, phrases and actions can trigger automatic responses. Our earliest experiences, whether or not we realise it, are stored within us.

[Babies and children] are making sense of what they’re hearing and feeling and it’s taking up residence in their minds

This beautiful blog by Heidi Stevens captures it perfectly. I love that the mum who writes the blog wasn't even aware that her daughter knew or remembered the songs she sang to her as a baby, yet heard her daughter singing them back to her as an 11-year-old. According to psychologist Lisa Mohl Kaplin, this is a perfect example of how 'being touched and loved and sung to affects [children] for the rest of their lives in an unconscious but very profound way'.

Although babies and children may sometimes seem like passive participants as we sing, rock and bounce them, they’re paying attention. They’re making sense of what they’re hearing and feeling and it’s taking up residence in their minds.

Stories songs and rhymes bring us a sense of creativity, fun and enjoyment – alongside all the learning-related benefits and emotional safety. All of these things will help support children’s overall learning and development.

So the next time you don’t think your wee one is paying too much attention as you sing, read and rhyme – don’t fret: they’re taking the experience on board, and one day, you might just hear them repeat it back to you.

Visit our Bookbug Song & Rhyme Library for ideas and inspiration of songs and rhymes to share with your baby or young child. For great book recommendations, check out our book lists for 0-2 year-olds and 3-7 year-olds.