Parlakian and Lerner assert that "Music and music experiences also support the formation of important brain connections that are being established over the first three years of life" (Beyond Twinkle Twinkle). Learning through music can include listening to music, dancing to music, playing music, or singing. Music can stimulate early language development and help babies learn to self-regulate when music is used to sooth them.
Dancing to music helps small children connect with music emotionally. When babies move to music, they are also learning spatial relationships and work on their gross motor skills. They learn how to balance as they sway from side to side. Children can also do actions to musics, which helps them understand the music, build vocabulary, and work on fine motor skills. Songs like "Head and Shoulders" help them learn parts of their body, while "Old Macdonald" teaches them animal sounds! When we took music lessons at Intellidance in Edmonton, we also learned about bilateral coordination where parents helped babies do actions that crossed their midline. This action helps them learn how to use both sides of their body together - which is essential to movements like crawling or climbing.
Music also teaches children patterns, math concepts, and symbolic thinking skills. They experience different rhythms, patters, and sequencing that are all foundational skills to higher level math processes. When babies explore different musical instruments, they learn about pitch, volume, timbre, and tone, and how different instruments sound. Small children may also learn how to speak through singing. An excerpt from the article Beyond Twinkle Twinkle explains how singing helps children with phonemic awareness:
Phonemic awareness describes how well a child can hear, recognize, and use different sounds (called phonemes). For example, in the word cat there are three different phonemes: the /k/ sound, the short /a/ sound, and the /t/ sound. Children who are able to distinguish different sounds and phonemes are more likely to develop stronger literacy skills over time (Ehri et al. 2001)
There are many studies that indicate that music in early childhood helps children achieve better and have overall stronger literacy and math skills as they grow up. Playing with musical toys will help babies and children explore and discover while they play.
Here are some links to some great websites about how music is important in early childhood.