Music has been used to communicate thoughts and feelings for a very long time. Lullabies abound in all cultures, bonding the parent and baby with calming tones. These become a ritual, signifying that it is time to calm down, settle thoughts and feelings on the sound, and perhaps even sleep. Drums rally, trumpets announce, people sing in chorus to celebrate or mourn. Children hear these varied musical sounds from birth and learn the customs and rituals of their families.
Young children respond to music on many levels. They hear the tones and quickly learn to recognize tunes. They respond to repetition and rhythm. Music even brings information to our brains via different paths than speech or vision. It can tell the neurotransmitters to release calming chemicals, affecting our moods. Hearing music performed might be boring for your children, but making it on their own, or learning to use it in play, can be a ton of fun.
Here are some suggestions for how to use music with the young children in your life at home and in school:
1. To establish a routine or set the mood
In the classroom: When children arrive at the start of their day, it can be chaotic. When you are ready, have a set song that you sing or play that signals it is time for them to settle in and take their place for the start of the day. A simple musical instrument, such as a bell or tambourine, can be designated as the “change-station tone.” A rousing Sousa march could lead kids to recess, and a return to the opening tune could resettle them and signal that it’s time to get back to activities. You can easily explore the concept of LOUD and soft with music. A special song could simply mean “time to get up and dance!”
At home: Just as you probably awaken to an alarm clock, you can play a special song during awaking and dressing time to help establish a routine. A song, or simple rhythm game like patty-cake, can help a small child focus and be ready to settle for a meal or book time. A silly song about putting away toys can make the task a lot easier. Make it up yourself using a familiar tune like Row, Row, Row Your Boat and sing along. As your children grow, the songs you shared will become theirs, and you may hear them singing them at the appropriate times without any coaching. A family lullaby can be passed on easily if it is sung regularly.
2. To remember something important
In the classroom: Many adults still rely on the “Alphabet Song” to remind themselves if P comes before or after R. Familiar songs can be changed to help kids remember rules. For example, the child’s song that goes, “What does the clock in the hall say? Tick-tock, tick-tock,” can become, “How do we act in the hall? We’re quiet, quiet.” Learning a teacher’s name or classroom number could also be made easier with the help of a song or clapping game.
At home: Just like at school, use songs to teach young children things that can be hard to remember. For a child with a long name like Christopher, you could sing the spelling to him as you change a diaper, dress for the day, or ride in the car. Find a familiar kids’ song or holiday tune to set the spelling to, perhaps “Jingle Bells.”
C-H-R, I-S-T, O-P-H-E-R. That’s how we spell Christopher, and that is who YOU are!
The parents’ names or a home address could be easily memorized in a similar way.
3. To get creative
In the classroom: If you are lucky enough to have some age-appropriate instruments for kids, they will all love using them. You can play along with recorded music or have them create their own sounds, rhythms, and tunes for their classmates. Try playing music during other activities, like finger-painting. Change the beat and see how the paintings change. Rhythm games are great for recess fun. How about creating a story song with the kids that they sing to parents, perhaps sharing a field trip to the petting zoo set to Old McDonald Had a Farm? Have kids bursting with frustration or joy? Encourage them to share their feelings musically with voice, drums, or other items that can make music.
At home: Babies like toys that make noise, and musical noises tend to be pretty easy on the ears. A ball with a bell, pressing on a keyboard, even jingling your car keys can bring smiles. Little ones do love the pot-lid cymbals, but for something just as fun, and perhaps quieter, try a wooden spoon on a plastic pail. Grab your child and dance to your favorite music. Pass them the broom as a dance partner when you’re busy.
Bonus! Download the Sing-a-Word, Sing-a-Long Motorvator, a free activity from A Moving Child Is a Learning Child. Authors Gill Connell and Cheryl McCarthy describe motorvators as “quick, easy, anytime, anywhere ideas for adding high-energy, purposeful activities to your day.”
There have always been soundtracks in our lives, from the sounds of nature to the noises of a city. Choosing to play music for entertainment or learning can help educators, parents, and even small children remember information or help change their mood. By teaching kids how to create their own soundtracks, we help shift moods, bring groups together, and share some happy moments in the process.
How do you use music with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers? What musical selections or activities do your kids enjoy?
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How our brains process music from MusicWorks
The Benefits of Music Education from PBSparents
Songs for Teaching website has links to hundreds of songs