I’ve talked before about the immense benefits that come from learning music (and some of the myths). Here are a few simple tips to bring music into your tots world.
Firstly let me acknowledge that each and every child approaches music from a different perspective, thus it is important to follow the childs lead. One size does not fit all. My youngest first word was ‘star, star, star…’ (sung to the tune of ‘twinkle, twinkle little star,’ complete with actions and an enormous grin). My oldest child refused to dance and sing until she was far older and instead enjoys learning music as a series of patterns. My oldest childs mathematical approach to music does not mean she enjoys it any less than the organic approach of her sister, but the learning strategies for each child are remarkably different.
I would also like to state very clearly that I am not a music educator (though we do have access to a wonderful tutor who assists in this realm and I hope to have a specialist guest post for you to read soon!)
Instead these particular exercises are intentionally designed so that any adult can share them with the tots in their world. Solid research shows that (even if you are an adult who doesn’t feel musical!) interacting with a primary carer on a musical level is immensely beneficial to a young tots development in a number key areas. Read this wonderful article for all the details.
1. Music and story.
My youngest child refers to the lower notes on our piano as ‘the deep dark end’ and the higher notes as ‘the twinkling fairies.’ These are terms she has invented for herself based on stories we have told together. Telling stories though music (and noise) is a valuable (and enjoyable) exercise to do with your tot. I’ve found it most successful when you introduce a few concepts yourself first (play with the notes and say what those notes sound like to you – a sad giant, a jumping pixie, an elephant sitting down etc) Then simply follow the child’s lead and add to their story. Just as you would invent stories with toys, invent stories with the instrument. This introduces many basic musical principals. The child will also be able to approach heard music with the ability to listen for emotion and narrative (abstract or otherwise!)
2. Have music in their environment.
Kids move from activity to activity at their own pace. Just as you leave the blocks, cars and dolls where they can access them and play – ensure the music is where they can access it and play. When my children were younger we kept our beaten up old piano in their play room. Tunes were not gracefully played by clean hands… but it was crashed for sound effects during puppet shows, it was twinkled as they passed on the way to bed, it formed the soundtrack for many-a-show. It was loved and used and that is the priority.
The piano is now in another room so that the child who is practicing can play without disruption from her sister, but it remains their piano and they love it.
(Note; Use any instrument that you are happy to donate to the children’s realm, in our case it just happened to be an old piano. If you are buying instruments then consider a cheap drum from a music shop – rather than the more expensive, less musically inspiring options available in many toy stores.)
3. Learning the notes.
Most adults have learnt the very basics of musical notation at some stage in their childhood (and even if you haven’t a good children’s music book will explain it to you as you go along). There is some debate about when to introduce the more ridged concept of musical notation to children, but for my oldest child (who approaches music as a pattern) reading music was her way of accessing music and falling in love with it. Suddenly there was joy and appreciation as soon as she could see the patterns that were forming.
This is the book we are starting on (recommended by our dear ‘music tutor on call’) but there are many other like it that follow a similar basic introduction to notation. One thing we like is that it shows correct finger placement for each new note, but without relying on finger numbering to read every note in the songs. The notation is basic (starting with one note and introducing new notes slowly). Even my youngest child can now (slowly) read a sheet of new music without help. This is particularly astounding for me, when she can not yet read written stories. Reading music, and understanding the concepts (many of which are similar to traditional literature) has given her a very different introduction to literacy. Time will tell if this helps her development when it comes time to read stories, research suggests it will.
4. Good old fashioned star charts.
I generally believe children should learn for the joy of learning, not an unrelated material reward – but (like many adults) I am a hypocrite. I personally do far better at repetitive tasks if I set myself a variable reward system, and I am not alone. Behavioral research is showing that the desire for a variable reward system seems to be hard wired into human behavior (partly why gambling is so addictive). Inspired by these findings I implemented a traditional structured star chart for my kids piano practice, but with an element of variable rewards. Here is how it works for us:
- Anica (6yo) plays 3 songs for a star, Elka (4yo) plays 2 (conveniently my children are at an age where they can half their age for the number of songs they play per star.)
- Each child can choose the songs they play. Logic ensures that they choose a song that is not too hard (so they can get a star faster!) while ambition ensures they progress through to the next songs (as the ‘easy’ songs become boring if you play them too many times.) Previously both children were keen to skip through the book (beyond their ability) and thus they lost interest in practice because it was too hard. For us the star chart has ensured they are keen to practice at their own level.
- Each time they receive 10 stars they get a smaller reward on their way to the larger reward at the ‘end’ (of the page). Some of these rewards are known (they work towards the picture of the little treat they will get – ie a sweet) others are unknown and they get to choose between 2 randomized reward items (ie books from the surprise box.)
It has been so successful for us that they now bicker with each other about who gets the privilege of practicing at any given time, rather than each avoiding the ‘chore’ of practice!
5. Show them the music.
It’s all well and good plonking your way through ‘Mary had a little lamb’ at home by yourself, but unless you see music in context the activity will soon loose it’s charm. I’ve talked before how important it is to show children where creativity can lead and taking them to a performance is the ideal way to feed the child’s curiosity and inspire further desire to learn.
In Tasmania we are lucky that the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra runs a highly tailored program for it’s youngest audience. The TSO children’s program introduces young patrons to the wonders of the orchestra though engaging story telling and a very family friendly atmosphere. Children are not tolerated at these shows, but rather celebrated. There is preshow entertainment and activities for children, each piece of music is introduced and explained to the children in a way that they can access it, and there is always a great oral story told throughout the night, along with the narrative of a piece of music. My children look forward to these shows with much anticipation. As the night progresses Elka usually finds her way to standing for a little dance, and Anica always wants to sit in the very front row so she can watch the musicians hands up close.
Don’t be afraid to start young.
Attending a ‘music class’ with an infant may seem pointless (they are not going to pick up the cello and start playing any time soon!) but recent research shows that the infant brain is wired to hear music even more than the adult brain. Many theorists believe this could be why every culture communicates in that ‘sing song’ way to babies. ‘Baby talk’ (often termed Motherese) ‘sings’ the language to the baby, so that the baby can more easily learn the words of their mother tongue.
Sing with your newborn. Take your tiny little tot to music class and encourage them to bash on the drums at home. Play music with the children in your life and see their abilities flourish. I watch with delight as my youngest niece (who has only just learnt to take her first steps) can already hold a beat better than I can.
If you are in any doubt about the benefits of music for your tot, head on over to this post and soak in the immense research that confirms learning music is as useful to any child as learning to read.