Using music with kids - General Tips
Ages: birth to seven years
Babies are hard wired to respond to music. In utero they are aware of the pitch and contour of their mother’s voice. Their mother’s heart beat is their very first experience of rhythm. And you’ve probably all seen your toddlers and preschoolers bounce around to music and shake or drum on anything they can get their hands on.
Whilst all children will respond differently to music and some will enjoy it more than others, music is a great tool to have in your parenting toolkit. Music is an excellent way to stimulate areas of development such as communication, social and motor skills, and you don’t not need to wait until your child is old enough for singing or instrumental lessons.
Music is also a great way for adults and children to connect and spend time together. Kate’s own research has demonstrated that by engaging in active music making, dancing etc with their child, parents can enhance their own sense of wellbeing, as well as children’s communication and social skills. You don’t need any special skills or any extra time in the day.
Tips for you:
♦ Choose a couple of songs you enjoy and sing them regularly. Children love and respond well to repetition so don’t worry if you don’t know many songs.
♦ If you forget the words or are just too tired – humming the tune is very soothing for both you and your child, and is just as good as singing.
♦ Once your child knows the song well, perhaps you can both muck around with changing the words to the same tune… and see what happens. This is a great way for children to explore language and you can encourage finding rhyming words… or not.
♦ Never worry about the quality of your voice. Children want to hear their parents – they don’t care whether it is in tune or not. Even though they might start to comment on your singing as they get older, don’t take it to heart. They’re just pushing the boundaries (as per usual) J. Modeling confident singing to kids, regardless of your skill level, will set them up for confidence in all sorts of important areas like public speaking later on.
♦ Singing your way through routine tasks or times of struggle can make the job go more quickly and might distract your child from complaining in the first place. E.g. “this is the way we brush our teeth” (to the tune of Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush)
♦ Children’s CDs are great for car trips and many toddlers / pre schoolers will play more happily on their own with a children’s CD (or appropriate adult music) on in the background at home too.
♦ Try leaving out the last word of a line in some of the well known children’s songs (like Twinkle Twinkle) and wait and see what your little one does. Often from as early as 6 months of age bubs will start to make a sound to fill in the missing gap. This is a great way to encourage vocalising. Here’s a link to a cute video of Kate’s oldest doing this at 6 months of age…. But there’s a twist so hang on until the end and hopefully you’ll get a giggle. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQAZi1r_d_g
♦ Children’s musical preferences are largely built by exposure so they will learn to love your music too if you get a chance to put it on. You might feel a bit lighter on your feet during a tough day if some of your favourite tunes are playing too (minus any dubious lyrics as preschoolers will be listening to the ‘story’ of the song – so be a tad careful there).
♦ When the afternoon is really dragging on, put on something boppy and have a dance. If your kids don’t join in they might at least get a giggle from watching. This also works really well if you seem to be rubbing each other the wrong way that day. It might be hard to start dancing… and there could be some resistance, but after you’ve both blown off a bit of steam with some loud energetic music you could start ‘afresh’ and see what happens.
♦ Music for relaxation – the most effective will usually be at a pace around or slightly slower than your child’s heart rate. It will also not have any lyrics in their home language – so just instrumental or some world music in a language they don’t speak. This will prevent the child from engaging their language centre in their brain in trying to work out the story of the song (not so relaxing for them). If you’re in the midst of a tantrum, heart rates are quite high, so although it might seem strange, you could try putting on some energetic music to match your child’s heart rate at first, and then try moving to something slower if needed.
♦ Above all, remember that music should be fun, easy and engaging….. for both you and your littlie.
Kate Williams MEd(Research) PGDipMusThy BMus RMT
About the author:
Kate Williams is a Mum of two, and a Registered Music Therapist specialising in early childhood development. She co-owns and operates Kids Music Beat, an online retailer of music instruments for kids, and more.... for play, learning and therapy. Offering free advice and activity ideas.