Guest post by Ashley Danyew, Ph.D. - musician and music educator with a passion for helping others creatively incorporate music into their lives. She is also an inspirational artist & avid blogger at ashleydanyew.com.
Music plays an important role in children’s intellectual, social, emotional, and physical development.
From fostering creativity to developing gross and fine motor skills, learning how to work with others to developing critical thinking skills, and laying a foundation for future music-learning experiences, there’s no denying the positive benefits of music in early childhood. Plus, it’s fun!
Young children are naturally drawn to singing and movement and music is a common form of play and exploring the world around them.
The best part is, singing and musical play can happen anywhere—they aren’t limited to structured music classes or school settings. You can foster your child’s musical development at home—no special training required!
Here are 10 simple ways you can sing, play, create, and make music with your preschooler at home:
- Use two wooden dowels (or the handles of wooden spoons) as rhythm sticks. Teach your child a few short patterns, such as “tap, tap, tap-tap, tap” or “tap-tap, tap-tap, tap, tap.” Use familiar rhymes or songs like “Rain, Rain, Go Away” or “Wee Willie Winkie” to get ideas for rhythm patterns. Try tapping and chanting the rhyme together!
- Sing a movement-oriented song like “Clap, Clap, Clap Your Hands,”“If You’re Happy and You Know It,” “The Hokey Pokey,” or “Walking, Walking, Walking, Hop, Hop, Hop.” In addition to developing gross motor skills and that all-important internal sense of steady beat, you can also help reinforce other musical concepts like loud and soft and fast and slow. This will help your child develop awareness and critical listening skills, too.
- Sing a familiar song like “Old McDonald” and use a different movement each time: milk the cow, stomp mud off boots, pitch hay, pick beans, etc. Keep a steady beat with your movement to match the beat of the music as you sing.
- Choose a rhyming book you can sing with your child. Here is a great list of books to choose from. (If you don’t know the tune of a particular song, do a quick search on YouTube—you’re sure to find lots of audio and video examples.)
- Make a set of picture cards to go with a familiar finger play or nursery rhyme like “Here is a Bunny” or “Brown Bear." Lay the cards out on the floor and chant the rhyme together, pointing to each card as you go. Then, flip one card over and ask your child to think that part of the rhyme in their head (tell your child, “This is like talking in your brain”). Continue chanting the rhyme in this way, flipping over a different card each time. You could also do this with “B-I-N-G-O,” singing instead of chanting, thinking one letter silently in your head, then two, etc.
- Sit across from your child and pass a bean bag back and forth with the beat as you chant a rhyme like “One Potato, Two Potato.” Keep it steady! For more fun, listen to a piece of classical music like “Russian Dance” from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker or “In the Hall of the Great Mountain King” from Grieg’s Peer Gynt—something that speeds up as it goes along. Listen carefully and see if you can match your beat to the music!
- Sing a call-and-response song like “Down By the Bay” or “Charlie Over the Ocean” and have your child echo each phrase you sing. Add motions as you sing or use puppets or other props to go along with the lyrics. Talk about which parts of the song go up (higher) and which parts go down (lower).
- Play a matching game! Help your child learn to recognize which parts of a song sound (and look) the same and which ones are different. Use pictures or icons on index cards to represent different parts of a piece like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or “All Through the Night.” Look and listen for sections that are the same! Can you put the cards in the right order?
- Make your own sound effect cards using index cards and colored markers. Draw lines going up and down, zig-zag shapes, swirls, curly-cues, dots for tongue clicks, etc. Create a vocal sound effect to match the design on each card and have your child imitate. Place three cards on the floor and point to each one as you make the sound. Have your child imitate, pointing to each card as they go. Once the sounds are familiar, try making new sequences together by putting the cards in a different order. Keep a steady beat as you go, with four beats per card.
- Make your own musical instrument! Use an empty water bottle with dried beans or rice or coins or pebbles. Or, fill a plastic Easter egg with pony beads or uncooked rice and tape closed. Turn your egg shaker into a maraca by placing the egg in between two plastic spoons, wrapping tape around to secure, and taping the handles of the spoons together. Use your new musical instrument to keep the beat for a familiar song like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” or “The Itsy, Bitsy Spider” or create special sound effects for books like “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” or “Thunder Cake.”
I hope these ideas inspire you to create many fun, musical experiences with your young child this year. Sing, play, create, and enjoy making music together!
Ashley Danyew, Ph.D. is a music educator, piano teacher, and church musician dedicated to creating new opportunities for music education, finding ways to make music more accessible, and cultivating engaging musical experiences for all ages. She lives in Rochester, NY with her husband, Steve and their rescue dog, Rory.
Be sure to check out Ashley's Etsy Store where she puts her creativity on paper, selling inspirational art prints and more.