Have you ever felt so good that you felt like bursting into song? Children do all the time, and often they don't even know that they are singing! If you've ever attended a musical performance with your child, you've seen the magical effect that music has on children — the sounds and rhythms are irresistible to little ones, who can't help moving their bodies or singing along. Music invites us to listen and respond, and it often leads us to create. All of the performing arts — including music, movement, and drama — provide an important means for your child to spontaneously express her rich and deep inner life. That's because music is a universal.
Long before speech develops, babies instinctively rock to music, clap their hands, bounce to the beat, and "sing" along. Numerous studies have shown that music has a positive effect on children's reading, math, and science learning, as well as their teamwork skills and mastery of spatial relationships.
There are many ways to build music into your child's life in a way that he'll enjoy. Some require planning, while others occur naturally — as long as you are on the lookout!
Jaclyn's kindergarten class had a leaky faucet that created a steady beat. Instead of ignoring it, the teacher decided to encourage the children to join it! They got out their rhythm instruments and echoed the beat of the drip, drip, drip. This led to an impromptu "dripping" verse — and a song was born!
This spontaneous musical experience came from the children's surroundings. It shows that anything — weather sounds, air conditioners, construction equipment, trains rolling over tracks — can become the basis for rhythm and song. For children, spontaneous musical performances can come from the exhilaration of gliding high on a swing or from the rush of feeling about an upcoming party. Children make up songs to go with these events that reveal what they are thinking, seeing, or doing.
To make marvelous music at any time, try these strategies:
- Mix music and literature. While reading a book, invite your child to create a rhythm for a character or event in the story. For example, what would be the rhythm of the littlest billy goat tramping over the bridge in Three Billy Goats Gruff? How would the rhythm be different for the middle goat or the biggest goat?
- Involve your child in "orchestrating" a story. Introduce familiar, repetitive stories, such as The Gingerbread Man or The House That Jack Built. Invite your child to play some background music by humming or drumming on a pot, or to toot a horn when the main character enters a scene.
- Find the right songs. Listen to the songs your child is creating or the familiar tunes he's humming and reflect these in your choice of new songs to introduce. The best songs are short and have repetitive words or lyrics and a limited note range. Try making your own songbook of classic and family favorites.
- Select songs that invite input. For example, "My Hand Says Hello" (sung to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell") asks your child to demonstrate and sing about different ways he can use his bodies to say hello: "My hand says hello, My hand says hello. Every time I see my friend, My hand says hello." Second verse: "My [child fills in body part] says hello…" … and so on.
Let's Move Our Bodies
It's hard to listen to music without moving in some way! Movement is how we interact with our environment and define the space we occupy in the world. We move to explore. Crawling leads to walking, and walking leads to hopping, skipping, and jumping.
To support and encourage your child's exploration of movement and space, start with the spontaneous. Observe his movements. He might create a motion to go with a sound or a song, or to express how he feels as he moves from place to place. Remark on what you see: "I noticed you made an interesting motion with your arms when you were walking across the room."
Ask if you may try the movement yourself. This will often lead to an exchange of movements. Remember to use the word movement and not dance. For many children (and adults!), the word dance creates an image of structured steps that have a "right" way to be done.
These tips will help you explore movement with your child:
- Use a variety of musical styles to inspire movement. Put on different types of music, such as classical, contemporary, folk, or country. Say, "Let's see how this music makes us feel." Then invite your child to move freely to the music.
- Encourage variation and experimentation. Ask your child, "Can you move another way?" Encourage him to explore movement using only his arms, feet, or eyes.
- Introduce items to move with. Play some interesting music and offer props. Sheer scarves, balloons, paper fans, and feathers make great movement props. You might ask, "How does this object make you want to move?"
- Play movement questions and answers. Invite your child to think about how he can ask questions without using words, and encourage him to try to say something by using movement instead of language. Remind him that this is a "no talking" game — but lots of facial expressions are encouraged!
Remember that all people are singers and dancers, just as they were when they were babies. Rhythm is as natural as your heartbeat, and the sound of your own breathing is a song. When we approach the arts from a place of creative self-expression, we can all feel successful. When we remember that there is no right way, we can look inside and find the child who loves to pretend, who makes up songs and moves her way around the room — who knows how to make performance an expression of joy and life!