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Music for Tots

By Melissa Morgan
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #66, 2005.

Teaching preschoolers to sing and play inexpensive instruments.

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Melissa Morgan

Music makes little and big hearts glad. Music can also help tots learn. A small child will begin to learn basic math concepts - counting notes, for instance - painlessly through musical beats. In addition, according to research studies, music lessons with song bells and keyboards improve small children's spatial-temporal (perceptions involving space and time) skills. Children need basic spatial-temporal perceptual skills to succeed at math and reading.

Nellie Edge, author of Books That Sing and Rhyme, says, "The brain is uniquely wired to effortlessly learn through music; the rhythms of sound have a powerful effect on cognition." Find out more and download free little song books at her web site, nellieedge.com.

Yes, preschoolers need music; however, expensive classroom musical instruments, textbooks, a teacher with a degree, or even musical talent aren't necessary. Make your own instruments, if need be, and find free library resources to learn musical concepts together.

Your first basic instrument can be your child's voice. Parents often find that singing increases their child's vocabulary and understanding of language. It also can enlarge a child's attention span and ability to follow directions. Even preschool children can begin to read words along with the music, if the words are large, clear, simple, and repetitious. Little ones enjoy nursery songs, and music time can serve double duty combined with literature. We've enjoyed singing books such as There's a Hole in the Bucket by Nadine Bernard Westcott.

Singing and movement naturally go together for preschoolers, as well as older folks. Music time can also double as physical education. Kids improve motor skills and develop important listening skills when they play musical games. In "London Bridge," you need at least three people; two hold up arms to make the bridge, and one person goes under the bridge.

"If you're Happy and You Know It" can be an endless game; clap your hands, ring your bell, tap your feet, and generally get a great workout along with your youngster. To play "Mary Wore Her Red Dress," simply change the name and type of clothing to match the children. Using real or made-up sign language along with a song, such as "The Wheels on the Bus," will help your child remember the words, and develop vocabulary.

Songs like "This is How We Wash our Clothes" make work into play. If you're cleaning up a spill, simply change the words to "This is how we clean our mess," and everything will be better.

Make up new words to familiar tunes, such as "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." For instance, on a child's birthday, you put your child's name in the song in place of the word little. Don't worry if you can't carry a tune; your preschooler will appreciate the rhythm and rhyme.

Parents can find new songs and search out forgotten tunes and words to preschool music simply by searching for the name of the song, inside quotation marks, on an Internet search engine. You can also discover simple games to go along with the tunes.

Your librarian can also help you. In our area, the librarians will look up information - say, the words to a song - for customers who call on the phone. You can also e-mail them with questions. However, I would look for the information first myself, whenever possible, and save the "tough" questions for our librarians.

Librarians can suggest popular musical materials for preschoolers. We've enjoyed materials by Raffi, The Wiggles, Mommy and Me, Veggie-Tales, and Wee Sing. Our family has also enjoyed simple folk songs from earlier generations - does anyone else remember The Kingston Trio? (If you don't, ask your local librarian.)

If you enjoy old musicals, you can borrow movies from the library, and watch them on family night. Even little kids enjoy watching the kids learn to sing "Do-Re-Mi" in The Sound of Music. Your preschooler will probably sing along. Last but not least, church libraries often contain collections of Sunday school audio-visual material that you can borrow.

Libraries sales, thrift stores and garage sales provide ample variety of books, videos, and of course audiovisual materials for preschool music. We've even found working "Play a Song" type books - where you press a button or key to make musical sounds or notes, to go along with the text - at thrift stores.

If you play an instrument or played one a long time ago, consider resurrecting your skill. Your child will uncritically enjoy any and all of your musical attempts. They'll want to play, too. Most children enjoy real instruments far more than toys. You may be able to find an inexpensive used instrument for your child at a garage sale or thrift store. Also check out the resources and inexpensive instruments for young children at rhythmband.com, courtlymusicunlimited.com, or mountainsocarina.com.

Your children will also enjoy making homemade instruments with you. Try these ideas:

  • Make a toilet paper core and wax paper kazoo. Tape a piece of wax paper over an empty core, put your lips to your homemade kazoo, and hum. It really works, and tickles your lips!

  • Decorate a coffee can drum, or better yet, two - one small and one big. Bang the lid with your hands, wooden spoons, or metal spoons. Notice the different sounds?

  • Investigate musical sounds with pop bottles. Blow into the edge of the bottle, to make a flute, or hit the top of the bottle with a spoon. Does plastic sound different than glass? Add varying levels of water to eight bottles, and make the notes do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do.

  • Construct music shakers from found objects. Glue two paper plates together after filling them with beads or beans. Or fill an empty pill bottle with beads or beans!

  • Make a zither. Save rubber bands of various thickness and length. Stretch them across a shoe box, or build a wooden box with an open top. Pluck the rubber band strings to make the sound. The tighter the band, the higher the note.

  • Plan a "Music Day Get-together" with friends. Make musical instruments together, and then have a jam session. Take turns picking songs, and rotate the instruments, so everyone gets a turn.

Music for tots should be fun, not work. Play with music!

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