Music is the first creative art form in our lives to reach us in a profound way. There is an innate human response to sound, even in very young children. In the womb, babies respond to the rhythm of their mother’s heartbeat while after birth, cradled in their mother’s arms, they learn to babble and imitate the dreamy cooing of her voice.
From infancy, parents can enhance their child’s musical readiness at home by:
• singing to babies and swaying rhythmically while holding them;
• giving musical toys, such as kazoos, triangles, bells, maracas, tambourines and xylophones;
• tapping out different rhythms on a drum or bowl and encouraging children to copy;
• acting out songs, such as "The Itsy, Bitsy Spider" and "The Hokey Pokey" with hand or body motions; and
• letting children march around the house with bells on their ankles or wrists.
The more active music-making a young child can do, the better.
Award-winning children’s musician Laurie Berkner notes that when she was a child, she had music on in her house all the time. "And my parents sang to me," she adds. "Before bedtime they would say I could have one book or two songs."
Berkner urges today’s parents not to be afraid to sing to their children, and also suggests that children should come to music by following their own cues, and choosing the instrument that they feel drawn to.
Not Just for Fun
Exploring music together will also support the development of your young child. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) emphasizes the following as just a few of the benefits of musical play:
• It helps children express and make meaning of their experiences. Through musical play, children become aware, explore and make choices about musical sound. Musical play also provides a social connection for children as they sing, dance and make music with others.
• It builds learning connections. When an infant communicates with an adult by matching pitches as he coos and babbles, their musical conversation helps affirm and encourage his self-esteem.
• It stimulates a child’s creative abilities. Language connections occur as a child decides on words and rhymes for a song, plays her name on a drum, or moves to the expressive sound of music.
Learning to Listen
Although music is in our lives every day, children don’t become good listeners spontaneously. The key is to start young. Many parents and children find participating in introductory music classes, such as eurythmics, Kindermusik or Orff, to be fun and a good way to expose children to rhythm and singing.
Choosing the best program depends on whom you ask, but music educators agree that parent participation is critical. Kindermusik, for example, encourages parents to take part by giving them tapes and guidebooks for practicing songs at home.
"Children are creatures of repetition," says Kindermusik instructor Rachel Reef-Simpson. "The more they hear a song, the more it becomes a part of them."
Equally important, she says, is making it fun. So, at a Kindermusik class, children might make oversized musical notes out of black paper plates, perform in a make-believe orchestra or pantomime playing various instruments.
Other teaching methods, such as eurythmics, emphasize movement and improvisation, and might involve walking or galloping to music to "find the beat." Likewise, the Orff method relies on rhythm-based activities to introduce children to music. In a typical Orff classroom, children recite nursery rhymes, poems or stories as they move, clap and play small percussion instruments.
Whatever the approach, the idea behind such programs is to combine listening, movement, improvisation and singing to encourage growth and self-expression. Music, after all, isn’t just a catchy tune and a good beat. It’s one of life’s essential ingredients.