If you are a parent, you probably share music with your child everyday without thinking about it. You might sing the wheels on the bus with your toddler, or sing along to the radio in the car on the way to school. Like adults, some kids are more into music than others, but there are plenty of good reasons to encourage their musical interests.
Music in the morning
This morning we woke to strange sounds coming from Pickles’ bedroom. Mysterious creaking and crashing. Purposeful, but worrying nonetheless. I went in to have a look. As soon as the door opened I heard a furious “Shoo! Shoo!” He was ok, just frantically going through his instrument box, so I withdrew.
Then, seconds later, I heard some shuffling, some frustrated mumbling and then: “Help! Help!” So I rushed back in. He was still in his sleeping bag and had only made it halfway across the room with what he’d been looking for before tripping over.
I could see that he was cross that he needed help, it had spoiled the element of surprise in his plan, but as kids tend to do he accepted the revised situation and decided to persevere. “Up please.” I picked him up. “Mummy’s room please.” I carried him in. “Mummy sleep please.” Again, I obeyed. My husband was watching him warily. “Daddy sleep please.” He sighed and closed his eyes knowing full well that this wasn’t an invitation for a Sunday morning sleep-in. A full second of glorious sleep before the cymbals crashed. A peal of gleeful giggles. The day had begun.
It may not have ever been the dream to have our mornings started with cymbals ringing in our ears, but if it had these would probably have been part of it. They are less like the cymbals you might find in an orchestra and more like those carried by an organ grinder’s monkey.
Tiny little musical instruments
The cymbals are a particularly cute recent addition to an amazing array of musical instruments made for tiny hands. He has, among many others, a triangle, a two-tone wood block, a wave drum, a slide whistle, maracas, bells, a couple of tambourines, and a xylophone. All of these things have been purchased for, at most, a few dollars and are definitely worth the investment.
We also have a large number of homemade drums and shakers; generally old containers filled with rice and expertly decorated with fluffy pom poms, beads, pipe cleaners, and anything else we happened to have found at the local discount store.
Let the music move you
My husband once told me that one of the reasons he had never much liked musical theatre was that it didn’t make sense that the characters would be singing instead of talking, or just burst into song mid-sentence. After 14 years of being around me though he kind of gets it now.
Growing up, my mum liked to sing along to any song that happened to be playing even (and sometimes especially) when she didn’t know the words. She also had a song for every occasion. She was kind of like Mary Poppins, but with less of the magic umbrellas and more of the penchant for keeping things tidy. This is definitely something that she has passed on to me (the singing that is, not the tidiness).
I have a song for every household task, from doing the dishes to hanging the clothes out, from getting dressed to sweeping the floor. When I want Pickles to tidy up after an activity, I sing a song about it. A spoonful of musical sugar really does help the medicine go down. And when we’re not doing chores, we’re often engaged in musical activity, whether it be playing instruments, singing, dancing, or just listening to music.
It will be normal for my kids, as it was for me. For those who didn’t grow up in a world of constant song, I can imagine it can get extremely irritating. But even if you don’t take it to the extreme, it’s a great idea to share music with your kids as often as possible. Below is a list of seven reasons why you should. There are no doubt countless others and I’d love to hear yours. In my list I have relied on a survey of the academic literature on the relationship between music and development by Susan Hallam as well as my own observations and experience. The Hallam article is an interesting read and I have included the full reference below if you want to have a look at it for yourself.
The list: 7 reasons to share music with your child
1. It’s cheap and easy. You don’t need to buy anything to start singing or banging on pots and pans at home. If you need musical inspiration local libraries and children’s centres often have free or low cost music sessions for babies and young children.
2. You can use it to mark transitions. It can be tough for little people to stop doing something fun and move onto something else. I noticed early on that when I took my kids to different classes and activities, the instructors would often mark the end of the game or the session with a song. So, they would sing about packing things away before moving onto the next thing, or they would sing a goodbye to mark that we were done for the day. Another mother I met shared with me that she when her son had been having trouble with separation when she dropped him at child care in the mornings, she started using this technique in that situation. So she would sing goodbye to him, and he would sing goodbye back. She said the effect that such a small change had on what had previously been something that they both harboured such anxiety about was immediate and stark. My husband uses it to mark the end of Pickles’ bath time. He would happily splash around all night, but when he hears the song about putting the bath toys away, he knows it’s time to get out.
3. It can make boring tasks more appealing. If you’ve got a toddler and fewer house keepers than you might like, odds are your little person is going to have to spend some time toddling after you as you do household chores. If you have a toddler like mine, they might actually look forward to this part of the day so they can “help” (and by help of course I mean create a series of hindrances, but with the very best of intentions). Other times, they might just want you to come and play. Usually I’d say, forget the housework and play! But I also find that if I incorporate music, Pickles is usually happy to join in. So, for example, he loves to help with the washing up so he can sing “Wash the dishes, dry the dishes, turn the dishes oh-ver!” Snap, the job’s a game.
4. It can improve kids’ creativity. It is one of my absolute favourite things to stand outside a room when Pickles doesn’t know I’m there and listen to him singing to himself. He often does it when I’ve put him down for a nap in the afternoon, singing lullabies to his teddy bears. His capacity for musical improv is already impressive. At the music class that he goes to, they have to choose an action each week as part of their hello song. His have moved on from his initial favourites of stomping hello or spinning hello every week, to ever more elaborate hellos. The last week of last term he chose elephant trumpet hello, one arm raised into the air. It was a hit. As he grows in confidence through this class, I can see his imagination blossoming.
One of the studies reviewed by Hallam found that 3 and 4 year olds involved in “singing and musical play twice weekly for three years… scored higher than controls on creativity, had higher levels of abstraction, and showed greater creativity in improvised puppet play. They also demonstrated better motor development.” (Hallam, p. 277)
5. It’s great for language and literacy development. When Pickles was a newborn someone told me that a great way for babies to start to understand language is by hearing a word and simultaneously feeling what that means. A good example is the word “stop”, which is a handy one to teach them early! So, there is a musical game in which you are holding your baby and a steady beat is playing and you walk and you walk and you walk and you stop. Or you stomp and you stomp and you stomp and you stop. Or you slide and you slide and you slide and you stop. You say the words and do the action at the same time so when you say stop and you stand still, your baby gets to understand what that means. I used to do this with Pickles whenever we were just going from one room to another at home. It was unsurprising then that one of his first words was “stop”.
Hallam says that: “Overall, the evidence suggests that engagement with music plays a major role in developing perceptual processing systems which facilitate the encoding and identification of speech sounds and patterns: the earlier the exposure to active music participation and the greater the length of participation, the greater the impact. Transfer of these skills is automatic and contributes not only to language development but also to literacy.” (Hallam, p. 272)
6. It can help them with maths down the track. Skills such as learning to keep a steady beat, and recognise patterns in music can help with numeracy and maths. These are skills that you can easily develop at home by banging spoons on pots and encouraging your child to stomp in time to the beat. Or playing clapping games where your child has to follow and remember a pattern. Hallam suggests that: “Music also seems to improve spatial reasoning, one aspect of general intelligence which is related to some of the skills required in mathematics.” (Hallam, p. 281)
7. It’s fun! If your child loves a song, you can get stuck listening to that same song over and over until you start calculating how you can drop the cd as you’re getting out of the car in such a way as to create maximum damage the next time you back out. But if you start experimenting with your own music at home it can be a great way to spend quality time with your kids that is enjoyable for everyone. Already, at not even six months, Pords lights up when I give her a maraca to shake, bells to ring, or something to bang on.
Laying a strong foundation for a lifelong love of music is surely enough of a reason in itself. For so many people I know, music is pivotal in maintaining emotional and mental well-being and happiness, in being able to reduce stress, and in creating and maintaining strong social connections. For some, music is inextricably linked with the very core of the identity. As an added bonus, if you make music a shared experience you might have a sneaky influence on their tastes later on. If you can help them appreciate the light and shade in Dingle Dangle Scarecrow, the world is truly their oyster.
Hallam S (2010) The Power of Music: Its Impact on the Intellectual, Social and Personal Development of Children and Young People International Journal of Music Education 28(3) 269-289.