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12 Jan 2009

Tips for Musical Toddlers

Kids love music and introducing two year olds to a range of fun musical skills will stand them in good steed as they get older. Rhythm and music can improve balance, speech and listening skills and also aids relaxation. Try our twenty top tips for musical fun with toddlers.

Sing to your child from the moment she is born – Hearing you sing will encourage her speech and language skills to develop more quickly as singing uses a different part of the brain from speech and is more easily absorbed. Smile as you sing so your child learns to associate music with enjoyment.

Use your child’s name in songs – Bring a personal touch to favourite rhymes such as Old MacDonald, or This Old Man, by changing the words to incorporate the child’s name whenever you can. E.g. “Jodie Taylor had a Farm”. This will greatly add to the enjoyment for your child as well as consolidating a sense of identity.

Copy Claps – Help your child’s listening skills to develop by asking him to join in a really simple, repeated clapping pattern with you. To make this easier and more interesting, add familiar words to match the clapping rhythm – food, family names, etc.

Chant and Count – Clap as you repeatedly chant number words on one or two notes. Encourage your child to clap with you and count too. Use the child’s name and praise them for joining in. E.g. “One, two, three-, Clap with me-, well done, Ja-mie, One, Two Three-”.

“Make simple picture cards so that a very young child can choose the next song.”

How Many? – See how many nursery rhymes, old or modern, you can think of that use numbers. Some, like Five Currant Buns, Five Little Speckled Frogs, Ten in the Bed and Ten Green Bottles, introduce the concept of taking away and are fun to act out. Others such as One Two Three Four Five, Once I Caught a Fish Alive, or One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, reinforce forward counting and counting in twos. Make simple picture cards so that a very young child can choose the next song and thereby learn the important concept of cause and effect – “If I do this, this will happen”

Copycats – Ask your child to join in with you as you explore different body sounds and movements using your hands, feet and voices. Change to a different sound every so often. You could include funny animal noises, different voices, raspberry blowing, rubbing hands together, tongue clicking, clock noises, tapping the floor and any other noises you can think of.

This is the Way – Help your child to associate particular words with actions by singing “This is the way we….” (Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush) every time you do an everyday activity like cleaning teeth, grating cheese or picking up toys. The movements help to reinforce the language. Get into the habit of singing all the time.

Get Dancing – Encourage your child to express himself freely through dance. Choose some cheerful music with a strong beat and lead by example. Don’t be shy or self conscious about it because your child already thinks you’re the best thing since sliced bread. Hold hands and twist and turn, stretch and curl, jump and jiggle together.

Miss a Word – Sing a favourite nursery rhyme but leave the last word of each line for your child to say. Toddlers love the anticipation of preparing to yell “STAR!” delightedly after you have sung “Twinkle, twinkle, little…” This activity is very good for encouraging your child to concentrate. Don’t forget to give lots of praise. A variation on this activity is to make a deliberate mistake for your child to spot, giving Jack and Jill a pail of jelly, for example, or making Humpty fall out of bed instead of his usual mishap.

Soft, Loud, Fast, Slow – Musical opposites are another way of expanding your child’s vocabulary. You could march loudly round the room singing “We are soldiers marching round, Hear our feet stamp on the ground” Then tiptoe round and sing, “Now we’re creeping just like mice, Very quietly, that’s so nice”. Fast and slow can be taught easily, but your child may not understand the concept of high and low sounds until he is a little older.

Stop, Start – All toddlers love musical instruments. You can buy sturdy, attractive tambourines, recorders, bells and shakers very cheaply. Play with her as you both jingle the bells as fast as a hare and then as slow as a tortoise. Strengthen listening skills by playing games that involve starting and stopping – play a tambourine and ask your child to move around until you stop playing, then to move again when you resume playing. Then let her play while you move.

Watch this Space – Use music to help teach your child spatial awareness. Challenge him to clap widely like a crocodile’s mouth, to play the shaker as high as the sky, to shake the tambourine as low as a crawling ant. Turn familiar nursery rhymes into little dramas as you sing them and include stretching and curling, rolling and jumping, at every opportunity. As well as giving you both some exercise, you will also be carrying on the tradition of the nursery rhyme.

Sound Effects – Some stories just cry out to have sound effects added. “Peace At Last”, by Jill Murphy, is a good example and “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” retold by Michael Rosen, takes some beating. The sounds you add will help to bring the stories alive for your child, who may or may not wish to join in. Don’t worry if he prefers to listen. It means he is concentrating on using his imagination.

Play calm music when your child is tired and fretful – This will help to relax your child’s muscles and encourage her to wind down. Quiet music can be useful during a difficult mealtime too, helping to reduce stress for both of you.

Buy a Kazoo – This instrument is particularly good if your child is an asthma sufferer, as playing will help develop breath control and lungpower. Buy one for every member of the family, turn the television off and have some fun guessing the tune!

Get it Taped – Make a tape of you and your child singing together. Ask different family members to contribute. Your toddler will love identifying the voices and will learn to anticipate and join in. This is a particularly valuable activity if your child has any form of disability or learning difficulties. Include songs using your child’s name and talk to the child between songs. Newly learned kazoo skills could be taped too!

Listen and Learn – Because the sung word is more easily retained than the spoken word, singing is an excellent way to help your child remember important information such as the days of the week, the home telephone number or other basic number sequences. Frequent repetition is very important.

It’s Everywhere! – Teach your child to seek out music in everything she does. If you’re helping her beat a cake mixture, for example, sing about it to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” as you stir and widen her vocabulary by using rich, descriptive words to match the activity.

Good Vibrations – If you are lucky enough to own a bodhran (Irish drum) or other flat drum, practise chanting your child’s name softly across its skin as you use a soft beater to beat gently and rhythmically. If you keep your mouth very close to the drumskin, the vibrations will travel across it and whisper to your child in a magical way. This is a lovely way to bond quietly with him, especially at bedtime. Make up a whispered goodnight chant as a special ending to the day. Fill the chant with beautiful images – rainbows, kittens and castles – to fill his dreams.

And Finally… – Give yourself a huge pat on the back for introducing your child to what will be a lifelong appreciation of music. It’s one of the best things you’ll ever do!

Contributed by Mair Forder, pianist, accompanist and teacher. She has been playing the piano for nearly fifty years and teaching primary school music for over thirty, so is well placed to encourage parents to get musical with their children.

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