Filling your family’s music basket

If you want your children to be able to create music, they need lots of practice! Having a basket of instruments, either that you bring out for music time or have available with the rest of their toys, gives them a chance to explore music on their own and experiment with different instruments. Knowing just want to get can be difficult. Many toy stores sell kits, but these often include plastic toys that make more noise than music. There are so many different companies that sell instruments and movement props, that I cannot even begin to name them all. Time and again, though, I find myself using West Music for the things that I need for class, and I have never been disappointed. They aren’t paying me, and I wouldn’t discourage you from trying to shop for the best price, but they are having a movement prop sale in March, so if you want to order, now is the time! Here is a list of things that make great additions to your music basket (you can also check out my West Music wishlist to see some of the instruments I recommend):20150312_090545

  • Small drums and tambourines. Because your kids are small, drums they can handle easily, like the ones pictured above, are best. They can be frame drums, which are hand-held, small floor drums, drums with mallets, like lollipop drums, or even small bongos. I’d stay away from drums with fiberskin heads because while they sound great, don’t hold up to being hit with mallets, which is what your children will want to do.
  • Shakers. Shaky eggs are a favorite because they can be easily held by babies. Small maracas are great, too. Plastic ones hold up better, but wooden ones do sound better. Some wooden shakers are shaped like animals, which are fun for children. Stay away from big, adult-sized maracas. They are too heavy and cumbersome.
  • Castanets, tone blocks, and small hand-held percussion. There are so many different kinds, and they can usually be found for a couple dollars a piece. Kokorikos are a lot of fun. Rain sticks and be a fun and beautiful addition to music time.
  • Movement props. Scarves and streamers fold up and can be used in many creative ways by children while they dance. I really like using rubber bands, like the ones on my West Music wishlist, so that we can stretch and move the music together as a group.
  • Props for singing. Toobaloos and kazoos can help children find their singing voices, as well as puppets, or even play microphones.
  • Books. In order for children to become accustomed to seeing musical notation and connect it with the music that they make, they need to see it and have it be around the house. The Wee Sing series is great at providing notation, pictures, and CDs to sing with. Sing the songs and look at the music in the book, just as if you were reading words to your child.

Do you have favorite instruments in your collection at home? If so, let me know which instruments you or your children just couldn’t live without!

How to get the most out of your Early Childhood Music Class

So, you’ve signed up for an early childhood music class. Whether you chose one of the most popular programs, like Music Together, Kindermusik, Musikgarten, or something else entirely, you want to make sure to get the most bang for your buck. After all, you may only be able to participate in one semester or year before you’re trying dance, gymnastics, or sports with your little ones, or the money it costs becomes a burden on your family. Here’s a list to help you make those weekly lessons last a lifetime.

Sofia and Lila play row your boat
Licenced under Creative Commons © Noam, Jemima, & Lila on flickr
  • Go to class: This might seem like a no-brainer, but if you don’t treat class like a priority, your children won’t treat it like one either. Try to find a class that fits your schedule, which can be tough with preschool, naps, other activities, and not to mention untimely childhood illnesses. However, I think it is worth molding your schedule around a once-a-week class. Infant naps can be unpredictable and changeable, but you’re still only on the hook for class once a week. Try to do everything you can to make it. Bring your sleeping baby, even if it’s just you and the baby. You’ll probably feel awkward, but the baby is still becoming acculturated to music, and you’ll get to learn the songs and activities. You’ll then be able to replicate those activities at home, but not if you didn’t learn them in class first! If baby gets cranky and you have to leave, that’s ok. If you have to spend the whole class nursing, it’s fine! They are still benefiting from being in class.
  • Learn the songs. I know it’s almost like having homework, but it’s worth it to familiarize yourself with the songs so that you can fully participate in class. It also allows you to enjoy the songs on the CDs spontaneously, without having to make sure you have the CD handy! If your children are old enough to learn the songs, getting them comfortable with singing the songs gives them more confidence with participating in class, so then you feel like they are getting the most out of it.
  • Bring fed and rested kids to class. Again, probably a no-brainer, but your child can’t enjoy class if they are tired or hungry. Try to shift your schedule to fit the class and give it your all. Maybe music class day is not a good day to go to the pool from 10am-2pm. Have a snack before class so children are full and ready to sing and play.
  • Steal your teacher’s ideas. Did the teacher plan an activity that your children absolutely loved? Recreate it! If there was a certain prop, ask her where to buy it or make a version for use at home. Sing the song and play the way you did in class. Do you like the new lyrics that the teacher made up? Use them yourself. Don’t worry, we won’t sue. Sing the tonal patterns that you learned in class with your children after you finish singing the song together. Start singing directions at home and see how much faster your children clean up! Copy the body percussion the teacher used during the rhyme. You’ll make music at home more fun, and you’ll be connecting what you do in music class to music-making at home for your children.
  • Put in requests to your teacher. Your teacher has a lesson plan for class, but she might be able to fit in a round of your favorite rhyme or song. If she can’t get it into that day’s lesson, I guarantee she’ll try to fit it in more lessons than she would have otherwise, just because she knows you and your children like it. If your teacher doesn’t normally take requests, maybe send her an email letting her know the songs and activities your children appreciate most.
  • Have fun! If your children see you having fun, they’ll have more fun, too. It will also show them how much you love music.
  • Give it time. While participating in early childhood music classes will have long-term benefits for your children’s musicality and brain growth, the products of this education might not manifest themselves quickly. Your child might be badly behaved during class, or maybe they don’t participate at all during the lessons. There is usually something behind this that the child is working through. You may have to take a break from music classes for a while, but I urge you to try again. Maybe when your child has become more comfortable with his singing voice, or maybe she is more comfortable around new people. If you started in the Fall, sing those songs at home all year long, then come back in the Fall of the next year and maybe they will be happy to sing and dance to those songs. Some children just need more time. You wouldn’t pull them out of kindergarten for being shy or getting into trouble once in a while, so don’t halt their musical education! If a class environment isn’t suited to your child’s needs, try to adapt the songs and activities to your life at home. If you’re not sure how, ask your teacher! I’m sure she won’t mind helping, even if you’re not enrolled. Most of us are passionate about music and education, and wouldn’t miss the chance to help a child make music!

I hope these tips were helpful. Do you have any more tips to add from your experiences in early childhood music classes?

My Child Won’t Sing…

Every child has preferred ways of expressing their musicality. My son’s happens to be with lots and lots of volume…P1000485

As a parent, we have a desire to know how well our children are meeting certain developmental milestones. New parents are going to check reference books and the internet to see what their child should be doing and when. Often parents worry about their child’s musicality. Just like other developmental milestones, musical milestones vary with each child, and sometimes the variance is even greater than with motor or linguistic milestones. A lot of this is because our culture doesn’t emphasize music the way many other cultures do, so children are simply getting less practice. Another factor is that sometimes we just can’t see what our child understands. If you are reading this blog and care about your child’s musical development, it is almost certain you had little to do with any delayed development. You can go to this PBS site to check out musical milestones.

However, this post isn’t really about milestones. What if a child can’t, doesn’t, or won’t sing? My son, the elder of my two children, obviously loved music from a young age, but he was well past two by the time he did anything that resembled singing. As a music teacher, I felt troubled by this. Didn’t I sing enough to him? He certainly got enough music in utero, as I was singing as an elementary music teacher, all day, every day until his birth. Now, he certainly does sing, but he has developed an insecurity around singing. Maybe he feels that because it takes him a long time to learn songs (especially the words) that he isn’t good at it. In fact, he’s said so. Hearing “mama, I’m not a good singer,” is heart-breaking. If you’re dealing with something similar (maybe your child asks you to stop singing, only sings when he doesn’t think someone is listening, or doesn’t sing at all, but loves dancing to music), I don’t have any magic answers for you, but I have some suggestions.

  • Figure out how your child likes to be sung to. Maybe they don’t want “background noise,” but want to be sung to, face-to-face. Maybe face-to-face is too much for an introverted child, but they will join in to music that is around. You may want to catch their singing on camera, but while some children will jump at the chance to perform, others will shrink from it.
  • Take out words, or slow them down. Putting words and music together is challenging, and not that natural for some children. My son often complains he doesn’t know the songs at class, but comes home and sings the melody without words or with made-up words. Sing with vocables (la, ba, doo, etc.) to make the child focus on the music instead of the words.)
  • Repetition, Repetition, Repetition. Variety is the spice of life, and you should sing many different songs, but children often take several repetitions in a row to become comfortable with a song and start to understand it. Even when it’s a song that they “know,” it might take several play-throughs for them to join in. This is why your child always shouts “again!”
  • Embrace Silence. Children need quiet time, just like adults. Our brains need a break to process everything they absorb. On a larger level, have time without you singing or listening to music, or TV. During your child’s quiet play by themselves, you might hear echos of songs you sung earlier that day or that week. You may even hear them make their first improvisations. On a smaller scale, pause between lines of a song for them to catch up or repeat what you just sang. For very familiar songs, slow down toward the end of the line of music and omit the last word or two for them to fill in, i.e. “Rockabye baby, on the… tree top, when the wind… blows, the cradle will… rock.

Try these tips, or you find more tips at How to Sing with Toddlers ‘The Hanen Way’

Please comment: What got your little one to start singing if they were reluctant?

10 Things You Should Do BEFORE Your Child Begins Piano Lessons

From birth, we should be molding our children’s musical environment. If you want your children to start piano lessons, or instrumental lessons, it is smart to prepare them for it with their environment. Here is a good list of what to do before your students start piano lessons.

10 Things You Should Do BEFORE Your Child Begins Piano Lessons | Music Schools International

Musical Play

Babies like to be bounced on laps; it’s a great way to elicit those infectious baby giggles. Did you know it’s also good for their musical development? Babies that are bounced on laps internalize the steady beat of the music. You can bounce to music you are listening to, or you can sing.

How about using this opportunity to make classical music fun? I sing themes from Rossini’s William Tell Overture while my daughter bounces on my lap and holds my hoodie strings like a horse.

It doesn’t matter if you sing it exactly right. The point is you are isolating the recognizable themes from the larger piece and portraying them in ways more relatable to a young child. They will begin to recognize those themes when they hear the Overture.

What musical games do you like to play? Do you listen to classical music with your family?

Ok, now what am I supposed to do?

Alright, you’ve committed to being more musical at home. You sing more, dance more… but what else could you possibly do? How about enjoying some musical prop time? It’s a great idea to have some instruments just for your kids that are kid friendly, like shaky eggs, drums, and small percussion instruments. You can put on the CD player or sing your favorite songs and play along. You can also encourage musical movement by dancing with scarves.

Dancing with scarves

If you are feeling adventurous, like some of my local mom friends, you can conduct your own preschooler ensemble! The kids were given simple directions like when to start, stop, get louder or softer. They had tons of fun and it is very simple to put together. If they don’t follow the directions, that’s fine, too. They can work on their beat competency while the song is going on. Check out our little ensemble below!

*Thanks to the mamas that helped with the video and donated their kids and their time to this blog post!

But… what if I can’t sing?

I’ve heard countless people tell me that they don’t sing to their children because they “can’t sing” or are “tone-deaf.” We all have varied levels of abilities, but there are very few of us who actually suffer from tone deafness. Most people who claim to be tone deaf are actually people who are uncomfortable singing and that insecurity has led to a lack of practice in singing. Like any physical activity, if you don’t practice, you are pretty clumsy when you attempt that activity. The same is true of singing. If your voice cracks, you sing some notes out of tune, or if your voice is just unappealing, that isn’t tone deafness; it’s a lack of practice- and that’s ok.

Your children don’t need you to be perfect, they just need you to be an example. I’m a musician, and as I’ve mentioned before, my mother was very insecure about singing. About the only time she would sing would be lullabies at night. Despite the fact that I know now that she wasn’t a very good singer, there was at no point in my young life that I would have asked her to stop singing to me. I have no memories of my father singing, even though he was somewhat of an audiophile. Her bad singing did not affect my musicality, but the lack of singing in our house most certainly did.

As a child I loved singing to the radio. I’d spend hours and hours listening to music, singing, and dancing in my room. Later, I’d spend many of those hours practicing my flute. Luckily for me, I had a natural drive to be musical. My brother, however, did not. My brother doesn’t sing, doesn’t play an instrument. What would have things been like if he had grown up with music as a part of everyday life? Despite my love for music, I was insecure about my voice. Even though I sang in school choir, I did not want to sing individually. It took many years, many music education classes, and many reassurances to make me want to sing in front of other people on a daily basis. If I hadn’t, I’d probably be teaching band classes instead of early childhood music classes.

Your child doesn’t need you to be the perfect singer, or even a good singer. He needs you to sing like you love it, like there isn’t anything else that you would rather be doing. Throw away your insecurities. Sing like no one is watching, because during these early years your child your perfect audience. They love you, and your singing, no matter what.

Try this: At home or in the car, sing more. Sing loud and proud. At first, sing along with your favorite CDs. As you get more comfortable singing (and better at it, too, with all of that practice!) sing without the CD more and more. You can also dance or play instruments with your children if it takes you a long time to get used to singing.

If your child is interested in piano or violin lessons, seek out a teacher trained in the Suzuki method. Learn with your child. If you are just beginning your musical education, they might catch on faster than you do! That’s perfect! Imagine the confidence boost they’ll get from being better than Mom or Dad. The more you become involved, the more they’ll see that music is something that is important to you, too, no matter how musical you are.

Remember, somewhere you do have a musical bone in your body. It might be out of shape, but it’s there. You may not be a musician, but you are musical. After all, most of us are mathematicians (me, included!), but I don’t know anyone who would admit to being unmathematical… and especially not amathematical(which I’m pretty sure isn’t even a real word, and seems pretty silly, unlike it’s counterpart, amusical). You are not amusical. It’s not about how musical you are, but that you are musical for your child. It could change their relationship with music forever.

I don’t have time for ONE MORE THING…

Are you tired? Busy? Overwhelmed? Overworked?

Unfortunately, this seems to be too many modern parents. To top it all off, there are more and more articles out there telling parents what they should and shouldn’t be doing. Frantic parents are worried about doing what is best for their children. One article says children should be exercising, taking music lessons, be exposed to different languages. So, parents sign their kids up for gymnastics, piano, and french lessons. Then, another article says that children need more time to just play. Oh no! Now what? I feel your anxiety rising. Don’t worry. I’m not going to be another one of those voices to add worry to your day.

However…

I am an advocate for early childhood music education. I am going to tell you to do SOMETHING. Not everyone has time or money for classes and I understand that. If you have those things, great. DO IT! These classes are usually low-key and can be a fun hour one afternoon or morning a week. There is bound to be a class out there that fits your schedule, whether you are a stay-at-home or work-away-from home Mom (or anything in between!). While we teachers love the families that re-enroll for session after session (It makes us feel like we’re doing something right!), we understand that it’s impossible for most families. If you can sign up for a session (usually 8-12 classes weekly over months), please do so… even if you don’t get a chance to do it again. Your child is going to remember those songs and dances and how to play with those instruments and they will practice it at home. You’re almost off the hook! Almost…

Ok, so you can’t sign up for classes or lessons and can’t possibly add another activity to your hectic day because the thought of adding ONE MORE THING paralyzes you with anxiety. That’s ok. Breathe. Chances are, there is some part of your day that is already inherently musical. The last series on routine songs is a perfect example. Don’t change your routine, just make it more musical.

Do you listen to the radio in the car? Great! If you have favorite songs on the iPod, even better! Wait for it… now, TURN IT OFF… and keep singing. Children love repetition. Sing the song again, but without the radio. Why? Because now that music is not something you and your children are passively consuming, it is something you are actively doing. Every time your child shouts “again!” Take the time to show them that music is something you all can do. Don’t know all the words? That’s ok, make up the words. Only know the tune? Super! Sing it on a syllable like “ba” or “doo.” Singing with vocables (those “nonsense” syllables) allows your children to learn the music without learning words. If they are young and not yet vocal, this will allow them to sing without the words hindering them. You, yes you, are now engaging your child’s inherent musicality.

Have you experienced the joy that is the toddler dance party? Awesome! Now, the next time you blast music and all get your wiggles out to a preschooler rave, make sure you are really dancing. Wait, what? That means moving your whole body to the music, not just your feet or legs, or just your arms. Watch your child, they are probably moving their torso more than any other part of their body. Follow their lead. Show them continuous movement, not just individual beats being tapped out. The more you rock your abdomen, the more they will internalize the beat. Shake your hips to the beat. It can’t get any more embarrassing than it already is, right?

The key isn’t always fitting more music into the day, but making music intentionally. Your child will be getting more out the the music time that they already have, and you aren’t pressured into adding ONE MORE THING into your day.

Have more ideas to work more musicality into your busy day? Let us know. There’s tons of moms and dads out there that could use your ideas!

How musical is your family?

In today’s post, I’m going to give you a tool to determine how musical your family is. I teach early childhood music classes at my church and we use a great curriculum called Making Music Praying Twice. The authors of the curriculum have come up with a great tool to help you objectively measure how musical you are at home, with this evaluation, from their blog.

CHOOSE ALL THAT APPLY, INCLUDING AT LEAST ONE BEST ANSWER FOR EACH QUESTION

1.      The children and adults listen to music together
a.       at concerts
b.      throughout the day at home
c.       in the car
d.      if the TV show we’re watching has music. Do commercials count?

2.      My children see Mom
a.       playing instruments and/or singing regularly for myself
b.      singing nursery rhymes and kids’ songs to them
c.       singing along to the radio and TV and at Mass
d.      telling others that she is “tone-deaf.”

3.      My children see Dad
a.       playing instruments and/or singing regularly for myself
b.      singing nursery rhymes and kids songs to them
c.       singing along to the radio and TV and at Mass
d.      telling others that he is “tone-deaf”

4.      My children see me dance
a.       at performances and rehearsals
b.      at several community and family gatherings
c.       around the house frequently
d.      maybe once at my cousin’s wedding

5.      Our current music collection
a.       includes a variety of music from different styles and cultures.
b.      includes special CDs we’ve gotten for the kids.
c.       includes my favorite music from when I was in high school.
d.      is buried in the garage.

6.      Our home has
a.       two or more musical instruments for adult use.
b.      one serious instrument used in the home.
c.       kiddy instruments for the kids to use.
d.      I think that Elmo toy came with a maraca.

7.      Written music
a.       is represented in my child’s décor, toys and books.
b.      is used frequently in our home.
c.       is around for the older kids’ music lessons.
d.      is available at our local library.

8.      Are we composers?
a.       Yes, at least one adult in our home writes vocal or instrumental music.
b.      We make up silly little songs all the time.
c.       We change around the words to songs to make them funny or meaningful. (“Kelly has a big sheepdog” instead of “Mary had a little lamb”)
d.      No.

SCORING

3 points for every a.
2 points for every b.
1 point for every c.
0 points for every d

Interpreting the Results

0 – 7 This is good time to really work on your home environment. Make sure to try to add fun music time to your day. Remember, you need to have fun and love music if you want it for your children.Don’t let your own fears and insecurities stop you. It is better for your child to see you try imperfectly, than to wait any longer to have music as a part of his life. The Homeschool Edition provides further guidance and can help you to make improvements in your musical home-life right away.

8 – 20 You have the skills to create a musical environment for your child, but you can do more. Use this as an opportunity to be more conscious of the musical choices you make at home and try to fill your child’s daily schedule with more opportunities for music. Be especially aware of suggestions in the Homeschool Edition Manual that help you to add music to mealtime, bath time, bedtime, etc.Also, you may need enhance your music equipment and CD collection. CD recommendations are provided in the manual.

21 – 35 You are doing great. Now you need to integrate the specific skills and content we present in this program to help your children. The Homeschool Edition Manual with guide you in creating Unstructured Education Plans for your child which specifically deal with the issue of environment.In your plan, take your current musical environment and try to add one or two elements to it so you could retest and gain at least 2 points.

36 – 48 You have a naturally strong musical home. Your child is likely already progressing well in music development simply by being in this environment. Try to integrate the Making Music Praying Twice curriculum into your family’s musical life, and add a structured music time to your week. You have the ability to use the curriculum in a rich and meaningful way for your child.

If you found yourself in one of the first two groups, don’t worry. Maybe your life is really hectic, or maybe you are unsure of your musical skills. Maybe you’re just not sure what kind of music is children’s music, (because, what does that even mean?) or maybe even think you hate children’s music. If this sounds like you, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t musical, but just that it will take a little nudge to take music from something that your family passively absorbs into something that you actively experience together.

Notice that I didn’t use the word perform. Really, you are doing that, every time to make music or move to music, but let’s put that word out of our minds. Few of us identify ourselves as music performers. We can be music-makers though. No matter your level of experience or level of comfort, you can find music that is meaningful, fun, and that you can share with your family.

For the next few posts, we’re going to look at different reasons your home environment may not be as musical as you would like, and we will find way to take the music that you enjoy and turn it into a fun, significant, and instructive experiences for our littlest music makers.

Comments: How did you do on the evaluation? Which reason or reasons are keeping you from being more musical at home?

Routines, traditions, and being a musical family…

Wrapping up Routine Songs Focus… 

After a week of blogging, I’m reaching out to anyone who read my blog to comment on how they used the songs and activities that were covered. Please let me know if you have anything to add to the discussion. As parents, we learn so much from each other and talking through our struggles together. Even though I teach music and think about music education constantly, there are definitely times when I struggle to make music a meaningful part of my interactions with my children. Please comment on any of the following:

  • Which songs were most useful to you?
  • Which songs did your children enjoy?
  • In what ways did adding some music to your routine change the dynamic of that particular moment?
  • Was it a struggle to add more music to your routine?
  • Does it feel natural to you to sing and play musical games with your family?
  • Growing up, do you remember certain songs or musical activities that were a part of everyday life or part of yearly celebrations?
  • How much does your musical life with your children mirror your musical life growing up?
  • Are there musical family traditions that you carry on?

There are so many different ways that we interact with music, and each family has its own dynamic and its own traditions. Think about what makes your family unique. Try to carry on those traditions and pass on those happy memories to your children. Those types of memories that are shared from one generation to the next are powerful and beautiful. They help form our musical selves.

Music has the power to instruct, inspire, share experience. In whichever way you want to share this with your little ones is something valuable that you give them. Check out this commercial from Apple from this past holiday season. It’s a tear-jerker because everyone can relate to the bond between the grandmother and granddaughter that was forged through song. That song is a shared experience. The grandmother gave her granddaughter the song, but what she didn’t expect was getting it back. That is the beauty of a musical gift; it’s so easy to give back. (Sans all of the technology, in the case of our young children.)

My next post will cover what it means to be a musical family and how to alleviate the stress of thinking “are we not musical enough?” or “what does it mean to be musical?”