Making music together with children offers many benefits for everyone. In the first post of this mini series on music in early childhood, I explained many of these benefits to brain development, social skills, emotional self-control, language development, and strengthening the child-caregiver bond. You can read that post here, which also includes links to some other posts I’ve written on music for early learners with more information and inspiration you might find helpful.
As a licensed Early Childhood Educator and experienced Preschool Teacher, I was lucky to enter into this whole parenting thing with an ample collection of materials to support early childhood experiences. One of these such collections is my Music and Movement Discovery Box. I’d like to share with you what’s inside, and how I use it to encourage positive experiences of learning and growth with babies, toddlers and young children.
I have collected a variety of instruments and movement accessories over the years. Some I have made in Early Childhood Care and Education courses and workshops, and others I have been given or purchased for small amounts of money. In addition to these materials, I will often use my ukulele or guitar to support this activity, playing and singing a song while the children can have the freedom to join in and experiment with different instruments of music and movement. Playing one of these instruments isn’t essential, however, so use what you’ve got and sing or put on a CD with some interesting melodies and sounds.
I made 12 small shakers from clear plastic vials (empty containers of small, used up glitter paints). I used a variety of different materials in the shakers to make different sounds and offer interesting visuals to discover. Choosing clear containers was essential to my desire to have the children be able to explore what was inside the shakers, making the sounds, but you don’t necessarily need to use transparent containers to make motivating shakers. I used duct tape to secure the lids on, then added small black ties around and glued some small confetti stars to the tops (which have since been picked off). You might notice that in all of the instruments I made in a particular course at Capilano University, I tried to include a theme of stars and outer space.
There are also a variety of other shakers that I’ve made or collected. Small rattles and maracas can often be found in toy stores and dollar stores for reasonably low prices, but it’s also very easy to make shakers out of so many different things found around your home. This button shaker I made using an empty plastic water bottle and a variety of buttons from my massive button collection. What do you have kicking around your house you could use? Rice? Lentils? Beads? Buttons? Pebbles? Shells?
The drum and drumsticks
The original drum I made was somewhat larger than pictured above, and was created using a large, thick balloon stretched over one end and secured with duct tape. It turned out very neat, but didn’t last too long, puncturing and breaking from use. I have since moved to using the above pictured “drum” – an upside-down coffee can decorated with black ribbon and small star buttons sewn on to support my theme. To make the drumsticks I purchased some dowelling from a hardware store, cut it to length, painted them black, and attached some small pieces of material with some light stuffing to the ends that would be drumming.
Along with this drum and sticks, I usually bring along some other “real” drums from my home collection as well. It’s pretty amazing to see the natural rhythm that emerges from the little one’s bodies as they take turns beating on the drums.
The copper chimes
To make these chimes, I purchased some copper pipe from a hardware store, then had my hubby saw it to 3 different lengths, and drill holes in one end of each piece. I used fishing line (with a star button threaded on) to attach each copper chime to a handle piece I upcycled from a random piece that was lying around (I save all kinds of things hoping to find a use for them). After securing the chimes, I wound and glued some twine all over the handle piece.
I specifically chose copper because of the beautiful sound it makes, and by cutting the pipe into three different lengths, 3 different tones are created when each chime is hit with the wooden end of the drumsticks (without the padding). This is definitely one of the more finicky instruments, and often requires some assistance to make sure that it isn’t swung around to knock oneself or others in the face.
In the photo above, you can also see a band of bells which also make a beautiful ringing sound. I picked these up at a Ten Thousand Villages store, and they can be held or worn on a wrist or an ankle. Very easy to use, and quite motivating for a lot of children.
There is also a kazoo shown, which I use less in a group setting, as it spreads germs if not washed in between each person’s use. It’s another easy-to-use instrument, though, and is another very motivating sound maker. I like to use this as a way to teach children how to blow their breath out, as a sound can only be achieved when this happens.
I made this rainstick using a packing tube. I cut some wire similar to chicken wire (but with smaller holes) into a long strip (longer than the tube) which would fit into the diameter of the tube, and folded it accordion-style before inserting it. Both ends were sealed up with clear plastic pieces from my recycling, and secured on with duct tape and a glue gun (one end left open until the following step was complete). I then poured inside some rice, sequins, and beads. When the rainstick is turned upside down, the wire inside helps to slow the descent of the materials as they hit the wire before continuing their fall, creating a sound similar to rain falling.
To decorate the rainstick I sewed a few star buttons onto black ribbon (the same as on the drum), which was wound and glued around the tube, with some circular bands made with glitter tape from a scrapbook store.
The scarf box
Movement is very important in early childhood, as it is very much linked to developing a brain that is capable of learning. To encourage movement and dance, which can be highly enjoyable group activity while it strengthens the relationship to music and rhythm while developing gross motor skills, I made some scarves to be used. I bought a large piece of thin, light material from a fabric store, then cut it into 12 pieces of the same size. I chose this material because I wanted something that would softly float down when thrown (a favourite activity is throwing all the scarves up in the air and having them fall down like rain), and flow gently as the movements were made. As an added bonus, it was not necessary to do any sewing to the edges of each scarf using this fabric, so I could leave the edges raw.
The box I purchased from a dollar store, a plain black thick cardboard box, perhaps slightly larger than a shoebox. I cut a circular hole out of the box top, where the scarves could easily be pulled out, and finished the hole by sticking a band of yellow duct tape half on the inside of the hole, and cutting out some flame-like shapes to the other side of the duct tape before sticking it down to the outside of the box. This hole was supposed to represent the sun (in keeping with my outer space theme). I then painted a representation of the solar system on the box.
There is something very intriguing about boxes for children, and this box is always a hit with the little ones who encounter it. Pulling out each scarf from the hole is quite motivating, and collecting the scarves into the box and putting the lid on and off can be an entertaining activity as well.
When dancing with children, you can give everyone a scarf and model different ways of moving to the music using the scarf as a focus, and invite the children to imitate your movements. Can they wave their scarf up high? Down low? To the side? Can they throw it up in the air and catch it as it falls down? Can they make circles? Waves? What unique movements can they make up?
The ribbon skirts
I know when I put on a skirt that flows easily, I get a strong urge to wiggle my hips and see the material dance around me. This urge can also be seen in children, and can be provoked by offering skirts like these to wear while moving to music. I was given these skirts by a colleague of mine, and I love the beautiful simplicity of their design. Simply made by sewing some strips of different fabrics to a thick elastic band, these skirts have been well-loved accessories to the music-box dance parties I’ve hosted over the years. (They also make beautiful hair or headbands when put on like hats.)
The streamer band
Another very simple tool to inspire movement to music is this streamer band made from plastic florescent tape (I’m not sure the name for this material, but it’s similar to construction tape and is not actually sticky, like the word “tape” suggests). Easy to make, different coloured ribbons of this tape are tied onto a mason jar ring (or anything easy to hold, really). That’s it.
The song cards
To facilitate the choosing and singing of songs, I use these DIY song cards. Each card has a visual for a popular or favourite children’s song, with the lyrics and actions on the back. If you are interested in making some for yourself, or finding out more about how I use these, read this post which explains it all and includes free print outs for these cards.
Other resource materials
There is a back pocket on my music and movement discovery box where I like to keep printouts instructions for different songs and music activities. It’s always served me well to have a plethora of songs and ideas to facilitate making music together with children. I also keep a copy of a CD that I created, on which I’ve compiled a bunch of different songs that offer a variety of sounds, tempos, rhythms and genres. While traditional children’s music can be a great choice for early learners, I feel it’s important to incorporate more varieties, so this specific CD does not include these kids songs, and instead offers a child-friendly (no swearing or mature concepts) selection by a wide range of performers and bands I enjoy.
How do you encourage children to get in on the benefits of music? Do you have a collection like this, or a specific game or instrument that you find very motivating? Please share with us! Comment below, or post to The Big To-Do List Facebook page. Stay tuned next week for an interactive early learning song that you can try with your own little one.