Most parents will discover that music and toddlers is a good combination. It is evident that all children respond to music at a very young age. Most parents will invest some money into providing their children with music in some way during their first 5 years. Although many of them have no idea that they are also providing their child with an avenue to improve their development.
Allowing your toddler to experiment with music and age appropriate musical instruments can foster an appreciation for music and a desire to play a musical instrument as they get older. More importantly, providing opportunities to explore music and musical instruments provides your child with experiences that assists your toddler’s perceptual development, which is the second level of sensory development. In today’s post I would like to discuss how providing your toddler with musical experiences allows them to not only understand the basic elements of music but also foster perceptual development. The following ideas will be discussed:
- What is Perceptual Development?
- Perceptual Development and music
- What are the basic elements of music that can be learned by toddlers?
- Sample activities that can be employed to allow your toddler to experiment with these basic elements of music.
- How these activities are connected to your toddlers perceptual development.
What is Perceptual Development?
Perceptual development refers to the ability to receive, interpret, and respond to sensory information. Sensory information is information received be their senses, such as the sense of hearing and sense of sight.
- Child hears a sound (Receives information)
- Child makes a decision about the sound (Interprets)
- Child responds to the sound (Responds)
Music and Toddlers: perceptual Development and Music
Each musical instrument has a unique sound structure that can stimulate a child’s brain. The variety of sounds created when experimenting with musical instruments can help your toddler make sense of some of the basic elements of music with little effort. It is natural for small children to want to explore and understand what they are hearing and doing. This is directly related to their perceptual development. Providing these opportunities allow a child to meet important milestones of their overall development while also gaining a basic understanding of the elements involved in music.
What Are The Basic Elements of Music That Can be learned By Toddlers?
You may now be asking yourself how? How does musical activities relate to your toddler’s development and what does that have to do with the basic elements of music. Well let’s take a closer look at the basic elements of music. For the purpose of today’s discussion we will only look at the elements which can be learned and explored by a toddler or young child. Elements such as harmony and texture have been omitted.
Rhythm – Element of time within music. Tempo (speed), Note duration, and meter are a few of the important aspects of this element. Toddlers can explore all of these areas without knowing it or needing any prior knowledge.
Melody – The organization of pitches in music. Toddlers can become aware of high and low pitches.
Dynamics – Refers to loudness and quietness of the music. Within this category toddlers can certainly distinguish between loud sounds and soft sounds, as well as, notice when something gradually gets louder or softer. These are known as crescendos and decrescendos.
Sample Activities That Teach the Basic Elements of Music and Foster Perceptual Development
Provided below are activities that I have used in the classroom and at home with my child. These activities are extremely easy and can be facilitated by any individual. A background in music is not necessary for these activities, although, if the facilitator does have a musical background they may choose to further build on these activities.
For each activity I have provided step by step instructions along with the materials required. I have also indicated at the end of each activity how it relates to perceptual develop using the same format as the example given above.
There are many activities that relate to rhythm. These activities may or may not require simple percussion instruments such as shakers. However, instruments are not absolutely necessary. Any item that can be shook or hit will do. If pots and pans are all you have then break them out and have some fun. Here is one example of an activity that can be employed to teach a child about rhythm.
Keep the Beat in Your Feet
This activity is a favorite of mine. It is very easy and gets the child moving. It also requires them to alternate their feet. All you need is some music or anything that keeps a beat.
- Start by demonstrating the beat. This means the facilitator or parent needs to do it too. You may choose to move around or stand in one spot. I suggest keeping the beat by alternating feet right away. Once the child has a general idea of what you are doing, chances are they will join in too.
- Once they have established the beat you can walk around the room, keeping the beat as you go.
- When it is evident that the child understands or at least has a sense of what you are doing, you can change the song or beat to something that is faster or slower. If you choose a piece of music that has a different tempo (faster or slower) you can ask your child simple questions such as:
- Which song was faster?
- Which song was slower?
- What happened when the music got faster or slower? What changed?
Extension: You may decide to incorporate some percussion instruments. Instead of keeping the beat in their feet they would hit or shake a percussion instrument (Or the pots and pans). Buckets make fabulous instruments when turned upside down.
Relation to Perceptual Development
- Receiving – In this example the child is receiving information by listening to the music or beat provided.
- Interpret – The child interprets the sound by determining what the beat is.
- Responds – The child responds by demonstrating the beat with their feet or percussion instrument.
When discovering melody it is beneficial to have access to an instrument that is capable of producing at least one octave. A child’s toy xylophone, like the one pictured above, or keyboard is perfect for the activity I am about to discuss.
The high and low game
I have played this game with my students many times. The basic idea of the game is to distinguish between high and low notes. If you have several children playing you can also treat it as an elimination game, after they have clearly grasped the concept. Another great game for a family gathering or birthday party.
- Choose the notes you will use. You will want to choose one high note and one low note. Do not deviate from the chosen note’s in the beginning.
- Assign a part of the body that represent the pitch. I usually choose the head for the high pitch and the feet for the low pitch. But you could also the child to pick the parts of the body.
- Whenever you play the high note the child with touch their head and when you play the low note the child will touch their feet.
- Only after they have mastered this concept can you decide if you would like to make it an elimination game. If a child touches their feet when they are suppose to touch their head and vice versa, then they are out. Of course if other children are not present you could make it a speed game which will certainly make it fun for the both of you.
Extension: In the classroom I often allow the children to play the notes. I use Orff instruments so I can remove all the notes except for the ones I am using, but stickers on the appropriate notes will work too. I currently have Sesame Street characters stuck to my piano keys.
Relation to Perceptual development
- Receiving – The child receives information by hearing the notes being played.
- Interprets – The child decided if the note is high or low
- Responds – The responds by touching the appropriate part of the body
Learning about dynamics can help children in many different situations. During activities that relate to dynamics children will learn about loud and soft sounds. They can also help children distinguish between their indoor and outdoor voices. A concept that is used when they first start school.
Musical Hide and Seek
A neat little game to play with small children that emphasizes dynamics. I have played this game with all of my students in elementary when learning about dynamics. It is another easy game that can be played by toddlers.
- Any drum or object that allows the child to play louder and softer. A bucket(like the one in the picture), pot, or even a table will work fine.
- An object to hide (Any sort of toy will do)
- You will need a few people to join in. At least 3 participants are required. Could be a great activity for a birthday party or family gathering.
How to play the game:
- Choose one person to leave the room. They will be the seeker.
- Another person hides the object chosen. Everyone in the room should know where the object is (Except for the seeker).
- Invite the seeker to come back into the room to find the object.
- The rest of the group will indicate that the seeker is getting closer to or farther away from the hidden object by playing louder or softer. The closer they get the louder the group will play and the farther they get the softer the group will play.
- The game is over when the seeker has found the object.
Extension: You could eliminate the instruments and have the child use their voice. This would help the child understand the difference between a really loud voice (shouting) and a really soft voice (whispering).
Relation to Perceptual Development
- Receiving – The child receives information by watching the seeker look for the object
- Interprets – The child decides if the seeker is close to or far away from the object.
- Responds – The child responds by playing the appropriate volume to tell the seeker if they are close to the object.
Music and Toddlers: A path to discovery
As you can see from the samples above discovering the basic elements of music can become an enjoyable activity for the whole family. As a parent I find it extremely exciting to see my child’s response when they have completed the activity. They don’t even realize that not only have they learned about the basic elements of music but they have also improved their perceptual skills using their sense of hearing and sight.
Of course perceptual development is only one area that is improved through musical activities. These activities can also contribute to their motor development and emotional development. The possibilities are endless. With a little creativity, parents can provide their children with an abundance of musical experiences.
If you have any questions about the activities discussed above please feel free to leave a comment below. I would also love to hear about other activities that can be added to this list. I hope I have inspired you to begin attempting musical activities with your child. Watching the master new skills is an extraordinary experience for parents and children.
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