This blog is part of our “Summer Sparks” series where we will give you tips to inspire a summer of wonder! For more ideas on how to encourage imagination all summer long check out more blogs and toys!
As the lead singer in a kids rock band, a nursery school music specialist and mom to a 2 year old, I am constantly looking for fresh, innovative ways to musically engage with children during my concerts, in the classroom and at home with my daughter.
If you’ve ever seen a baby bopping along to a funky beat, joyously shaking a rattle or lighting up when hearing a familiar melody, you know the power of music is impalpable. All babies are born with natural musical potential so there is no time too early to start rockin’ out!
It’s no coincidence why so many of us increasingly enroll our babies in music classes straight out of the womb. Ok…we need something to do during those sleepless months and want to meet other parents in our communities too. As luck (and science) would have it…the benefits of feeding our kids’ ears and hearts with music are immeasurable. Studies have shown that grooving along to music with our kids releases oxytocin (the “bonding hormone”) and as a child grows and develops, the benefits of music exposure continuously strengthen both language and math skills.
While I was lucky enough to bring all of these awesome instruments to a recent Summer in the Square concert in Union Square, NYC with PJ Library and the 14th Street Y, you don’t need a fancy music class or concert setting to teach your kids the musical basics however. In fact, I often have more fun teaching music to my daughter one on one, sitting in our living room with our colorful xylophone, piano or shaking a tambourine on our front stoop in Brooklyn.
Ok Joanie… that’s easy for you to say, you’re a musician! How does my tone-deaf self teach my child the basics? Good question. I’ve got you! I have some fun activities that will help turn the least musically inclined parents into top notch musical instructors. Disclaimer! You might unleash YOUR hidden musical abilities while schooling your future Rock Star!
Activity: Piano 101
Kids love repetition (I don’t need to explain as you’ve probably sung the ABC’s at least 45 times today) The simple, traditional melodies that we may think of as growingly unbearable is like ear candy to your littles. For one, these melodies are not too complex for their growing brains to handle so they grasp them easily. Lucky for you, you don’t need to rack your childhood brain trying to remember that major fifth jump in Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Melissa & Doug pianos come with a color-coded booklet and color strip that lies along the keys so you practice both colors AND reading the music on the staff. You’ll stay quite busy with familiar offerings: Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Mary Had A Little Lamb, A Tisket, A Tasket, Old MacDonald, Pop Goes the Weasel, The Farmer in the Dell, London Bridge is Falling Down & I’m A Little Tea Pot. And if your kid eats or rips the Song Booklet like mine did, you can download and print it again here. If you know your colors, you’ve GOT this!
Activity: Join the Band
You can use my playlist to jam along with!
In the many different kinds of Melissa & Doug “Band in a Box” is a mixture of percussive instruments such as maracas, castanets, tambourine, hand cymbals, wood blocks, xylophones and more! There is enough variety in each box for the whole neighborhood to join the band.
Step One: Hand out instruments
Step Two: Turn on your favorite playlist (or my summer playlist!)
Step Three: Shake and tap along keeping to the rhythm as best as you can. Discuss tempo (speed of a song) with your child. If a song is in 4/4 (many of my songs are), try counting to 4 over and over again stressing the 2 and 4. Some songs in my playlist are faster and slower than others so explain to your child how the tempo can change from song to song and try to find the new rhythm as the playlist progresses.
Activity: Take A Breath
If you’ve ever watched a child learn how to play the kazoo, it can go from hilarious to a full-on meltdown in a matter of minutes. It is not very intuitive for little one to hum into an instrument but once they get the hang of it, it’s a ton of fun because their voice controls both the volume and the pitch. You don’t need a ton of air to make a powerful sound and these shallow mouth breaths are easy to replace without exhaustion. The buzzing kazoo vibrations are guaranteed to entice giggles and smiles, making it even more fun and challenging to play. Try singing DOO, WHO, RRRRRR or BRRRRR into the kazoo. No musical skills are required. Just hum along to any song. And repeat.
The recorder, while requiring more dexterity in ones fingers, is easy to make a clear, tonal sound without covering any of the sound holes by simply and quietly blowing “TU” into the mouth piece. You don’t need a huge belly breath for this woodwind instrument. It’s not a trumpet! Just making sound come out of this recorder made my daughters entire day but if you want to bump it up to the next level and make this thing sing, I recommend visiting a wonderful website that explains how to hold the recorder, where to place your fingers and how to make a seal over the holes.
The Harmonica is played by inhaling and exhaling into the instrument. It’s always in tune so playing a song is easy. I’m always trying to get my daughter to “take a breath” during frustrating moments so now, if she seems like she’s about to lose it, I’ll take out the ole’ harmonica and ask her to play me a song.
Activity: Rock Concert Dress Up
Let’s face it: kids love pretend play and dress up. The adorable Rock Star costume will take their ROCK STAR fantasies to the next level whilst rocking to your fave tunes. The costume comes with a microphone (YAS!) but if you really want to be silly, you can use the Let’s Play House! Dust! Sweep! Mop! set’s broom to belt out those high notes. Not only would it make for amazing Instagram updates but if you’re lucky, your kid might just clean their room while they’re at it (fingers crossed).