by Nancy Stewart
The older I get, the more passionate I become about the importance of music in our lives. I believe that music is a basic human need, as vital as air, food, and water, and that music is incredibly powerful in its ability to connect us to each other and to ourselves .
Early childhood educators have long known the many benefits music can bring to child development, such as language and movement skills, concepts of high and low, loud and soft, and even colors and numbers. But what I marvel at is how the youngest babies are able to respond to and communicate through music. Most books on the subject will concentrate on how your baby will benefit from sharing music with you, but you will benefit equally from this special communication. You will get to know your baby. You will quickly learn which are his favorite songs as he squeals with delight when you begin to sing one of them. You may be surprised to learn what a wonderful sense of humor your baby has as you sing nonsense rhymes, or pay peek-a-boo. You will hear your child imitate animal sounds, even before learning to speak! You will see how comfortable and safe your child feels when you sing a lullaby. Perhaps most importantly, you will be focused on the here and now, and you will be focused together.
When my children were babies I always sang them a lullaby at night. Years later, when my daughter was about eleven years old, a favorite elderly neighbor of ours died. My daughter asked me to sing her a lullaby. She remembered that being sung to made her feel safe and comforted. I know that throughout her life, she will be able to turn to music for comfort.
My son was a "wild child" even before he was born! As a toddler, there were only two things that could calm him- his favorite blanket, and a quiet song. If I put on a quiet tape, he would immediately find his blanket, and curl up next to the tape player, instantly tuned into and mesmerized by the music.
For nearly eighteen years now, I have been teaching at several daycare centers, singing with infants and toddlers through kindergarten age, one to three times a week. I also give concerts at daycare centers that do not provide regular music time as part of their program. My experience has convinced me that children who have music on a regular basis are more comfortable socially, more advanced in terms of basic vocabulary, motor, and learning skills, and are generally more comfortable in their world.
"Where Do I Begin?"
Begin with songs of your own childhood; The Eensy Weensy Spider, Bingo, Old Macdonalds Farm. Dont worry about how your voice sounds. Your baby will love your voice because it is yours. . (my husband, who by his own admission really cant carry a tune, used to sing songs from the fifties, and my children loved them! )
Visit the library or bookstore, and find some tapes or books that you like and feel comfortable with.
Sing to your baby everyday. Sing while you are changing a diaper, or riding in the car, and especially at bedtime. The more you sing, the more comfortable you will become, and the more you will both benefit.
Babies and children LOVE repetition. You dont need to try to "teach" songs, just sing them! You may think your baby will be bored hearing the same songs over and over again, but those are the songs that make children feel safe and comfortable.
Using Books and Toys
Put several stuffed animals in a pillow case and sing Old Macdonalds Farm. Stick your head in the bag, make a sound and take the animal out. These dont need to be traditional farm animals, whatever you have will do!
Use your baby's rattle and play as you sing. Move the rattle from side to side and watch your baby follow it as you sing.
Use books with pictures of trucks or animals, or other things, and point to the pictures as you sing. Some toddlers will insist on seeing the same pictures every time you sings those songs!
Use a favorite toy and sing Where is Thumbkin, substituting the name of the toy or animal.
Between birth and two
is the most important learning period in a childs life
Make A Music Box
Start a collection of rhythm instruments. These can be homemade or bought. Make "maracas" out of different shapes of container, and fill with different things like beans, rice, popcorn (well-sealed! - empty child-proof medicine containers worked well, and can be decorated with stickers.
Purchase a small tape player which your child can operate as he gets older. . This can go in the car or to Grandmas house!
Make some memories
Record your childs voice from the time he or she is a baby. As your child finds favorite songs, have him or her sing them . Time flies, and all too soon we forget how distinct and wonderful that little voice is!
Make your baby a tape of you singing favorite nighttime and daytime songs. This can be a comfort to your child when you are gone.
Animals, cars and trucks, fingerplays, learning colors and counting, puppets, playing peek-a-boo, lullabies...
The public library : Tapes and books of songs and fingerplays. "Books that sing" are based on familiar childrens songs, like Old Mother Hubbard, or Old MacDonalds Farm. There are many different styles of art in nursery rhymes, from classic to whimsical.
Your childhood memories. Camp songs may be closest to the surface!
Your surroundings: put your childs name in songs you sing, or make up songs about the family, his day, pets, etc. example: personalized verses to The Wheels on the Bus.
For more Information
Your Baby Needs Music, by Barbara Cass-Beggs (this book is unfortunately out of print, but there are several copies in the King County Library System ). This is a GREAT book!