Adding a little song and dance at home is easier than you think and has positive side benefits, too. Engaging your children in regular music activities can help them become more focused, happier, kinder, and emotionally secure. Studies abound on the benefits of engaging in music, and it’s easy to incorporate music into your day-to-day life. An easy way to get started? Listening, active listening, experimenting and improvising, then rehearsing and progressing.
Listening to music can energize as well as relax you and your kids. Playing music in the background when you are going about your day is a great place to start. Your children may have questions or preferences of genres of music and together, you can look into what you each enjoy listening to. In addition, talking about musical preferences builds self-esteem and connection. Start young and keep an open mind.
Active listening means noticing and interacting with music. For some, this means quietly listening and focusing. Children usually need to engage their bodies in active listening. Start by playing music that you like and find the beat! Share a favorite album or hit song from your teenage years, for example, and start clapping or tapping along - your children will love this! At home, my family likes to put on a song and then clap to the beat while grooving in circles around the kitchen island. This sounds ridiculous, but it is so much fun! Active listening and dancing, even a few times a week, releases endorphins, calms breathing, improves focus, and helps to create bonds.
Children are naturals when it comes to experimenting and improvising. Try experimenting with a call-and- response format. Ask a child a question and add percussion to every syllable - bang an object or clap - then have your child answer back with percussion. Eventually, take the words away and ‘call and respond’ with rhythms only. Another easy way to improvise is to challenge your kids to see if they can make 100 different sounds with only their hands and surfaces in a room. Experimenting and playing with rhythms prepares children for more formal practice while developing confidence and pattern awareness.
Vocal experimentation might include howling (to get your family dog going), imitating noises in nature, making sound effects to go along with a story you are reading, or adding a tune and a bop to narrate normal life. Making up and singing simple phrases can help defuse heavy feelings. When my son was balking about doing his schoolwork, I asked if he was feeling mad or frustrated using the tune from SexyBack by Justin Timberlake. “Now are you feeling mad? I think you’re frustrated and feeling mad.” My son laughed, and we were able to talk about it. Give it a try. If your kids think you’ve lost your mind, hey it’s during COVID; aren’t we all losing our minds a little?
For those ready to take a deeper dive into music at home, the next step is to commit to learning repertoire or learning how to play an instrument. Practicing a song until you and your children can perform it from beginning to end is a rewarding shared activity (that you can show off during your next family Zoom meeting!). Signing up for online music lessons can also be successful. Practicing and polishing music is a fantastic way to foster a sense of purpose, accomplishment, and self-expression.
There is a proliferation of resources available online for participating in musical communities - from watching online concerts and programming to joining virtual sing- a-longs. Browse around online and find one or a few sites that match your preference.
However you choose to engage in music at home with your children, keep it fun and low pressure. Music will always be a treasured part of the human experience so whatever you try, it is sure to bring joy and create lifelong memories for you and your children.
Megan is the Director of Education with Youth Singers of Calgary, youthsingers.org. She taught as a music specialist with the Calgary Board of Education for 10 years.
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