Updated: Nov 6, 2020
Imagine the scenario:
"It's music time!"
"No!" And off storms your child.
And it's ended before it ever began. No matter how many times I think, "If I just show enough enthusiasm, my kids will comply!".... it just never seems to work out that way.
So over the years, I have gotten more creative on how to get my kids to have music time, without them realizing they are learning anything:)
In this post, I will show you how I was able to guide my kids into a long, wonderful music session that ended with my 6-year-old improvising his own song, including lyrics, and quality rhythms.
A Walkthrough Of One Musical Morning With My Kids
This particular morning started with my filming of how to turn the classic book Brown Bear, Brown Bear into a groovy song. I recommend checking out that post here. My one-year-old (Beau) is always up for storytime so it's pretty easy to start there. After about 10 minutes of listening to us, my 6-year-old (Hux) naturally wanted "his turn!". The fear of being left out is quite strong in little ones which can be helpful during these moments.
After another 10 minutes, they got bored with the book and picked a new, more challenging book. Check out this video of us building off of the alternating beat rhythm we used in Brown Bear by adding syncopations, etc. (you can learn more about these rhythms in the Musical Child course I am building.) Also, Huxley wanted to hold the book himself and turn the page. This might sound simple but it does a few amazing things:
Gives more empowerment to the child to own their own musical experience.
Both Hux AND I have to learn the skill of working together on the timing of the page. I have to sing in a way that prompts him and he has to listen and associate turning the page with the anticipation I create.
ADULT CHALLENGE! Can you get your kid to turn the page of the book without telling them to?
After some time doing this, they decided to forget the books! They had the song pretty integrated at this point and just wanted to get up and dance and sing the rhythm. This evolved pretty quickly into Huxley wanting to improv off the Little Blue Truck song. I did nothing but offer support to keep the energy up during all of this exploration. My way of supporting was largely about staying consistent with the rhythm. Here is the start of Huxley's improvisation.
As Huxley was starting to dominate music time, I felt the need to direct Beau to his own challenging experience and away from the camera. Also, notice how Huxley wanted me to dance. Sometimes this makes for a great dynamic but sometimes it can turn into the kids making me perform for them while they do nothing. So in order to help Beau stay motivated on the drums and for Hux to stay in improvisation mode, I gave myself an assignment: The Rhythm Section. By giving myself an assignment I can avoid a controlling/pressuring scenario like, "Hux, I want you to make up a song while I drum".
Lastly, at 50 seconds, I realized Beau had for sure ditched the drum so I decided to grab it for two reasons:
It offers more entertainment for myself. I think having stimulation for the adult is important too.
Starting from a calm knee slap to energetic drumming is a really simple way to keep the session going and often influences Huxley's improv choices. The altered sound creates a different feeling in his body and the song sometimes shifts as a result.
After some of this, I decided to evolve the session more. This time adding the challenge of speed. Also, you will notice I'm singing. This allows the kid to focus on listening and moving to what they hear. As I am singing, I just stick mostly to my alternating beat and try to sing what I am observing. For me, singing about what I see is easier than being given a topic and trying to come up with something. It seems easier for the kids as well.
And doing this creates a really cool interaction between me and the kids, offers a challenge for me, and teaches improvisation elements to the kids through example. By just doing it myself, even when I struggle, Hux and Beau see that they can create music out of anything. At around 1 minute, a little snafu happened...
I made the mistake of letting Huxley dance with legos in his mouth. This obviously encouraged my 1-year-old to the same. Then, I made another mistake of letting the music session pressure me to rush to get the lego out of his mouth. If I was in RIE mode, I would have stopped in the beginning, knelt down, and slowly explained what I was about to do to Beau or hell, be present enough to avoid the whole thing but well, no one's perfect. So by the time I realized Beau was really upset around 1:20 I was able to switch into my RIE mode: acknowledging his feelings and apologizing.
Lastly, I thought music time was over at Huxley's exit but alas he came back! It was his turn to improv. He wanted to sing what he observed too. Now that words are involved, I decided to offer my support by singing verbal cues and questions, especially when I felt like he was losing steam. If it seems like he's "in the zone" I try to back off my presence.
And then, like all wonderful music sessions with kids, it fizzled out. So let's recap this 1 hr session:
Reading and then singing Brown Bear with the 1-year-old and no involvement from the 6-year-old.
6-year-old willfully joining in. Musical elements like the count off are added to the session.
The kids choose the same concepts but applied to a more challenging book.
The song was repeated so much, it became memorized. Kids felt the desire to get up and move and with mom adding a consistent rhythm, the session turned to rhythmical improvisation.
After some small alterations to the session, mom took over by improvising a song based on her observations. Kids listened and danced.
6-year-old then felt inspired to create his own song.
Now, keep in mind we have been doing this for a long time. Huxley has already had exposure to all of these individual musical elements so I just had to feel out every moment and either occasionally guide things or follow the kids' lead. If you would like to dive deeper into these musical elements and how I approach things, I am making a course all about this. Sign up to my newsletter on my homepage and be notified when I release it!