WORDS: Julia Rennick, Early Childhood Music & Movement Teacher, NMTMP Mentor
The first 3 years of life are a time of tremendous growth, development and change. These changes aren’t just cognitive and physical, but social and emotional as well.
Very young children are fascinated by music and sounds. Musical activities contribute to children’s total development and they grow musically when they’re allowed to take risks and not feel pressured to perform.
Birth – 9 months
From birth to 9 months, babies listen attentively to musical sounds; they’re calmed by familiar human voices. Vocalisation begins as he or she imitates what they hear. Reading to your baby before bed and/or singing them a lullaby enhances the connection between parents and child. Rocking your baby whilst singing to them deepens the bond and connection and helps them relax, gives a sense of security, comfort, all of which researchers believe leads to better sleeping and feeding.
Lullabies exist in most cultures and have been sung for hundreds of years. Any song or piece of music that is repetitive, simple and soothing can be sung. Some parents have told me that they’ve chosen an upbeat piece of music that they liked and slowed right down to use instead of a traditional lullaby. I liked to sing the Skye Boat Song when our children were little; whatever works for you is fine – just give it a try if you haven’t already. Maybe you can recall a song that was sung to you when you were very young? Remember: babies and toddlers will not judge your singing voices!
From 9 months – 2 years
From 9 months to 2 years toddlers respond to music with clear repetitive movements. They are interested in every kind of sound and may begin to approximate pitches. They are mostly attracted to music that is strongly rhythmic.
Babies and toddlers need to experience many opportunities to play with music and sounds freely and also in more structured ways. Don’t expect polished or accurate musical responses as outcomes. Understanding this means that we can make music play and activities an important and enjoyable part of toddlers’ learning and discovery.
Children can be introduced to simple music experiences through songs, finger plays, knee bouncing, games, movement, folk dances and sound exploration, for example simple percussion instruments. Young children love and need lots of repetition, so sing songs they know then add something new.
Lay out some instruments for them to explore – if you don’t have any, perhaps borrow from a local toy library – or use pots and pans from the kitchen with wooden spoons. Make shakers (maracas) by filling small sealable boxes with pasta, rice, rocks, bells, the only limit is your imagination!
Babies are sensitive to loud/soft sounds – (dynamics.) They can be startled by loud noises and comforted by soft rhythmic sounds as I mentioned earlier in regards to lullabies. Their whole body responds when music is played, for example a sitting baby will bounce to music and when they can stand they may sway and rock from side to side or bend their knees and bounce up and down.
Toddlers are sensory-motor learners. They carry, cart, fill, tip, make a mess, climb, and wander around observing objects and people. They use large muscle activities extensively, dislike waiting for turns, and enjoy individual rather than group play activities. Toddlers learn with their whole bodies –that is, by doing rather than listening. They’ll move in response to how fast or slow (tempo) the music or instrument is playing. They can dance (if they choose to!) and have more control over their physical responses. Repetition, rhyme, finger plays and simple action songs are best for this age group.
At this stage of development toddlers may begin to distinguish between sounds and will respond enthusiastically, or not, to certain songs. Never forget that big feelings and tantrums are prevalent at this stage -it’s all about them!
Forget what anyone has ever told you about your musical ability … your child won’t be judging your rhythm or whether you’re in tune. It’s your voice and play-based activities that will capture their interest.
For further reading in this age group and beyond– the theorists Vygotsky and Piaget will give more insight into child development across all areas.
About the Author
Julia taught early childhood music at Gunnedah Regional Conservatorium for over 25 years and was a peripatetic music teacher in local and outlying schools and preschools. She has been a Mentor with Richard Gill’s NMTMP since 2016 and has worked with babies to 80-year olds. Julia is passionate about music education, and believes it can begin at any age. For young children particularly, this ensures developmental benefits for them not only in the arts but in other areas of their learning too. She was honoured to reach the final 4 in the 2019 ARIA Music Teacher Award.