If we consider the origins of recorded history, we don’t have to look far to see the importance that rhythm has played in social life. As humans, we are oriented towards rhythm; the first familiar rhythm is the beating of our mother’s heart which serves as a point of reference and a comfort to the newborn.
In the young child we see rhythm emerge as clapping, moving, head shaking, bouncing – any motor response to the rhythm is a step on the journey to rhythmic proficiency. Parents are their child’s most important music teacher because their attitudes and actions profoundly influence how a child approaches music.
Here are three ways to support the development of basic rhythm competence at home:
- Share music you love with your child; there is no evidence that suggests one type of music is superior than another when it comes to supporting your child’s music development. The most important thing when sharing music with your child is that you love it. Observe your child for signs that they also enjoy the music and adjust according to your observations.
- Move your own body when you sing or hear music. Tap your child on the back in rhythm to the music as a way to isolate the beat. Listen for the micro-beat and isolate that with your movement. Look for ways that your child expresses their sense of rhythm and when you see it, say things like: “You are dancing to the micro-beat!” or “Can you hear the rhythm of the drum?” or “I love listening to music with you.” or just make eye contact and smile.
- Create opportunities for spontaneous music expression by having materials that make sounds in your child’s home environment. These can be simple objects you could pick up at the thrift store, like a stainless steel colander and a wooden spoon. If you want to get a little more invested you might put a half dozen plastic egg shakers in a basket for exploration, or pick up a basket of real rhythm instruments like these. When introducing new instruments, be sure you know the real name of each one so you may share it with your child.
Older children can make their own rhythm sticks with some adult help by sawing a 5/8 “ dowel (48”) into lengths of 8” which makes about three pairs. This is a perfect opportunity for your young child to do some big carpentry work – by providing a small sanding block, safety glasses and a space to make sawdust they can sand the rough edges. The sticks can then be ‘sealed’ by layering coats of watercolor – about three. For more information check out this tutorial.
The thing to keep in mind is that nothing fancy is needed to support your child’s rhythmic development. The most important first step is simply sharing music you love and you want to sing or play. Here’s to making music together!
Mercedes Paine Castle is an Assistant to Infancy and Pedagogical Director at Portland Montessori Collaborative (pdxMC). She has been guiding infants and toddlers towards independence since 2003.