How do you learn best? For children as well as adults, it’s easier to learn new things when they relate directly to something in our lives. For example, how much did you know about raising children before you had your own? Chances are you’ve learned quite a lot since becoming a parent! We tend to be great learners when what we’re learning is meaningful to us.
In educational jargon, we call this concept meaningful context. It’s one of the basic strategies teachers use to motivate students to learn. Try to remember a teacher you loved who made the subject matter “come alive.” That teacher probably did something to make the topic meaningful to you, knowing that if you found a personal connection to the material you would be naturally inclined to learn more about it.
The same idea applies to learning music. Young children don’t start out familiar enough with music to be able to find special meaning in the melody, harmony or meter used in a song. But if you sing a song about children’s best friends, favorite animals, or special events in their lives, they will quickly “tune in” to the music and want more! Each time you repeat a song about something they like – for example, a little dog – they will hear the notes and rhythms in the song, and through repetition will effortlessly learn those musical sounds. Listen here to a song from The Music Class® (TMC) called “Littlest Dog” for an example of this song from the Rhythm & Notes® program.
Using movement activities with music has the advantage of not only applying the meaningful context concept (we love to jump, twirl, and wiggle!), but it also capitalizes on movement as a way to learn. Physical movement relates to the rhythmic feeling in music, and we retain information better when it is accompanied by movement. You can listen here to a TMC song called “I Can March” for an example that is part of the Rhythm & Notes® program.
Even better than leading a verse about something you think your child will enjoy is to ask your child for his or her own idea. For example, when singing the “Littlest Dog” song, ask “What other animal can we sing about?” If you’re doing a song with activities like “I Can March,” ask “How else can we move?” Asking your child for suggestions not only encourages creative thinking, but provides a deeply personal connection to the music, which is empowering and fun!
Of course, singing verses you’ve made up is very hard to do when the recorded music is playing and has different words. The simple solution is to turn the recording off! Don’t worry about how good of a singer you are. The recorded music provides a model of musical accuracy for your child. Listening to it some of the time is helpful, but there’s no better musical role model for a young child than hearing her mom or dad sing. When you sing, you’re encouraging your child to sing, and singing is a critical step in music development. Substituting your own ideas in a song requires that you turn the recording off, so listen to the recording to learn the song. Then, once you’re comfortable with it, turn the recording off and sing it a cappella!
Remember to consider the recorded version of a song as a musical starting point. Make the song come to life by adapting it any way that you like! When you do this, your child will naturally have a greater interest in the song because it will relate to him or her. Encourage your child to come up with new lyrics and movements. When you sing those ideas, you’ll see an even greater engagement and excitement with the music.