If you are the sort of toddler group leader who freezes at the thought of leading music time, please be assured that the success of this activity does not depend on your being able to give a skilled, highly polished performance. What is important about music time is the music, lyrics, actions, being together and having fun.
Singing to babies is a natural, almost intuitive, part of caring for them. Throughout history and across cultures parents have sung to calm and soothe or entertain and excite their offspring. Even if they don’t actually sing, adults will often use a quasi-musical voice (incorporating rhythm and/or rhyme) and rhythmical movements to engage with small children.
There’s also some evidence that babies will recognise and respond to the sounds they have heard in the womb – they can be calmed by a tune their mother listened to during the last stages of her pregnancy.
In addition to its power to influence our toddlers’ moods, hold their attention and play a part in emotional bonding, music can be a powerful educational tool. Music time in your toddler group is an opportunity to stimulate the senses of hearing, sight and touch in a slightly more melodic way than other group activities!
Hearing music and singing songs is an important sensory experience for babies and toddlers and will help in the development of the brain, particularly if the children are actively involved rather than just listening.
Musical learning, in general, explores concepts like volume, pitch and tempo. In addition to this, songs – through their lyrics – can provide an easy way to remember facts. There are several songs about the alphabet and numbers; there are also songs which teach the colours of the rainbow, body parts, and even foreign languages. Songs can also be an acceptable way to teach simple biblical truths to people who aren’t familiar with church.
But music time can be much more than simply singing songs. If you are able to incorporate some clapping rhythms, instruments, and a few action songs or dances, then you can develop the children’s co-ordination and also their fine and gross motor skills.
Children learn important social skills when they take part in musical activities together, including: being part of a group, following a routine, working together and taking turns. The time they spend with other children and the attention they receive can boost their confidence and self-esteem, and also their concentration and self-control. They get to hear a range of voices and sounds, and watch other children responding to the music too.
Music time may be the only time during your toddler group session when everyone is gathered together and you have their (almost) undivided attention. This is a golden opportunity to give out notices, to welcome newcomers so that everyone knows their names, to celebrate birthdays, and to build a sense of community.
The music itself can be a great way to promote understanding and inclusivity. If you’re part of a multi-ethnic group, you could invite adults to share songs from their cultures. If they don’t feel comfortable singing, they could do this by bringing along some recorded music, which the children could clap, conduct or play instruments to. The same method could be used to introduce a variety of musical styles to the group. Try including some classical, folk, jazz or pop music to reflect the interests of all the adults present.
Get the kids rocking and rolling, tapping and clapping, banging and shaking, marching and stamping, moving and swaying to the beat – they’ll have a really great time (and the adults will too!).