Music games to play at home

Call And Response Games To Play With Your Children

Hello everyone. How are you all doing? I have my two children at home with me and am trying to homeschool them both. My children are 3 and 6. My eldest has lessons set by school (they are mercifully good at telling everyone to only do what they can and that they don’t expect everyone to do all the work set: some days we do it all, some days we barely scrape through 2 classes.) My daughter has activities set by school as she is in preschool 3 days per week. She could be in school given her age. We all got coronavirus over Christmas, with my son getting it at New Year, so we assumed our 3 year old had it too and kept her home. She went to school for 1.5 days after the contagious period was over, and came home with a stomach bug. Then one of her teachers tested positive and the whole year groups had to self-isolate.

This is a rather long winded way to say that life is pretty challenging at the moment, as it is with pretty much everyone, and I am struggling to find any time at all to write on here.

For today I wanted to write a quick blog post about a nice and easy call and response game I played with the children at home yesterday using our drum. This game can be played with any instrument, or even a plastic bowl and wooden spoon.

Call and response games are great for developing:

  • Listening skills
  • Patience
  • Turn taking
  • Imitation skills

They simply involve you playing (or singing) a very short phrase and getting your children to copy you when you have finished. They should play exactly the same phrase back to you.

These games are great for helping your children start to understand rhythm, develop a sense of playing to the beat and, as an added bonus, can help your children with counting skills! Who wouldn’t want to play them?

We started our game with playing just 4 beats and counting them out loud. My 3 year old didn’t always manage to beat the drum on all four beats, but both children played/counted out on the beat.

I started to add in more complicated rhythms for them to copy, and for each round of the game the rhythm became more complicated. You can use any rhythm that comes into your head for this- think about songs you like, tv theme tunes etc and use the main melody to beat the drum to that melody.

My 6 year old managed more complicated rhythms than his younger sister, which is to be expected, but both had fun playing the drum and making lots of noise. They used up a bit of energy as well with this game-always a winner when stuck at home in lockdown!

Music at home · Music games to play at home

Learning musical notation

If you have read this blog before you will know that I decided to use this time to teach my children some music. One of the things I wanted to teach my 5year old was how to start reading musical notation. You can read more about starting to teach him about this here.

In a nutshell, I wrote some rhythm patterns out for him and taught him the rhythm for them using the names of snacks he and his sister had been asking for!

So today, after we played the ukelele for a bit, I got my notation craft sticks out and revised the rhythm patterns with him. The snacks did their job and he managed to remember them all!

Then I put a different pattern down for him to copy, and we took it in turns to make different rhythm patterns for each other. For each pattern I asked him to say it with the snack names and then clap the rhythm pattern.

Starting with a simple pattern
Becoming a little more complex

He then had the idea to turn all the craft sticks upside down and pick out some at random and make a rhythm pattern using those craft sticks, and again we too turns doing this. He definitely did much better speaking the rhythms than clapping them, but with only a little more practice I think he will soon get the idea.

It was harder to clap the rhythm than say it.

It was a nice way to do this and to pass some time this afternoon. Let’s face it, most of us at home with the children have an awful lot of that at the moment!

Music at home · Music games to play at home

Preparing for homeschool

This is not really related to music as such, but something I am thinking about quite a lot. My children are 2 and 5 (very nearly 3 and 6, with the 3 year old highly likely to celebrate her birthday in lockdown mode as it is towards the end of April). At this age we are lucky that the absence of formal school will not make much difference to their education. They are young enough that the stuff we do at home, playing board games, playing Lego, playing pretend, running about in the garden, are educational in themselves.

My son’s school have prepared a homework pack and we will probably do some of that if only as something different to do. However, I am not going to rush to get him to do all of the work every day because I want it to last. The school term should have lasted another 3 weeks, but we will not be leaving the house much for a lot longer I anticipate, so we have tonnes of time to do it in.

I am going to do a bit of a timetable for the week because I think my son especially will work well with a structure to his day- who am I kidding, one of the benefits of going back to work after a long absence with the children was getting that structure back into my life, so we all thrive with at least some structure?

We have been self-isolating for nearly a week now, and while I did put together a rough timetable for the week, it slipped a lot. That is fine in itself, but we really noticed a difference in how frustrated the children got with us, with each other and us with them on the days where we just drifted rather than did anything defined.

I am going to keep the weekends largely practical music-making-free, or rather directed music free so that the music activities we do are part of our “homeschool” timetable. And there will be quite a lot of them. After all, I am a preschool music teacher, this is what I know!! We still have a lot of music on at home all day. Listening to music and lots of different types of music is really good for children. Music and early exposure to music can help your little ones with forming connections in their brains. And it’s fun.

I often post on Instagram or Twitter the music that we have on when playing using the hashtag #musictoplayto. For example, on Friday we did some painting while listening to the fabulous Honey Siren II (Full Like Drips) by Oliver Leith. The children were trying to paint butterflies, but the watercolours we were using didn’t quite work, we’ll have to try again with acrylic paint next week. I would love to see what music you are listening to while playing or painting or cooking or anything really, so I’d love it if you joined me using #musictoplayto

Music at home · Music games to play at home

Musical Games: Notation on Craft sticks

Given everything that is going on in the world at the moment, with everyone needing to stay at home a lot more my thoughts have been turning to how on earth I will entertain my 2 children when we are inevitably stuck at home. Here in the UK schools have not yet closed, but I know it is a matter of time. I have a 2, nearly 3 year old who is incredibly active, and a 5, nearly 6 year old, who is very good at concentrating on any given task. They are very different and have very different learning styles both because of their ages and personalities-my elder son likes to understand and master something before he feels comfortable really going for it, my daughter will give most things a go right from the off but gets bored very quickly. So I need quite a lot of activities for them if (when) we are on lockdown.

I will try to share as many as possible here (young children at home allowing of course). My first idea was to find ways of teaching both children musical notation and rhythm. At least to start teaching them what different note lengths look like. So I have drawn some on plain craft (popsicle sticks). Each craft stick represents a bar in 2/4 time (2 beats in a bar, imagine a marching band playing a beat to get soldiers marching in line together). I drew 4 of each with the aim being to play a few games with them:

  • Musical snap is the first that came to mind, so we use the craft sticks like cards and “snap” if 2 of the same rhythm come up
  • Musical flash cards: draw a craft stick and attempt the rhythm on there
  • Tune recognition: place the craft sticks in an order, tap or sing the rhythm and see if we recognise it. This one might be quite tricky with my two.
  • Rhythm composition: arrange the craft sticks and then tap or sing the rhythm that is shown, then get the children to rearrange them.

So I started with these craft sticks:

Then I thought I should make sure my children could read the notation on there. We started off clapping the rhythms, then putting our names to the rhythms, but quite frankly that did not work because all of our names fitted the crotchet sticks. My children were haggling for snacks at the same time as doing this, so I ended up illustrating the different rhythm/notation patterns with the snacks we were talking about! I’ll be honest, my daughter got bored very quickly, pretty much once it was clear the offer of chocolate wasn’t actually on the table.

It seemed to work with my son, though and he was able to go through all of them one after the other. A good basis ready to start playing our game a and seeing if any of them work for my two.