I currently have both children at home given the situation in the UK at the moment. My eldest is set work from school which occupies him (and me with cajoling him to get back to it and helping him understand what he is supposed to be doing), but not the whole day. So we are back to trying to find things to do to pass the time- their baths get earlier and earlier!!
I was looking at Pinterest the other day and came across a post from DadLab looking at the science of sound. You can find the post I saw here.
This immediately appealed to me because my boy loves science and it’s another route into getting him interested in music and making music. Long term readers will also know that we love making DIY musical instruments and this fitted beautifully with that as the sounds made we’re just like a slide whistle.
A slide whistle looks like a recorder, but it has a thin pole that goes through the middle of it. To play the slide whistle you blow into the mouthpiece and move the metal pole up and down. This changes the pitch that is played, like this
Now, the DadLab video is pretty self explanatory about how to make this whistle, but here is a step by step guide. To make the DIY slide whistle you will need:
A straw, more than one if there are a few of you doing this together.
A pair of scissors (a grown up will need to use the scissors for this as it would be extremely difficult to do, if not impossible, with safety scissors)
A glass or cup of water, pretty full.
Cut through the straw about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way down the straw. You don’t want to cut all the way through, leave about 1/4 of the straw still attached.
Put the straw into your glass of water. The cut part of the straw should not be submerged into the water. I had quite a full glass of water when I did this with my two. My 3 year old can largely be trusted not to always knock a glass over, but I must admit to hovering right over her when she went anywhere near the glass! You do need plenty of water in the glass/cup to demonstrate the effect, so if your little one is very clumsy (that would be me still!) then perhaps you should just demonstrate this or use a plastic cup sat in the middle of a tray.
Your straw should bend a little where you have cut it allowing the air to escape. Blow through the straw gently and as you do, listen carefully to hear the pitch change from low to high and back again just like a slide whistle.
When my children had a go, they had great fun not only making the sliding sounds but also just blowing bubbles in the water. Our table was quite soggy within a few minutes!! As it was just water that I used it was easy to clean up with a tea towel afterwards.
When playing it we talked about whether the heard a low or high sound when the straw was at the top of the glass or the bottom of the glass.
Sound is made from waves and generally the further a sound wave has to travel, the lower the sound it makes. If the sound wave has a shorter (or thinner) distance to travel, then a higher note is produced. You can see this is musical instruments – a large double bass with very long strings will sound lower than a violin that has shorter strings. So with this slide whistle as the straw is at the top of the glass the air, and so the sound, can travel all the way to the bottom of the glass making a lower sound. When the straw is moved to the bottom of the glass, then the air only has a short distance to travel down the straw, and so it makes a higher sound.
This was a fun experiment, and a very quick and easy DIY instrument to make.
It’s 1 December, so I feel it is appropriate for this week’s Music Book Review to be a Christmas book – this one is a version of the song 12 Days of Christmas.
The 12 days of Christmas is a superb song. It is, essentially a memory song. As you will know, if you are familiar with the song, each day your True Love brings you a gift. On the first day you are given a partridge in a pear tree. On the second day you are given another partridge and this time two turtle doves as well. On the third day, three French hens are added to two more turtle doves and another partridge and so on.
It is a good song for children to learn because of its repetitive nature – we learn through repetition, especially as small children – both the words and the melody are repetitive. It is good for young children to learn numbers as well, for obvious reasons.
The book is not a sound book, so it is up to you whether you read the words or sing them. I cannot help myself but sing it every time. The last time we read this book, which was in the middle of June this year – honestly children have no concept of an appropriate time for these things! – my son decided that he was going to sing most of the song , and that I should chime in with “5 holly wreaths”.
The 12 Engines of Christmas, as you can see from the front cover, is a re-writing of the song for fans of Thomas the Tank Engine. We went through quite the train obsession phase when my son was very young and everything was Thomas the Tank Engine based. We have had this book for about 4 years now, and as mentioned above, both children love to have it as their bedtime book no matter the time of the year. It is quite dog-eared now. It is a board book, so stands up well to small people trying to chew it and their general heavy handedness. There are large tabs along the top edge of the book to make it easier for small children to turn the pages by themselves, and each engine has their own page. It starts with the first day of Christmas “what did Thomas see?” (as Engine number 1 on the Island of Sodor, of course Thomas must go first) and works through 11 more engines and what Christmassy items they saw.
It stands up to the test of time as well. We got this during my son’s train obsession phase, but eve though he is now 6 he still enjoys getting the book out, though he now likes to sing along himself rather than just turn the pages or point out the trains.
This might not sound like an item that would have a place in a music box, but sensory scarves are a great addition to any musical play you do at home. They are an inexpensive and versatile thing to include in your music box.
What are sensory scarves?
Sensory scarves are brightly coloured, lightweight scarves that can be used in a range of sensory activities, including music. They can be used by children of all ages, including very small babies.
Sensory scarves are a small square of soft, usually see-through chiffon material. They come in many different colours, often very bright colours, which children love. They can be referred to as sensory scarves, dance scarves, juggling scarves when you are looking for them to purchase, and come in multi-packs of, say 12 or 20 scarves. They are generally machine washable, which is great when your baby puts everything in their mouths, but should not go in a tumble dryer. That’s not really a problem though because they dry really quickly. The only thing you have to really watch out for with these scarves is leaving them on the floor because they are very slippy.
How to use Sensory Scarves
We have used these scarves for both musical and non-musical play. I will talk about how we use sensory scarves with our musical play below. In non-musical play we have used them to used them to play hide and seek with – burying the children or toys under a pile of scarves (we have quite a lot of them at home!) and then going to find them. We have played at wrapping things up with the scarves, playing birthdays or Christmas. I have put the scarves inside a Green Toys recycling truck and got the children to pull the scarves out from the different slots in the truck; that was a great game that kept my children busy for at least 5 minutes when they were very small. We have used them to make rainbows. We have used them to hide behind when playing Peekaboo. I am sure there are lots of other games we have played with them, but I can’t think of them right now.
Musical Play with Sensory Scarves
Sensory scarves are great for musical play. As I mentioned above, they can be used by even the youngest children. They are easy for small hands to grasp hold of and, as they are machine washable, it doesn’t matter if they go in baby’s mouth (although obviously any toy should be played with under close supervision with small children). Scarves are very soft and so you can run them over your little one’s body, they can be put over their heads, they can be thrown in the air etc without worrying that they will hurt anyone. So what musical games have we played with sensory scarves at home?
We have held the scarves in our hands (me holding them when the children were babies, and as the children have grown, they have held them scarves themselves), and moved them in time to them music. The scarves can be moved up and down in time to the music, or from one side to the other.
Waved the scarves in the air above the children’s heads, or at eye level, or even down on the ground to get them to follow the movement with their eyes or heads. When doing this I tell the children what I am doing, and again I time my movements to coincide with the beat of the music I am playing.
Put a song like The Grand Old Duke of York on and used my scarf to illustrate the song – as we sing about the Grand Old Duke’s men going up the hill I wave my scarf up in the air, and when they go back down the hill my scarf moves down towards the ground.
When singing Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes we place the scarves on our heads, shoulders, knees or toes.
When singing songs about hiding, or playing peekaboo using a sing-song voice, I have used a scarf to either hide behind myself, or to hide one of the children. Removing the scarf with a flourish is a fabulous, fun and very clear way of playing peekaboo with your little ones. Peekaboo is a great game to make small children laugh, as well as a great way to teach your children about object permanence – that people and things do not disappear if you cannot see them.
Singing the rainbow song, and using the scarves to point out the colours.
As my children have got older, I have given them a scarf or two, put some music on and got them to just dance around moving the scarf to the music as they see fit.
Here’s an example of musical play with sensory scarves, playing along to Dance of the Knights from the ballet Romeo and Juliet by Sergei Prokofiev:
This week’s music book review is the lovely story , The Bear, the Piano, the Dog and the Fiddle by David Lichfield.
This is a story about friendship, the friendship between Hector, the fiddle player, and Hugo, his dog.
At the start of the story we meet Hector, an older man who is a fiddle player. Hugo, his dog, is his biggest fan and travels with him as he plays his fiddle as a busker in town. As Hector gets older he plays his violin less and less, and spends more and more time at home. So Hugo picks up his violin.
Hugo proves to be a very good fiddle player and when Hector finds out he was jealous, but he decided to teach Hugo everything he knows about fiddle playing. Hugo becomes a better and better musician (practice makes perfect, after all!) and one day is approached by the famous piano playing bear (the subject of his own rather lovely book that I may review here one day) and Hugo leaves to join the bear on tour.
Hector’s reaction to Hugo’s talent and success is explored in the remainder of the book, and I won’t spoil the ending for you, other than to say it is a lovely book with, of course, a happy ending!
The themes of friendship, jealousy, hard work leading to success, all framed within a story about musicians are all explored within this book. The moral of the tale is not hammered home, as it can be with some stories, but it is introduced gently and resolved without it feeling like you are being hit over the head with “the lesson to learn”.
The author is also the book’s illustrator, and he is an illustrator first and foremost I believe.
I bought this for my son who was 5 at the time I bought it, but both children like listening to the story. It is fast becoming a favourite for my little girl.
It has been a little while – about 1 1/2 months – since I last wrote a blog post showing you how to make a musical instrument at home, so I thought it was high time I did a new one. This time, I have made a couple of pairs of castanets. There are different ways to make these instruments, but this is how I made them today.
What is a castanet?
Firstly, what is a castanet? A castanet is a percussion instrument, known particularly for their role in Spanish Flamenco music although they feature in music of many more traditions and cultures. They were traditionally made of hardwood, although fibreglass is becoming more popular, and of course castanets that are suitable for children, especially young children, are often made from plastic. A pair of castanets (each instrument is a pair already) is played by clicking or hitting the pair together. Two pairs are played together, one in each hand and each pair would make a slightly different sound.
How to play the castanets
There are different ways to play, but here are three simple ways to play that you can use at home:
Hold a pair of castanets in one hand looping the string over your index finger. Put your index finger on one side of the pair of castanets and your thumb on the other. Open and close your index finger and thumb to click the castanets together.
Put the pair of castanets on the floor and tap on the top of it with your hand.
Put the pair of castanets in one hand and use the other to tap on the top of it.
I don’t have a pair of castanets to demonsrate for you, but here is a short video of castanets in action.
Making your own castanets
You can make your own castanets with some very simple things that you may already have at home. You will need:
Craft sticks (I used large, plain craft sticks because that is what I have at home, and also once the castanets were made I could leave them for my children to decorate)
Bottle tops (I used beer bottle tops, obviously it was a chore for me to have to drink the beer in order to get the bottle tops. Any bottle tops would work)
Small amount of cardboard
Glue (I used a hot glue gun, but other glues or even sticky tape would probably work just as well)
Firstly I hot glued the bottle tops onto the craft sticks, making sure that the bottle tops were roughly level with each other.
Next, I put the craft sticks together so that the bottle tops were touching each other. I placed an elastic band at the other end of the craft sticks and tried to play the castanets. They did not quite work, as there was nothing there to make the craft sticks spring away from each other after they have been tapped together.
So I cut a small piece of cardboard, mine was slightly wider than my craft sticks, but I could have made more effort to make the cardboard the same width, or thinner than my craft sticks. I folded the cardboard into a V shape and hot glued the cardboard to each of the craft sticks so that the open side of the V faced upwards towards the bottle tops. The cardboard, which made a lever inside the castanet, was approximately half way up and I took care to ensure that the bottle tops would still be level with each other.
I made two pairs of castanets, one for each of my children. I found that one of the pairs of castanets worked best with an elastic band would around the bottom underneath the cardboard lever, and one of the worked best without the elastic band. Here they are in action:
Now it will be over to my children to decorate them however they see fit.
If you have got to the end of this blog post, thank you very much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed, or got something out of this post! If you have enjoyed what you have read, and would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!
This is the second post in my series on musical instruments you might want to purchase to have in your music box at home.
All of the instruments featured in this series of posts can be bought relatively cheaply from various shops (even, dare I say it, Amazon, because we have all found ourselves on Amazon at 3am when up with the children, haven’t we?? OK maybe just me then!) They can sometimes be found at charity shops. This is one of the glockenspiels we have at home, the Halilit Baby Xylophone. We actually have about 3 of them, no idea why, but there you have it. (I should point out here, that I have always thought these instruments were xylophones, but someone kindly pointed out on Twitter that actually the instrument I was writing about was a glockenspiel as xylophones are actually wooden instruments!)
A glockenspiel is a percussion instrument. Percussion instruments are instruments that are played by hitting or striking them, in this case with a beater. The glockenspiel is a tuned percussion instrument, metal bars of different lengths arranged in a similar way to the piano. It is the different lengths of the metal bars that produce the different notes of the glockenspiel as they are hit. The longer the metal bar is, the lower the note produced.
Some of the reasons why I like this instrument with small children in the house are:
It isn’t too loud – this glockenspiel can be played nice and quietly, and even when your child is able to grasp the beater him- or herself and hit the thing with all of their might, it isn’t an instrument that goes right through you!
It is a simple, easy instrument and does not take much practice to be able to play a tune out of it. Ours came with a little booklet that had a few recognisable tunes you can play in it to get you started. You can also easily play around with glissandi (where you slide the beater up and down all of the notes, and it makes a sort of magical sliding sound. My children loved this.)
Your baby can start to play with the glockenspiel as soon as they are able to hold the beater by themselves. They can start to learn about cause and effect playing this instrument – they hit the glockenspiel with the thing in their hand and it makes a noise.
It is neat. Such a mum thing to say, but when tidying up I love that I can put the beater back in its place on the back of the glockenspiel and then next time my children get every single instrument out of the music box, we still have everything we need to play the glockenspiel was all together.
Our glockenspiel is a lovely bright colour, which is very attractive for the children. The metal bars that make up the glockenspiel have their note names labelled on each bar, and this helps the children play tunes (as they get older), because I can tell my son to play two Cs, then two Gs, for example, to start playing a tune he can recognise.
To play the glockenspiel you use a beater and hit the beater against one of the metal bars. To make a nice sound, you need to hold the beater loosely and hit the glockenspiel with a sort of bouncing action, like this:
If you hold on to the beater too tightly, or hit the glockenspiel too hard, then you will get a much harder, less tuneful sound like this:
That is pretty much it for the glockenspiel , other than having a play around with it, trying some tunes out. I will end this blog post with me playing a quick Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star on our glockenspiel.
If you have got to the end of this blog post, thank you very much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed, or got something out of this post! If you have enjoyed what you have read, and would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!
If you have read this blog before you will know that we very much enjoy making our own musical instruments. We have made all sorts of instruments from drums, to windchimes, to shakers, and I have more in the pipeline to make with the children over the summer holidays which are due to start at the end of the week – 8 weeks of holidays!! We are also lucky to have a number of musical instruments at home as well – I am a musician after all!
If you are wanting to start a collection of musical instruments for your children what should you start with? And how would you play those instruments if you got hold of them? Where would you find those musical instruments at a reasonable price? I can hopefully try to help you with these questions over time, and I thought I would start with providing a spotlight, if you like, on some of the instruments we have at home for the children to play with. If you have any specific questions, please ask, but for today let us have a look at the tambourine.
Tambourine means little drum, and is an instrument from the percussion family. Percussion instruments are those that are played by hitting, shaking, rubbing or scraping them. They are generally hand held, but can be part of a drum kit and so fixed into position. Tambourines have a round frame with metal discs, called zils, within that frame. The frame can be left open, so just the frame with the zils; or a drum skin can be stretched over the top of the frame.
We have had a few tabourines over the years. Both of my children, together with pretty much all children who are allowed anywhere near a television I think, discovered the delights of Peppa Pig when they were small. At times they have been bought Peppa Pig magazines, and on one occasion there were free gifts of musical instruments on the cover of the magazine. These were small plastic instruments and I think there was a guitar, a harmonica and a tambourine included. None of these instruments survived all that long, I think the guitar broke within days, but the tambourine lasted for quite a while. It was made entirely out of plastic, and so produced a rather muted sound, but the children enjoyed playing with it.
I found our next tambourine in a charity shop, and this one has stayed with us much longer. I have found many musical instruments in charity shops over the years, and would recommend having a look in there, especially when your children are small and like to either chew or chuck instruments more than try to play them. Obviously, especially in these times, anything you buy from a charity shop needs to be cleaned before your children play with them, especially wind instruments like recorders!
For one of the children’s birthdays we asked one of my relatives to buy a set of musical instruments for them, and so we were given the lovely closed tambourine pictured at the top of this blog post. This makes a much nicer sound than the plastic tambourines that we had previously, but it is a little more expensive, and easier to damage, than a plastic tambourine.
So, the tambourine, can be played in three ways.
Firstly, it can be hit or banged like a drum using a beater or hands, as long as you have a tambourine with a skin on rather than an open tambourine. For very small children you can either play the tambourine for them, letting them feel the vibrations of the instrument while they listen to the sound it makes, or you can take their hands or feet and gently manipulate them to play the tambourine themselves. Older children can go wild hitting the tambourine and making their own music, if they want to!
Secondly, a tambourine can be shaken; either gently to produce a quiet sound, or more vigorously to produce a loud sound. Very small babies will be unlikely to be able to shake a tambourine by themselves and will need your help to hear the sound it makes. However, as soon as they are able to grasp the tambourine themselves, your baby will thoroughly enjoy being able to make a noise with it. It is an instrument they can start to play independently from a very young age. It will help your baby to understand cause and effect as well – I move my hand while holding this and it makes a noise.
Finally, it can be played combining the two above. If you use a clapping action, hitting the tambourine with one hand while holding it in the other, or shaking it then hitting it with one hand like this:
You could even use another part of your body, like a leg or your tummy, tapping the tambourine against it to make a sound.
I must sound a note of caution, however. Babies put everything in their mouths, and the metal discs, or zils, on the sides of tambourines that give them their distinctive sound are not safe to go into a child’s mouth. They can be very sharp, they are generally made of metal so not a great material to be chewed, and the spokes holding them in place can break so they could be a choking hazard. A normal tambourine can be played with only under close adult supervision, therefore. You should not leave your baby or young child alone with it. There are baby tambourines, like this one that you can buy that alleviate this problem as they enclose the metal discs and so your baby can’t get them into their mouths. These are great, but the downside is that they cannot be played as a drum like a normal tambourine, so are a little limited in their application. They can provide great peace of mind if your baby always finds the things they are not supposed to be playing with on their own as soon as your back is turned, however.
When I first had my son, my eldest, was home from the hospital,everyone had been to visit and we found ourselves alone for the first time, I thought I would sing to him. I was a musician and had spent a lot of time at school and Uni singing so I must know what to sing to him, right? In the fog of new motherhood, with the lack of sleep, I could not remember a single nursery rhyme to sing to him. Not one!
So I was very pleased when I was given this book by one of my friends. It was an anthology of nursery rhymes, pretty much all of the songs I then remembered my mum singing with me as a little girl. Just reading through the book reminded me of the songs I was reaching for to sing to him!
It is illustrated by Debi Gilori, the illustrations capturing the spirit of each nursery rhyme.
A little extra information about some of the songs is given- background to the songs, why they were written or how children used to dance or play along to them for example.
And a CD is included of all the songs in the book. You do not need to use the CD to enjoy the book, I have not spotted any extra information or songs on the CD at all, but it is a lovely extra to have. Some of the songs are sung on the Cd, and some spoken, there is a nice mix of the two, and Debi Gliori gives a nice introduction to the CD and how to use it to accompany the book.
Today’s Music Book Review is Listen and Learn Musical Instruments from Usborne Books.
We do have quite a lot of Usborne books at home. They are quite fantastic for young children – and that is my experience so far as my eldest is 6 years old as I write this. My recommendations may change as my children get older. It is a rather different book than many of my other recommendations as there is no story to be told here at all. It looks a bit like a list of instruments. The book is actually meant to be listened to rather than read.
It gives children an opportunity to hear the sounds that different instruments make. The book consists of a number of different cards that have pictures of musical instruments on. To hear each instrument, you need to press the “go button” at the top of each page/card and then press on the picture of the instrument. The name of each instrument is given as well, and they are grouped into various categories – instruments that are played by hitting them, by blowing into them, by plucking their strings etc.
In addition to the set of wind instruments on the main page, a further 4 double-sided cards are included in a pocket each with 9 further instruments to listen to. To hear those instruments you slide the card into the keyboard frame, press “go” and select the instrument you want to listen to.
As with all sound books, there is an on/off switch so if your children will not leave it alone and it starts to drive you mad you can turn the sound off, and also to make sure the battery doesn’t go flat when you are not using it.
We really like this book, and like exploring the different instruments depicted – I had probably heard but never seen a shofar or a serpent before reading this book. Both my children like it – it involves pressing buttons, what is not to like?! And I chose to write about this boom today largely because my 6 year old found it yesterday and was playing around with it yesterday by himself.
The volume on the book is fairly low, which is great when listening to it at home. However, if you are using this as a resource in a group setting it only works on a one to one basis or very small group basis. I tried using this in a larger group setting once and it just did not work as it was too quiet to grab the children’s attention. One on one, though, it is a lovely guide to the sounds that different instruments make. I would highly recommend it.
And here it is in action with a couple of the pages in the book:
For today’s Music Book Review I have another lovely Usborne Books sound book, Baby’s Bedtime Music Book.
This is a lovely book to snuggle up with and read at bedtime just before sleep. It combines a little tale about the animals of Dreaming Valley getting ready for bed, settling in for the night and being serenaded by the owls of the valley who are playing beautiful lullabies to help their fellow animals drift off to sleep.
There are extracts from 5 different pieces of classical music included in the book with an easy to press and clearly labelled button on each page to hear the pieces. Even small children can press the button and get the music to play- there are some sound books where you have to press the button really hard to get any sound out of it at all and my children quickly give up with these books because they can’t get them to work by themselves. These books are different because they only need a light touch, and even at 2 my youngest was able to get the book to play for herself.
There is an on/off switch at the back of the book so that you don’t waste the battery and you can turn it off when you have had enough of the pieces! There are only 5 short extracts after all.
I won’t play them all here, but here is the cover page in action with an extract from Brahm’s Lullaby:
My children finished their school year this week, and while lockdown is easing and we will try to have a few days out over the holidays we will largely be spending the next 8 weeks, yes 8 glorious, wonderful, oh my good grief how many, weeks at home. With a 6 and 3 year old.
Now I don’t know about your children, but mine, especially my youngest, do not sit still. In fact I think the only time my 3 year old is still is when she is asleep- and even that is not guaranteed. So I need to find ways to help them burn off a lot of energy at home.
As always, I turn to music (who could have seen that one coming, eh?!) Dancing around to music is so good
It is great physical exercise, getting the heart rate up
It’s great for helping children develop a sense of pulse
It helps develop their gross motor skills
It helps develop their sense of balance
It helps develop your children’s understanding of their place in space
It helps children with developing self-expression
Here are 11 pieces of music I use to help me.
Absolutely our favourite piece of music to dance around like lunatics. We have danced to this since my son was a few months old and I flew him towards his Daddy and his Grandma. In more recent years my children like to listen to this song after dinner while my husband and I clear up. My daughter wants to hold hands with her brother to do the dance properly, but he likes to just run across the room for pretty much the whole song. Even without the unusual dance technique my son prefers, this is a good workout!
Jump Around by House of Pain
The clue to this song is in the title. No, it is not a children’s song, but young children don’t really listen to the lyrics and you can’t argue with getting your children to jump around for 4 minutes to burn off any excess energy.
Superman by Black Lace
This is an action song. The singer calls out actions for the children to follow as the song goes on. I think it was a staple of the parties I attended as a child. Just the opening bars and I am transported back to church halls and party dresses and eating too many sweets before being taken home by my parents.
Happy by Pharrell Williams
We use this song for musical chairs, musical bumps etc. My children love these games. Whenever we have a difficult day (and there have been many over lockdown!), I break out a bit of Pharrell Williams and we play either musical statues or musical bumps and after a couple of rounds everything is so much better!
Ring a Ring a Roses
This nursery rhyme has been around for a long time, possibly as early as the 1790s. There were versions of this song in Britain and America, and even from India and New Zealand. I always thought it was a song about the plague from 1665, but there are historians who contradict this. Whatever the song’s history it is good for getting children moving. Children form a circle, holding hands and move to the left or the right as they sing the song. On the line They all fall down the children jump down to the floor, jumping up again on the line We all jump up with a 1, 2, 3.
Flight of the Bumblebee by Rimsky-Korsakov
Flight of the Bumblebee was written by the composer Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov as an orchestral interlude to his opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan. Listening to the piece evokes the way a bumble bee darts around from flower to flower in search of pollen. When I play the song at home I often get the children to pretend to be a bumblebee and fly around the room.
Agadoo by Black Lace
Another song from my childhood and another song in this list by Black Lace, Agadoo was released in 1984. I am not sure if it was intended this way, but we use it as an action song, and I remember doing the same when I was a child. The lyrics tell you to jump up and down and to your knees etc. The song is, as it was described in Q Magazine, “magnificently dreadful”
Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes
This is a song that helps children to learn body parts. They touch their head, shoulders, knees or toes along with the song, and as they do this several times over the course of the song it is a surprisingly good workout.
Jumping Up and Down in Muddy Puddles
The clue as to why I have included this song in this list is in the title! It is a Peppa Pig song, so if you have children under 3 you are pretty much guaranteed to have heard it once, twice or 17 bazillion times already. This morning. It’s always a quick win with my children to get them engaged in something, to put something they are familiar with on.
William Tell Overture
The William Tell Overture is an overture to the opera William Tell by the composer Rossini. It is a piece of music that lasts for 12 minutes and paints a picture of life in the Swiss Alps. However, for me it is much more closely associated with horse racing than mountains in Switzerland. The finale to this overture is a fun piece of music to dance around to and with the horse racing connection, it is fun to put this on and pretend to be jockeys racing around the house!
Gallop Infernal from Orpheus in the Underworld by Offenbach
Otherwise known as the Can-Can after the music from this opera was adopted by the Moulin Rouge and Folies-Bergere to accompany their can-can dance. It is fun, lively and clearly a great piece of music to dance around to. It is perfect for getting the children to bounce around the house for a while to burn off some of their excess energy.
Our experience: a lovely, interactive concert for pre-school children introducing classical music and opera to our little people.
For 2020 I had booked us up to see quite a few concerts. We went to see Peppa Pig: My First Concert, read my review of this show here, and a fabulous concert from the Notelets series at the CBSO centre in March, and you can read about it here. It feels like that was about 6 million years ago now! We had several other concerts booked as well, and were looking forward to a year of regular live entertainment. Of course we now do not anticipate being able to go to see any of those concerts this year, very sadly. So I was delighted to see that the Birmingham based organisation B’Opera were doing one of their relaxed concerts online last week. It was on the theme of a Teddy Bear’s Picnic.
I have taken my daughter to one of B’Opera’s live relaxed concerts before at St George’s Church in Edgbaston, just over a year ago and was very impressed with the concert. We had been to a concert run by a different organisation and that had been billed as a concert where small children were absolutely welcome, in fact the concert was for the children and their grown ups, but I had not been impressed with this other organisation’s concert. It felt like it was a concert for the parents where their small children were tolerated rather than being aimed at the children. B’Opera’s relaxed concert was entirely different. It was a concert that was genuinely for the children who attended. It was for adults to bring their small children along to introduce them to music, not just nursery rhymes. Nursery rhymes were included in the performance, as something familiar for the children, but there were many other songs in the concert as well. I left the concert feeling that this was an organisation that really understood how to put on a concert for small children and babies, and no wonder because they held music classes for babies and small children at Birmingham Hippodrome every week (owing to the coronavirus pandemic these classes are online at the moment).
Booking tickets and accessing the concert
I was really looking forward to watching this concert with my children. The relaxed concert on Saturday morning took place at 10.30 and lasted for about an hour. It cost £7.50 for a ticket and was broadcast on the service Crowdcast. There is an iOA app for Apple users, a website if watching on a laptop, and probably also an Android app. It was very easy to access crowdcast once tickets had been purchased, although I had not downloaded the app until just before the start of the concert, so we ended up watching the concert on my iPad via the website. I think that the experience would have been better if I had managed to get the app downloaded in advance of the concert so that we could have used that for the concert.
The live concerts are very interactive and online Zoe Challenor and Jacqueline White, who are professional musicians and who run B’Opera, added in as many interactive elements as they could. There was a chat function on the crowdcast app, and Zoe and Jacqueline answered as many comments as they could onscreen. One of the B’Opera team, Aliyah was also answering comments on the onscreen chat as they happened, but we could not see them – technical limitations of, well, me I’m afraid as I could not work out how to get the chat box up on the website without messing around and I didn’t want to do that while the concert was ongoing!
There were several games played during the concert, like Peekaboo with scarves that my children quite enjoyed, and a game of fruit snap. At the end of the concert I asked the children what they had enjoyed most about it and my 3 year old said “me like fruit game”! There were also some lovely touches, like cakes being passed and water glasses filled up between Zoe and Jacqueline.
The programme was picnic and summer themed. There were a mix of live performances and pre-recorded songs, the pre-records being performances by the pianist Phil Ypres-Smith who would usually be performing at the relaxed concerts, and a duet between Jacqueline and Zoe. The concert started with Debussy’s song about mandolin players, Mandoline, and included songs like Fleurs by Poulenc (Flowers), the Flower Duet from the opera Lakme by Delibes, and Where the Bee Sucks, There Lurk I by Thomas Arne. All songs about things you would see or experience if you were on a picnic. There were two fun songs by composer Jenny Gould performed towards the end of the concert as well including My Face is Made of Funnions. The concert ended with a rendition of, of course, Teddy Bear’s picnic and requests for favourite nursery rhymes were taken and performed.
Experience of watching concert online
What I really like about B’Opera’s concerts is that they strike a really good balance between children’s songs and traditional, familiar nursery rhymes and other classical music, proper arias from opera that are not at all dumbed down. Zoe and Jacqueline give the children attending their concerts the chance to listen to, to experience all sorts of music, more complex, “difficult”, less familiar music for them is included, and so children have the opportunity to become familiar with lots of different music.
It is far easier to keep children’s attention in person, and my two did not concentrate very well at all for this online concert – they were at home, my son could feel the pull of his lego upstairs, my daughter just wanted to play babies, and so they did not take in as much of the concert as I think they would have done if we had attended in person. I think that the concert, at one hour, was maybe a little too long. That may be because my two are at school and nursery so we don’t attend the weekly First Songs classes that B’Opera are offering at the moment, or it may just be my children, especially my 3 year old who absolutely cannot stay still for even 2 minutes at a time! For us I think the concert could have been shorter. However, this is not in any way a reflection of B’Opera, it is the circumstances we are in, that we cannot attend concerts in person at the moment. On the other hand, with the cost of the concert, as just one ticket is purchased for an online concert rather than paying for 4 people to attend, then it is easier and more affordable to take a chance on an online concert. If the children don’t enjoy it, or are not in the right mood to watch it on that particular day, then you have not spent as much money as you would buying separate tickets for the whole family. B’Opera also leave the concert available on crowdcast for a week at no additional cost, so you can watch it at any time or as many times as you like during that week. This is brilliant for people with small children as they love to watch things over and over again, and as mentioned above sometimes they are just not in the mood right then and there to watch a concert just because Mummy says it is time!
All in all, this was a really good concert, a lovely thing to do on a Saturday morning, and felt like a step towards normality, that we could go to a concert even though we were still at home. The arts in general, and organisations that are reliant on singing in particular, are really struggling at the moment with social distancing requirements, so I would urge you if you are at all tempted to try something like this out to do it and support these organisations like B’Opera so they are available still for live concerts when all of this is over and we can gather to enjoy music together.
After the rain and storms of the last few days, I ended up reading and singing this book with my children. This book is basically a write up of the words to the song of the same name from the musical The Sound of Music.
I found this book on one of my previous visits to Foyles with my little girl. She was busy playing with the train set there and I had time to browse the shelves. When I was a girl myself I loved The Sound of Music, I still do to be honest! The songs have stayed with me my whole life and I often find myself singing them to the children, especially this one, the fun High on a Hill Lived a Lonely Goatherd and Doh a Deer. So when I saw this book I had to get it for the children.
The song is all about when something bad or scary happens, think of nice things and it will make you feel better. For anyone who doesn’t know the song or musical, the reference to the storms of last week is because in the film there is a thunderstorm. All the children of the house run in to the nanny Maria’s bedroom because they are scared of the storm. She talks to them a little about the storm and then they sing this song together and all feel better about it by the end of it.
When the dog bites,
When the bee stings.
When I’m feeling sad,
I simply remember my favourite thibgs
And then I don’t feel so bad
The book is illustrated by Daniel Roode, each page showing a different line from the song.
The book could be read through, and is a board book so is easy for small hands to turn the pages by themselves, or sung through. The illustrations capture the song beautifully so even your little ones who don’t read words yet, can read and understand the story for themselves. Inevitably I can’t help myself and sing the book to them, and lately my eldest especially has started to sing it to himself and to my youngest too. It’s really lovely watching them read it and sing it together.
Music is fantastic for learning. As a student I would often struggle to remember texts I was supposed to learn, and would absolutely not be able to tell you about any of the stuff I learned today; but song lyrics I heard in my teenage years, even younger, can flood back in an instant as soon as I hear the music. For young children, too, music can help them learn things far quicker than many other methods. So for today, here are 9 songs to help your little ones learn to count.
There are a number of similar features with them all. They are all nursery rhymes, or songs for children. They are all very repetitive – that is how children learn, they become more and more familiar with the musical, rhythmic and lyric patterns they hear and that is how the information is learned. It is all about the repetition. So even if it drives you absolutely mad, keep playing and singing these songs with your children and they will be counting away before you know it. Maybe backwards, but it still counts!
Each of these songs I have sung with my children, often while they are in the bath – many of the songs have an aquatic theme anyway. The children now sing them back to us regularly. They are both very good with numbers, and while I know in my heart of hearts that it is largely Numberblocks on CBeebies that has developed their mathematical abilities, I do think that these songs helped build the foundations of that interest they have in numbers.
1 2 3 4 5 Once I caught a fish alive
A song about a fish who grabs hold of a finger, and sneaks in practice at counting from 1-5 and 6-10.
5 Little Speckled Frogs
This song is about frogs sat on a log who eat delicious grubs before they jump into a pool. Full of lovely rhyming words that develop their language skills as well as a countdown from 5-1, the first verse starts with 5 frogs, the second with 4 etc through to there being just one frog left on the log.
10 Green Bottles
10 Green Bottles is actually a great song to sing in the bath. We would line toys up along the side of the bath and when each bottle accidentally fell, a toy would be pushed into the bath accompanied by squeals of delight. It quickly became a favourite bath time song.
5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed
This song works in a similar way to the 5 Little Speckled Frogs, but with the added joy of involving jumping on the bed. So of course my own little cheeky monkeys love to sing this song while jumping on, and off, the bed!
10 Fat Sausages
Sausages sizzling in a pan, one goes pop and the other goes down. In this song you learn counting down in twos, and there are some fun sound effects that little children love – each time a sausage goes pop I make a popping sound with my cheek, and then clap my hands for the bang sound. very small children can join in at least with the clapping sounds, and they hear you counting down the sausages from 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 then no fat sausages.
1-2 Knock on my Shoe
There are lots of lovely rhyming words in this children’s song that I remember singing with my mum. There is plenty of scope to join in with actions to the song.
The Ants Go Marching
Counting and marching around the room in this song, so you can get some counting practice in and get your little ones to burn off some energy! What is not to like!
5 Little Ducks Went Swimming One Day
Another song that is perfect for bath time, this time playing with rubber ducks. It is a song that, in addition to offering some counting and number practice, can help your little ones develop the concept of object permanence as you can hide the rubber ducks behind yours or their backs when they go off swimming and one doesn’t return at the end of each verse, and then bring them all out from their hiding place at the end of the song.
There Were 10 in the Bed and the Little One Said
Another song in the tradition of 10 Green Bottles, you count down from 10-1 as you go through the song. Again the song lends itself to fun action as you roll your child over singing this song getting them to play the role of the Little One.
We have done the first week of our ukulele challenge, how have we got on?
My son, who is in Year 1, went back to school last week which is why I thought it was a good time to start this challenge- we had to start a new after school routine anyway with needing to make sure the children changed their clothing as soon as they got home etc. That said, it was his first week back at school after several months at home so I was expecting him to be utterly exhausted when he got back, and didn’t want to push it too much.
Last week we managed only two nights of ukulele practice as a result, and as we had my husband’s birthday and Father’s Day this weekend the poor ukulele stayed on its hook then as well. So far this week, though, we have played both nights and I plan to get him to practice again tonight.
My boy has, however, told me both nights this week that he doesn’t want to play ukulele or guitar any more, he wants to play flute (I am a flautist), or piano (we started that last year and it didn’t go too well, so we’ll try piano again once he is more used to playing), even beat boxing! Basically anything new rather than sticking to the instrument I am getting him to play every day!
Undeterred, because I think he will be pleased once he can easily pick up an instrument and play it, and I think it is good to teach him the discipline of practice, we have made some steady progress this week. He is now holding the instrument correctly so that when playing the chords he lets each string sound, whereas before he held it quite flat on his lap and trapped some of the strings, preventing them from sounding. And he has learned the chords of C, A and F.
I am combining teaching my son how to play chords on the ukulele with teaching him some basic music theory- right now I am getting him to practice very simple chord progressions and getting him to change chord on the beat while counting 1,2,3,4 (the pulse) out loud. We have played a fun game of shouting out the number 1 and saying the rest of the numbers more quietly, learning about placing emphasis on the first beat of the bar, and then shouting out the number 1 at the same time as playing the chord.
Yesterday, I got him to strum the chord on the 1st and 3rd beats, again while counting out loud, more practice at feeling the pulse in music, learning that there are stronger and weaker beats in a bar and how to keep playing in time.
As we continue this week I want to add in one more chord, G7, and get to a position where we can strum the chord on every beat of the bar. The plan is that once he has learned how to do that I can teach him how to play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
It is lucky that in our situation I can sit down with him to do this every night because that gives him the direction he needs and stops him from getting distracted when he should be practising-something that is so very easy for young children especially. As a child I started learning to play the violin around my son’s age, but never practised so gave up. Then the guitar but never practised, then gave up. Then the flute but rarely practised at first and nearly gave up, and then something changed and flute playing clicked for me.
As a child I wanted to be able to pick up an instrument and play. I’ll be honest, I was a dramatic little girl who wanted to be an actor and I wanted to be able to play something and get applause from my audience -my poor parents!- straight away but of course I lacked the discipline to put in the work. So hopefully by doing this with my son in these early years that discipline will become second nature to him far sooner than it did for me, and he will see the results of putting the time into practising.
For this week’s playlist, we have a selection of very happy songs, or pieces of music. These are all fun, bubbly, joyful works that will have you up and dancing and maybe even singing or humming along to them. If you ever need a pick me up, these would all be ideal to listen to.
If You’re Happy and You Know It
Probably one of the first songs you will sing with your babies, and probably one of the first they will actually be able to join in with you with the actions, this is a lovely song. The tune is very simple, and has just one verse that repeats throughout the song. Starting with clapping your hands, then stamping your feet you can add any action you like at the end- nod your head, jump up and down, twirl around, kiss your mum/dad/gran. This happy song can get your little one moving around and can help them burn off some energy. You could add some instruments to it as well, for some extra musical fun – If you’re happy and you know it, tap your sticks, bang your drum etc.
A song from my childhood, I distinctly remember my mum singing this to me when I was little. It is the theme tune from a sitcom Only When I Laugh that was on when I was young, and while I don’t remember the sitcom much I do remember singing the theme song! Having listened again to it for this blog post I realised how sad and bitter sweet it is in the show’s intro – the main character is trying to convince himself he is happy, rea;;y. However, at the end it is much happier, and so that is what I have included here.
Happy by Pharrell Williams
This song was written for the film Despicable Me 2 by Pharrell Williams. It is, as the name would suggest, a very happy song! With its steady beat it is great for dancing along to, and this is usually the first song I would put on when playing musical statues or musical bumps with my children (games they absolutely adore!)
Get Happy by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Ted Koehler
Get Happy was written in 1930 for the Nine-Fifteen Review. It is, however, known today for Judy Garland’s version of the song. Get Happy is influenced by the African-American Gospel Music Tradition of the same name that referring to the experience in Church or receiving the Holy Spirit. The song asks people to forget their troubles, come on get happy. I love this song!
Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin
Written by Bobby McFerrin in the late 1980s, this song was featured in the film Cocktail starting Tom Cruise. Bobby McFerrin was inspired to write the song by seeing an inspirational poster bearing the words “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. The song is a cappella, which means voice only, there are no additional instruments used. The song’s lyrics speak for themselves!
Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys
This song is quite complex and experimental using unusual instruments such as an Electro-Theramin. The music was composed by Brian Wilson who was inspired to write it by his mother talking to him about dogs barking at some people who had “bad vibrations”; his band mate Mike Love wrote lyrics to the song using good vibrations as inspired by the hippie flower power movement. Even in the title the song suggests happiness!
Gloria by Vivaldi
The Gloria is a sacred work, so written to be sung as part of worship. The words to it are Gloria in excelsis deo, or Glory to God in the Highest. The music for this piece shouts out its praise, almost can’t contain its joy and enthusiasm. This Gloria was featured in the film Shine in the late 1990s which told the story of pianist David Helfgott. Listening to Vivaldi’s Gloria on headphones in the film Helfgott is jumping on a trampoline. That is exactly what this music makes you want to do.
Overture toThe Marriage of Figaro by Mozart
I challenge anyone not to find this piece of music absolutely joyful right from the word go. This overture begins a comic opera written in 1786. It is bright, and exuberant. Written in a major key- in Western music major keys are associated with happy music, with a fast tempo, again it is very difficult not to want to dance along.
Usborne Books have published a series of books – Peep Inside a Fairy Tale. These books tell the story of famous fairy tales, like The Nutcracker, simply for young children. They are all beautifully illustrated. As they are peep inside books there are little windows throughout the book where you can see through onto other pages, giving hints of what is on the next page, They use doorways, or snowflakes, or little mouse holes to give these little hints of what is on different pages.
The Nutcracker is the story of two children Fritz and Clara playing with their new Christmas presents under the Christmas Tree. Clara’s favourite toy is the Nutcracker, who could crack real nuts with his teeth. She carries on playing with her Nutcracker toy late into the night, and at the stroke of midnight she shrinks to the size of a doll, meets the Nutcracker and they have a series of adventures together.
The Nutcracker has been told countless times, and when I was a child I remember going to see Tchaikovsky’s ballet of The Nutcracker at the Birmingham Hippodrome, and watching it in the Disney film Fantastia. In my memory (though a child’s memory can be fallible) the Nutcracker ballet was on in the theatre every year. It was a feature of every Christmas, much like The Wizard of Oz, or Sound of Music being on every Easter.
This is a really nice version of the story. As mentioned above it is simply written for younger readers, the illustrations are great and tell the story as much as the prose. It is a lift the flap book as well, which again is always a hit with younger children, something that they can do for themselves, and something they can discover for themselves. It is a great introduction to the story, lovely to read at Christmas – or year round frankly; my children seem to like Christmas stories best in May or June!! – and when we are able to go back to the theatre together, this would be a very good introduction for children before they go to see the ballet for the first time.
I bought this book for my little girl about a year or so ago. She was just over 2 at the time and she really liked just turning pages over. She also LOVED a noisy book, anything with buttons to press! Most of the noisy books in the house at the time had been bought originally for my eldest and he loved to remind her that they were bought for him, so I wanted to get her a noisy book of her very own.
In those days, you know before a global pandemic hit us and you could vary your days with little ones by taking them out of the house, and even to the shops, we liked to go to Foyles in Birmingham. I have taken both of my children there because there is a lovely children’s department that has (had?) a Brio train set for the children to play with while you were browsing. So we went quite regularly. I saw this book there and loved it.
Happily my little girl has also loved this book, and it has proven to be a great book for her to look at independently as well.
Published by Usborne Books, this is a guide to the orchestra. The book goes through the different sections of the orchestra – strings, woodwind, brass, even timpani (large tuned drums), and plays Hungarian Dance no 5 by Brahms. Showing children what those instruments sound like. At the end of the book the whole orchestra is brought together to play a short excerpt of. And the role of the conductor is briefly explained.
There is a round button, clearly marked, on each page to press to play the music, and this is easy even for small hands to press – we have had some noisy books in the past where you have had to press really very hard to get any sound to come out, and the book has quickly been abandoned.
Best of all, because we all know that noisy books can very quickly become a pain, there is an on/off switch at the back of the book for when it just gets a bit too much!
It is a lovely book that I would highly recommend, and a nice way to start introducing orchestral music and the instruments of the orchestra to very young children. Here it is in action:
Ukelele is a great first instrument for children to learn. It is small, so a good size for small hands, it has 4 strings, so is not overly complicated, it is quite easy to play, and you only have to learn a few chords before you can start to play tunes you know and like. So children can very quickly get into playing “proper music” rather than getting stuck in trying to make a nice sound. They realise they can actually make music themselves, and hopefully then get the bug for learning an instrument before moving on to an instrument that takes more work to master.
Now, of course, as with any instrument, it takes a lot of practice to play ukelele well, and there is so much you can do with it, but it is a great instrument to start developing your child’s interest in creating music for themselves.
I had intended to get my son to learn through the lockdown, but with both children at home all day, and my son getting the majority of the homeschooling attention, my daughter was not having it when I tried to spend time with my son on this.
They have now gone back to school/nursery for a few weeks (who knows how long it will last for), so I have started a new post-school routine with them. We get home and have a bath straight away, and then my son does 10 minutes ukelele practice/playing before he is allowed to play or watch TV.
The new routine started yesterday, and we were practising chord changes from C to F, and a few rhythm games to get him to do the chord changes in time. I am hoping that with 10 minutes every day we will get into a good routine, so that we continue over the summer. If we manage this challenge then he will be playing lots of lovely songs by the end of the summer!
I shall update you on how he gets on with this challenge.
We made these drums just before half term (which was last week here in Birmingham, UK) on a Saturday morning. I was trying to tempt the children away from the iPad and using screens, and hadn’t yet got them out of their pyjamas – well it’s not like we had anywhere to go to! This was a nice activity that kept them busy for about 20 minutes, decorating and sticking stuff onto their paper and cardboard. As I wanted nice, clean cardboard circles for the drums, I did prepare the circles in advance, but if you are not too bothered about them being exact, it would be great fine motor (pre-writing) scissor skills practice for your children. If I had just my 5 year old with me, I may have been tempted to get him to cut the shapes out for this activity himself.
So, what do you need to make this drum?
A compass, or something round to draw around, we used a roll of masking tape
A couple of beads
Some yarn or string (only a very small amount)
Pens, washi tape, stickers, anything you want to use to decorate your drum
1 straw for each drum
Glue. We used Pritt stick, but you could use PVA glue, or even hot glue if you are not doing this alongside your children. Mine were helping with the assembly of the drums so I wanted to use something they could both easily use by themselves
Hot glue gun (optional)
First of all, I drew around my masking tape roll. You need 2 of these for each drum you make. I made 4 circles because I was making 2 drums, one for each of the children. I then cut out 4 same size circles out of paper.
Once I had my circles all ready, I called the children in to help me put them together. My son had decided he had had enough of helping mummy making these instruments, and definitely did not want to be doing this. He really wanted to be playing on the iPad to be honest and I had said no, so he wasn’t best pleased with me at that moment in time. However, as soon as he saw glue and pens out and realised I was asking him to make something fun he changed his mind.
The children used Pritt Stick to stick the paper circles onto the cardboard circles. My son used felt pens to draw a star on either side of his drum, and my daughter used washi tape to decorate her circles. Interestingly, when we started making things with washi tape astound christmas my daughter, who was 2 at the time, would peel off as much tape as she could and stick it mostly to the table, rather than the paper or card we were using. I noticed with this task that she was much more purposeful with putting the right size tape onto the paper and trying to smooth it flat. She was starting to make much more conscious design decisions than haphazardly placing the tape as she had done only a few months earlier.
While the children were decorating their drums I cut 2 pieces of yarn. I cut about 4 inches. The yarn or string needs to be around 2 inches or more longer than the diameter of your cardboard circle. It will lie across your circle, so that there are 2 lengths of yarn either side that are roughly the same length. This is easiest illustrated with a picture I think!
The children chose 2 beads each, and we threaded them onto each side of the yarn.
Next we got a straw, 1 for each drum and flattened the top of it and folded it over slightly. This is the end of the straw that will be sandwiched between the 2 halves of the drum.
To make up each drum, we took 2 circles, liberally glued one half (I used hot glue, so didn’t let the children do this, so the drum would hold together better) and placed the yarn onto the glued circle together with the flattened and folded straw.
I then placed the other half on top, covering the first circle. Then as our beads kept trying to escape from the yarn (thicker yarn or beads with smaller holes, or even better knot tying would possibly resolve this!), I tried to put a little blob of hot glue on either end of the yarn to keep the bead from escaping. I did not do a very good job with this, and got in a bit of a mess with it!
To play the drum, your children (or you) will need to hold the straw in between their palms with the cardboard at the top. They with then twirl the straw around in their palms so that the beads hit the cardboard and make a noise. It is another nice, quiet instrument, but lots of fun. My children have had it out several time since making it. I mentioned above that I didn’t do a great job first time with the hot glue on the end of the yarn – so much so that one of the beads flew off the yarn the first time, so be generous with the glue if you are using it, or tie several really large knots in the yarn/string!!
Another incredibly simple instrument to have a go at making at home this week. Today we have a box guitar!
Now you can make these guitars as fancy or as plain as you like. We opted for plain so we could get on with using them- the children couldn’t wait to use them! You can make necks for the out of kitchen roll tubes, or a long, thin box, but essentially they boil down to a cardboard box with some elastic bands around them. That is it!!
We opted for very plain white boxes as I had been sent a lovely Easter gift in the box. It was a great size for my little hands to hold onto as well. I found some different size elastic bands, some thinner than the others, and it so happened that mine were multi-coloured. We stretched the elastic bands to fit the box and I spaced them out on the box so they were roughly equally spaced. You could tape the elastic bands down but I chose not to.
It is a very quiet instrument, but by using different size and thickness elastic bands I could produce slightly different notes or sounds. If I’d had more sizes of elastic bands I could have produced more notes.
For no reason, other than that is what I found and was able to get on the box before one of my children excitedly grabbed it and took it off with them, one box had 4 and one had 5 elastic bands on. As you can see below my children loved them!
My son was so enamoured of his “guitar” that he showed his school friends in his zoom storytime/show and tell. I also had to take it off him before he went to sleep the other night as he had been singing his dinosaurs a lullaby with it.
My daughter found another use for it altogether when she finished her boogieing! I have no idea what the Paw Patrol has done to deserve it?
How does it work?
This instrument works on the same principles as a guitar, or any other plucked stringed instrument. When the string, or here the elastic band, is plucked, it vibrates over the space below it. Here it is the open part of the box, and in a guitar it would be the hole under the string. The vibrations make sound. You can change the sound made by using a different length or thickness elastic band. Shorter elastic bands are pulled more taut on the cardboard box and so they vibrate faster when plucked. The faster an elastic band vibrates, the higher pitch we hear and so different length bands produce higher or lower notes. It would be the same with different thickness of elastic bands with thicker bands vibrating more slowly, producing a lower note.
So it is the end of week 6 of lockdown for us, and the end of the first week that we have had organised home learning from school.
I had thought that it would help us enormously having access to a full timetable of activities from school for my eldest, and his teachers have clearly worked very hard to provide this full timetable of work. Prior to this week I felt that my son needed a little more structure to his days, my ideas of what on earth to do we’re starting to run out, and he was starting to take a long time to get to sleep every day. I thought he needed more mental stimulation.
It has not exactly worked out as I had imagined though. For a number of reasons.
Like many parents of primary aged children, we are grappling with Seesaw. It is brilliant having access to a platform to host these activities, but it has been very hard to work out how to use it. I am not convinced we are doing it right, and my son, my husband and I have all got thoroughly frustrated with it several times this week.
Having a younger sister who has no set homework, is noisy and whose tasks mummy sets her to keep her busy, or plays with her while he is working is very distracting for my poor boy. At times it seems like she has more fun, because she gets to scribble in a colouring book or stick stickers in a book for 10 minutes before she can go back to just playing with her toys. It has been very hard for him to concentrate, and he often has not wanted to sit and concentrate on his school work. It has not helped that it has been harder to get outside this week with the rainy weather.
We started the week with great intentions of doing all the English and Maths set work, and probably some of the other stuff set too. By the end of the week, we do a phonics activity and either English or Maths, and sometimes do one of the other set activities, though not every day.
The rest of the time we draw or paint, and of course we have a lot of music at home. So how do we use music at home at the moment?:
We are still making DIY instruments, and actually my son in particular is really enjoying this. I’ll write about the DIY guitar we made this week at some point. It’s a creative task, and while the making part is generally quite quick, sometimes the children play with it for a while afterwards. It is something new for them, and passes some time!
I am trying to teach my son to play ukelele, and learning it with him. We tried learning the piano at the beginning of the academic year, but it didn’t capture my boy. He is much more willing to give this a go and we have learned a few songs so far. I think the fact that I am learning along with him and playing it with him helps.
We sing lots of songs together, they can be as loud as they like when we are singing! And my daughter loves singing away to herself.
We get our instruments and either just play anything we want to, play along with some music, or just use them to get some frustration out of our system. It’s fun seeing how loud you can play ￼the instruments! They also, unwittingly, are working on their listening skills when they are trying to play along with some music input on for them.
When things have got quite tense and the children have been fighting with each other a lot, I have been known to find a “happy songs” or “children’s party songs” playlist and get them to dance away. Our favourites are musical bumps and statues. The children like the idea of musical chairs but my daughter, who is just 3, doesn’t understand how you play the game at all so it always descends into chaos! They burn off some energy and get to jump around like crazy things.
I put music on while my son is supposed to be doing some of his work. We have lots of different styles of music on in the background at different times of the day. The children get to listen to and get exposed to many different sorts of music, some they are familiar with and some not so familiar with. I will write more about this, and why it is so good for children another day, but I am hoping it will develop their love of and appreciation for music in the future.
When my temper is fraying (and oh my goodness, my patience has been tested on at least a daily basis by us all being together all the time), pretending I am in a musical or opera, and singing to them instead of talking (shouting!) has helped enormously, and I have just about managed to control my temper. Other days I have to walk out the room for 5 minutes…
Do you use music with your homeschooling or to help you cope with lockdown? What do you do and how do you find it helps you?
Apparently I am obsessed with shakers! I admit it. They are the easiest instruments to make at home, they can be made from so many different materials and don’t take very long to make. All things that are of supreme importance when trying to get small children interested in making instruments with you.
My eldest, at 5, nearly 6, is much better at concentrating on something for a relatively long period (although I have noticed that even he is struggling to concentrate for as long as normal in these very odd times we are having at the moment), so he can take part in larger or more complicated makes. However my youngest is only 2 – she will be 3 later on this week (and is incredibly excited about that!). She is very different to her brother. Where he likes to concentrate on something and master a new task or activity, she is much more likely to throw herself into something and give it a go straight away. This means that her patience for concentrating on anything is very limited at the moment. So, shakers are great for her in particular. She can throw herself into having a go at making something herself and not have to wait too ling before she can play with it!
This is what you need to make these shakers:
Straws. We used about 4 for each shaker.
Yarn, thread or string.
Foil from chocolate coins or bottle tops.
A tapestry needle. I use a plastic one that is quite large to make it easier for small hands, and because it is not as sharp as a normal metal sewing needle.
First we gathered straws, about 4 for each shaker, together and stuck them together with sticky tape, wrapping it around the bottom, middle and top. You don’t need a lot of tape, just enough to go around the straws once. Then I cut 4 lengths of yarn for each shaker. If your child is old enough they can do this themselves. I let both of my children have a go at cutting some of the yarn under very strict supervision. (Basically, I pretty much did it with my 2 year old just let her have her hands around the handles as we pressed them down together, I let my 5 year old cut the yarn right in front of me.
I then showed the children how to thread the tapestry needle with the yarn, which they both managed, then showed them hope to make a small hole in the foil wrapper and gently pull the yarn through that small hole. This was fun. We went through a number of the foil wrappers as they were learning how to be gentle enough not to just rip the foil apart. I’ll be honest, my 2 year old didn’t quite manage it by herself, but she had a good go! Luckily I had been saving these foil wrappers up for a while (we have been using them as rewards for potty training!) so had plenty.
We strung four foil wrappers on each piece of yarn and then tied it around the straws, tying it securely in place and trimming the tail of the yarn.
Once I had tied four of the yarn pieces onto the foil I decided to tape them in place. You can use as many or as few of these as you like with these shakers. I wanted the foils to be fairly close together so that they hit each other when the straw was shaken to make it a slightly louder instrument.
And that is all there is to it with these. A very simple, easy and quick to make instrument. And here you have a little demonstration of how to play it from my son.
I think shakers are the easiest instruments to make at home. There’s not much engineering to them at all. All you need is a vessel, the only requirement is that is can be sealed, and some dry stuff to put inside it. We have made a number of shakers in the last few weeks, and I would encourage you to have a go with your little ones.
Quite early on in the lockdown, I saw a tweet from @OCproducer about making Lego instruments. He had shared this video made by Andrew Huang who had made some percussion instruments using Lego. I watched it with my 5 year old who loves Lego, and who has very much enjoyed our instrument making in the last few weeks. I fully intended for us to have a go at making some instruments with Lego, but slightly forgot about it.
This afternoon my son brought me a shaker he had made out of Lego. He had remembered the video we watched and decided on his own to give it a go.
It’s a simple, but very effective instrument made using a small baseplate with Lego bricks all around the edge. He put a couple of tiny round pieces in the middle and another small baseplate on top. That is as complicated as it gets. The shaker works beautifully, if a little quietly. For me, the best thing was that my son had decided to do it himself and didn’t need any help. He was so proud of himself that he had made a percussion instrument by himself.
These are very much indoor windchimes, but I do have vague plans in my head to make some outdoor windchimes at some point in the next few weeks with some old cutlery we no longer use but have hoarded in a drawer for some unknown reason (it’s general laziness really, but I like to pretend it’s because of the small children in the house taking up all my time.) I have plans to make a lot of things “in the next few week”, so we’ll have to see what we actually manage to make!
Anyway, the windchimes. To make these indoor windchimes you need:
A paper cup- we used the last of our Star Wars cups from my son’s birthday last year
Some yarn, thread or shoelaces- weused some bright yellow yarn, cut into 4 equal length pieces for each cup
Some ribbon or more yarn to hang the cup up with.
Beads or buttons to thread on the yarn. We used a mixture of both.
A hole punch, or something to make holes in the paper cup.
Plastic tapestry needle (optional).
Hot glue gun (optional)
We made two windchimes. One each for each of the children. To start off with I set things up for them in advance to try to make it easier for them (and me!). I punched 4 roughly equally spaced holes around the edge of the cup with my hole punch. I could also have used scissors, my needle, a chop stick or something like that rather than the hole punch. I then made a hole in the top of the cup, we’ll the bottom of it really, and threaded the ribbon through it, tying a knot inside the cup to keep it in place and a loop at the top to hang the cup from when it was finished.
I measured out 4 equally sized lengths of yarn for each cup, and put a knot in the end of each piece of yarn. I needed a large knot because we would be using a large button, but if only small buttons or beads would be used it would not need to be as large.
If I had been doing this with just my 5 year old I would not have taken this next step, I would have let him help himself to the beads and buttons in the containers they came in. However, my nearly 3 year old was also taking part so I could foresee many beads being kicked all over the room if I let her at them all as they were! So I gave them each four giant buttons, one for each piece of yarn, and a selection of buttons. We had these paint mixing pallets at home, so I used those for the beads.
I did suggest (heavily) that they use the giant button on each piece of yarn first so that it was at the bottom of each one. I then let them thread beads on the yarn, which is great fine motor skills practice. They needed to add the same number of beads to each piece of yarn and so we got some number practice in as well. I got them to use plastic tapestry needles to thread the beads onto the yarn with. These tapestry needles can be bought online or from most haberdashery stores. I got mine in a set of about 15 from amazon. They are great for small hands as they are larger, and not as sharp as regular needles so much easier and safer for them to use.
My boy, who likes making things with beads anyway, managed to do all four sets of beads himself. My girl, the youngest, managed to nearly finish one piece of yarn by herself, helped pick the beads out for the second and then abandoned the project altogether for the last two pieces of yarn!
Once there were enough beads on the yarn, we threaded them through the holes made around the edge of the paper cup, and then trimmed the yarn to the right length. I was a little concerned that the knots I tied in the bottom of the yarn would not hold out so I used my hot glue gun on the knots to make sure they stayed in place.
There you have it DIY windchimes. A fun activity that my 5 year old especially enjoyed doing and they will hopefully make a nice sound when swaying in the breeze near the open window.
Or, like my son, you could decide they are octopi fighting each other and play fighting with them! (This May have been the point that I thought it would be worth using the hot glue gun…)
Another fun activity to do at home with your little ones while we are all on lockdown. Today I made panpipes using only items that I found in the drawers at home.
To make panpipes at home you will need to collect together:
Straws. We had a stock of plastic straws at home. Paper ones would work as well, but wouldn’t last as long. Silicon straws would not work for this as you need to be able to cut the bottoms off the straw to make the instrument.
Stickers/paper tape/ anything you want to use to decorate the panpipes with (optional)
So, the first thing I did was to choose a number of straws I wanted to make the instrument. There is absolutely no hard and fast rule about this. I wanted to be able to make a few because I have small children, and if I haven’t given them both exactly the same to play with/put stickers on then I immediately regret it. I wanted to make one for myself to experiment with and then one each for the children to decorate and play.
The straws need to be lined up so that they lie in a fairly nice, straight line at the top. This is the side of the instrument you will be blowing down to play, so it does need to be a relatively uniform height. I then used sticky tape to attach the straws together.
Once the straws were all stuck down (I’ll be honest, this didn’t really last all that long once my 2 year old got hold of it and started her usual exploration of things by squeezing it….) I then cut the bottom of the straws to make the panpipes. I held my scissors at an angle so that I ended up with a lovely even slope for the bottom of the instrument.
Here’s the reason for the sloping angle. Panpipes are wind instruments. This means that you use use your own breath blown down or across a tube to make a sound.
With these simple wind instruments, the pitch of the note produces is dependent on the length of the tube the air has to travel down. So here, with these panpipes, the shorter straws produce a higher note, or higher pitch, than the longer straws. The longest straws produce the lowest note, or pitch. If all of the straw were cut at the same height, they would have produced the same pitch (and it would have largely been pointless cutting the straws in the first place). I could have cut each straw individually and then arranged them from low to high pitch (longest to shortest straw). However panpipes are played by moving your mouth from one side to the other (skilled players can play actual tunes on panpipes, but we are very much NOT skilled panpipe players!) and that makes sounds that move evenly in pitch from left to right and right to left. The easiest way to achieve this was to angle my scissors and cut the straws using a steep angle as shown in the picture, and the height of each straw was then much more evenly distributed.
My children were asked to decorate the panpipes. We have a lot of stickers at home- there will be considerably fewer left at home, if any, once this lockdown has ended! – and they certainly didn’t hold back with their use of sticker decorations. And apparently it is absolutely the done thing to make a Halloween themed panpipe at the start of spring…..
So what did they sound like then? Well, again I will be honest, I don’t think we will be worrying any panpipe manufacturers with our homemade versions. In fact you have to listen very carefully to detect the difference in pitch. But having made several quite noisy instruments with the children, it was something of a delight to make a quiet instrument. And they do work. You can definitely hear the rising pitch as you blow down the straws and move your mouth across the panpipe from the longest to the shortest. You just have to listen very carefully- a skill that every musician needs to acquire!
If you have a go at making your own panpipes I would love to see and hear how you got on.
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.
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 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!
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
We have made a few instruments at home now and my boy has really enjoyed it. So much so that when we were talking about what we would do this week during self-isolation he said that he wanted to make an instrument.
I thought this might make quite a good project for him (and pass some time one afternoon!) So I asked him to first plan out his instrument in a notebook (writing and drawing practice) and then we would work on making it together. The instrument he had in his head was a balloon shaker, which inspired me to make a version or two myself.
This was my son’s instrument diagram:
And he wrote some quite detailed instructions for making the balloon shaker:
First put 5 chickpeas inside a balloon.
Next put 12 dried lentils inside the balloon.
Then put 5 little pieces of paper inside the balloon.
Finally blow the balloon up.
He had told me his plan before starting to write it out, so I found a funnel, balloons, chickpeas and lentils and prepared to make the shakers:
Firstly I made a lentil shaker. Lentils were poured into the balloon through the funnel, and then I blew up the balloon. Surprisingly few lentils were needed to make quite a good sound.
And then we tried out the lentil balloon shaker. I loved that you could see the lentils through the latex, I thought it added a bit of an extra sensory element to the shaker.
Then it was the turn of the chickpeas, and they needed a little extra help getting into the balloon, I think finally I used a pencil to poke them down into the balloon. These made a much deeper sound and we needed far fewer of them.
We then made my son’s shaker following his very specific instructions and finally we did one balloon with a mixture of both lentils and chickpeas. We finally sang the song I Hear Thunder with our shakers, a good few times over. The children loved them. They loved making the balloons, they loved shaking them, they loved that they were really quite loud, and we spent almost an hour making these shakers and exploring the sounds they made.
At the time of writing this blog post we are at the start of people quarantining themselves at home because of the outbreak of Coronavirus here in the UK. There are a whole host of amazing virtual entertainment and education options for people to look at to keep their children entertained/busy/educated. There are also lots of songs and music programmes for children to watch and sing along to and I thought it would be a great time to write about the ones we used to watch and, I’ll be honest, still do on a regular basis.
Before I continue, if you are reading this because you have a small child I would encourage you to sing along with your children as much as possible. Your voice is the best, most brilliant voice as far as your baby is concerned, much nicer to listen to for them than anyone else’s. So sing away to your heart’s content. And maybe enjoy the adoration, because as soon as they were able to do it my children told me to stop singing. Now it works to get them to do things I want them to do “Mummy will stop singing if you pick up your toys”…..
CBeebies is an excellent resource. On iPlayer they have song spotlights with songs from programmes like Waffle the Wonderdog, Maddie’s Do You Know, the brilliant Hey Duggee. The following programmes are particularly good for music too:
Mr Tumble, or Something Special is, of course, a multi-sensory show and there is a focus on Makaton sign language, however there are also a lot of Mr Tumble Songtime songs on the iPlayer. Our favourite is the Hokey Cokey. From when they were very small the children and I have done the Hokey Cokey, flying them around in my arms as babies, and now we hold hands and my children attempt the moves- it’s impossibly cute watching my 2 year old trying to work out which is her left leg or right leg! My son tries to go in and out of the circle as quickly as possible, and sometimes decides to just throw himself up and down the room in the chorus!
Tee and Mo
I love Tee and Mo. It’s such a lovely cartoon about the adventures of a monkey and his mum, voiced by Lauren Laverne. we discovered the cartoon via the CBeebies songtime section on iPlayer. They had two songs for Mother’s Day, A Bag Full of Lovehttps://youtu.be/enVd6qX7FmU and Only One Mum https://youtu.be/ehntXOUUDio there is a Tee and Mo album, and for a while this was my 1 year old daughter’s favourite album to play in the car. She is 2 now, so obviously too old for that sort of thing. I am often tempted to listen to the album on my own now. The children’s favourite song from this is Are We Ready to Go but mine has to be the lovely lullaby Go to Sleep, beautiful song that I have sung to my children at bedtime.
I started watching this with my 2 year old and she loves it. I would say that I probably wouldn’t watch it with younger children, but the. Again any exposure to music is great. YolanDa Brown is a saxophonist and, together with her band and invited guests they play music for children to play along with, dance along with, listen to. She has a variety of artists appearing as special guests from bands like The Lightning Seeds to solo percussionist Evelyn Glennie. This is a brilliant show, and if your children have even a slight liking of music watch it! Below is a fun clip from the show trying to wake up the drummer
When I had my son, despite having been a musician, I could not for the life of me think of any nursery rhymes. I knew loads, but as I had been working as a lawyer for a while they had all disappeared! So I looked on YouTube for some ideas of nursery rhymes to sing. I found loads!! Some are really good, others were odd to say the least! These are a few of our favourites:
Super simple songs
These are American song compilations and there are loads of them. There are nursery rhymes, phonics songs, Christmas songs, number songs all sorts. When my youngest was just a few months old and I had a 3 year old at home at the same time these were quite a life line as both children would be absolutely transfixed by them. We particularly like the Apples and Bananas song
When my little girl was born, my son was obsessed with dinosaurs. Utterly obsessed. We read about them, we drew them, we went to see them at the dinosaur museum and, of course, we found songs about them. Pinkfong had some great songs (they also do a version of the dreaded Baby Shark, so be warned of you want to avoid it!) Our favourite was Spinosaurus vs T Rex
This compilation was one of my husband’s favourites to put on and sing along to with the children while I made dinner (escaped for 10 minutes):
Ned and Nellie
One of the first compilations of nursery rhymes I watched with my son when he was tiny was Ned and Nellie’s nursery rhymes. Traditional songs with traditional tunes, and sung by a girl and her puppet friend. They are fun, recognisable and great to sing along to.