Music comes from God. It is one of the things that make us human, and He has put it there, deep inside us, for a reason. Music develops the heart of the child. I love how Kevin Clark and Ravi Scott Jain explain it in their book The Liberal Arts Tradition, “Musical education is soul-craft: carried out properly it tunes the soul, and makes one receptive to truth and goodness.” Let us embrace this aspect of our children’s education. Here are five steps, and three reasons to teach music yourself.
- Get ready to learn. As with any other subject, you cannot teach what you don’t know, but you can be ready to learn with your kids.
- Put an instrument in your home.
- Read about famous composers, and listen to their music.
- Keep developmental stages in mind, and know when to pass on the work to a professional.
Three Reasons for Teaching Music Yourself
- Money: Lessons for any instrument are expensive.
- Time: Maybe you don’t have room in your schedule for driving to and from lessons.
- Adventure: Perhaps you just love pushing the limits of what you can teach.
For our family, it was all of the above. We had no extra money for music lessons, no time to add another activity outside the home to our schedule, and perhaps a mother who just likes proving that something can be done. I want to make it clear that I have nothing against music teachers. If you have the money and the time in your schedule to get your kids lessons from a professional, go for it. After all, they have been trained to teach music.
However, even if your child is taking professional lessons for an instrument, there is still so much you can do at home to complement and enhance those lessons.
Singing to Babies
One of the most natural instincts a mother has when comforting a baby is to sing. It is a precious moment when a mother or father sings to comfort their babies. It often works, and no, your babies do not care if you are singing in the right key or forget half the words. They love your voice and are entranced by the melody and rhythm of the song.
When your babies are young, sing to them. If you don’t know a lot of lullabies, look some of the classics up, and listen to them. Sing along until you know the songs well enough to sing on your own. If you practice singing to them when they are little babies, you will be ready to sing in key with them when they are toddlers. Fitting songs into your day with babies is as easy as singing while you nurse, or while rocking your baby to sleep.
When you are blessed with the intense energy of toddlers, it’s time to bring out the motion songs. This age group thrives off movement, and they really need a lot of physical movement. Songs with motion can challenge them to move their body in certain ways, in certain sequences, and at a certain time. All of this is actually so crucial to what kids this age need to learn. If you spend some solid time every morning doing dancing and motion songs with your toddlers and preschool kids, you are likely to notice a sort of calm come over them afterward. (That lull was always a prime time to get a little book work done with older siblings.)
My favorite resource for this age was Wee Sing and Move, both the songs and the booklet. The booklet guides you through the movements. This was essential to my survival for several winters in a row when we had three toddlers in the house. Often, I would also let them get out many little obnoxious percussion instruments, and make as much racket with the music as their merry little hearts desired. Another fun thing to do is give them streamers or ribbons to swirl around and dance with.
As they got older, the children were interested in plucking out songs they knew on the piano, like Mary Had a Little Lamb, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, and Humpty Dumpty. My kids loved sitting on the edge of the couch, and falling off every time we got to the line “had a great fall!”
As your child is nearing the age of five, I would say it is time to have an instrument in your house (other than toddler percussion kits). What kind of instrument you get depends on budget, space, and your own musical history. Maybe you already happen to have a piano in the house. If you do not have a piano, and that is not really an option for you, you can purchase a lap harp or a recorder.
The thing I love about the lap harp is that you can get sheet music that slides right under the strings, and you just pluck the string that is above the printed note as you read the music. This basically takes the abstract concept of reading music out of the equation, which makes playing songs more accessible to young children. The lap harp will be much more successful if you play with it also. Anytime I want my kids to be interested in something, I just do it myself, and soon they are all hovering around me begging for turns. You can purchase a lap harp for about forty dollars.
What I love about the recorder is that children love to just blow through it as hard as they can, and produce the most horrible screeching noise you have ever heard. (Maybe that isn’t my favorite part.) They love it; they seem to think it is just so amazing that they can make that horrendous sound come out of a tiny little tube. Recorders are one of the most inexpensive and easy to learn instruments out there. Try to splurge, and get a nice ten or fifteen dollar one instead of the ones from the dollar store. You can also get very simple and easy to follow beginner books for the recorder, and this is a great way for children to begin the process of being able to read music. Reading music is an abstract skill, and I usually wait until around age eight to begin teaching that aspect of music.
Another fun thing to do is to rent the percussion bells, which you hit with a mallet, from the local music store for a month or two. Then when you cannot stand to hear those bells again, you just return them. Parent win!
Story and Song
Elementary school is a good time to incorporate stories and songs of the great composers. There are a lot of ways this can be done. You can probably find free resources for this at your local library.
Never stop singing with your kids; one of the easiest ways to fit this in is to sing together in the car. As they get older, you can move on to songs with more complex rhythms and more words. We have used many of the Wee Sing books, from Christmas to America to Nursery Rhymes. I have also used and enjoyed the Singing Made Easy series published by IEW.
As with any subject, there may come a time when your child is just ready to learn more than you can teach. Or maybe they are interested in an instrument you simply are not ready to tackle. One blessing we have in this modern world is many professionals sharing their expertise for free. You can find good beginning lessons for just about any instrument on YouTube. I am not suggesting this as a permanent replacement to having a music teacher, but it can be so helpful when your child is in an exploratory stage.
If you have a child in the double digits who is really showing a deep interest in music (practicing every day because they love it, not because you told them to), it may be time to consider passing the torch on to someone who can lead them into a deeper understanding of music.
Another option as they get older is to find a homeschool band they can play in, or if you are in a state where you can sign up for school classes, you may want to consider joining a band class. This lets the child bring their skills to another level, without the cost of professional music lessons.
A Music Lifestyle
Don’t be intimidated by the idea of incorporating music into your homeschooling lifestyle. We do not need to be experts to explore and share the basics of music with our children. It is not our job to teach them everything there is to learn, but to guide them in learning the basics, exploring their world, and discovering what they love.
Copyright 2017, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.