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Enjoying Music with the Whole Family

Make music a part of your family life. It can enrich developmental skills, and it's fun!
By: Alvin Poussaint, M.D.

Enjoying Music with the Whole Family

Even if you don't sit in with a little jazz combo on Friday nights, you can still be part of the music scene. How? By making music part of your family life. And family-style music can produce big rewards from very modest efforts.

Musical benefits
Musical activities not only enrich family life, they actually help children develop cognitive skills, such as language ability, mathematics, spatial reasoning and problem solving.

But music is much more than an educational resource. It calms and energizes our mood, and it's a great way to expand your children's horizons. Most importantly, music is just plain fun!

Easy musical activities

  • Make singing part of your good-night ritual. From infants to young school children, the calm and security of your voice help them "wind down" for bed time. "Lullabies" can be anything you enjoy singing -- from "Yellow Submarine" to Nigerian folk songs -- if you sing slowly and gently.

  • Hold your baby or toddler in your arms and dance together. The music, the rhythmic movement, and your closeness will delight your child.

  • With toddlers and pre-schoolers, play "What can we do to this music?" Using different tempos, different rhythms, and different music styles, invent movements together. Take turns, follow the leader, use your imagination.

  • Encourage children to make up songs. Most kids croon to themselves as they play. Show your pleasure when you hear your child singing about "peanut butter and the kitty and the red blocks." Ask to hear another. Use a familiar tune like "Frere Jacques" or make up one of your own.

  • Create simple instruments and play them together. Shakers are easy to make by pouring some dried beans or rice into a small plastic container with a snap lid. An oatmeal box, an ice cream tub -- even a stock pot, if you can handle the noise -- makes a great drum, played either by hand or with a spoon. And cardboard paper towel rolls turn into wonderful horns with an enthusiastic "doot de doo" down one end. Play along with recorded music. Or play together as your own rhythm band.

  • Give musical gifts. Sturdy rhythm instruments, xylophones, child-operable tape recorders and children's tapes are all readily available at toy stores.

Small cautions
Try to avoid overstimulating young children with sound levels that are too loud or with overly long sessions. Your child will let you know how much is enough. When children ask for music lessons, they are usually old enough to have them. A good music teacher can give you advice on your child's readiness. Children who show an interest in making music need your support, but shouldn't be pushed. Encouragement is different from insistence. Forcing children to participate is a sure way to turn them off.

Music can lay the foundation for learning skills, provide a rich opportunity for family activities, and become a source of life-long pleasure for you and your children. So let's hear it!

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