Teaching children through music and rhythm

Music is like magic to children. A father’s lullaby can soothe a baby to sleep, and a mother’s enthusiastic chant can inspire a whole family to hike the steepest mountain trail. Music and rhythm, in their many forms, are part of all children’s lives. The tick-tock of clocks, the purring of cats, and the rhymes and songs on television accompany them as they grow up. Music is portable. You can take it – or make it – anywhere. Part of growing up is learning to make and listen to music.

Children of all ages express themselves through music. Even at an early age children sway, bounce, or move their hands in response to music they hear. Many preschoolers make up songs and, with no self-consciousness, sing to themselves as they play. Kids in pre-school and primary school learn to sing together as a group and possibly learn to play a musical instrument. Older children dance to the music of their favourite rock and roll bands and use music to form friendships and share feelings.

Music is used in plays, on television, and in movies; music and rhythm also are part of every day ceremonies and celebrations. Ethnic beliefs and values often are passed on to new generations during celebrations that are filled with songs, dances, and sounds of musical instruments. Music and rhythm help teach about culture; they also can help teach children.

What is Music and What is Rhythm?

MUSIC is a combination of sounds that has rhythm and melody and is pleasing to hear.

RHYTHM is the repetition of a beat or sound in a regular or predictable pattern.

CULTURE is the behaviours learned and practiced by a specific group of people. The way of life determined by the people’s morals, values, customs, and attitude 

Why are Music and Rhythm important?

Music and rhythm can help children:

  • Express their emotions. Children will sing a joyful song or hum a catchy tune when they’re happy. In contrast, their dance movements might be jerky and aggressive when they are angry or frustrated.
  • Rrelease energy and channel it in creative, productive directions.
  • Gain confidence in themselves as they realise they can use their minds and bodies together. Children learn that, with practice, their bodies will do almost anything they want them to do – even leap across a room or turn cartwheels in time to music.
  • Learn new words and ideas. Children often create their own songs, melodies, and movements. Or they learn songs that have already been written about spaceships, kangaroos or friendships.
  • Learn about themselves and the relationships they have with others. Songs heard in school, in community settings, and from teachers and parents, teach about life and give hints on living it. The words might teach about hard-to-understand concepts like faith, patriotism, love, and freedom. The rhythms and melodies might teach that we like songs we can dance to, or that we prefer songs that make us want to sit quietly and listen. Shy children might discover that they feel bolder among other people when they are loudly singing or dancing. Misbehaving children might be calmed when soft music is played.

Ages and Stages of Musical Fun 


The music infants hear is dependent on their caregivers. Mothers might sing short, simple songs in high-pitched voices or dads might chant phrases over and over in deep, low tones. Brothers, sisters, and babysitters may play popular music for them. Grandparents may tune to radio stations that play classical or orchestrated music. Some research findings suggest that babies can hear music even before they are born, while still in the mother’s womb.

Sing simple, short songs to infants in a high, soft voice. Make up one or two lines about bathing, dressing, or eating to sing to them while you do these activities.

Nursery rhymes said with rhythm and repetition sound pleasant to older infants. You also can provide rhythmic activities for younger infants by rocking them or clapping and patting their hands together. Babies will respond with excited movements like swaying, waving, and bouncing. Gurgling, cooing, and happy shouting are the baby’s own way of making music! Toddlers

Children from 18 months through 3 years like short songs. Their memories are not fully developed, so they can remember only a few words at a time. Motion also is interesting to them, and actions put to words help them remember their order. Repeating songs encourages the use of words and memorization.

When caring for toddlers, listen when they begin to sing spontaneously. Repeat the songs or nursery rhymes over and over. Encourage the child to reproduce their rhythms by clapping or tapping a metal pie pan with a wooden spoon. Most 3-year-olds will be able to listen and repeat.

As toddlers sing, or music plays on the radio or stereo, call out movements for them to make that involve various parts of their bodies. Ask them to jump and hop, smile and frown, or punch the air with their fists. Then, ask them to sit on the floor or stand on one foot each time you turn the music off. This is a fun game for toddlers and can be played with all kinds of music.

Toddlers’ attention spans aren’t as long as yours so when they are ready to play another game, turn your attention to something new as well.


Children who are 4 and 5 enjoy singing just to be singing! They like songs that repeat words and melodies, rhythms with a definite beat and words that ask them to do things. Preschool children enjoy nursery rhymes and songs about familiar things like toys, animals, play activities, and people. They also like fingerplays and nonsense rhymes with or without musical accompaniment.

If you are caring for preschool children, provide a wide variety of music for them to listen to; folk songs, symphonies, operas, rock and roll, and even sound tracks from movies they might have seen. Suggest that everyone pretend to be animals or objects like cats, elephants, trucks, or bouncing balls, and then imitate these in response to the music. You might provide the children with long scarves with which they can pretend to make butterfly wings. Together, you can move your bodies and “wings” and “fly” along with the music!

School-age Children 

Remember, like toddlers, the attention span of preschool children is short. They should not be urged to continue singing or to participate in dancing or rhythmic activities after they have lost interest. Let the child’s interest be your guide.

Most 6- to 9-year-olds like songs about everyday happenings. Songs that involve counting, spelling, or remembering a sequence of events are popular. Songs and musical activities with other school subjects also are effective during this developmental stage. Words that tell stories about athletic games, other countries, famous men and women, or scientific discoveries are well liked and easily remembered. Verses still should be fairly short and limited to one thought.

Early school-age children are able to establish firm relationships with their companions and may use musical experiences to form friendships. They may have a strong interest in taking music lessons or playing in a band. They also may want to listen to records after school with a group of friends or sing in a community choir. They are conscientious about practicing and especially like percussion instruments. This age group likes rhythm and can dance or clap in time to the music. Rhythm is important and fun to them!

If you are the caregiver for an early school-age child, you may not have to initiate musical activities. Children, ages 6 to 9, can choose their own friends and activities and organize their own experiences. Listen to the music they may want to play for you.

Suggest that everyone sing and play musical instruments together as a group. If you let the children take turns directing this “jam session” and join in as an enthusiastic member, their interest will surely last longer.

How you can help children enjoy music and rhyme

For most children, singing is as natural as talking. Kids learn to sing just as they learn to talk – by imitating other people. You probably will not have to teach the children you care for how to sing, but you can help them learn to feel good about their method of musical expression by feeling good about your own. Working patiently to teach them new songs will help them learn how to take instructions and how to cooperate. Teaching them how to make and play homemade musical instruments will help develop self-confidence. Smile when you sing, and be proud when making your music! The children will do as you do!

The fact that you like a certain instrument, like a certain song, or have a favourite kind of music does not mean the children you care for will share your enthusiasm. You may need to interest them in an instrument or motivate them to learn a song by showing pictures, telling a short story, or playing a guessing game. The purpose of motivating is to focus the children’s attention on the music or rhythm activity in which you would like them to participate.

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