Ways to Help Children's Development Through Music
Music can be a powerful tool for emotional and physical development in children.
Making music offers opportunities to improve communication. Our child can express emotion through the noises that they make, and we can practice back and forth exchanges, turn-taking and listening skills by making sounds together.
Using musical instruments can be beneficial physically, improving our child’s breathing and fine and gross motor skills. Dancing and moving to music is also great fun!
Music can also help regulate the nervous system. Slow, soft music and sounds are calming and can ease anxiety, while loud, up-tempo music is alerting, which helps an under-stimulated nervous system.
Below we share some of the fantastic ways that music can be used at home to support our child’s development. Enjoy!
Musical Ideas to try at Home
Your child can play a musical instrument, no matter what their hand skills are.
When they are very young with minimal control, they can tap a keyboard or a drum as an easy way to get some cause and effect.
If they can hold onto implements in their hand, they can enjoy a rattle or tambourine, or try and hit a drum with a stick.
If a child has more dexterity in their hands and can point with one finger, we can encourage them to play with their pointing finger. If necessary hold their other fingers to keep just the pointing finger free. Practice pressing a keyboard key with this finger, pressing buttons on musical toys, strumming a guitar or using the pointing finger for musical games on a tablet. If our child has difficulty isolating their pointing finger, this Our Home video may be helpful!
If we don’t have any instruments at home we can make our own using everyday objects. A wooden spoon and some upside down saucepans can become a drumkit, and a plastic bottle with some rice in it makes a great shaker. Check out this blog post for some other easy DIY instrument ideas.
Some children with Down Syndrome have difficulty with deep breathing as they use short breaths to help them with their trunk control. Blowing is therefore a difficult activity for some but works the mouth muscles to help develop speech and feeding skills as well as help with breathing control.
Try putting a harmonica, recorder or other wind instrument near your child’s mouth so they get great cause and effect from their blowing and to encourage longer blows.
Blowing through a straw in soapy water can create loads of bubbles and can make some lovely noises – if they blow harder, more bubbles appear. You could blow a tune to a song to try to encourage longer blows. This can be great for increasing their strength for breathing.
Singing songs while doing specific actions can both fun and helpful for your child. It’s a novel way to meet a child’s specific movement/physical needs, and the music offers a great cue of what is to take place, helping manage expectations and increase understanding.
The Grand Old Duke’s of York: when the men go ‘up’ you can all stand or put your arms up in the air. When they go ‘down’ you can sit down or put your arms down.
Row Row Row the Boat: stretch your child legs out into a long sit while you move to and sing this song. This is a brilliant way to stretch out hamstrings.
This is the Way We: this song can be adapted to encourage a child to do all all kinds of movements and activities. For example, ‘this is the way we touch our toes, touch our toes, touch our toes, this is the way we touch our toes on a cold and frosty morning’, ‘this is the way we brush our teeth’, ‘this is the way put on our coat’.
Five Little Monkeys Bouncing on a Bed: brilliant for jumping and moving games.
When You’re Happy and You Know It: you can use this song to encourage any movement, e.g. when you’re happy and you know it open you hands/move your arms/jump up and down.
This Little Piggy Went to Market: lovely for massaging or stretching fingers and toes.
Songs can be a clear indication of the start of an activity or the end so that, when regularly used, children know what is coming next. For example Mr Tumble’s Hello and Goodbye songs could be used at the beginning and end of an activity, first thing in the morning and last thing at night or at the start and end of a therapy session.
You can also use the same song to help your child manage an activity. For example you could sing ‘twinkle twinkle little star’ while you give your child a stretch, or brush their hair or teeth. If your start and end the activity as you start and finish the song, your child will know how long the activity will be going on for, and when the end is near. This will make the whole process easier for them.
YouTube is bursting with music videos that children can sing and dance to. The Little Baby Bum channel for example has hours and hours of nursery rhymes and children’s songs with cartoon characters.
CBeebies Songs has a huge library of songs with everything CBeebies, from Something Special to Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures. There should be something for everyone to enjoy and hopefully move and sing along to.
Curly Cath has lots of wonderful videos to help children sing, dance and make music. The videos are aimed at under fives but may also be suitable for older children with learning difficulties.
Flamingo Chicks have produced an amazing series of inclusive dance videos, with Makaton signing and adaptations for different needs and with a different theme for each session. This Inclusive Space Dance Class is great example of their work. Do visit their YouTube channel for more.
Over lockdown, Bristol Bears ran a wonderful weekly “DanceTime” dance session for those with profound learning needs. You can find the videos on their YouTube channel.
We love this series of bite-sized creative dance sessions from Wriggle Dance Theatre. The instructions are clear and children are given plenty of opportunity to be creative.
Just Dance Kids is a great game where children can enjoy learning dance routines to well known songs. You don’t need a gaming system to enjoy the Just Dance experience – there are plenty of videos on YouTube children can dance along to. Repetition can be key with these. Find one song that your child especially likes, and help them learn the movements. Over time your child may learn the routine so well they can anticipate the next move, which can rewarding and enjoyable. If that isn’t motivating, they can of course just freestyle too! You can make Just Dance part of your day-to-day routine as a way of getting a daily workout in for your child (and maybe you too!).
Soundabout have produced some lovely videos for children with learning difficulties. They encourage children to sing, play and make music and sounds any way they can.
Singing Hands have created this excellent library of popular songs and nursery rhymes all sung using Makaton.
You can also use singing as a way to prompt communication yourself. Sing most of a very familiar or favourite song but leave out the words at the end of the line for your child to fill in with words or noises.