Music in our Homeschool: Part 2 – A Musically Engaging Home
“Give a child an environment where they can thrive and then watch them spread their wings and fly.”
Sometimes I hear people say, “My child takes after me…he can’t carry a tune” or, “My child isn’t musical.” But, I believe that if a child is given the proper tools and placed in an engaging atmosphere, he or she can learn to sing in tune! Children are naturally musical as they can usually be spotted dancing around and singing at the top of their lungs (whether on pitch or not). From day one, we wanted to create an engaging musical atmosphere for our child. We have literally spent the past 4 years investing and pouring into our child in the area of music. We didn’t do this because we wanted to force our own hobbies upon him, but we did this because we realized his potential and wanted to give him the tools to succeed. If the most formative years are between ages 1 and 5, we didn’t want to waste those years! So, we poured and poured and poured and, like a sponge, he soaked it all up. If at any point he resisted or showed lack of interest, we would have stopped, but instead, he ran with it. Here’s what we did and how it has musically benefited our Boo!
We stumbled upon Preschool Prodigies when Boo had turned 2 years old. We were searching for a curriculum to give him early exposure to solfege. Through a simple Google search, we found Prodigies and were instantly hooked. We didn’t follow any kind of practice schedule for the first year. Instead, we just played the PsP videos by random and let Boo see what he could do. Before long, he was playing songs and singing solfege notes with an incredible amount of ease. We didn’t force him to do the videos. He wanted to do them and even begged for more. At 3 years of age, I started using the corresponding workbooks that go with the bells. He wasn’t really ready for this any earlier. I strived to complete at least one lesson a week with him. However, even if we only got to our workbooks once a week, I still made sure to turn on the Prodiges videos as often as I could so he could play along. Now at age 4, my goal is to do two lessons per week from the workbooks including videos and some practice out of the songbooks. He can easily play through many of the melodies and is experimenting with playing harmony on many of the songs.
He is also expressing interest in the sharp notes, so we’ve started exposing him to songs that contain sharps. We always encourage him to practice his bells, but never force it on him. Some days he simply doesn’t want to play and that’s okay. Other days he’ll do Prodigies for an hour and doesn’t want me to turn it off. I always try to keep it fun and positive for him because I never want to associate music with a negative atmosphere. And as long as he is learning, I am happy.
Instead of purchasing cheap junk instruments, we actually purchased real instruments for Boo. What’s the point in buying an instrument if it’s just going to break after a few weeks or not even play in tune? So, we decided to purchase the real deal. At age 4, Boo already has a trumpet, desk bells, ukulele, drum set, lap harp, resonator bells, pan flute, and many others. Every Christmas and birthday we would give him different kinds of instruments along with other items on his wish list. My house is always noisy and never quiet, and I wouldn’t have it any other way! We do music exploration in several different ways. We keep most of his instruments in his room so that at any given time he can hideaway for awhile and explore. Sometimes he will pull out what he wants and other times we’ll go ahead and set some things up for him. His deskbells are set up 24/7 so that he has constant access to playing the different pitches and making up his own songs (which he is constantly doing). There are so many times that he will randomly decide to play his bells and create a really catchy tune all on his own. So, yes, there are instruments everywhere and constant noise, but I know that Boo is engaging his brain musically and having constant exposure. That’s all that really matters to me!
I also teach Boo piano using the Faber Adventure series. I haven’t been following any particular schedule with his lessons. I just implement it whenever he is showing an interest. So, maybe he runs over to the piano and starts playing a simple tune, and I say, “Hey, let’s check out a few pages on this new lesson!” For my child, I know that it’s going to lead to frustration and loss of interest if I impose a strict practice schedule this early. And, quite honestly, he does so much better on the piano when I just set him loose to experiment on his own. The times I feel like he has the most piano success are the times he approaches the piano all on his own, sits down, and plays the music he hears in his head. However, we do use this book to teach the basics and some proper techniques. Once he gets a bit older, I will set up a more consistent schedule for his practice.
Every child loves throwing on a cape or over-sized shirt and dancing to some music! We do LOTS of dancing in our house with all kinds of music. But, our favorite dancing music is score visualizations by Stephen Malinowski on Youtube!
Boo loves creating his own melodies and lyrics! He’ll grab his little notebook and crayon and start scribbling his own version of music notes. Then, he’ll stand up and perform his new song (usually complete with lots of adorable hand motions). Go ahead and check out his latest creation here. From the beginning, we have encouraged him to sing, to create, and to express. No song is ever too silly. Children need to be encouraged to express what is in their hearts, and the best way to do that is through music!
Take my child to a concert? Yes! We have been taking Boo to concerts since he was a tiny baby. He actually slept through his very first concert which was an orchestra concert. He has been to dozens of concerts ever since!
This doesn’t mean that he made it fuss-free through every concert. There were times I had to leave early. I always brought activities or food (the well-beloved goldfish) with me for emergencies. But, with his Dad being a musician who was always in concerts, we got accustomed to tagging along and just made it work. And 90% of the time Boo behaved amazingly well. I know there may be certain age requirements for more formal concerts, but if you can attend even just a few it will really help to engage your child musically. And it doesn’t have to be a concert orchestra everytime either! Yes, we have taken Boo to countless concerts with a full orchestra. But, he attended various other concerts as well including: Yanni, Eric Whitacre, Celtic Woman, Accent…you get the idea. As he got older, he started pointing out instruments and telling me the names of them. He also learned how to sit and behave during those concerts. However, if you can’t attend a concert, maybe you could expose your child to live music by going to a coffee shop or stopping to listen to a street performer if there is one in your downtown.
We are big on listening to music. Whether it’s Raffi, classical, folk, jazz, or Gospel, we love exposing Boo to different genres. Music is often pouring out of our house and out of our car at any given time of day. Sometimes we peek into Boo’s bedroom to find him listening to Disney story tapes while sitting on his bed or listening to children’s music while bouncing around his room. He has constant access to a record player which he knows how to play and change the records all on his own. He has access to CDs and has a CD player in his room. He even has a portable tape player we picked up at Goodwill so he can carry it around the house listening to mixtapes that Daddy made when he was young. When listening to orchestral pieces, Daddy asks him to identify what kind of instruments are being played and 90% of the time he can answer correctly.
Whether it’s singing or laughing or making happy noises, Boo is usually expressing the song in his heart throughout the day. I really believe that’s because music is constantly flowing out of our home. Mommy is singing as she does her housework (well, until it comes to that huge laundry pile…then the song stops). Daddy is constantly making music in his recording studio and the sounds echo throughout our home (and down the road and into our neighbors’ homes…oops). If a child sees that music is important in their home, that love of music is going to be passed down because music is contagious!
Stimulating Music Videos
We love watching movies together as a family. But, we also love watching music videos on Youtube especially orchestras and other high information music channels.
One music channel Boo loves to watch is Wintergatan. He loves the musical marble machine and other custom crafted instruments and songs on the channel. He even likes to watch the build videos of the new marble machine currently under construction!
Painting with Music
One activity that we have started with Boo is painting while listening to classical music! He loves art, so combining that with music was a no-brainer. We play a combination of slow and fast paced pieces to see what different types of art he creates. Sometimes children just need a little inspiration to get their creative juices flowing! After Boo is finished with his painting, I like to have him explain in his own words what he created.
Pitch Recognition Test
At age 3, we realized that Boo had developed the rare ability of perfect pitch. To keep his pitch perception active and continuing to improve, we test him periodically. Click the picture below to watch the video of the test we did a few months ago. You can try this with your child to see what pitches they can remember. They’ll improve the more you do it.
Record a Song
Boo shows no hesitation when it comes to recording a song. He will eagerly grab his headphones and microphone and belt out a tune. Some children may approach this activity with the same eagerness and others may be a bit more shy. But, just encourage them to try. Encourage them to begin with a simple song like Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. You don’t need fancy studio quality microphones or equipment. Just use a basic recording device like an iRig or something even simpler, like a USB mic with Audacity or Garageband. There are apps you can get for your mobile devices to record singing and to sing with backing tracks.
You may ask, “When should I start my child on their musical journey?” My answer? Yesterday! Or you may ask, “Should I wait til they are older?” Nope! The earlier you start your child the better! Give them an environment where they can thrive and then stand back and watch them fly!
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