Why are musical instruments good for kids?
Go into any good creche or preschool and you are bound to find an interesting selection of musical instruments for the kids to play with.
There are so many benefits of musical instruments for toddlers and preschoolers that they should be found in every home too.
I am not talking about enrolling 3-year-olds in violin lessons, but rather, giving kids exposure to different instruments from a young age, and letting them play freely and explore the sounds.
In fact, babies can also learn a lot by exploring simple instruments like bells and shakers.
Here is a list of a few types of instruments to expose young kids to, followed by 16 ways kids learn when playing with instruments.
The Best Instruments for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Try and create a musical corner/area in your home or class. Put out only a few at a time and rotate them so children have time to get familiar with them.
Here are a few ideas of common instruments that kids love playing with and that are easy to find.
- Rhythm sticks
- Play piano
Expose children to any other instruments you have at home or in a music class, such as a piano, guitar, violin or saxophone. Teach them how to handle them with care.
Want to make your own instruments or need to improvise?
- Use boxes or pots and wooden spoons as drums
- Make shakers out of toilet rolls with rice/beans, or buttons in a plastic bottle
- Use wooden blocks as rhythm sticks
- Use pot lids as cymbals
- Fill glass bottles with water
- Hit long steel nails together
- Make a chime with items hanging off a wire clothes hanger
Improvise with any other items that produce a sound and don’t forget to use your own body to make sounds (body percussion).
The Benefits of Musical Instruments for Kids
At such a young age, the purpose of playing with instruments is not yet to master a particular instrument, but rather to gain a whole host of skills that comes with playing and experimenting with them.
Here are 16 benefits of musical instruments for toddlers and preschoolers’ development.
1. Fine Motor Skills
Holding and manipulating instruments is excellent fine motor skills practice.
Children need to learn to coordinate their fingers and develop control in order to produce sounds.
2. Gross Motor Skills
Instruments can also work the large muscles of the body.
Incorporate movement into music activities by marching to the beat of the rhythm sticks, dancing to the melody or banging on large drums.
3. Cause and Effect
Cause and effect is a skill children learn in the early years. It means “when I do this, then this happens.”
It’s an important cognitive skill.
As babies discover that when they shake the rattle, it produces a sound, older preschoolers can learn that each bar on the xylophone produces a different sound and that hitting them in a certain way creates a melody.
4. Learning About Sound
Auditory perception is an important pre-reading skill and music is a wonderful way to develop it.
By playing with instruments, children learn about sounds and how they are made.
They become familiar with rhythm, melody, beat, pitch, and can identify musical instruments when listening.
5. Body Awareness
As kids learn to manipulate instruments they also improve their body awareness.
They learn that their bodies can make sounds, that they can use their breath to blow into some instruments, that their hands are controlling the instruments and therefore the sounds they make, etc.
They learn how to move their body to produce sound for each individual instrument – bang hard, just move the fingertips, blow, pluck or shake.
Teach kids that their bodies can also be used on their own to make music and try some of these body percussion activities.
6. Vocabulary and Language
As kids discover the instruments and their various properties, they also develop a musical vocabulary.
Build their vocabulary by teaching them words such as melody, pitch, fast, slow, high sound, low sound, rhythm, beats, etc.
They also learn the verbs associated with how to play instruments, such as blow, pluck, scrape, shake, rattle, etc.
As children experiment with the sounds and learn to create rhythms and melodies, they also develop their attention spans.
Any activity that holds a child’s interest will do this.
8. Midline Crossing
Some instruments encourage midline crossing – when a child crosses over the imaginary line in the centre of the body with the opposite hand/leg.
Marimbas and pianos are examples of the types of instruments that require this skill – which is important for learning to read and write.
Even a smaller toy piano can encourage kids to cross over the midline.
9. Sensory Development
Music and toddlers simply go together. You would struggle to find a young child who isn’t naturally drawn to music.
10. Hand-Eye Coordination
Any activity that requires the hands and the eyes to work together develops hand-eye coordination.
Playing instruments – tapping the bars on the xylophone, playing the triangle and hitting rhythm sticks together – relies on the eyes being able to accurately guide the hands.
11. Musical Appreciation
Developing an appreciation for music is not just about listening to music around us, but also about having exposure to the instruments that create it.
Music is relaxing, good for the soul and is an art form that children can learn to appreciate.
12. Developing Musical Talent
Children who have exposure to music and experiences in making music are far more likely to develop an interest in playing an instrument, singing, composing or going into the music industry.
There are also many benefits of learning to play an instrument for older children and adults.
A child with musical talent who never plays with an instrument is unlikely to discover or pursue their passion.
Children who practise and persevere can also develop the skills necessary to play an instrument well.
13. Sorting and Classifying
Use the instruments in your home and class to teach children about the properties of things and how they can be categorized and sorted.
Sort them according to how they are played (shaken, blown, struck), what material they are made of (wood, metal, skin), or their shape (triangle, circle, rectangle).
A sorting activity for older children can involve categorizing instruments (or pictures of them) into the instrument families – brass, percussion, strings or woodwind.
14. Cognitive Development
The link between music and cognitive development has been widely researched.
Music promotes brain growth and develops reasoning, memory, planning and many other skills that ultimately boost academic performance.
15. Expression and Creativity
Music is a wonderful way for children to express themselves. Similar to creative art, music is a different form of art and allows kids to create freely.
Children learn to make sounds with the instruments and then how to control the sounds and put them together to invent music.
Teaching children about instruments and where they originate from is a great way to build some cultural awareness.
Watch videos, look at pictures or show some real instruments from around the world that are popular, such as the didgeridoo from Australia or the bouzouki from Greece.
Read more about the benefits of music in early childhood.
Le Roux, A. 2011. Music in Early Childhood Development and the Foundation Phase. Le Roux: Pretoria.
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