The "whys, whats and hows" of singing with the nursery-age child were discussed by Sharla Dance, a mother of four children who has taught classes in music for pre-schoolers in community and nursery workshops in California. The following considerations were in a printed handout prepared for her class at the Workshop on Church Music.
Why is it important to sing with a 1-, 2- or 3-year-old?
- Music is one of the main carriers of language and culture for a child. It is enjoyable and efficient at the same time.
- The voice is the child's primary musical instrument and is uniquely personal and expressive. The child's singing voice will be his own instrument for life, and as such, needs careful nurturance and development from the beginning of infancy (from Marvin Greenberg, Your Children Need Music, p. 171).
- The age from 6 months to 4 years may be the most important time in a person's life because of the incredible foundation of learning that is taking place. (Benjamin Bloom, University of Chicago.)
- The brain cells never reproduce; what one has at birth is what will be used throughout life. However, one can dramatically affect the way brain cells connect with each other and add cell weight, thus increasing the productivity of thought process and the sophistication of brain networks. Through a warm, joyful, interactive, enriched environment, a young child's brain connections (dendrites) double from birth at 1 month, again at 3 months and then again at 6 months. If the environment continues, those brain connections double again at about 12 months and then again at 2 years. A person of any age in an impoverished environment (little human interaction, few stimuli, low standard of living, etc.) experiences a decrease in the size and number of brain cells. Their connections actually diminish. (See Marian Diamond, Enriching Heredity.) Inherent in the music of childhood is the warm, joyful, and enriched environment. Interacting with the child doubles the pleasure and potential outcome for the child.
- In the course of brain development, there appear to be "windows of opportunity." It appears that the "window of opportunity" for listening to music starts in the womb and begins to close slightly about age 5 or 6. The "window" for singing appears to be from about age 1 to age 6, continuing up to age 10.
What should I be singing to my nursery age child?
- Simple songs with a range of six to eight notes, where the melody and text work well together (the rhythm and melody follow the language's natural inflections) and where the text speaks imaginatively about concrete things in a child's world.
- Time-honored folk songs.
- Songs you love. (The love is conveyed while singing.)
- Simple songs about the gospel.
Because singing is reproducing, a child will not sing with you until he or she has heard the song over and over again and has advanced developmentally to a singing stage. (Expect to be the only one singing for a long time.)
How (and when) should I sing with my child?
- Sing in a higher pitch than your adult voice is used to. A child's vocal cords are fresh, new and small. (This would be a range from about D above middle C to C above middle C.)
- Sing with a light, child-like voice, thus enabling the child to interpret the sound waves of your voice more readily. But if your voice isn't like that, sing anyway!
- Sing often to bring joy and pleasure to the child and yourself. Let the natural joy that comes from singing be a part of your everyday interaction with your child.
- Hold or touch your child as you sing.
- Combine singing with activities the child finds delightful, like peek-a-boo, moving the body and hide-and-seek.