Why sing? Singing is one of the most joyful activities we can do. Helping children to develop their own voices is a great way for early years practitioners to support the growth of confident, self-assured and creative young people.
1. Demonstrate singing
Children learn by watching and following adults, so encourage members in your team to lead singing activities. This does not need to be formal, in fact, the more informal, the better, since this will allow spontaneity and show children that singing really is something that they can do anywhere.
Why not encourage children to sing you ‘good morning’ as they come in, or ‘see you tomorrow’ when they leave for the day?
2. Introduce a variety of music
We are so lucky nowadays to have access to a broad range of music; traditional nursery rhymes, classical music, musical theatre, pop, opera, rap, folk, historical and religious music to name but a few styles. You could play different types of music at different times of day, or have a ‘tune of the week’ to help broaden the music used in your setting?
3. Use chanting and simple songs to start
Chanting is an ancient method of using our voice. You don’t even need to use recognisable words if you don’t want to; you could start with phonetic sounds such as “me, may, mar, mow, moo”, “te, tay, tar, tow, too”, varying the consonant at the front. This will also help develop speech and language abilities by practicing the pronunciation of different vowels and consonants.
Using simple chanting songs will also introduce the concepts of rhythm and timing, and are easy for children to learn and repeat.
4. Provide access to musical instruments or noise-making toys
A big part of learning how to sing is first learning how to ‘hear’. This might seem strange, but if you help children to listen to, and create different noises, then you will be helping them learn about pitch, tone and volume too – all key elements in singing. Use instruments such as glockenspiels, bells, tambourines or recorders.
You could also use different sized boxes as drums, getting the children to listen to the different sounds they make. Or fill plastic bottles with varying amounts of water and see what difference that makes to the sound.
5. Use movement to help children understand and ‘feel’ the music
Everyone knows old favourites such as “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” and “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands”. Using movement makes it easier for children to join in, even if they don’t initially know the words, and helps develop their coordination and motor skills too.
6. Use games
Try these singing games as a fun introduction to singing:
- Pitch-matching games – sing a note and get the children to sing it back. Vary the pitch and the sound used. Use simple ways to introduce the concept of high and low; such as singing the word ‘head’ in a relatively high pitch and the word ‘feet’ in a lower pitch
- Volume – use your hands to ‘conduct’ the children singing – bring your hands close together to get them to sing in a whisper, or wide apart to get them to sing louder
- Rhythm – clap a simple rhythm which the children repeat. Vary this by using stamping, drumming and jumping too
- Call and response – sing a question such as “What’s your name?” and get the children to respond in song
7. Make up songs
Finally, give children the opportunity to create their own songs either individually or in groups to show them that their own voice is just as valid as anyone else’s. Give them a topic such as the weather, food or activities like cooking or gardening.
Tips and tricks to help:
- Stay within your range. Each person has a different vocal range that they feel comfortable with. At this stage in a child’s development, the aim is to encourage confidence and experimentation, so there should be no expectation about extending ranges beyond what is naturally comfortable. If children take up singing as they grow older, there is plenty of time to develop and stretch the vocal muscles to accommodate this.
- Start with a pitched note from an instrument or pitch-pipe. This will help everyone start on the right note.
- Praise, praise and more praise. Be careful about correcting students too much, as this can undermine their confidence. You are not entering ‘choir of the year’ but developing singing as a form of personal expression, so concentrate on what students do well rather than pointing out too many errors.
- Forget the words sometimes! Don’t worry too much about the words. Young children may not even be able to pronounce some of them, but that will come. The most important thing is that they are singing something.
- Smile and enjoy it!
Benefits of singing
Research has shown that regular singing can:
- Increase confidence
- Increase lung capacity
- Reduce stress
- Improve sleep and posture
- Ease pain, and
- Increase life expectancy!
How to start
You do not need to be Pavarotti or Taylor Swift to start singing. Almost everyone can do it, anywhere, without any specialist equipment – you just need a willingness to try and the determination not to let others put you off.