When we sing a narrative song to a child as we watch, listen and follow them in their musical play, the song gives information moment by moment about what the child is doing, providing rhythmic and expressive support. The song helps the child to make connections, to walk or play rhythmically, to listen and follow the direction of pitch as notes go up or down, to recognise familiar songs and to organise their movement in relation to the rhythm. For example: “ Charlie’s going up, up, up, up, up to the top, turning around, holding on to the rail and going down, down ,down down, down the steps”. The song uses the first five notes of the C major scale C D E F G to support going up the steps, then back down G F E D C to the ground. Many children I have worked with have taken their first steps to a supportive walking song, or sung their first words at the end of the musical phrase of a familiar nursery rhyme.
When we match the child’s energy levels we can use a song to help them speed up or slow down, to be aroused or calm. If a child is highly aroused, we can start where the child is at and gradually slow down, thus helping the brain to become calm and regulated. Conversely, if the child needs warm up time to become energised, a supportive song with an activity such as being bounced up and down on a large ball or jumping on a small trampoline helps the child to become aroused so that they can listen and become ready to participate meaningfully in an activity.
In terms of sensory integration and a child’s well being, unless the emotional part of the brain, the limbic system feels safe and satisfied, higher cognitive learning will be limited, or impossible. Musical play helps the child to listen, anticipate each step of a process, to stay on task, to modulate from one activity to the other and to accept change in order and routine.
A parent told me recently that washing her daughter’s hair had been a nightmare, but once she began singing each step of the process of hair washing, her daughter had listened and anticipated well, tilting her head back for the shampoo to be put on, having her mother gently shampoo her hair. Her daughter even enjoyed the playful rinsing process. The parent found that the singing took the stress out of hair washing for both of them, making it become predictable and fun.