Free music making

I really love percussion instruments – show me a new catalogue and I’m lost for hours – I honestly can’t choose between maracas or maracitos, castanets or skiffle boards.  I enjoy playing and making music with the babies and toddlers in Jellybeans Music classes with all the instruments – yes, even after all these years, I still find it funny when a child decides to use a castanet to ‘nip like a crab’.  However, I am really interested in making sure that the children get to enjoy music making at home.  For those of you who have access to North Kesteven or East Lindsey Children’s Centres, this is relatively easy – just borrow a MusicBag next time you are in, but if you live in Rutland or South Kesteven or if all the MusicBags are out on loan, what do you do?  Well, you could buy instruments (and remember the Jellybeans Shop will be open well before Christmas!) or you could hunt around your kitchen and make instruments out of what you find for free!

I had a hunt around my kitchen earlier with the boys and then we made shakers full of different sounds and of course it was all completely free!

I think the perfect ‘shakers’ can be made out of plastic 1 pint milk bottles as they have a handle which even the smallest baby bean can hold.  Make sure the bottle is washed out thoroughly then leave to dry while you investigate the cupboards.  We hunted and found dried pasta,uncooked rice, bottle tops and seashells. Use whatever you find in your cupboards.  Dried lentils and other pulses are wonderful sounds and I can remember one of my boys loving the sound of scrunched up tinfoil in a shaker.  But please remember whatever contents you put into a bottle make sure you put the top on very securely and wrap it in sticky tape before giving it to your child to play with. 

  • Rice is a quiet, gentle sound a bit like raindrops.  Vary the amount you put into the bottle to change the intensity of the sound.
  • Pasta, however, is a much ‘harder’ sound. It is noisier and easier to see through the bottle.  Again, vary the amount of pasta to change the sound.
  • Bottle caps gave an almost hollow sound.  Interesting contrast to the rice and pasta
  • Seashells made the noisiest shakers.  The most popular with my boys and my least favourite!

Just pop the contents into a bottle, seal it and away you go.  Why not try varying the amount of contents in the ‘shaker’ to give a different sound?  If you are feeling creative why not securely tie ribbons onto the handle for visual as well as aural stimulation. Why not make enough so you can have one too? Your little one will love sharing the music making with you!  Make up your own tunes and rhythms or accompany yourselves singing your favourite songs and have lots of fun for free at home and don’t forget to let me know how you get on!

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Sing love me

Jellybeans HQ has not been it’s usual noisy, happy place recently.  Our youngest son, Tobi bean, is poorly with earache.  He has been suffering since thursday when we went swimming and he got ‘water in his ear’.  We’ve been giving him the painkillers every two hours for what feels like years already and the nights have been awful for all of us – bringing back all those memories of having a small baby/toddler in the house who wouldn’t sleep and as he is now 8, these are not memories we like revisiting very much!  We’ve been to see the emergency Doctor but nothing is helping and every time he accidentally touches his ear, he demonstrates that he has inherited his mother’s ability to ‘belt it out’.

However, as I ran his bath last night, he crawled onto my lap and I instinctively gently began rocking him from side to side.  He smiled and snuggled in closer, then I heard the words, I haven’t heard for a long time, “sing love me mummy”.   I started singing ‘his’ song and I felt his whole body relax.

Singing to your baby and child is a natural, organic process, one which we, probably instinctively, remember from our own childhood.  There in no right or wrong way to do it.  As I always say in classes at Jellybeans Music, your baby/child thinks your voice is the most wonderful sound in the world because it is you, the person who loves them.  Here are some of my favourite ways I’ve used music at home with my boys from babyhood onwards.

  • Choose a song which will become your ‘special’ song to use in times of stress.  Whenever the boys were ill as babies or fell over, comforting or just felt sad, I sang ‘their’ song.  Having 3 children meant I had to think of 3 different songs but it was worth it as each child knew it was a special thing just between us.  It doesn’t have to be a lullaby but ideally should be gentle and soothing in feel and a song which you feel happy to croon in public if necessary.  It doesn’t even need to have words.  It can be soothing just hearing repetitive notes. Stuck for inspiration?  Why not experiment with ‘Daisy, Daisy’ or ‘Skinnamarink’ and take every opportunity to insert their name in to the lyrics .
  • Have you got a ‘Wake Up’ song?  When Charlie bean was little, I always used to sing a song as I opened his curtains, giving him the auditory cue that the day had begun and continued it with the younger two.  I sang a song from the film ‘Singing in the Rain’ and changed the words.  Almost sixteen years later, I no longer open their curtains to wake them up but the song is still heard regularly in the house and is now sung by all of us.
  • Don’t forget tidying up music!  New comers to class are always amazed at how well the children tidy up as soon as they hear the tidying up music.  Unfortunately they rarely believe me that it is nothing to do with the actual music but it is the auditory cue that the children are responding to.  The children very quickly learn to associate the activity of tidying up with the music so rarely have to be told to tidy up.  This is an easy one to introduce into your home.  Choose a piece of music you like (you are going to be hearing it a lot!) and tell your child that when they hear the music you are going to tidy up together.  It will not work on the first attempt, it won’t work on the second, but within a week, the activity and music will be linked but you must be consistent on this one and tidy up as well! 

 As always I’d love to know your thoughts on my chuntering!  Come on, share your favourite soothing songs or tidying up songs.

ps  Tobi bean’s earache is now gone and he is sitting next to me singing the Bonnie Tyler classic ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ as I write this ……..

pps  The words to our ‘Wake Up’ song are

Good morning, good morning.

You’ve slept the whole night through

Good morning, good morning to you”

ppps  Jellybeans HQ tides up to the Kaiser Chiefs ‘I predict a riot’ which always works a treat in the morning to get shoes on ready for school!

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Bubbles, bubbles fly around

It is no secret at Jellybeans Music that I love bubbles probably as much as babies and toddlers.  I love watching the tiny babies focus on the bubbles swirling above their heads.  I never tire of toddlers trying to catch and blow them and hearing early talkers say the word ‘ubble, ubble’ as soon as they see me, still gives me goosebumps.  But did you know that I use bubbles not just because I love them but because they are a fanastic early years development tool?

As soon as the bubbles come out, I always start talking about how blowing bubbles can help to build mouth & jaw muscle tone and support breath control, all essential for speech development but did you know that bubbles also support mathematical developmental? It’s not rocket science but if you encourage your child to count the bubbles with you, you are helping them learn to apply the number labels to actuals.  Discuss what shape the bubbles are – again, words like circle, round are introduced in a ‘real’ way!

Watching the bubbles float and fly around the room is a real workout for your child’s eyes.  Very small babies will be learning to use both eyes simultaneously to focus upon the bubbles, whilst slightly older babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers will be reaching up strengthening motor skills and eye-hand co-ordination as they reach for and try to pop the bubbles.  One of my boys really didn’t enjoy messy play – not for him playing with spaghetti and baked beans but he really enjoy the ‘feel’ of bubbles and I think bubbles encouraged him to try new tactile sensations.

Finally, don’t forget it can be very relaxing just watching bubbles floating slowly down to the ground, so even the quietest child can enjoy a cuddle watching them.

But, bubbles are not just for Jellybeans – don’t forget to enjoy them at home together.  Why not try blowing bubbles over your baby/child while they are in the bath?  The bubbles will float and land both on the water (bubbles pop on dry surfaces!) and your child, giving a fun, visual, sensory experience.  Or, if you have a play tunnel, why not blow bubbles through the tunnel?  This will encourage your child to crawl through the tunnel and help to develop their sense of spatial awareness.

Take your bubbles outside and watch how high they fly!  Add a couple of drops of food colouring for extra pretty bubbles and try catching these coloured bubbles on paper!  I could go on and on, but perhaps the best tip of all, is to always have a small pot of bubbles in your handbag for those days when your small one is just restless and you have lots and lots to do.

Bubbles, bubbles fly around.

Bubbles, bubbles touch the ground.

Bubbles landing on my nose.

Bubbles landing on my toes.

Bubbles, bubbles fly around, bubbles, bubbles touch the ground

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3 hours active play a day!

I woke up this morning (literally!) to the news that the Chief Medical Officer is now recommending that Under 5’s should do at least 3 hours of active play a day and my initial reaction was how on earth can that be fitted in on top of school runs, food shops, housework etc etc!  But after I’d had my first coffee of the day (!) my brain began to whirl back in time and remember how the boys never actually sat still when they were little.  Constant running around and around both in and outside. Jumping from cushion to cushion, escaping from ‘crocodiles’, racing eachother up and downstairs.  Running with Grandma’s dog, Poppy, in the park, this was everyday reality. Add into the mix, swimming, ball kicking, Tumble Tots and dancing, the boys slept well (as did I!).

When I first began to create Jellybeans Music, using my experience as a Montessori teacher and mother, I decided that movement should be a big part of each programme.  My dancing days are long gone,(jazz dance if you’re asking!) my knees are shot to pieces through too many years crawling around on the floor with small children but I know that small children just love and need to be using their bodies which is why we rarely sit still in either programme!

Our Jellybeans song sets the tone in both programmes – we stretch up high, we stretch out wide, we clap, we stamp, we wriggle, we bounce, we breathe – warming up little bodies ready for the physical and vocal exercise ahead.  All our action songs in both programmes use big, big, movements to support the children’s developing coordination skills, in Clap your hands to the Music Beat alone, we stamp, clap, wave, and twist!

Add into the mix, a chance to play ‘big’ with beanbags, hula hoops, scarves, lycra, parachutes and scrunchy bands and it is no wonder the jellybeans rarely sit down but astonishingly, they always find the energy to be able to hop like bunnies, jump up like a scarecrow or fly like parrots!

But let’s not forget the little baby beans.  Most baby beans are not able to move independently – indeed it is recommended that they can’t in this programme!  However, each session still provides them with a full body workout.  We bounce, we baby fly (to support head control), we exercise their limbs (and brains) in baby brain build and this term, we have been supporting our baby beans learning to roll over with the Pastry Roll.  No wonder our baby beans parents tell us how well their babies sleep afterwards!

But, I will be getting my ‘thinking cap’ on tonight and having a look at both existing programmes (and the new ‘bouncing beans’ programme currently in development) and having a think about how to make them even more bouncy!  So, could September see the return of the balls or the cheerleading pompoms?  Should we do more parachute play? Do the baby beans ‘need’ more time on the pilates balls?

I’d love to know your thoughts about the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendations.  Do you think your baby, toddler or preschooler gets enough physical exercise everyday?  Would you like Jellybeans or baby beans to get even more active?

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