There are many ways to provide your child with a good rhythmic model. If your child is in your arms, provide a kinesthetic experience by moving your own body so that he can feel the rhythm and movement through you. If children are watching you from the floor, give them a good visual experience by picking up those knees and feet—remember, their view from the floor is primarily from your knees down. When your child is playing an instrument, you can pat his shoulder or knee to give him a tactile experience of the beat. And don’t forget to sing and chant along to provide the aural experience as well.
You know how sometimes you can hear a song inside your head even though the room is silent? You were thinking the music, not hearing it – this is called “audiation.” It is a term that Dr. Edwin Gordon borrowed from learning specialists to describe musical thinking and it is fundamental to learning music overall. Think about it, how can I sing a note accurately if I can’t first “think” the note inside my head? Your children are just developing the ability to audiate or “think in music.” Try singing the songs twice, once out loud, and once in your head and pay attention to how your brain sings to you without any sound present at all!
Many children want to explore instruments with their mouths. This is essential to their learning! The mouth is like a “third hand,” and children's brains are wired to collect information through their mouths as well as their hands and fingers. The most senses are in our lips, so much is discovered when mouthing objects!
When learning to talk, children spend months (and years!) listening to their important grown-ups talk to them and around them. After spending a chunk of time receiving, they start to experiment with language sounds, like “ma” and “ba”. And the cycle goes around and around, first receiving and then expressing, until the sounds turn into words and eventually into sentences. This is how it is with music development, too. Children spend a lot of time receiving music (hopefully from their important grown-ups) and then they play with making sounds at first, then pieces of songs, and eventually full songs.
Our young children are working on developing the ability to keep a steady beat, but most young children cannot yet audiate (or think!) the beat. So when we tap or clap or play sticks or play drums, we model the steady beat in our bodies, instead of the rhythm of the words of the chant or song. Try singing or chanting while keeping the steady beat in your body, thereby providing the children a visual representation of the beat. In the Music Together class we generally put the complex rhythms in our mouths and the steady beat in our bodies. Sometimes, though, the rhythm of the words is so compelling that we can’t resist playing the complex rhythms with our bodies.