- Listen to classical music at home, not only as a background sound, but when you are playing with your toddlers. If they are accustomed to listening to piano music and orchestral works, they will start to enjoy them. There's lots of classical music which children will find easy and familiar like Mozart's variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” (included on this CD under its French name "Ah, vous dirai'je, Maman").
- Use classical music to create atmosphere when the kids are dressing up:
- Do some acting: play Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saëns and act out the animals with the children. Each track relates to a different creature varying from hens, to elephants, birds, aquarium, swans and pianists. They can get into the music by pretending to be the animals.
- Put on some Strauss waltzes and polkas and dance your little ones up and down the corridor to the lively dances. Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite (go for the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy) usually gets little girls dancing too!
- Listen to music with a storyline. The most well known is Peter and the Wolf (on the same budget-price CD as Carnival of the Animals and several other kids' pieces). All children are used to listening to a story, and this introduces them to the idea that music can tell them a story they can understand. This link gives the story of Peter which you could read to your child before listening to the work from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Another favourite is Mussorgsky's “Pictures at an Exhibition”. Click here for a great link (on the website www.classicsforkids.com which gives the story behind “Pictures.”
- Make music! Most children like making a noise, so get a shaker or maracas from any baby shop. Tambourine, drum and claves (thick short sticks you hit together) are all easy for clumsy young fingers to play. So you can get a real instrument (which will make a much nicer sound) by buying your instruments from a music shop. Phone around and see what they can offer you. If you are London based, we can recommend a well equipped shop in Kentish Town called Dots. A recent price check suggests you could buy any one instrument mentioned for under £8.50. A more expensive instrument that is a good addition to your “orchestra” would be xylophone but these are more expensive. Tip: Stay away from toy stringed instruments like guitars: we tried several and they did not sound good.
- If you like making things, then make your own shaker. It really will take you only a few minutes. For this you need 2 plastic cups and a handful of either dried lentils, or uncooked rice. Put the lentils, or rice into one cup, then sellotape firmly the open end of that cup to the open end of the other. Finished, one shaker.
- Start a kitchen band with the family. It isn't as daunting as it sounds. You just use things that are in your kitchen as musical instruments. You can use metal saucepan lids as cymbals, and metal different sized measuring cups as a (short) glockenspiel. A metal cake tin stands in for a drum, with a wooden spoon to hit it with, your home-made shaker, and if possible, several upturned metal saucepans to hit with metal spoons as different sized drums. Then put on a piece of music – maybe one of the marches we mentioned earlier – and bang to the rhythm of that. If you feel really confident, you can do the trick of filling some glasses with different amounts of water and hit them lightly so each will make a higher or lower sound than the last. But the main thing is that you are making lots of noise, with a rhythm, and it's FUN.
- Go to a mother and toddler group with singing. There are sure to be some in your area. It is generally accepted that very little children get a great deal from joining in with the actions which usually accompany the songs. Singing to your children is also considered very soothing, so don't worry if your voice is good enough. It will sound just fine to the little ones. Learning to sing is a very important skill for little children, and one they enjoy hugely. Extra tip: If you have to look after someone else's crying child, sing to them. They usually stop crying. Learn a long repertoire so you don't get too bored.
- Take your children to a concert. Make sure it's aimed at toddlers so it isn't too formal or go on for too long. If you live or visit London, go to Covent Garden, to the lower ground floor of the Market. You can sit outside the Crusting Pipe Wine Bar (wrap up warm in winter) with a glass of wine, or coffee or a really nice simple meal. Live music is played every day between 11am to 7pm, by professional musicians who make their money by taking donations from the listeners. Meet friends and sit at cafe tables, chat and listen to well known classics and opera. The children are welcome to dance or sit, but not expected to stay still and silent so the pressure is definitely off the parents.
Mozart's variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”
Mendelssohn's Wedding March
Star Wars etc
Peter and the Wolf and Carnival of the Animals
Pictures at an Exhibition
Most of everything!