A Thought for Thursday: Exploring Sound


This article of mine originally appeared in New Jersey
Family Magazine in August 2008. It’s aimed at parents 

but the ideas in it are relevant to early childhood
teachers as well. Exploring sound is a major step in
young children’s musical development, and benefits
them cognitively also – they’re really learning the
science of sound.

Sound Exploration Games for Children 

By Abby Connors

For his fourth birthday, Alexander received a rhythm band set. He enjoyed playing with all the instruments, and his mom, Jennifer, was delighted that he seemed to be musically inclined. Then one day she found him playing with the maracas in an unusual way: he was stomping on them.

“Don’t do that,” Jennifer said. “You’ll break them!”

Alexander calmly explained, “I’m trying to break them. I need to see what’s inside them that makes the noise.”

Most kids don’t go as far as Alexander, but all young children are fascinated by sounds. Naturally curious, they want to know where sounds come from, how they are made, and why different objects make different sounds. And learning about sound can help children’s musical and cognitive development.

“Children need to be free to experiment and explore sounds for themselves,” wrote music educators Margaret Athey and Gwen Hotchkiss in their book The Complete Handbook of Music Games and Activities for Early Childhood (Parker Publishing, 1982). “As children work with sounds, they discover the nature of music and how to become musicians for their own enjoyment.”

Sound exploration also helps children learn academic concepts. “Attention to the sounds materials make when manipulated increases children’s ability to receive and process information from the physical world, enhancing readiness for literacy, reading, and mathematical understanding,” wrote early childhood experts Kay Albrecht and Linda G. Miller in Innovations: The Comprehensive Preschool Curriculum (Gryphon House, 2004).

Unfortunately, this field of inquiry can be remarkably loud and annoying. Few parents would be willing to listen to a 4-year-old banging on every surface in the home with a toy hammer, for instance.

The good news is that there are many ways we can encourage children’s curiosity about sounds, and help them learn basic concepts, without needing earplugs or aspirin. Here are some sound exploration games you can enjoy with your young child.

1. Shake it up.Fill a small, clear plastic jar with a lid, such as a peanut butter jar, one-third to one-half full of rice, screw the lid on securely, and shake. Then try other materials, such as oat-ring cereal, small plastic building bricks, paper clips, or mini-marshmallows. Can your child predict what each filling will sound like? Which sound does he like best?

Concept: Harder objects make louder, brighter sounds when shaken; softer objects make softer sounds.

2. Dinosaur crunch. Have you ever wondered what it sounded like when a dinosaur ate? Give your child a bite of something crunchy, such as a cracker, an apple, or some cereal. Then ask her to cover her ears with her hands and chew to hear the sound of a dinosaur crunching!

Concept: Sound travels through solids (like the bones inside our heads) faster than through air. When you cup your hands over your ears, you hear the loud sound from inside your head, without losing sound to the air.

3. What’s that sound? While your child covers his eyes, make sounds using different common objects. You might turn a page of a book or newspaper, bite into an apple, tap a fork on a plate, turn on a water faucet, pour cereal into a bowl, or use other sounds your child hears frequently. See if he can guess what the sound is. Just for fun, close your eyes and have him test you on different sounds, too.

Concept: Different objects make different sounds.

4. The sound and the furry. Household pets make all kinds of interesting sounds. Cats, for instance, meow, purr, lick, bite, scratch, and produce a lovely soft footstep. See if your child can imitate your pet’s sounds.

Concept: Different creatures make different kinds of sounds.

5. The high and low show. Take four rubber bands of equal size. Then find four small, empty containers of different sizes (yogurt cups, plastic food storage containers, coffee cans, or small sturdy boxes, for example). Stretch the rubber bands over the containers and ask your child to predict which rubber band will sound the highest when plucked, and which will sound the lowest. Then try it and see if she was right!

Concept: Larger objects make lower sounds than smaller objects.

6. Can you make that sound? Have your child close his eyes. Then make a sound using only your body—voice, lips, teeth, tongue, hands, fingers, knuckles, feet, or whatever else you can think of. Ask your child if he can copy that sound. Then it’s his turn to challenge you.

Concept: Our bodies can create many different kinds of sounds.

Young children love to experiment and discover things for themselves. These games will encourage an active curiosity about the world of sound and help your child understand music, science, and pre-literacy concepts.

Abby Connors is a freelance writer, teacher, and creative mom from Plainsboro, New Jersey.

August 2008


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