In my previous post, Using Music to Engage the Mind and Body, I stated that song writing can be a helpful tool for organizing thoughts and processing emotions. This activity is not reserved for adults or teens though! Song writing can be facilitated with children and is very helpful for them. Music is a safe, structured, and developmentally-appropriate medium for children to process big emotions. I have written complete songs with children as young as 5-years-old, and I’m often asked: HOW? Well, here we go let me explain.
State the purpose. For young children I typically start off by explaining that we are going to write a new song. It will be a special song that they will write by themselves, and I am here to help with the music.
Identify preferences. I ask the child if the song is going to be fast or slow, and show them two examples on the guitar. If I have multiple instruments with me, I can ask if the song should be on the guitar, ukulele, piano, or banjo. You can also utilize electronic tracks or beats. Once the instrument and speed are set, I will move forward to the words.
Write lyrics and choose theme. I will ask the child for things they like. It could be food, colors, activities, animals, and people. I write these down or help them spell the words and write it down. As the child talks about what they like, I am observing what they seem to like the most. Sometimes the song can be just an “about me,” however, if they start talking a lot about one topic (e.g., their friends, drawing, or playing outside) then maybe the song could be just about one of the topics.
Developmental considerations. As part of the song writing process, I always make sure to involve academic concepts such as counting, colors, days-of-the-week, or spelling. For example if the song is about cookies, then I will involve counting cookies on her fingers, to identify the cookie colors, the days that she makes or eats the cookies, and even how to spell C-O-O-K-I-E. Academic concepts involved depends on age and/or developmental age.
Maintain Attention. You may find that your 5-year-old does NOT want to continue this activity after 5-minutes. That is an appropriate response. A way to maintain their attention is to have them sing with the track after each completed lyrical line or verse. “Yay! You finished the whole first part. Let’s sing together with the music.” Click play on the music and they’ll most likely dance to the beat and sing along with you. Then pause it and keep writing. The song doesn’t have to be more than a verse and a chorus.
Utilize Repetition. Children learn by repetition. The chorus, also known as the refrain or as the hook, is the part of the song that repeats over and over and will most likely stay in your child’s head. If you have a certain message that you think your child needs to remember such as “everything is ok” or “mommy loves me” then the chorus is a good place to place it.
Record. After you finish your song (verse and chorus) and have sung it with the track. You can choose to record it on a video or just the audio. Recording the song creates a sweet memory of the activity you and your child shared. Additionally, if your child forgets the song or, more importantly, the message of the song (e.g., don’t be afraid, everything is ok, you are safe, mommy loves you etc…), then you can replay the video for them.
Process. No activity is complete without some verbal processing. For little children this is very minimum but necessary to grow the child’s cognitive development and recognize the value of what they did. “You did a great job writing this song.” “What was your favorite part?” They might need choices. “Did you like making up the words or singing?” “How did it feel to sing your words?” Then a small conversation on those feelings follows which may include validation and encouragement for future projects.
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