A great joy of early childhood is creating sound, lots of it and loudly. While wailing on a pot with a wooden spoon must feel cathartic and thrilling, how many other ways might we approach sound with children? (Some more melodious, others definitely not.) What kinds of interesting sounds can we make, and could we even see with sound…? One big and important scientific idea in all of these explorations is that sounds are waves. Understanding how these activities create sound is crucial, so if you can, always ask kids, “How is this producing sound?”
What Kids Will Do
In these themed explorations, kids might…
- learn human echolocation
- build a wave machine
- do vocal warm-ups and hand clapping games
- find the best echo spots
- learn how to beatbox
- make music with household objects
- play wine glasses and glass bottles
- create screaming balloon instruments and kazoos
- make rubber band instruments
- and more
(Designed for kids preschool-1st/2nd grade, though many materials and activities might be of interest to older children and adults, too.)
- My Very First Science Book, Matthew Oldham and Tony Neal [Amazon | Usborne] — Science concepts explained with wonderful simplicity. Great for even very young toddlers and useful beyond sound explorations, too.
- Welcome to the Symphony: A Musical Exploration of the Orchestra Using Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, Carolyn Sloan and James Williamson [Amazon | Bookshop] — Are there any good sound books about orchestras? It’s almost impossible to tell from the reviews. But this one has been functional for quite a long time for us and has been very loved.
- Can You Hear It?, William Lach (Book and CD) [Amazon | Bookshop] — A book that pairs classical music with paintings from the Met. With each song and painting pairing, the book gives readers sounds to listen for (and ideas about what those sounds represent). Be warned that there’s one page about a gun battle in a war, but if you skip over that, the rest of the book is very interesting and well done.
- What’s That Noise? (This Book Is Calling You…), Isabel Minhós Martins and Madalena Matoso [Amazon] — An inventive, interactive children’s book that prompts children to provide the soundtrack to the story by, for instance, tapping the pages and scratching them.
Intro: Sounds Are Vibrations
Read: Usborne My Very First Science Book, Matthew Oldham and Tony Neal (“Sounds All Around”)
Watch: Journey of Sound to the Brain
What Is the Loudest Possible Sound?
Activity: Make a wave machine
Although it looks complicated and difficult, this project is easy to put together and satisfying to play with. This activity might help children visualize waves and grasp the idea that sounds are waves. Full instructions here.
Activity: Musical coat hangers
A brilliant demonstration of the idea that sounds are vibrations. Bang a hanger into the wall and you hear a tinny noise; wrap strings around the hanger and your fingers, then bang it again with your fingers in your ears — music! Loads of fun to be had trying this experiment with different items and materials. Good fun for adults, too. Full instructions here.
Sounds Made With Our Bodies
Read: What’s That Noise? (This Book Is Calling You…), Isabel Minhós Martins and Madalena Matoso [Amazon]
Watch: Kids Meet an Opera Singer
Activity: Vocal warm-ups
Kindergarten Theater 4 Vocal and Physical Warm Up
This is a phenomenal example of vocal warm-ups for kids. Although playing this video for kids won’t be terribly entertaining for them, if you follow this teacher’s example and recreate the warm-up for them, it’s wonderful.
Vocal Warm Ups for Kids from Sing! Studio
Vocal Warm Ups for Kids from Sing! Studio Vol 2
Watch: World’s Fastest Clapper (802 Claps in 1 Minute)
Clapping Music for Five Performers
Activity: Clapping games
If you know these already, great! If you don’t, these videos will teach you the words and hand motions. (You might find it useful to print out the words, too.) Find the words here.
Miss Mary Mack
Down Down Baby
Alternate Down Down Baby: Sesame Street: Handclapping Chants
Tic-Tac-Toe Hand Clapping
Slightly easier version of Tic-Tac-Toe
How to Play the Double Double Clapping Game
Optional/harder: The Cup Game (with plastic cups)
Watch: How This Guy Became a World Champion Whistler
Listen: A selection of songs featuring whistling
Watch: 13 Levels of Beatboxing: Easy to Complex
Shlomo Teaches the Basic Sounds (Beatboxing Masterclass Part 2)
Using the Sounds (Shlomo Beatboxing Masterclass Part 3)
Activity: Use the above beatboxing videos as tutorials and learn how to do some basic beatboxing (or try to master it!)
Sound and Household Objects
Read: Noisy Night, Mac Barnett and Brian Biggs [Amazon | Bookshop]
Watch: Lullatone — Experiments Around the House
Watch: La Màquina de Escribir (typewriter as part of an orchestra)
Bonus: The Typewriter (Jerry Lewis miming to the same song)
Bonus: The Official Keyboard Music Video
Activity: Play with a typewriter
Not many people have typewriters anymore, but if you do, children find them thrilling (especially after watching the above videos). Even if you have a very clackety detachable keyboard, it might be worthwhile bringing it out and seeing what noises you can coax out of it.
Watch: And a Happy New Year! Jingle Wrench
Activity: If you have a set of mixed wrenches, you can experiment with recreating this. You could even try it with a variety of metal kitchen utensils.
Watch: Music in Objects: Oats
Activity: If you’ve been inspired by the above videos, find some objects around the house and see how many sounds you can get out of them
Activity: Make a kazoo out of a comb and wax paper
This is easy and really works. It’s also very funny.
Activity: Play glass bottles
When you blow across the tops of the bottles, you’re making the air inside vibrate. In bottles with more air, vibrations are slower, so the pitch is lower.
Activity: Play wine glasses
This one produces beautiful results, and you might find yourself playing with the glasses for a very long time. Full instructions here.
Activity: Screaming Balloons
You’ll just need balloons and some 1/4” hex nuts for this one. It’s easy and terrific fun. We also tried putting a rubber Lego wheel in a balloon and compared the sound it made to the sounds from the hex nut balloons. (Just be careful not to pop them as you’re playing, as hex nuts will go flying!)
Activity: Create sound art with Jam Looper
With this free app, you can layer sounds together into a track.
Read: Happy Birthday, Moon, Frank Asch [Amazon | Bookshop]
Watch: Happy Birthday, Moon animation
Pipelinefunk — Armin Küpper
Activity: Find the best place in your house to get echoes
Ask the kids what makes for a good echo spot and why. You can demonstrate how sound works with a big rubber kick ball — bounce it on a hard surface like a floor and it comes back to you, but bounce it on a soft surface, like a couch, and it stays there. Compare that to how sound works, then try to find places in the house with lots of hard surfaces. You might end up in a bathroom. Make echoes, then remove all the towels and textiles and try again — a great experiment (and often you can tell a big difference). You can also go to a public space and find good echo spots there. School and university campuses on weekends are often great echo-seeking spots.
Seeing With Sound (Human Echolocation)
Watch: How People See With Sound… Feat. Molly Burke!
Activity: Experiment with human echolocation (as in the above video)
Blindfolds are very handy for this (and with us they’ve proved to be very popular beyond just this experiment). You will want to progress through the following exercises with each child:
- Have them make a loud “shhhhhhh” sound while they move their hands in front of their faces. Can they tell how the sound changes as their hands move around? Try the same again while they bring a book toward their faces. Ask them if they noticed a change in the sound as the book got closer to their faces.
- Next, have them make a loud “shhhhhhh” sound into a large mixing bowls. Can they tell how the sound is different?
- Now blindfolded, the parent or teacher moves mixing bowl in front of child eventually. Have the child say “stop!” when he or she detects the mixing bowl’s presence.
- Still blindfolded: the parent or teacher holds the mixing bowl to one side and asks the child to click their tongues loudly in various directions to try to locate the mixing bowl, then reach toward it. Hopefully after a few tries they might be able to punch right into the bowl!
- Next, try clicking or shhhhhing in the corners of rooms to get a sense of space
- Try also clicking or shhhhhing in front of doorways and to the sides of doorways to get a sense of how sound changes against a wall v. out in open space.
After you’ve done these exercises, children might want to try walking through the house blindfolded, to see if they can navigate just by using sound. (Supervise this as necessary.)
Communicating With Sound (and Without Voice): Morse Code
Watch: See and Hear Morse Code 2
Morse Code Tracing
Look: Morse Code Chart
Activity: Morse Code Translator
You can use this translator for a variety of activities, including making a code for the kids to break. (Try something like, “When you crack this code, you get a candy.” It builds suspense until the very end.) There’s also a link on this site for them to send messages to friends and family members.
Activity: Tin can walkie talkies
Read: 88 Instruments, Chris Barton and Louis Thomas [Amazon | Bookshop]
Because, Mo Willems and Amber Ren [Amazon | Bookshop]
How Notes and Beats Go Together
Animated Sheet Music: “Au Privave” by Charlie Parker
Bach, Prelude in C Major (visualization)
Rimsky-Korsakov: Flight of the Bumblebee (visualization)
Flight of the Bumblebee: Rimsky-Korsakov (to show movement of fingers along with visualization)
Activity: Math Decoding Sheets
Read: Welcome to the Symphony, Carolyn Sloan and James Williamson [Amazon | Bookshop]
Watch: Slow Motion Orchestra: Harp
Slow Motion Orchestra: Violin
Amazing Violin Player | Same video with Japanese lyrics subtitle (Manami Ito, violinist with prosthetic arm)
Slow Motion Orchestra: Vibraphone
Slow Motion Orchestra: Double Bass
Slow Motion Orchestra: Percussion
Slow Motion Orchestra: Trombone
Watch: Constance Demby Playing Her Space Bass
Watch: Trombone Shorty (Book read by Angela Bassett with animation)
Activity: Make stringed instruments with boxes and rubber bands
If you have a variety of rubber bands (different thicknesses and widths) and construct them properly, these little instruments are truly delightful. Complete instructions in video here.
Listen: Benjamin Britten: The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (with narration but only still images)
Or: An Animated Adaptation of Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (without narration)
Lullatone & Music & Feelings
Watch: Artist Profile Series: Lullatone
Activity: Lullatone Spotify playlist and make-believe
Consider making a “menu” of Lullatone songs and asking the kids to pick songs. You might listen with eyes closed or do pretend play to some of the tracks, like “Falling Asleep with a Book on Your Chest” (curling up), “Still Feeling the Waves When You Go to Bed” (swimming in the ocean), and “A Toy Train on Its Track” (go on an imaginary journey and call out what fantastical things you’re passing as the song plays).
Activity: Lullatone web-based apps
These delightful creations turn your keyboard into a sound-making machine and turn lines of text into music.
Activity: Draw a sound creature
Instructions and sounds included in the link above.
Read and listen: Can You Hear It?, William Lach (Book and CD) [Amazon | Bookshop]
Consider giving kids colorful scarves or ribbons to dance with for this one.
Synesthesia: Seeing Music and Hearing Color
Read: The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art, Barb Rosenstock and Mary Grandpré [Amazon | Bookshop]
Activity: Draw or paint to music
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