Percussion instruments are great for young children! Perhaps the human voice is the only instrument that comes so naturally! Try this activity for combining music and language activities together.
Begin by showing an assortment of percussion instruments. This could include drums, rhythm sticks, cowbell and mallet, wood blocks, anything that produces a sound when struck. Let the children know that first they will watch and listen, and then they will get a turn to play the instruments as well.
Introduce the vocabulary word “percussion” by explaining that all of your instruments are percussion instruments because they are all played by hitting them with your hand, mallet, or stick. Play each of the instruments briefly as you introduce each one. Talk about the similarities and differences in the instruments.
Tell the children that when it is their turn to play the instruments, you will have a signal for them to stop. If you don’t already have one established wtih your group, you may want to say “hands up” and put your hand up, then wait for all the children to follow. Set your signal, and then pass out an instrument to each child. Allow them to experiment with their instrument for a few seconds before giving them the signal to listen. Tell them you are going to create a band by playing a rhythm together. Have them listen to the rhythm before joining in. Start out with a simple, slow 1-2-rest rhythm. Count the rhythm outloud as you beat it. Staying within the ability range of the children you are working with, experiment with other simple rhythms.
Give the signal to listen again. Explain that words have rhythms as well. We call these syllables. (At this stage, it is more important that the children develop the ability to hear the syllables than to use the word syllables.) Beat the syllables in a word, like “pony”. Beat and speak at the same time: “Po-ny (rest) Po-ny (rest)…..” Have the children join with you. Beat out a few words, including the children’s names or other words they find interesting. With preschoolers, it’s not likely that they will be ready for more than three-, maybe four-, syllable words. After beating a few words, pass the instruments one person to the right and then beat the rhythms in a few more words. Continue until everyone has a turn to play all of the instruments. I did this activity with a small group of 4 children, so with 4 instruments, they all quickly got a turn. If you’re working with a large group, try to have multiples of each instrument so that it still only takes about 4 rotations to get every instrument.
At the end of the activity, you may want to give a few minutes of free experimentation time again, reminding them again of your signal for “stop and listen”.
This activity reinforces the musical concepts of beat and rhythm as well as the term “percussion” and gives exposure to a variety of instruments. Language skills and phonological awareness are enhanced as you begin beating the rhythm in the words (syllables) preparing the children for future reading skills. Motor skills are also reinforced as the children handle and play the instruments.