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Have you introduced musical instruments to your grandchildren? Do you have a box full of noisy objects especially for the little ones? According to local music workshop leader Joss Astle, percussion instruments are vital in helping children develop their sensory, coordination and receptive skills. So here's a list of Joss' firm favourites - those that continue to delight babies and toddlers, those that stand the test of time and those that can tolerate a good suck from a teething baby or a temper tantrum from a two-year-old. Each will add enormous value to your own noisy boxes - one you will be excitedly opening whenever your grandchildren are round.
Image: Knock on Wood
Surprisingly durable, a flexatone provides great play between an adult and a child. A very small child can jiggle it around and hear a metallic bell-like sound, and an older child can use their thumb to create a "glissando" effect, warping the sound. The flexatone creates a head-turning sound effect, and is used in bouncy pop music and in animations and film soundtracks to emphasise a paranormal atmosphere.
Try challenging your older grandchildren aged four or older to a flexatone conversation, where you warp the sound to a gradually higher pitch (think intonation when you ask a question), and your child starts higher and ends the phrase on a lower note.
A firm favourite with children of all ages, shaky eggs are a grab-and-go instrument that needs no practice. A great sensory instrument for babies, but equally good for older children mastering a salsa beat. The shaky egg is a must-have for your noisy box, right from the start.
For older children, pop on any 4:4 music and try shaking the egg to the beats: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4... And there you have a simple salsa rhythm, played on a shaky egg!
What better than to physically be a part of your instrument? A great way to introduce babies to their arms and legs, and a wonderful way to delight a two-year-old who has recently learned to jump. Stamp along in time to some music, or simply run around in a circle with wrist bells strapped to your ankles.
Try spicing up a game of hide-and-seek with everyone wearing wrist bells. The perfect way to catch out any fidgeters!
From the age of about 12 months, children love to use a beater. Little ones love to prod and stir an agogo with the beater, testing out the best way of making a sound with it. By the time they are about two years old, a child might be able to tap out a simple rhythm on the agogo. The agogo is a great instrument for an adult to use to introduce a child to a steady beat. It’s loud, sharp and hard to ignore, and a great accompaniment to a child on a tambourine, encouraging them to keep to a steady beat without them even realising.
Try encouraging your child to experiment with the agogo. Let them prod it, try to stir it, and even beat the beater with the agogo instead of the other way around. For a simple instrument, this one is great for experimentation.
Image: Early Years Resources
A challenge for young children that ends with a lightbulb moment and a sense of achievement when mastered. Castanets can entertain children of various ages - from toddlers to 10-year-olds!
When your grandchild is very young, encourage them to lay the castanet on one hand and clap the top down with the other. As they grow in dexterity (and in hand size), they will be able to begin to practice the single-handed method of flamenco dancers.
The vibraslap is also known as a Chatterbox, given the "teeth" that chatter inside the box when the bar vibrates. A fabulous sound effect, this instrument produces a slapstick sound that turns the head of even the smallest child. Ensure you are holding the rear, vertical part of the bar and give the top a good slap!
Image: Juno Records
Who would have thought that beads rubbing against a grate would create such a soothing effect?
Use it in long swooshes to imitate waves lapping on the sand, or edge forwards and backwards quickly and imagine footsteps on gravel. This is an excellent instrument to inspire creativity, and a firm favourite with many children.
Image: Little Birdsong
Following on from small children vainly attempting to stir a wooden agogo, the octochime comes in to its own when stirred with a beater. The faster you stir, the faster the notes run together and the greater the effect.
Try asking an older child which panels they think might produce the highest and lowest sounds. Then play them all one by one and see if they’re right!
Image: Spotty Green Frog
What noisy box would be complete without a tambourine? Perhaps the fist instrument many children try, and certainly one that is accessible to all ages, the tambourine delights with the slap and shake of a hand and the crisp sound of a beater.
Try slapping the tambourine with your hand to loud parts in a musical piece, then shaking it gently in quiet parts, setting off the bells at the side. A great way to practice listening skills, and in getting children to react to changes in music.
The triumphant highlight of my classes, children of all ages love to bang the tambour with a beater. It’s even large enough to entertain a few children at once. If you’re ever losing the interest of your grandchild, grab your fail-safe tambour and watch them scoot over to you for a good old bang, crash, wallop!
So how about getting creative with noisy boxes for your grandchildren? Most music shops sell each of these instruments - they’re inexpensive and are guaranteed to delight your grandchildren again and again. What better gift for your grandchild than the gift of music? Unless, however, you're considering getting your grandchild full-size cymbals – their parents will most certainly get their own back one day!
Joss Astle is the founder of Little Teapots, percussion classes for babies and toddlers in Essex.
Top image: Shutterstock
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