In our Tiny Tots and our school programs, we work with modern dancers to show children what music “looks like.” It’s a fun concept – after all, music is more than just sounds; it reaches so many different parts of the brain. Listening to music can spark memories or bring forward unexpected emotions. Music changes the mood of movies and can even alter the way that food tastes. If music crosses the barriers between senses naturally, why not have some fun with it? These are some great multisensory activities that you can do with your children to explore and connect their senses.
Some music sounds soft, some may be heavy, some music is smooth, and some is rough. We use words that typically describe physical objects to talk about music all the time. Have your little one experience these sensations in a hands-on way. Line up a variety of objects that they can touch or hold that have a distinctive quality: a feather, a heavy rock, a soft blanket, play dough, sand paper, etc. Then, while you play them some short music samples, have them pick out the object that the music reminds them of the most. Let them tell you why: what is it about the piece that sounded light? What sounds made it seem rough? Then, wait for all of the interesting answers!
Smell is one of our strongest senses. Just like listening to music, certain smells can bring us right back to a specific time and place in life. Similar to the touch activity, set out “smelly” objects for your child and have them choose which smells sound the most like the music they’re listening to. Some things to pique your child’s nose might include perfume or essential oils, coffee grounds, lemon, vanilla, garlic, ginger, or mint leaves. Or, instead of playing pieces of music for them, you could instead play them short clips of single instruments. What does a violin smell like? How does a loud orchestra piece smell different than a soft solo flute? You’re sure to get a lot of very creative responses as your child makes connections that they never have before.
Food fuels the body, and music fuels the soul, so why not combine the two? On Top of Spaghetti is a fun kids’ song that will let you do just that. Using the music from the folk song “On Top of Old Smokey,” it tells the story of someone whose meatball grows into a tree after a big sneeze blows it off the table and all the way outside. Let your kids listen to the song and learn the silly lyrics. You can then top the experience off with a spaghetti party. Just make sure there aren’t any meatballs that go flying…
There are so many ways that children can explore the visual side of music. Have them watch videos of dancers online or take them to a performance. Let them draw pictures of the music they hear and then have them explain to you why they chose those colors or shapes. Ask them to close their eyes while listening to music and imagine a scene or a place. For a literal visual representation of music, check out videos like this one. Watch how the music moves up and down and see how different shapes were used to represent different note lengths.
Kinesthesia is the body’s sense of motion and movement. It is not at all hard to think about the many ways that a child can choose to move to music. Our favorite, however, is even more creative than just dancing. Play music samples and have them walk around in a style that imitates the music they’re hearing. Light pizzicato string instruments? Maybe they’ll tiptoe. A fast orchestra piece? They might start running. Up the fun by having them freeze every time you turn off the music to switch to a new piece.