Rhythm is helpful in all sorts of ways. While it may not lead to Internet stardom, the pattern recognition inherent in rhythm can help kids be better athletes, better observers and better learners. Like any motor skill, rhythm needs to be cultivated and developed. It just so happens the exercises that help develop rhythm can also help with language fluency and reading, two other key life skills for young kids to develop.
Terry Iacarino, a Baltimore County public school music teacher, knows a thing or two about teaching kids how to let the rhythm hit ‘em. She advocates for quick response games, which can help a child develop his timing and attention.
“If you play a drum on a beat, the kid has to put their feet on the beat, and if the drum stops, you stop. It’s as simple as that,” suggest Iacarino. “Get them to move, and see if they can make it silly and keep it on the beat. It also helps with balance, which is really good for a young child. So basically it’s a stop and go game – kind of like a freeze game – with a beat to it.”
It won’t happen overnight – like any skill, it takes practice. It might take a few weeks for kids to grab the beat. But it’s ultimately a fun way to get the whole family moving.
Clapping is a pretty fundamental method of setting or keeping a rhythm, and so clapping games are a good way to develop that skill. Patty Cake and Miss Mary Mack are perennial favorites, but games can also incorporate toys and an element of sharing according to Iacarino who has a favorite of her own. “Sit on the floor in a circle, and tap the floor four times,” suggests Iacarino. “Have a little something to pass – a bean bag or a small toy.” As the children tap, they say a rhyme: “one-two-three-four put it on your neighbor’s floor.” On the word “neighbors floor,” the kids pass an object in one direction. If there are enough objects for everyone, they might recieve one from the other side. The game progresses in a loop.
Full body movement should be incorporated as much as possible, but parents should understand it can be subtle. A kid who can keep the beat tapping their toe is expressing rhythm with the whole body, even if they don’t have the coordination to keep the beat with a hand clap or a head bob yet.
Perhaps the motion helps kids retain fluency more efficiently. Maybe it’s because music can make tedious subjects more interesting. But Iacarino sees a great benefit to speech from music and rhythm games.
“Turning books into songs, and clapping the syllables are just great,” she explains. “And they are great to get your kids to be fluid readers. It’s just wonderful – it helps kids with speech issues. Those kids typically don’t have a problem in music, because we put it to a beat.”
Miranda Taylor, a dancer instructor at Perna Dance Center in Hazlet, New Jersey, and the Academy of Dance Arts, Tinton Falls, as well as the drummer the band Exmaid, also sees a benefit to helping kids practice rhythm, particularly in cooperation and listening.
“It’s really hard for little kids to jump and all land at the same time,” explains Taylor. “We practice something called a sauté. It’s just jumping up and down. So we do we’ll do eight jumps and then seven claps. We’ll jump 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 and then we’ll stop jumping and just clap our hands on the beat seven times. And we’ll do that in two groups, so one group can jump while the other group claps. They can feel it with different parts of their body and actually listen to the beat. Because when you are talking about learning how to be more rhythmic, it’s about listening to what is going on. It helps them hear it and feel it in different ways, and that usually helps it sink in a little better.”
Kids with some finer motor skills can graduate to keeping the time on a drum or xylophone. It requires hand eye coordination, aim, restraint, timing, and motor planning.
“I feel like with drumming it’s about a different kind of coordination – it’s a little more specific: your hand does this, your foot does this, it’s not like your core is moving,” says Taylor. “There’s no locomotion, but the idea of what comes between two beats is very important to me. I think that is really important in both dance and drum, because learning how to be accurate is about learning how much time you have in between two beats.”