Exploring bird sounds with children

“What does a bird say?”  A lot more than tweet, or chirp.   Most children only consider one sound, but an observant child with more experience in bird sounds might ask, “What kind of bird?” 

bird singingFun vocal play with different bird sounds can open up the world of birds, and sounds, with your child, and can have so many wonderful developmental benefits.    

These are just a few: 

  •  Active Listening is practiced as they focus just on the sound of the bird – listening well enough to imitate it effectively.  This helps them practice “shutting out” other background noises from their attention. 
  • Trying to imitate the sounds helps them explore how units of sound (phonemes) are put together in unique ways, which leads to better articulation and eventually better reading skills  See an excellent article:  On The Path to Reading
  • Watching real birds, or using pictures of birds, and talking about them in detail during the vocal play helps them to make connections cognitively.  Discussions might include questions that will help them discover the characteristics that are similar to all birds, as well as discussing the characteristics that make them different.  Listening and imitating the different sounds they make is an important part of that process. 
  • Children with these experiences are often more observant when watching birds.  And these focused observing skills can easy generalize to many other areas of life.
With children just starting to make sounds, many parents are already helping their child differentiate between a song bird and a duck, and maybe even an owl.  Three choices are perfect for the early learners, and these can often be found in nature, and in pictures or small toys.   Just be sure to verbally discuss the characteristics that make them all belong to the bird family.  Make sure they make the correct connections with just ONE sound, then PLAY around with these sounds, ie:
Song BirdTweet – tweedle-eet , tweet-eet-eet-eet-eet – tweedle-eedle-eet (remember the 50s song “Rocking Robin”), toooo-weet, toodle-oodle-oodle…
Quaaaaack – Quack like mama duck, a daddy, a baby (peep)
OwlWho-Whoot, Too-hoot, Whoo-whoo-oo-whoooooo, Too whooooo, or even a SHRIEK

Once they have made this cognitive connection, and can easily imitate these birds, it is time to add to their birding vocabulary – new birds, and new sounds.  Depending on their interest, add only 1 – 2 birds at a time until they become comfortable with them.   In the following paragraphs, I introduce some of the ways we explore birds in age specific ways during our Kindermusik classes.   You can glean a lot from these ideas and use them at home.   And to get the full experience, join us for a class! 

With our Babies in the Kindermusik Village FEATHERS semester, we have fun making bird sounds while moving the babies in a way that complements that particular bird sound.   Adding movement is another excellent way to help solidify the learning that occurs, at any age.  Here are two examples:
Cuckoo bird

Cuckoo bird

Cuckoo:   Cu – ckoo  (high to low sounds)  SO, we move up and down along with the pitch
ChickadeeChick-a-dee-dee-dee  (high -med-low-low-low).   In this case, we move side to side in time with the rhythm of the sound.
With the Toddlers in the Our Time and Adventures programs, we do a LOT of echo play, as this an excellent method for developing language skills and vocabulary.   There are several birds that are great at echo play, like the parrot or the cockatiel, or even the Mockingbird  that we have around here.   It is fun to let the child act like a parrot or use a parrot puppet to copy words or simple phrases, or original parrot sounds, or sounds that a parrot might hear.
Parrot:  Squawk – Pretty Bird – Polly wants a cracker – Hello – meow   (parrots also whistle, but age-wise, children are not ready for that until sometime after they are 4 or 5 years old.) 
If you want to watch an amazing bird who has an enormous vocabulary, check out the video I included in the following blog posting:  Amazing Bird encourages Vocal Play.
With the Preschoolers in the Kindermusik Imagine That!  SEE WHAT I SAW semester, the students are introduced to pictures and recorded sounds of 4 different birds, and we discuss how they look different, and how they sound different from each other, and imitate the sounds of 4 different song birds.  We further explore birds through songs and movement activities.  Every year, their favorite bird to imitate is the Pigeon, as we have a fun song and game with counting Pigeons “Three Blue Pigeons”.
Pigeons:  Coooo, Cooo   and make a warbling sound with your tongue while saying it.
With the Elementary students in Kindermusik for the Young Child, we also actively listen, and imitate – but then we transfer the bird sounds into rhythms that we learn to write.  For example: 
Cu-ckoo can be rhythmically written as   “ta-ta-sh-sh”  or 2 quarter notes and 2 rests.
Robin:  Cheerio  – written as “ti-ti ta”  or 2 eighth notes & a quarter note.
Isn’t it fascinating how exploring birds and their sounds with your child can lead to so many learning experiences – and it doesn’t cost a THING ! 
Just yesterday at the BIRTHDAY BASH at Explorations V Children’s Museum here in Lakeland, they introduced their  BORN LEARNING TRAIL…”an activity trail turning everyday moments into learning opportunities!”
I had the privilege of drawing attention to the Talk, Listen, and Sing exhibit on the trail, and had a wonderful time exploring 10 different bird sounds with children of all ages.   If you get a chance, check out that exhibit – I am donating a “FEATHERS” book (from the Village program) that shows pictures of many different birds, including word art with the sounds they make.   A few you might not think of:
Kookaburra:  “HA – ha-ha-ha-ha”  With accent on first sound.
Bluebird:  “Tru-ly,  Tru-ly”  rising to a high pitch on ‘ly”
Have fun talking about the birds, listening to and imitating the bird sounds, and singing any songs you might know about birds. 
What songs do YOU know about birds ?  
What book would you recommend that can help explore different birds with their sounds!
What websites are appropriate for children to listen to and learn about birds? 

Timbre / SOUND Experiences for young children

QuinnTimbre (pronounced “tam-ber”) is the distinctive quality of a sound.  During the last few weeks in all the Kindermusik classes, we have experienced many different timbres.  We’ve listened to the sounds of different types of bells, paper bags, a variety of wooden instruments, multitudes of drums (played with the hand to get a better variety of sounds), and much more.  The Young Child class has been using different timbres to represent the sounds of animals during a story song. 

The little ones in our class are developing their own “vocabulary” of timbres.  Just as we recognize the importance of developing a large spoken vocabulary, it is important for us to recognize the importance of developing a similar vocabulary for sounds.  This will help children tune in to subtle distinctions in both music and speech.   


Why build a vocabulary of sounds?

  1. Improves interest and ability to hear, distinguish, and recognize sounds, even when the sound maker is not visible.  (Like knowing Mommy’s voice.)
  2. Helps them understand the relationship between the feel and look of an object to the sound it makes.  Bigger things make deeper sounds, smaller things make higher sounds.
  3. Allows them to recognize that even though something may look the same, it may sound different (if different objects are inside it).  Or that things that look different may sound very much the same.  It builds generalization skills.
  4. Research shows that as the variety of sounds in an environment increases, the more the child is interested in making new sounds themselves, allowing them to explore more fully all the sounds they can make.  This in turn has a huge effect on their ability to articulate words when it is time.
  5. old ladyThe neural connections they are building with these basic sounds are the foundation of knowledge, on which they can expand as they develop.  Recognition of a metal sound, leads to recognition of a horn sound, and on to a saxophone sound, and on to a tenor saxophone sound, and on to the specific style a particular artist on the saxophone.
  6. And finally, it leads to a lifetime of enjoyment in making music.  This lady seems to continue to enjoy even in her later years!

 How can I help my baby learn this?   Provide a basket in a popular play location that will hold 2 – 4 objects that make a variety of sounds.  If possible, have some objects that look the same but sound different, such as similar containers with different materials inside.  Or similar objects (wood) that have subtly different sounds.  Keep the same objects in the basket until the child’s interest in what’s in the basket just starts to lessen, then switch them out for totally different objects. (don’t wait until they’re bored, but don’t switch it when they are still fascinated by them).  For the younger babies, keep a few sound makers next to the changing table, especially those that can be worn on their hands, such as “mittens” or “bracelets”, or on a “mobile” they can tap. 

To be able to gain the maximum benefit from this play, the baby should be able to explore ALL the different sounds an object makes (often with your help).  Equally important is exploring the object through their other senses:  What does it look like?  What does it feel like?  What is the texture?  What does it taste like?  Is it heavy or light?  Which parts move?  What movement makes the sound?    Of course they are not asking these questions, but their explorations answer them.  This “learning” is enhanced greatly if an important partner talks about all these things while the baby is exploring.

How can I help my OLDER CHILD learn this?

Children 1 – 2 really enjoy exploring the sounds in a kitchen.  Clean your floor, then partner with your child to pull out items from the cupboard, plastic, metal, etc.  (glass, only when supervised with a parent to ensure safety.), as well as a variety of mallets from kitchen drawers, wooden, metal, etc.  Cutting boards make great sounds. 

picnic baskets

I like to keep a picnic basket full of kitchen sounds so that I don’t have to continue to clean each item after they play with it on the kitchen floor.

Children 2 and older love to MAKE their own instruments.  Are they most interested in making something they can TAP, something they can SHAKE, or something they can RUB.  THEN MAKE TWO – help them find a way to make two of the same type of instrument, but that makes different sounds.

All ages of children love to explore the different sounds that their mouth and voice can make, as well as how they can use their body as a sound making device.  Explore the different sounds you can make in these ways.  Make it a copycat game:  one person makes a set of sounds with their body or mouth, and the other person has to copy what the first person did.  Take turns.  OR hide behind some barrier, and allow the other person to guess how that sound was made.  This is also a wonderful way to improve their listening skills.

There are several previous blog postings that include ideas for your family to explore timbre

Refer to homemade instrument blog postings:

What part does Kindermusik play in this development?  

Kindermusik class is a perfect venue for offering your child the opportunity to experience a wide variety of sounds–drums, egg shakers, baby bells, woodblocks, singing, speaking, plus the host of wonderful and diverse sounds on the recordings!  Kindermusik is the best choice you can make for your child, again and again!                    

Amazing Bird encourages Vocal Play

When looking for a YouTube video showing the sounds of frogs and birds, I came across this amazing bird, having a lot of fun with Vocal Play.  I hope you and your child enjoy similar types of vocal play.  Although with children, don’t expect such cooperation in performing for other people.  Try to keep it a fun game between you and your child.  If they want to share it, they will.

For more information on vocal play with frogs and birds, I found a great website featuring pictures, comments, and their natural sounds.  Check out the blog posting: Frog and Bird Sounds .  Have fun with your child listening, and imitating these real animals.