Listen Purposefully, Avoid Tuning OUT

We are surrounded by sounds, but how well are we listening to them?   Is there too much so that we “tune out” the sounds, ignoring it like “musak”.   Or can we hear the violins play the melody, and the horns play the ominous chords that helps us feel the building tension in an orchestral piece about a thunderstorm?  Can our children recognize the difference between different types of drums?  We are either training our brain to listen purposefully, or we are training it to “tune out”.

There are so many sounds in our busy world these days that we learn to “tune out” most of the ones that aren’t directly effecting us at the time.  The interplay between our brain and hearing mechanisms that allow us to block out certain sounds is a wonderful ability that our ear has, and is not something that can be duplicated with technology.  Ask anyone with a hearing aid how they miss the ability to choose to focus on one sound, instead of hearing everything at the same level.    This is truly an asset when we are trying to focus on something. 

Yet, if our brain makes it a habit to ignore the background sounds, it lessens our ability to be fully aware of our environment.  That is why it is important that we limit the continuous background sounds in our environment, such as the TV, or even music if played all the time.   I knew a fabulous mom whose 2 girls were involved in Suzuki violin lessons.  As part of the methods for training the ear to hear the right sounds, it is important to listen to this music regularly.  In her zeal, she had this music playing in the background of their room all day and all night… for months.  This is sensory overload, and the brain simply cannot process continuously like that.  She appreciated this new perspective, and chose times to play it that the girls would be receptive to this auditory stimulation; as they were getting ready in the morning, before practicing the violin, and while relaxing before bed.

Families can consider and CHOOSE times that will work best for music to be played in their home, or even in their car.    Play SONGS at a time when you and your child can interact with fun activities, even if singing along and talking about the music in the car.    Play instrumental music while they are coloring or doing some artwork.  OR play soothing music as a child is going to sleep.  Just don’t have sound going on all the time.  The brain needs a break so it can listen with refreshed awareness when it does get a chance.

In order to develop our ability to “tune out” the irrelevant sounds, and to focus on the important sounds, we must PRACTICE active listening.  This means engaging our brain in the active decision to reduce our own sounds and pay attention to the details of specific sounds that we hear.  In class, I suggest rubbing the ear lobes before an active listening opportunity.  This helps stimulate MANY neural connections that help us pay attention and listen.  With practice, a child, when told to listen carefully, will start to rub their earlobes and close their mouth – waiting for the sound.    Music is a wonderful venue for learning to listen with purpose.  There are many things we can listen for: 

  • We can focus on each instrument separately to hear their particular “voice”. 
  • We can try to listen to the words to determine what the song is about, or to learn the words. 
  • We can listen to hear if the music seems happy, soothing, or sad. 
  • We can listen to sounds of real creatures or objects and try to imitate the sounds. 
  • We can listen to patterns in music, anticipating, and making sounds or actions at the right place in the music.  Ex,  If your Happy and you Know It  (clap, clap)  This is the beginning of ensemble development – playing instruments with others.

Practicing active listening provides lifelong benefits. It’s necessary for following directions at home and at school. Preschoolers are developing the ability to notice subtle differences of sound, such as listening to many different styles of drums, and naming that style of drum- something he wasn’t ready to do as a toddler.   

In our Imagine That class this week, and at our Studio Free Play on Saturday, the students were able to feel and hear the sounds of a variety of REAL drums, such as a djembe (African drum), a Native American Pow Wow Drum, and even a SNARE Drum.  They got to feel the curled wires underneath the snare drum.  They made an “ooooh” sound near it, and heard the buzz, and they played with drumsticks on the top. 

This hands-on experience was delightful for all, but even more than that, it has laid a concrete foundation for them to start really HEARING the different timbres of drums.


During some of our movement activities, we are practicing active listening as we listen to how the drum is being played, and try to determine HOW it is telling us to move.  For example, the drum is played with a nice steady beat for “walking”, or a fast steady beat for “running”.   The students listen, and determine HOW to move.

After much practice, they are quite the experts at listening to the sound, and they are READY to use their creative thinking to figure out HOW to make the drum sound like we want others to move. Start with “walk” vs “run”: then explore tiptoe, march, slide, spin. We will continue to explore this in class next week.

So this week, take time together to “put on your listening ears” and discover all the wonderful sounds around you. 

What do you now HEAR that you didn’t really recognize before?  How will you “train your brain”?


Motherhood Relaxation with Sounds of Nature

Relaxation Activity 2 – Sounds of Nature                   (link to intro.)

                For yourself:    This exercise proceeds much the same as the Sound of Silence one, yet occurs outside, in a place where the sounds are limited to those of nature.  It could be as close as your backyard – but if there is too much noise from traffic, find a better place.  (Could there be a peaceful park along your drive home from dropping your child off at school or an activity?) 

Instead of focusing on the silence, let your mind pay full attention to the sounds you hear. It doesn’t matter if your eyes are open or closed – whichever helps you relax the most.  Consider the source of each sound, and try to picture it in your mind.  Don’t try to find it with your eyes.    Let the beauty of nature help you remember how beautiful life is.   Let the rustling of the trees rustle that stress out of you.  Let the bird songs lift your spirits to soar among the clouds.   In your mind, connect each sound to a desired response from your body.  After 10 minutes, stretch, and mentally express appreciation to mother earth for her bounty.

                With your child:  In order to promote relaxation, let the child choose ONE object from nature to hold that is the “connection” to the world around him.  Then find a nice comfortable place to lie back, placing the object near the heart.  Some children can close their eyes, but for many, that is stressful to try.  These children can focus on something above them, like clouds or leaves (if under a tree).  Just like some children can simply hold the object still, while some children NEED to manipulate it with their hands while listening – that’s OK.  

 Actively listening to nature with your child does not require 10 min. of silence, but rather moments of silence while listening balanced with brief verbal identification of sounds, and short discussions about what may be happening, or connecting the sound to something the child is familiar with.  You may also invite them to pair these sounds with desired responses in the body.  This discussion can start with parent, continuing to focus MOST of the time on listening. 

Then after a few tries, start asking open ended questions that will help the child focus on some of the aspects already discussed, OR use this opportunity to match the sounds to concepts.  Try to find high pitched sounds, medium, or low sounds.  How about choppy or smooth sounds?  Nature has excellent examples of the concepts of opposites.  With a gentle voice, smoothly continue to direct the focus on relaxing and listening with intent.  Please keep in mind that the time span for such an activity may need to start by being just a minute or two, yet can build over time for some to be even be longer than 10 minutes.

Does anyone have recommendations for local places where JUST the sounds of nature can be heard?

Active listening to bells, bells, bells

In this series of blog postings, we’re having fun with bells.  For the next few postings, we’ll focus on LISTENING !   Intentional listening helps us focus our attention on the aspects of the sounds we hear, and be able to tell the difference between sounds, much like we recognize our own child’s voice from any others.  This is an incredibly important skill in all areas of life, and must be developed through practice.  Of course, music makes it engaging and fun. 

For young children it is often helpful to listen with your whole body. 

  • Listen to the sound of a specific type of bell.   We will start with bells you may have at home.  Starting with sound that are familiar allows the child to review what they already know so they can connect their current understanding to the new shapes and sounds that will be presented. 
  • Creating the sound and feeling the real instrument while it vibrates is the best choice for building a foundation of discriminating sounds.   Let the child HOLD it, and CREATE.
  • Using our bodies to move like the bell, or our mouths to sound like the bell is an important part of intentional listening, since we have to attend well enough to copy the sound and movement.


Ding Dong – Let your child RING your doorbell, then both of you try to recreate the sound verbally.  If you are up to the task, take the cover off the door bell, and show them how it works – that is if your doorbell actually uses a bell.  Many these days are a digital sound, which may be good to hear – but not to see.


Does your child have a bike bell?  Well, then they most likely have a lot of experience ringing it.  If not, take a trip to your local bike shop to check out all the bike bells that are available ! 

Fun, Fun !!!


Most children love the bright shiny ring-a-ling sound of the jingle bells.  If you have some jingle bells, bring them out for your child to explore. 

If you don’t, they are easy to find at Walmart or a craft store.  For now, just buy the larger bells (they make a better sound) and enjoy listening to them in the bag.  Then let the child explore it in their hands.  In another posting, we’ll explore ways to make jingle bell instruments, and have a lot more jingle bell fun !


Most children are also familiar with this type of bell, typically called wind chimes.  This video shows a large assortment of styles, and simply the sound of all of them together.

Do you have a wind chime at home your child can try?  If not, head over to a store near you to listen to the wonderful chime sounds.  Here in Lakeland, I would recommend Brooke Pottery.  But many times you can find them in most hardware stores.  Wind chimes are also a simple craft to make with your child.

Different types of bells will be presented in each of the following postings in this series, and some videos will be available to hear the sounds, and/or how these bells are used.  For our purpose here, we will focus on the classic bell shapes with ringers on the inside or out.  And I have organized them from the smallest to the largest bells.  After all my research, I believe I must divide it up into separate blog postings.  Although I am presenting them all in one day, take it at a pace that is right for you and your child, perhaps one type of bell a day.  With your older child, you might look at all of them as an overview, then explore them all more personally throughout the next few weeks.

In our Kindermusik classes, we explore many types of bells and compare the sounds, and use appropriate bells for different songs and activities.  Come join the fun and learning by checking out the types of classes offered on my website, then contact me to learn more.

I’d LOVE to hear how you and your child are exploring these sounds.  PLEASE SHARE !   Is your child starting to recognize the difference between the sounds of the bells?

Listening to bells LIVE – Small bells

Small bells of many sizes are unique in their ability to show how size and shape effect the pitch of an instrument.  In this posting, we focus on train bells, handbells, and bells you might find on playgrounds.  The videos will provide a good start in recognizing the different bells and their sounds.

I also recommend going on an outing to see many of the bells you DON’T have at home.  These small bells may be easily available to you in your community  Real and live experiences offer so much MORE than recorded music.  Here are just a few of the benefits. 

  • Young children, even infants, are establishing a base of knowledge and only learn from REAL experiences that engage their minds and bodies. 
  • REAL instruments resonate (vibrate) through the body in a way that recorded music cannot match, no matter how old a person is. 
  • REAL experiences lay a foundation for recognizing the many different timbres of sound, and strengthens their abilities to hear differences in all sounds.

                                                               TRAIN BELL

Most young children will like and relate to the train bell.  This is a homemade video, but was the best to show how the bell on the train works.  You can see the string that goes to the cab.

There is a wonderful train station in Parrish, FL if you’d like to take a old time train ride with your child.  Get the details on the website for the Florida Railroad Museum.   My family really enjoyed an Easter train ride that took us to an open field where the children could hunt for Easter Eggs, meet the Easter bunny, and more fun activities.


Joshua's homemade hand bell

Hand bells are simply bells that have a handle attached to the top, and a striker on the inside that makes the sound when shaken.  Here is a picture of one of my students and the hand bell that he made to complete an assignment from an Imagine That! Class.

Of course, handbells have been an amazing way to make music for centuries.  Each bell is designed to sound a certain pitch, and it takes a full set of bells to play songs – and a lot of hands.

This video features an amazing SOLOist will allow children to hear the bells and see how the bells work.  Help point out that the larger bells have a lower pitch, and the smaller bells have a higher pitch.

This video features a large GROUP playing the whole range of handbells in the classic music of “Carol of the Bells”.  Your child can see how these people have to work together as a team and follow the director.

During the holiday season, there are often local groups that perform with hand bells.  Check online or in your paper to see if there is an appropriate recital for you and your child.  It may be a bit of a hassle to arrange, but the experience will be memorable.  The real sound of these bells makes music that resonates in your mind and heart.

You can even buy colorful handbells for your child to enjoy at home.

In Lakeland, at Common Grounds playground, I recently discovered a set of pitched bells with nice long sounds.  They are dark green and are located on the South side of the park under the large playset nearest the wall.  Most of them are pitched to harmonize with each other, but there is one bell that causes a dissonant sound.  That means that it sounds great by itself, but when played with another bell there, it sounds out of balance.  This was a specific choice made by the designer to allow children to hear BOTH harmonizing and dissonant sounds.  One of the bells has actually come loose, so it has a short muffled sound.  Have your child find the “broken” bell, and the bell that sounds “off”.

What kind of bells can you find in your community?  Please Share !!!

Steeple Bells and Tower Bells

Now in our active listening series, we’ll focus on larger bells in a tower.  This includes bells in a steeple that are played by people pulling on ropes, as well as carrillon bells played by a keyboard device.

A tower bell is a LARGE metal bell which is hung in a tall tower, often a church steeple, attached to a large gear  which has a rope around it.  This rope hangs down to another floor where the bell ringer pulls the rope to sound the bell at specific times.  These are VERY LOUD, and the vibrations can be felt even outside the building.

Children may have seen the Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, in which the main character pushes the bells around himself (a purely fictional scene).

This could be as simple as ONE bell in a tower, typically in the heart of a village or city, to signify the hour, such as Big Ben in London.  This was how people used to keep track of time, to gather the village, or to sound an alarm. 

These tower bells were also used in churches to signal the time for worshippers to go to church, perhaps to attend a wedding or other service.

In many towers there are several bells of different sizes, and the bell ringing has developed into an art, called Campanology.  Because of the huge swing of the bells, the composer who writes the music must also be an excellent mathematician in order to time the bells correctly.

In this video, Julie Andrews sings “Ding Dong, Merrily On High” in the background while we watch the ART of bellringing.

There is a Catholic church near my home, and I hear the bells played every Sunday morning, as well as other times during the week.  In Lakeland, the Episcopal church downtown plays their bells almost daily, and they have wonderful concerts.  Take a Sunday morning drive with your child to hear the sounds of bells in your local churches (they get up early anyways).  If your church has bells, perhaps you can find a person that can give a tour.  And during the holiday season, you may be able to find a performance that fits into your schedule.

                                                 CARILLON BELLS

The Carillon is like tower bells DELUXE !  The tower houses at LEAST 23 bells.  Instead of gears and ropes, the bells are connected to a mechanical device that allows one person, the carillonneur, to play all of the bells from a device that looks like a keyboard (similar to a piano).

This video features the carillon bells at our own Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, FL.  It is an introductory video by the Associated Press, so it discussed the whole concept of Bok Tower Gardens.  The part that shows the bells and how they are played is between, 1:00 and 1:45, but you can hear the bells being played throughout the video.

If you live nearby, or plan to visit nearby, Bok Tower Gardens is worth your trip – Even WITH children.  The gardens, and the music from the bells, is a bit of peace for the soul in this crazy world.  If not here, look around, there may be a carillon closer to your family.

The Biggest Bells – across the world

ORIENTAL TEMPLE BELLS are HUGE, sometimes multiple stories high.  The sound is produced by a log that has a brass end fitted to it.  In some cases, the bells are so large, this log must be carried my many men who must move together toward the bell to strike it. 

Unless you take a trip to the orient, your child will not be able to experience this live.  But the knowledge of such a bell can be impressive to a young child, expanding their view of the world to things outside their own life and culture.  This video is homemade, but it great to show the size of a smaller bell and how it is rang. 

These bells are traditionally built for temples and are used to worship.  The sound is so loud that the entire community can hear it.  And the sound can last for hours, enhancing the mind’s ability to focus for meditation and prayer.

I hope you have enjoyed this series of posting exploring the sounds of bells.  I am sure there are more that I have not focused on hear.  Please feel free to add comments to help us become aware of others.

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?