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The Magic of Lullabies

  • Apr 22, 2010
  • Cheryl Henningsgaard, MS, MT-BC, MacPhail Early Childhood Music Faculty Member

Lullabies are cross-cultural care-giving phenomena! Every culture has special lullabies, as do families. Lullabies create special times where music is used as a way to communicate and soothe.   Lullabies utilize a steady, rhythmical beat, and also are very poetic and lyrical. We often associate lullabies with a caregiver and infant, but they are also sung to young children.  Lullabies are the first introduction that many children have to music-and also to Musical Storytelling.

While singing a lullaby, the caregivers are not “concerned” with their singing voices, but more concerned that their song is being sung to lull or coo their little one.  Music is being used as a therapeutic tool to create love and to soothe and calm. Caregivers should be encouraged to sing to and then with infants and young children. The comfort of their ability to sing will increase with encouragement and song familiarity. Musical Storytelling should encourage reading and singing together at home with caregivers and children of all ages. Musical Storytelling should include opportunities to teach and practice specific lullabies, finger plays, and chants. The more familiar and confident a caregiver becomes with Musical Storytelling the more natural and frequents it becomes.   The more Musical Storytelling is generalized to home or child care center, the greater the infant and young child is participating in literacy rich activities.

 Literacy, then, begins prenatally as the fetus learns rhythm from the maternal heart beat and pitch and pattern form the surrounding voices. Literacy is a developmental process.

Burns (1991) writes that Birth to Three Literacy Accomplishments Include:

  • Recognizes specific books by cover.
  • Pretends to read books.
  • Understands that books are handled in particular ways.
  • Enters into book-sharing routine with primary caregivers.
  • Vocalization play in crib gives way to enjoyment of rhyming language, nonsense word play, etc.
  • Labels objects in books.
  • Comments on characters in books.
  • Looks at picture in book and realizes it is a symbol for a real object.
  • Listens to stories.
  • Requests/demands adult to read or write.
  • May begin attending to specific print, such as letters in names.
  • Uses increasingly purposeful scribbling.
  • Occasionally seems to distinguish between drawing and writing.
  • Produces some letter-like forms and scribbles with some features of English writing.

Teaching tips:

Remember that young children respond best to higher-pitched voices. The same is true for singing with young children. Use your “head” or “high” voice when singing with young children.

Young children learn best through multi-sensory activities. Utilize scarves, bubbles, mirrors, ribbons, puppets, simple shakers and drums for exploration with Musical Storytelling.

Create a “beginning song” and “ending song” for Musical Storytelling.

Use movement as simple as rhythmical bounces while singing or chanting. Dance to the beat! 

Singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” while adding finger motions or sign language teaches young children that words have symbols. 

Encourage vocal play. Imitate specific sounds the children might be making. Playing with vowel and consonant sounds are also important to stimulate and increase oral and facial musicals and their movement.

If you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk, you can sing! So-sing, sing, sing!


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