Unfold your heart.
Sharpen your ears.
And never say no to the world when it asks you to dance.
~Tahereh Mafi, Furthermore
From the time your baby was born, you probably held them to your chest and the two of you felt the beating of one another’s hearts. As you relaxed into one another, you began to match breath for breath, creating a sense of peace and calm for you both. You instinctually patted a gentle steady beat on your baby’s diapered bum, or rocked slowly to a steady rhythm that only you could hear. Steady beat begins with your baby hearing your heartbeat in the womb and its importance is carried with them throughout their whole life. Experiencing steady beat with your child and, later, allowing them to explore and create steady beat themselves is a foundational skill that can be build upon throughout their lives.
Steady beat is a musical term. It’s the underlying pulse in a piece of music or a poem or even a fingerplay. But it is so, so much more than that. Not only is it an important component of musical literacy, but the ability to experience steady beat helps develop the neural pathways your child needs for walking, talking, and even reading. A recent study found a link between music, the ability to keep a steady beat, and the ability to hear sounds and associate them with letters, an essential component of reading. Steady beat helps your child coordinate movement with time and aids in motor planning skills. Looking way into the future, we can see steady beat competence in athletes who are bouncing a ball or chefs who are chopping with a knife.
Babies can experience steady beat as you hold, rock, bounce, and pat them. Chanting nursery rhymes and singing songs with a strong steady beat gives them a chance to match your movements to the beat they hear. As they gain more head control, you can begin lap bounces that allow them to feel the steady beat in their whole bodies. Babies aren’t too little for you to read rhyming books with them. I really enjoy the Harper-Collins Growing Tree board book series, especially Mama, Mama and Papa, Papa. And of course, you can dance with your baby and continue through their whole childhood! I have more info of including babies in circle and music time here.
Toddlers love when you read them books with a strong steady beat throughout. Spike Lee’s Please Baby Please is one that I love both for its playful humor and strong steady beat. Toddlers are also ready to start with simple finger plays, such as Open, Shut Them. They can also tap, clap, and tap the steady beat on different parts of their bodies. Fast and slow music can be coupled with safe rhythm instruments and dancing.
Preschoolers still need you to read with them. Rhyming books with a strong internal pulse, such as We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, can be coupled with movement and instruments as well. Preschool children can move intentionally to the beat of a song or rhyme in many different ways, including marching, tiptoeing, and galloping. They are also ready for more complex finger plays, rhymes, and chants. More complicated rhythm instruments as well as props such as hoops, balls, or scarves can be used to move to the steady beat.
The Seasons of Joy books offer many chants, rhymes, fingerplays, and songs for experiencing steady beat. My babies all loved this silly little rhyme about gnomes, and it includes many chances to pat the steady beat on their bodies. You can see a video of them enjoying it as toddlers here.
There was a little gnome
Who had a little crumb
Touch corner of child’s mouth
And over the mountain he did run,
Walk fingers over the top of head
With a belly full of fat
Tap tummy lightly to a steady beat
And a tall pointy hat
Tap head lightly to a steady beat
And a pancake stuck to his bum, bum, bum!
Tap bottom lightly to a steady beat.
Toddlers love There Was a Little Turtle by Vachel Lindsay. The strong beat coupled with the excitement of getting away from the turtle make the rhyme a hit.
And for preschoolers who are ready for props, polishing stones can be a great rhythmic activity, whether those stones are real or pretend.
You can find more information about the Seasons of Joy e-books, including the autumn book, here.
Seasons of Joy Autumn
Look for gnomes with their treasures, tuck some seed babies in for the winter, and dance with the leaf fairies. Give your children 10 peaceful weeks filled with gentle, hands-on, fall fun! $15