There are five ways we can respond to children’s music making and explorations:

1) contain

Before we do anything concrete we provide an energetic container for children’s explorations. We are an anchor for the session, being present and calm and providing a safe space. On a practical level we make sure instruments don’t get too scattered or broken, we support turn-taking if appropriate

2) observe children’s engagement:

Sometimes any intervention from us can interrupt a child’s flow, and a moment of total engagement and learning can be lost though our well-intentioned effort to support it.

But the act of being present and observing supports children’s engagement: we may observe, photograph, write notes, video…. or just be present with the child so they can see we’re interested.

3) join in with rhythms, singing, moving etc.

At this level of support we copy but don’t add anything. We may try and get into taking turns playing an instrument, so we can copy the child’s rhythmic or melodic patterns. This could be on a xylophone, where there are many ways to play it, but could also be on a drum, or we may be playing a quite different instrument, or singing back imitating what they are playing. Children respond with delight when an adult sings the notes and rhythms they play on a melodica for instance.

This copying what children play is the most valid form of instrumental teaching for almost all pre-school children, and for many older children too: they aren’t ready to copy what we want to ‘teach’ them, but feel validated in the music they’re making, building confidence

4) sing about what the children are doing. A simple way to do this is to change the words of familiar songs: Old MacDonald becomes Bradley plays the blue drum, tap tap tap tap tap; orOne Man Went to Mow becomes Sophie Sophie Sophie, plays the tambourine

Many songs repeat the same words three times, giving us time to think of the fourth line, such as Happy and you know it, Skip to my lou, and Coming round the mountain

5) model extensions for the activity, eg different rhythms, new words, how to hold an instrument, ‘let’s try this….’.

All of these roles are important at different times, and we judge in the moment how to respond – there’s no definitive ‘right’ response. Trust your instinct and learn from your successes and failures. Notice when children continue to explore and develop their skills and expression; notice when they show their pleasure at your response, and when they seem discouraged or distracted by what you do.

For more about reflecting and mirroring go to this page