What it is: Steady beat is what you respond to when you hear music and start tapping your toe. The steady beat is repetitive and evenly spaced. Listen to “Old MacDonald,” “Bingo,” or “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” and you will hear the steady beat.
How it relates to mathematics: Emphasizing the steady beat by clapping or moving to the music supports children’s development of one-to-one correspondence. One-to-one correspondence is matching up one thing with something else, such as one clap for each syllable. Clapping to the steady beat also is a way to emphasize the math concept of “more.” Through music, toddlers can show they understand what “more” means even when they do not yet understand numbers. For example, if you clap once and then ask, “Can you clap more than I clapped?” a toddler will most likely clap more than once.
Activities to try: While singing a song, emphasize the words that fall on the beat by stomping or clapping on each beat. You can even have children stomp or clap harder on the downbeat (the most accented note in each measure). There is no wrong way to do this, so feel free to experiment.
To work on one-to-one correspondence, try having your child repeat a basic clapping sequence. Ask, “Can you clap as many times as I do?” As your child gets better at this, you can add rhythm to your clapping. You could also play a drum or even sing instead of clapping.
Songs that build on themselves, such as “There Once Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly”) help children grasp the idea of “more.” After each verse or every few verses you can ask, “What’s next?” or “Should we sing more?” Songs that invite children to join in with each verse also promote this concept.
What it is: Rhythm is similar to but different from the steady beat. A song’s rhythm varies, while the steady beat is constant.
How it relates to mathematics: Rhythm helps children learn to recognize one-to-one correspondence and to identify and predict distinct patterns. Being able to recognize and anticipate rhythmic patterns helps children remember or predict the words to a song or a rhythmic story.
Activities to try: Even newborns can learn about rhythm as their parents sing lullabies to them. Rock with your child while you sing, and pat gently on your child’s back so that he can simultaneously hear and feel the patterns in the music. If the words themselves make a pattern, your child can also see a pattern in your mouth movements. Here is one example of a song you could sing:
(Sung to “Hush, Little Baby”)
Verse 1: Little baby, don’t you cry. Little baby, don’t you cry.
Pattern: A B A B
Verse 2: Mama loves you don’t you cry. Mama loves you don’t you cry.
Pattern: C B C B
Invite toddlers and preschoolers to repeat, predict, and/or extend rhythmic patterns. For example, sing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” with your toddler. Stop after “With a moo moo here,” and wait for your child to repeat the phrase or extend the pattern of the song by adding “and a moo moo there.’”