Too often kids think that classical music is BORING, but you can change that! With a few creative activities and the ultimate playlist of kid-friendly classical music, your kids will be rocking out to Beethoven in no time!
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I love classical music–and it didn’t happen by accident. It was a part of our family’s culture, woven into our weekly routine. You see, every Sunday of my childhood, after we got home from church, we would load up our 5-disc CD player (remember the days before digital music?) with the best of Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, and Chopin.
For the rest of the afternoon, the sounds of famous orchestral arrangements floated on the air. As I perused the Sunday comics and clipped coupons from the weekly ads (my frugal streak started young), I hummed along to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcraker Suite.
Classical music became as natural to me as The Beatles, John Denver, and–in my teen years–NSYNC. I never really played a musical instrument (at least not well), but my love of the classical music I learned in childhood has continued throughout my life. I sang chamber music in school choirs, did jetés and dégagés to quintessential pieces by Romantic composers, and blasted Beethoven as often as Metallica in the car with my high school friends (I was a happy nerd, okay?).
My husband was also raised in a home that valued classical music, and we’ve continued the tradition of regularly playing classical music in our own home. The only difference is that instead of loading up a 5-disc CD player, we just ask Alexa to play for us.
One Sunday morning some months ago, however, I was taken aback when I turned on our traditional classical music and my little boys both groaned.
“We want to listen to FUN music,” they complained.
Yikes! At what point did my kids developed a negative association with classical music?
Rather than be appalled by their lack of interest, I took their complaint as a challenge to show them how fun classical music could be. I wanted my kids to appreciate the classics, but I understand that some of the music is a hard sell to a toddler.
So I got creative. I brainstormed a list of upbeat classical pieces and started playing them for my boys…and playing with them.
I’m happy to report that since that day, we’ve improved our kids’ opinion of classical music, and now my boys honestly enjoying rocking out to Beethoven and Grieg.
How did we do it? Today I’m sharing some of the ways I’ve found to help my kids enjoy classical music.
How to make classical music fun for kids
Choose the right music
When you’re first introducing kids to classical music, recognize that they aren’t going to appreciate the subtle intricacies of a lot of the classical music out there. Help them see that not all classical music is “slow and boring” (which is why my kids said they didn’t like it at first). Pick upbeat, dynamic, and kid-friendly pieces.
Scroll down to the bottom of this post for a list of our family’s favorite kid-friendly classical pieces. That should give you a good start!
Have a dance party
Get your kids up and moving to the music. Using their bodies to interpret and react to the music is a great way to help them connect to it. Add even more fun by giving them instruments of their own to play (shakers or rhythm sticks are easy to DIY) or props (ribbon wands, etc.). Encourage them to move their bodies in a way that matches the music: fast when the music is fast and slow when it is slow. Yep, we’re basically doing interpretive dance over here.
Change things up after awhile by playing freeze dance with your favorite classical piece. See who can strike the most ridiculous poses when it’s time to freeze!
Tip: If you have particularly physical kids (i.e. – dancing often turns into wrestling) like my boys, try giving every person their own dance “zone” or “bubble”. You can tape it off on the floor with painter’s tape, or use existing furniture to create boundaries.
What do you imagine?
Ask your kids to imagine a story that could go along with the music and tell you all about it. If they have trouble coming up with ideas at first, model the activity for them. Try saying, “Do you know what this music makes me think of?” Then, set a scene for them. Paint a picture in their minds of something fun and exciting (I like to use “Hoe-down” by Aaron Copland to tell adventurous tales of wild west cowboys.)
Once, they get the idea, play some new music for them and prompt their imaginations by asking one or more of the following questions:
- What does this music make you think of?
- If this music was the sound track to a movie, what would be happening?
- What do you imagine is happening right now in the music?
You might be amazed by the detailed story your four-year-old tells you about giant bats chasing after him through a dark cave as he listens to “Night on Bald Mountain.” Yikes!
Act it out
Once your child has imagined a story, try listening to the piece again and acting it out! Be the terrified explorers sneaking nervously through the dank corridors of a pitch-black cave. Then, as the music speeds up, act out the discovery of the giant bats and reenact your daring escape, dodging as the monsters swoop down on you.
Draw it out
As your children listen to a piece of music, invite them to draw what they imagine. Give them a big piece of paper and lots of crayons or markers.
If you have more than one child, it would be fun to have each child sit where he or she can’t see anyone else’s drawing. After their pictures are done, compare the different images they created based on what they heard. There is no right or wrong…just the fun of imagination!
Take them to kid-friendly concerts
Look for kid-friendly classical concerts near you and take your kids to see the music performed live. Our local symphony (the Utah Symphony) has a family concert several times a year. Last year they performed Peter and the Wolf in conjunction with the Utah Ballet, where the dancers acted out the story while the symphony played. My boys came home raving about the funny “grumpy grandpa” and were requesting to listen to Peter and the Wolf for weeks afterward!
These concerts are great because they choose music especially with kids in mind…and they’re short (under an hour).
If your local symphony doesn’t offer special kids programming, try taking your kids to an outdoor concert…the atmosphere is much more casual and you can often find pops concerts in the summertime where the kids can feel free to much on snacks and wander around while they listen. Or, look up Viktor Borge on YouTube.
Play it often
If classical music is something you truly enjoy, make it part of your family culture–like my parents did. Our Sunday afternoon classical music has become a wonderful, simple tradition in our home, and I love having it as background music as we cook, play games, and relax. Sundays are a special family day for us, and I like that our music reflects the uniqueness of the day.
The more your kids hear classical music, the more it will help remove the stigma of classical music as being stuffy and boring. As they see you enjoy it, in time they likely will, too.
The Essential Playlist of Kid-friendly Classical Music
Alright, now that we have some ideas of fun ways to encourage kids to enjoy classical music, which pieces will you introduce them to? Here’s a great place to start: 20 of our family’s favorite kid-friendly pieces of classical music. Enjoy!
- “Hall of the Mountain King” (Edvard Grieg)
- “Hoe-Down” from Rodeo (Aaron Copland)
- “Copenhagen Railway Steam Gallop” (Hans Christian Lumbye)
- “Night on Bald Mountain” (Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky)
- “Ride Of The Valkyries” (Richard Wagner)
- Four Seasons (Antonio Vivaldi)
- William Tell Overture (Gioachino Rossini)
- “Les Toreadors” from Carmen (George Bizet)
- “Sabre Dance” from Gayane (Aram Khachaturian)
- 1812 Overture “finale” (Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky)
- Tocata and Fuge in D Minor (Johann Sebastian Bach)
- “Entry of the Gladiators” (Julius Fucik)
- “Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka,” Op. 214 (Johann Strauss II)
- “Rhapsody in Blue” (George Gershwin)
- Peter and the Wolf with narration (Sergei Prokofiev)
Tip: This piece turns classical music into story time! This arrangement is about a half-hour long–perfect for keeping the kids entertained on a car ride or encouraging some quiet time on a Sunday afternoon.
- “Flight of the Bumblebee” (Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov)
Tip: Watch the linked video with your kids to help them see just how FAST the pianist’s fingers have to move! Then, get everybody dancing around like bumblebees…try scattering silk flowers (or paper ones) around the room and encourage your little “bees” to go collect pollen as they dance to the music.
- Nutcracker Suite (Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky)
Tip: Watch clips of the old Baryshnikov ballet…nobody jumps like that man. (Fun fact…my two-year-old just woke up from his nap while I was working on this, so now he’s happily sitting next to me watching the Nutcracker while I type away! Start ’em young!) Or, if you want just one short clip to really wow the kiddos, show them this version of the Russian Trepak number and then challenge them to do some of the tricks they see the dancers do on the screen (Truth: toe-touches are not as easy as they first looked to my seven-year-old.)
- Bethoven’s 5th Symphony, First Movement (Ludwig van Beethoven)
Tip: This is a fabulous piece for Halloween time. How about doing a fun ghost or bat art project while listening to this spooky piece?
- Carnival of the Animals (Camille Saint-Saens)
Tip: This is perfect for playing a guessing game because various animals are represented in the music. See if your children can guess which are which, and then act out their movements!
- Galop Infernal (Jacques Offenbach)
Tip: This piece, more commonly known as Can Can music, is SO fun to dance to. Get your kids to line up and do the classic can-can kick with you!
There are so many more amazing pieces of classic music out there. This is just the start!
And remember, at the end of the day, it isn’t about making our kids like “the classics”. Sure, I want my kids to be cultured, but the greater goal about widening their view and teaching them to appreciate things that are outside their comfort zone.
Today, it may be learning to respect and appreciate the music of a dead composer. But in five or ten years, that habit of listening and appreciating things that are unfamiliar will hopefully lead to kids who are willing to respect people with different viewpoints and beliefs…to be people who are willing to reach out a hand and say, “Help me understand.”
Maybe that’s a tall order to ask from a little classical music, but I’m willing to give it a shot.
What are your favorite pieces of classical music for kids? Tell me in the comments below, and share them with your kids this week!
April @ April's Happy Place
Awesome suggestions! I didn’t start getting into classical music until I was in college. When I listen to classical music with my kids, I like to throw in some modern instrumental stuff too (like Lindsay Sterling and The Piano Guys). They helped me transition to classical music as an adult.
PS – I also loved Metallica! Rock on sister!
I love that you use modern instrumental music, too! We love Piano Guys (their video of all 5 of them playing the piano with all kids of percussion is so fun for kids), and I also like using movie soundtracks to get my kids imaginations going. They’ve never seen the Harry Potter movies, but the main theme music is fabulous for imagination.