What to Play? Creative-Free Music Making!

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Make Some Noise

This month is dedicated to the younger set. All the big kids we know have baseball or track or bike rides with friends keeping them active in this warm weather. The toddlers and preK set are looking for things to explore and play with. How about some music/noise? Noise is always attractive to make when you are three. Noise brought outside however, is more attractive to the adults in the house!

Here is a plan for loud bead shakers:


  • empty and dry small plastic water bottle from the recycling bin
  • various plastic and wooden beads
  • colored duct tape
  • 6 inch wooden dowel that fits snug in the open end of water bottle (sand the ends smooth)

Add a handful of various beads to the bottle. A funnel will help little ones get the beads in the small opening. We have found a mix of pony beads, wooden beads and fun decorator beads make the best noise. If needed, wrap a length of duct tape around one end of the dowel to secure a tight fit. Place the dowel completely into the opening of the bottle. If you push the dowel into the bottle an inch or two beyond the opening, that is okay. The dowel helps the beads rattle around and prevents beads from getting stuck in the opening. The final step is to cut a 6-8 inch length of duct tape and secure the dowel to the exterior of the bottle opening. SHAKE! This shaker is loud.

Of course, even easier hand shakers are made by most preK attendees by stapling one end of a toilet paper tube closed, filling it with dried beans and then stapling the other end closed. Instant, easy shakers.

Years ago I read an entry by Amanda Blake Soule in one of her many books about a banging wall outside in the garden. Her family constructed a line of old pots, pans, chimes and other found noise producers in their backyard. They used trimmed tree branches as support for the horizontal pole that the instruments were permanently attached to. The kids could just walk up and make music by hitting a pot with a wooden spoon or dragging a metal spatula across a chime. We did a version of this on our play room when my daughter was four. I hung a tension rod across a small nook in the room. We tied various children’s music instruments up with ribbon. She could explore the noise options with them hanging or by taking them down and sitting in the playroom nook.

Let the kids make some noise. Have a parade in the yard with friends. Hold a family crazy concert. The bike riders at your house could add playing cards to their wheel spokes for riding music. Make sure to leave an instrument or two around the house for free play anytime.


Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

Carrie was born, raised and attended university in Michigan. As a child she rode bikes and explored her rural neighborhood freely with siblings and neighbor kids. Mom and Dad never worried. The kids always made it home after hours wading in the creek and climbing trees in the woods. After college she moved to Kyoto, Japan to study traditional Japanese woodblock printing. In 1995, she began a career at a small Chicago firm designing maps and information graphics. Life brought a move to Northampton in 2001. Carrie completed her MFA at UMass in 2004. Her little love, Sophia, was born in 2005. The two live in downtown Northampton where they constantly make things, look forward to morning walks to school and plan each spring for additions to their plot at the community garden. Carrie continues to do freelance work for clients here and in Chicago.

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