Put your family stamp on a few simple, homemade African instruments.

African Instruments for Children to Make

by Joann MacDonald

Kids are naturally drawn to music -- you’ve probably seen your toddler or preschooler instinctively move and sway to the beat of music on the car radio. Combine your little one’s love of music with his fondness for making art by looking to the rich traditions of African music for inspiration. When craft time comes, put your family’s individual stamp on a few simple African instruments.

1. Disposable Cup Drum

You might not be thrilled by the noisiness of drums, but you will like the simplicity of this project -- and your child will love to participate. Glue two disposable drinking cups together, bottom to bottom. Get your little assistant to cover the openings and the entire surface with strips of masking tape. Brush brown shoe polish over the masking tape. You might want to do this part yourself, or cover your work area and your little helper with a protective layer. Using permanent marker, decorate the drum with geometric designs for an authentic look. Or, just give your preschooler free reign with stickers, markers, sparkle glue and colored string. You could also cover the ends of the drum with scraps of cloth secured by elastics.

2. Shekere

The Shekere is an African percussion instrument traditionally made from a gourd. Its sound comes from beads shaking against the body of the piece. You and your child can make a colorful version at home, using a round plastic jug. Together with your little artist, paint the jug in your chosen colors. Put some big, colorful wooden beads on several strings, tying knots in between each bead to give them some space to move. Create a round “bracelet” of beads using another string to act as the base on which you sit the jug. Tie the other strings to the base and tape them loosely up along the jug. Go nuts decorating your jug, with sticky foam pieces, raffia, sparkles, lace or stickers. To add some depth to your sound, put some dried beans or lentils inside. Supervise this, though, so your little one doesn't put any in her mouth.

3. Tree Branch Tambourine

A toddler or a preschooler can help to make these simple tambourines, popular in Brazil and Africa. Use a strong, Y-shaped hardwood branch and a dozen metal bottle caps. Give your (well-covered!) little one some acrylic paints in a range of colors and have him paint the branch. For extra creative flair, decorate the stick with feathers, colored cords and beads, or wrap the branch with colorful fabric. Paint the bottle caps too if you wish, flatten them with a hammer and punch a small hole in the center of each. Thread them onto a wire and string it between the two ends of the Y. Shake, shake, shake!

4. Hand Bells

Before you and your little one hit the performance circuit, round out your African band with some high-pitched bells. For a simple craft project when time is limited, take an empty paper towel roll and punch two holes in one end (opposite each other). Center some jingle bells on a string and weave the ends of the string through the two holes, tying them together inside the tube. Shake away! When time allows, have your toddler or preschooler decorate the tube with paint, markers, stickers and glitter.

About the Author

Joann MacDonald has been a professional writer for 17 years. She holds a degree in English and a Master of Arts in journalism. For more than 14 years, she was a communications specialist for a large public school system. She has also written for numerous magazines in the Greater Toronto Area. She blogs about thrift store shopping, parenting and vegetarian cooking.

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