Castanets are a tiny but mighty percussion instrument!
Their small, unassuming appearance actually disguises a challenging task and a very valuable fine motor experience!
The very young child – around two years of age – will focus just on the correct grasp of the castanet and learning how to coordinate the fingers to produce a ‘click’. This is harder than it sounds! It is important to note that the most common, comfortable way to hold the castanet involves putting the thumb underneath and the fingers on top (much like the action you would make if you were pretending your hand was a quacking duck!). This grasp helps to promote and refine the type of ‘pincer’ grip that will eventually be used for writing (and for a bounty of other controlled fine motor works!).
To further promote fine motor skills the castanets can be used to strengthen each finger! The adult can demonstrate how to first click the castanet between the thumb and forefinger only. The adult then teaches the child to click it between the thumb and middle fingers, then the thumb and ring finger and finally the thumb and pinky!
When a child has mastered clicking the castanet the next step is to keep a basic beat. Initially the child might practice this without any music playing. The adult (parent or teacher) can simply demonstrate how to click the castanet repeatedly in a consistent beat. The child can attempt to follow the beat, clicking concurrently with the adult.
A child who is able to keep a beat could use that skill within the context of a group ‘band’! The castanet can be used to keep the other instruments in time by producing that reliable beat.
After a child has mastered a simple beat it is time (pun intended!) to introduce some more elaborate rhythms. At this point it is wonderful to introduce the child to the cultural experience of learning about Spanish dancing. This could be done by reading books that illustrate Spanish dancers and listening to accompanying music. It would be ideal, however, for the child to observe the dancer and the music simultaneously, such as by watching a video of Spanish dancing. The child who has seen an expert wielding castanets will likely be more interested in creating their own beautiful rhythms!
A child who is a castanet connoisseur might like to work with two at a time – one in each hand! This is quite challenging, because it requires the ‘non-dominant’ hand to master the coordination of clicking, but it allows for more interesting rhythms!