A plastic container containing bells, multicolored plastic circles, and rubber bands stretched around the surface. A hand holds a popsicle stick and strums on a rubber band. 

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Best for Ages: 2+
Adult Supervision: Recommended 

What can you create with sound? Explore sound experiments by artist Laurie Anderson, and then create your own sounds with different materials. Can you make cereal move without touching it? Can you make your voice travel? Can you feel a vibration? 

This edition of Mini Art Lessons invites you to explore and play with sound. You’ll only need your body and a few simple materials. Mini Art Lessons offer open-ended opportunities for caregivers of young children (under age 8) to explore art concepts playfully and intentionally. 


Why is sensory exploration important? 

Young children learn through their senses. Sensory play engages the senses of touch, sight, sound, smell, or even taste. Experimenting with sound allows children to tune in (pun intended!) to their senses of sight, sound, and touch by practicing listening, developing fine motor skills, and being creative! 

What might kids learn? These activities help children:

    • Explore their sense of sound
    • Learn how different types of materials make different sounds
    • Learn new words for types of sounds and specific materials
    • Use problem solving to make creations that combine different parts


Talk: What is sound? Start by listening to what’s around you. Take a scavenger hunt around your space, or get outside to listen for different sounds. What sounds do you hear? Footsteps? Music? Birds? 

Talk together about what you hear. Each time you hear something new, use words to describe what it sounds like! 

Practice making sounds with your body. 

  • Clap your hands together. What other sounds can your hands make? 
  • What sounds can you make with other body parts, like your feet?

Watch this video. What do you see? What do you hear? Describe the movements and sounds. 

The artist you see performing is named Laurie Anderson. She often experiments with sound, meaning she finds new ways to create sound. How do you think she made the sounds you heard in the video?

In this performance, Anderson plays music from an album named Home of the Brave. She used many instruments including a violin (classical string instrument), her voice, keyboards, and synthesizers (electronic instruments) to make the sounds you heard. She also wore a body suit covered with sensors connected to a machine that made different drum sounds. A sensor is a tool that responds to touch. As she dances and touches different parts of her body, the sensors make more drum sounds play  to accompany her performance. 

Try this.
Create your own body suit to make a musical performance! Find some noise-making materials such as aluminum foil, bells, or items strung together. You might tape aluminum foil or bubble wrap to your clothes. Or, you might use a string to tie together some noisy materials to hold in your hand. What noises can you make with your body suit? Make up a dance and rewatch/dance along to Home of the Brave.

Drawing of Laurie Anderson by Anne Matlock for the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Want to learn more? Read more about Laurie Anderson’s life and work.


There are so many ways to explore sound! Here we offer many choices. Find an activity (or two, or three) that most interest you and your child and give them a try.

A hand holding a piece of yarn with two bells suspended from either end of the yarn. Beside the bells on yarn is a straw being used as a drumstick.


In this invitation to play, children will explore how different types of materials make different sounds. 

 An assortment of string, popsicle sticks, rubber bands, bells, metal containers, plastic circles, coins, straws, and a metal spoon.

Set out a few different materials: 

  • Metal: foil, eating utensils, unopened cans of food
  • Wood: popsicle sticks, wooden cooking utensils
  • Stretchy: rubber bands, balloons, string.

Note: Small materials may present a choking hazard and will need to be used under adult supervision.  

Introduce the materials:

  • Only set a few materials out at first, and introduce new materials throughout your child’s play. This will make the activity last longer. 
  • Show your child one or two items. Demonstrate making a sound, such as a metal spoon hitting the side of a can. Describe the sound. Is it hushed, loud, metallic, soft, rhythmic?
  • Experiment with different material combinations. What sounds can you make? 



Laurie Anderson, The Handphone Table, 1978/recreated 2017. Installation view from Laurie Anderson: The Weather at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 2021. Collection of the Exploratorium, San Francisco. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Ron Blunt.

One of the first artworks Anderson made is called The Handphone Table. Isn’t that a funny name? The Handphone Table is exactly what it sounds like: a table that lets you listen with your hands. When you sit at The Handphone Table, you cup your hands over your ears to listen to sounds that are hidden inside the table. The sounds travel all the way from your elbows, up your arms, and hands into your ears. 


Three containers sit next to each other with small objects (two toy bears, coins, and plastic circles) below.

Hide a few small objects inside closed, non-transparent containers. 

  • Set out the containers for your child to inspect. 
  • Listen. Can they guess what’s inside? Encourage them to explore without opening the containers. You might even get a little doll or minifigure out to sit at your table and listen. 


Laurie Anderson, What Time Can Do (Shaking Shelf), 2021. Installation view from Laurie Anderson: The Weather at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 2021. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Ron Blunt.

One of Anderson’s works is called Shaking Shelf. The Shaking Shelf is an artwork made up of a shelf, some objects, and a story Anderson tells about them. The story of the shelf is that every time a train went by, “the house shook and things fell off the shelf.”  Can you imagine the noise of the train, and the shelf of objects shaking?

Over time, as Anderson tells it, the objects all fell, broke, and were replaced with plastic that won’t break if it falls. The Shaking Shelf has many pieces of plasticware on top of it, including cups of various shapes and sizes. A train sound creates vibrations that cause the shelf and the objects on it to shake, just like in the story. 

 A plastic container with plastic wrap over the surface and cereal on top. Beside the container is a metal lid with a hand holding a spoon above it.

A plastic container with plastic wrap over the surface and cereal on top. Beside the container is a metal lid with a hand holding a spoon above it. 

Taking inspiration from Anderson’s Shaking Shelf, set out a plastic bowl or container with plastic wrap over the open top, small lightweight items (cereal, dry beans, leaves, cotton balls), a metal lid or container, and a spoon. Note: Use a rubber band or tape to secure your plastic wrap for the best results. 

  • Place the dry goods on top of the plastic wrapped bowl and place the metal object beside the bowl. 
  • Once your dry goods set-up is complete, use the spoon to tap on the metal object. What do you notice? Is anything happening to the dry goods? 

Experiment with different lightweight items. Which items move the most? Try out different types of spoons. How does a metal spoon versus a wooden spoon or a big spoon versus a small spoon change the vibration of the dry goods? 


A white metal hanger and a bunch of string beside it on top of a cardboard background.

A white metal hanger and a bunch of string beside it on top of a cardboard background. 

Can you feel sound? With an adult, grab a long piece of string (or shoelace) and a metal hanger! Suspend your metal hanger from the string by its hook. Hold one end of your string in each hand. Next cover your ears while still holding the string and knock your hanger into the door. What do you feel?

Safety Note: Metal hangers present a safety hazard and should always be used under adult supervision. 


Two recyclable boxes, one rectangular and one shaped like a square, sitting on a white background.

Grab a partner and some empty cardboard containers to explore how sound travels! Stand on opposite sides of a large space and try to talk to each other. Then, speak into your containers. What happens? How does your container amplify or block sound? To amplify a sound means to make it louder. 

Want to do more? 

Make your own hidden noisemaker with this KIDS At Home project inspired by Marcel Duchamp!