Music seems to be disappearing in classrooms across America, but there are just too many reasons not to let it slip away in yours. Incorporating music into the daily routine of preschool children provides far more positive development than a simple appreciation of music. Many teachers and parents are aware that an early exposure to music increases math and language skills, but many aren’t aware that music structured throughout a preschooler’s day also provides considerable social, emotional, and physical benefits. With just a little creativity and a willingness to have fun, music can enhance your children’s learning environment.
Music Can Strengthen Children’s Minds
Studies have shown time and again that music seems to involve the brain at almost every level. Peggy Senter, President of the Concord Community Music School in New Hampshire, says that young children routinely exposed to music have increased verbal, emotional, and spatial intelligence in addition to improving body movement and coordination. She stresses that musical literacy at the preschool level should be defined by nothing more complicated than the ability to sing in tune and carry a beat. The ability to play instruments and understand music theory, which comes later in life, is actually an added benefit of early exposure to music.
According to the National Association of Music Education, a music curriculum for preschool-age children should include many opportunities to explore sound through singing, moving, listening, and playing instruments. Music used in the classroom should have lasting value such as traditional children’s songs; folk songs; classical music; and music from a variety of cultures, styles, and time periods.
“But I Can’t Carry a Tune!”
Preschool children will forgive you if you sing off-key, if they even notice. Most likely, they’ll be enthralled that an adult will celebrate music with them. The benefits that singing aloud provides to the children in your classroom will far outweigh your embarrassment. Heather Oberheim, a music and movement teacher at the Concord Community Music School in New Hampshire says that teacher/adult interaction is key. “Children love to mimic and will have a great time trying to copy their teacher, whether she’s singing a silly song or beating on a drum. At this age they don’t critique, they create.”
By participating in the musical process teachers and caregivers help support healthy self-esteem in young children. “The message you send when singing with kids is that music is fun and being a part of music with others is fun,” Oberheim says, adding that socially, music can help children interact with one another and with adults. Johnette Downing, an award-winning children’s entertainer agrees. She says there are many ways to use music socially in the classroom. One suggestion is to appoint a different music helper during each structured music session. This child is in charge of passing out musical instruments and collecting them at the end of music time. If other children abuse the instruments, it’s the helper’s job to ask them to treat the instruments nicely. Downing says it gives children a sense of importance to take on this responsibility. Inherently, most of the children cooperate very well because they know soon it will be their turn to be “in charge.”
Five Easy Ways to Incorporate Music into Your Classroom
1. Structured music time is great, but you don’t have to stop there. Music can be worked into practically any activity. One of the best ways to bring music into your classroom is through opening and closing songs. Downing likes to have a friendship circle at the beginning and ending of every day. She feels this unites the class and starts and ends every day on a positive note. “Music is a great way to bring unity to a group,” she says, “because it crosses all levels.”
2. Having a music center available to children throughout the day promotes spontaneous musical appreciation. Teachers can add to their music centers by supplying a cassette player with headphones along with book sets that sing along with a picture story. If funding is an issue, most public libraries will loan out cassettes with sing-along books. A well-stocked music center can provide a wide variety of independent musical play for children.
3. Most preschool and kindergarten teachers are already familiar with transition songs and may not even realize they are using music to help young children learn about time, order, and routine. You can use transition songs throughout the day to signal to the children that it’s time to move on to something else. If you don’t know many transition songs, you can make them up. Yosi Levin, a performer for preschool-age children and workshop leader for preschool teachers, says that kids respond to familiar tunes. With this in mind, if you want your class to transition from snack time to outside time you can sing, “Let’s all put our snacks away, snacks away, snacks away. Let’s all put our snacks away so we can play outside” to the tune of “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” The key with transition songs is to have specific songs for designated transitions. Children love repetition and knowing what comes next. That’s why they usually respond so well when you sing the clean-up song towards the end of the day. You can share musical transitions with parents, which is a great reinforcement for positive behavior at home and in the classroom.
4. Musical games are another way to incorporate music into your classroom. Oberheim's students enjoy dressing up in costumes and changing the words to familiar songs. She selects songs that will allow each child, or several small groups of children, to sing or use a musical instrument on cue. First the kids dress up and then make up the song according to their costumes. Each verse gives a specific child or group a chance to make their own music. The result is usually a lot of silly musical fun.
5. There are a variety of ways teachers can incorporate music into their weekly theme. Whether you are exploring bugs, dinosaurs, food, or butterflies, songs and sounds can be used to further reinforce learning. Because children learn from a playful environment, involving them in songs about the selected theme makes learning even that much more fun for preschoolers. One suggestion from Oberheim is to use rainsticks when learning about the weather. Children love the sounds of rainsticks and the motions required to make those sounds. After letting the children “rain” for a few minutes, see if you can get them to come up with ideas about how other weather sounds. You can ask them what snow might sound like or the falling leaves.
Favorite Musical Activities
Entertainers and teachers all have their own favorite musical activities for the classroom. One of Downing’s all-time favorites is the “Mama Don’t Allow” song. She divides the class into several groups by instrument. For example, in the bells group each child rings a bell, in the drums group each child bangs a drum.
The song goes:
“Mama don’t allow bells around here.”
All the bells ring.
“Mama don’t allow drums around
All the drums boom.
Follow this chorus until all the instruments have sounded and the last line is “Mama don’t allow instruments around here.” Then everybody plays and it’s musical mayhem. The children will have learned a little more about cooperation, timing, and group effort while having a great time.
Levin says children are kinesthetic learners and need to continuously move about. He suggests musical activities that require body movements as well as lyrics. “Think of the ‘I’m a Little Teapot’ song,” he says. “You can make up your own movement songs or find them in illustrated music books. The more exaggerated the movements, the more fun children have.” Movement songs provide a great opportunity for children to further develop coordination, rhythm, memory, and expression.
Although music does seem to be one of the first things cut in primary education, it doesn’t have to be that way for your preschool. A little bit of song goes a long way in the development of young minds and bodies.
Karen Braynard is a freelance writer and primary correspondent for the Bow Times, covering Concord, the capitol region of New Hampshire. She is the daughter of two musicians and the mother of four children ranging in range from four to 13 and has been homeschooling her children for eight years. To learn more, please visit her website at www.kbwrite.com.
Recommended Resources for Incorporating Music into the Classroom
Books & CDs/Cassettes
Johnette Downing, eight-time award winning children’s entertainer has at least five CD/cassettes and is currently writing a book titled Sing, Sing, Sing! Using Music in the Preschool Classroom. CDs/Cassettes by Johnette Downing include: The Second Line – Scarf Activities Songs; Silly Sing Along; Wild And Woolly Wiggle Songs; From The Gumbo Pot; and Music Time. For more information, please visit her website at www.johnettedowning.com.
Yosi Levin is a two-time award winning children’s entertainer and also leads music workshops for early education teachers. CDs by Yosi Levin include: Under A Big Bright Yellow Umbrella; Monkey Business; and Little Kitty. For more information, please visit his website at www.yosimusic.com.
Ellen Booth Church is an early childhood education consultant and author of at least 20 books on early childhood topics. Her book Learning Through Play: Music and Movement is a great resource for preschool teachers.
www.perpetualpreschool.com/music.html has fingerplays, movement activities, musical instruments, and more.
www.theideabox.com/ideas.nsf/music/song provides a listing of at least 30 songs with movement activities.
www.niehs.nih.gov/kids/musica.htm has more than 100 songs with written lyrics and midi recordings at no cost.