A few nights before the first day of school, the stress dreams had worked their way into my peaceful summer sleep. A scene of chaos unfolded, where I had lost complete control of the classroom. The students were running wild, trashing the room as if their favorite sports team had just won the championship. Waking up in a panic, a flood of questions rushed to the forefront of my mind. Am I really going to be able to get 20 three- and four-year-olds to do what I say? How am I going to teach them to line up, when they have never stepped foot into a classroom before? What if they don’t want to listen to me? How can I create the classroom I always envision; one that encourages a love for learning and helps students build relationships with others? As all of these thoughts swirled around in my head, I thought back to the many teaching courses I took at ISU. The professors highlighted the importance of setting clear expectations, explicit teaching of the classroom procedures, and building a positive rapport with your students early on. Focusing on these aspects within the first weeks of school is critical to their success throughout the year, and I found that one way to support all of these goals was through music and movement.
Early on, I found that my preschoolers were extremely responsive to music. If I sang something they were more likely to follow through with the expectation, versus when I spoke it. As a result, I became the teacher version of a Disney princess by singing my way through our transitions! When we are preparing to change activities in preschool, we look to the class schedule. To engage students in this transition, we sing a transition song, “It’s time to check our schedule, schedule, schedule, it’s time to check our schedule so we know what to do.” While singing this, students participate in a repetitive motor movement such as patting their lap or stomping their feet to the beat. This helps students focus their attention on the visual schedule and prepare their whole body for the change that is about to take place. This activity benefits students of all ability levels, including those who struggle with transitions or focusing their attention on one task at a time. Additionally, if they are non-verbal or an English language learner, they can still participate by following along with the motor movements and turning their eyes to the picture schedule.
Another important transition in early childhood is cleaning up the play space. I play a clean up song over the speakers to cue students that it is time to clean up without me having to use my voice at all (I keep in mind some students require visual/ verbal warnings leading up to this transition). Some classrooms can even use this song as a count down for how long clean up should take!
One transition song that was extremely helpful to my group was one I discovered from a fellow preschool teacher: “My hands are at my side. I’m standing straight and tall. My eye’s are looking forward…I’m ready for the hall!” is the song we sing to line up and prepare our bodies for walking in a line. This may have been the biggest triumph in our preschool day, as running through the halls while yelling is much more fun! You can use transition songs to sing hello, goodbye, prepare for snack or story time and everything in between! Here is a link to the playlist of songs I use throughout the day! https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLy7qlMs9mxuNqEHQAQobN6wgL-_QDmNO9
We set aside time everyday to sing and dance in preschool. Whether it’s during our music and movement time or with a music therapist who comes in once a week, the students are motivated to participate in musical activities. There are endless songs and musical activities out there that are engaging and fun for young learners, while also sneaking in academic building blocks that benefit their learning and growth. All areas of the curriculum can be embedded within music and movement, including math, literacy, and social emotional skills. A current fan favorite in our classroom is “The Number Rock.” This simple song prompts students to repeat back numbers 1-20, while playing their air guitars, drums, and tambourines. To increase the excitement, we start low to the ground at the beginning of the song and slow rise until we reach 20 to celebrate! Songs can be made increasingly interactive and motivating with the use of visuals, hands on materials such as instruments, motor movements, and videos. To practice identifying emotions in facial expressions, we sing a song called “can you make a happy face, jack-o-lantern?” by Super Simple Learning. For this song, I printed out the different facial expression on jack-o-lanterns, the students can take turns holding up the correct face, while mimicking that face on their own.
Large Motor Activities
There are endless musical large motor activities that can be incorporated in the early childhood classroom, however including music in your gym activities helps to offer structure where structure can be more challenging in large spaces, such as a gym or outside. Beginning with a warm up song can inform your students that it is time for gym and will offer a fun, quick activity for students to become engaged. Everyone fondly remembers their favorite day in gym class: the parachute. What they don’t recall is the chaos that quickly ensues if the teacher does not come prepared with clear expectations and a plan. One way to avoid students being whipped around by their peers with the parachute is to pair the activity with a song. Music can offer step-by-step directions for students to follow along with, set the pace, and offer a clear start and end to the activity.
Bringing music into the early childhood classroom can benefit students’ educational experience in a multitude of ways. Whether you are looking to facilitate smooth and clear transitions or help support students’ social-emotional growth, music can play a large role in reaching those goals. My classroom wouldn’t be the same without starting the day with a hello song to greet each student. How do you incorporate music and movement into your classroom? You might be surprised at how often it naturally occurs, or this may have sparked some ideas to embed into your classroom routines. Please feel free to share ideas or things that have worked in the comments below!
This post was brought to you from Julia Spencer, ’15. This is Julia’s second post on the blog, and we’re so glad to have her as a guest blogger. Check out her profile on the “Meet the Bloggers” page.