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Using Music for Circle Time and Library Story Hour With Toddlers and Preschoolers

Using Music to Teach Toddlers and Preschoolers

Using Music to Teach Toddlers and Preschoolers

Music Is the Key to Early Childhood Learning

This article identifies some ideas for integrating music into library story times and preschool classrooms and shares the benefits of using music as part of a preschool or library storytime experience.

What You'll Need

You don't have to be a professional musician to effectively add music education to your preschool curricula. Although a good portable music player, a computer, or a phone with a speaker helps to play music selections, all you really need is your voice and a small selection of songs that you regularly and consistently share with the children you teach.

Music education at the Logan Campbell Kindergarten in Auckland, New Zealand, 1965

Music education at the Logan Campbell Kindergarten in Auckland, New Zealand, 1965

A Northwestern University study concluded that musical training during early childhood could be more important than learning phonics for developing communication skills.

Music is an important tool that I recommend using in preschool education settings. Using music has proven benefits to developing young brains and is an excellent tool for classroom and group management.

Music is an important tool that I recommend using in preschool education settings. Using music has proven benefits to developing young brains and is an excellent tool for classroom and group management.

The Benefits of Adding Music to a Preschool Classroom

A Northwestern University study concluded that musical training during early childhood could be more important than learning phonics for developing communication skills. The study linked both the development of speech and processing of music to the brain stem and concluded that musicians have highly developed language-learning skills.

Music is also fun, engaging, and educational and offers the following benefits:

  • Music helps children participate and engage! Songs, fingerplays, and action rhymes are an outlet for children in a group setting to actively participate in the story hour, even in large groups.
  • Music helps kids to remember what they learned. Children remember and retain concepts better through music and engaging actions.
  • Music can help children participate without being the focus. Music offers shy or introverted children more frequent and varied ways to participate.
  • Music helps children develop physical skills. Music and action songs help children develop gross and fine motor skills that are associated with learning to read.
  • Music can be used to reinforce key concepts. A catchy song or simple finger play can enhance any storytime theme.
  • Music helps bridge language barriers. Teachers of English-language learners use music in a non-threatening way to make learning English fun.
A German kindergarten teacher uses musical instruments to teach the children in her class.

A German kindergarten teacher uses musical instruments to teach the children in her class.

How much do we remember?

How much do we remember?

How Much Do We Remember?

  • 10% of what we read
  • 20% of what we hear
  • 30% of what we see
  • 50% of what we hear and see at the same time
  • 70% of what we hear, see, and say
  • 90% of what we hear, see, say, and do

Fauth, B. (1990). Linking the visual arts with drama, movement, and dance for the young child. In W.J. Sinson (Ed.) Moving and learning for the young child (pp. 159-187). Reston, VA: AAHPERD.

Children's Singing Games, book cover from 1900

Children's Singing Games, book cover from 1900

Ways to Use Music in the Classroom

Play music as children enter or leave the room.

Playing instrumental or familiar children's music can create a friendly and inviting environment. Turning off the music also signals the beginning of the story hour.

Begin and end the story hour with a song.

A welcome song is an important part of story hour or preschool circle time. A welcome song is the first song of the story hour that welcomes participation. It signals that storytime has begun. A welcome song should:

  • Signal the start of story hour. Using the same welcome song each time instills a sense of structure and routine.
  • Use actions or movement to help restless or active young children prepare to listen.

Here are some song suggestions for your story hour program. You could select any song. Just make sure the kids enjoy the music and then be consistent:

  • So Happy You're Here by Hap Palmer
  • Shake Your Sillies Out (this song is performed by several children's artists)
  • Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes (a traditional action song)
  • If You're Happy and You Know It Perform these additional actions to "If You're Happy and You Know It:" Stomp your feet (stomp, stomp) Nod your head (nod, nod) Pat your tummy (pat, pat) Wiggle your fingers (wiggle, wiggle)
  • Action Rhyme: “How Do You Say Hi?” (Do actions as they are said.)

    Hey! Hi! Howdy! Yo!
    There are many ways to say hello!
    Wave your hand. Nod your head.
    Smile big or wink instead.
    Blow a kiss. Tip your hat.
    Shake your hands. Give a pat.
    Of all the ways to say hello,
    Here’s the way I like to go…HELLO!

Use contemporary children's music in different musical styles.

Don't limit your music to one or two artists. You can find a wide variety of musical selections just for children. Sometimes they are already at your local library. I have heard all manner of songs played in hip-hop, country, folksy, and even rock n' roll styles. Music of different styles will appeal to a broader audience at library story hour programs and will help the parents in larger crowds stay interested too.

"The Itsy-bitsy Spider" is a universally known action song.

"The Itsy-bitsy Spider" is a universally known action song.

Use music to set the pace and redirect attention.

Young children can be easily distracted. If your book selection doesn't have the engagement you were hoping for, or if a small child who is struggling to focus becomes a distraction to other children, it can work against the pace of your story hour program.

This isn't an uncommon situation and is by no means a reflection of the story hour presenter's skills. It just comes with the territory of teaching preschool-age children. Music is a wonderful fix for occasional issues that are just part of teaching this age group of children.

Use fingerplays and simple action rhymes to keep kids engaged.

If you use fingerplays and action rhymes between book readings, you will find that young children remain imminently more engaged in your program.

As a rule of thumb, the younger the children in your storytime audience, the more fingerplays, action rhymes, preschool songs, and nursery rhymes you should use.

Repetition is a librarian's friend! Using the same action rhymes for an entire month can help children (and their parents) to learn the rhymes you use. During my storytime presentations, I liked to print out the songs and action rhymes for the parents so they could sing and play along and take the music home with them.

Introduce new material and reinforce messages with music.

Every television advertising executive knows this important truth about a catchy tune: it will help you remember the message you are trying to share.

End storytime with a goodbye song.

Signal the end of a fun-filled story hour with a familiar song. Some young children struggle with transitions. A well-placed goodbye song will ease the pain. Here are a few recommendations to get you started.

  • The Goodbye Song by the Learning Station
  • Goodbye, So Long, Farewell, Toodle-oo by Hap Palmer
  • Turn Around by Hap Palmer
  • Goodbye, Goodbye by Music with Nancy

Play Percussion Instruments

Use musical instruments as part of an interactive storytime playing/learning experience. Many percussion instruments lend themselves to playing and music exploration in a group setting.

Use store-bought instruments or make your own.

Children can use simple percussion instruments, available for purchase in sets, to explore rhythm. Rhythm and rhyme are important parts of language, and exploring the rhythms of music will help children develop reading readiness. Consider using bells, sticks (you can rub them together or tap them), maracas, or simple homemade shakers.

Make musical instruments by filling cardboard tubes (from toilet paper or paper towel rolls or juice cans) with rice or beans. You can make homemade rhythm sticks by cutting thick dowels to 10-inch lengths (be sure to sand the ends) or by tapping paint sticks that you can sometimes get for free at the hardware store.

In a book about rain, for example, invite children to shake their homemade shakers when rain is mentioned in the story. You could incorporate a craft of making shakers that the children can take home, and even do this portion of the story hour before you do the reading or performance, so children can participate using the instruments you made.

Let children dance.

Have children dance to the child-friendly music you select. Give them colorful scarves to wave around as they dance, or play freeze-dance by turning off the music and telling the children to freeze when the music is off.

Dancing to music takes no advance preparation beyond queuing up a song.

Lucy and their majesties play London Bridges, 1800.

Lucy and their majesties play London Bridges, 1800.

Use motion and sound effects to play along with the story.

Don't underestimate the power of using your body to make sound effects during the story hour. Have children make these sound effects. By fully engaging in the storytelling, children will remember much more of what you are teaching them. They will be so engaged and have so much fun that they will want to return again and again and bring their friends with them!

One way to do this is to teach the children 3 to 5 different sound effects, then use them in a story.

Play games that include music and actions.

Recommended for ages four and up. You can play simple games adapted to familiar games you already know and incorporate these games into story hour. I have used all of these activities with different smaller storytime groups.

Note that children don't usually know these songs, so you will have to sing the words several times before they will know the words themselves. Try to do the same things repeatedly until children know the words. Provide written words on handouts to parents.

London Bridges Falling Down: Have all the children sing the familiar words to this song and have two children or adults form the bridge with their hands while the other children walk under their arms. Another option is to use a parachute, often used in preschools. Sing the song and call out children's names one at a time. As you sing the song, they can cross under the parachute to the other side.

Baa Baa Black Sheep: Adapt the words of this song to include the names of the children in your story hour and their favorite colors. You could coordinate this with a reading of Eric Carle's book Brown Bear Brown Bear What do You See? or any other quality book that features colors.

Point to each child whose turn it is, and have them choose a color. Then sing the song using substitution for the name and color of the sheep. For example, Baa baa purple sheep, have you any wool? Yes, sir yes sir three bags full. One for the master and one for the dame and one for Susie who lives down the lane! I used to sing this song to my toddlers when I pushed them on a swing. They loved choosing colors.

Ring-Around-The-Rosie: Children love to play this game. Substitute "we all fall down" for "we all jump up" or "we all FREEZE!" This game is appropriate for older toddlers and can be used in a medium-sized story hour group.

Children With Hoops, Ethel Spowers

Children With Hoops, Ethel Spowers

© 2008 Carolyn Augustine

Comments

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on February 21, 2012:

Thank you for your comment!

bredandagnes from Ireland on February 20, 2012:

Couldn't agree more.Helps their speech and language too.

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on July 13, 2010:

Thanks wordscriber, I hope it is helpful! The best children's story hours include music. It is a wonderful tool for pacing.

wordsscriber from California on July 13, 2010:

I like your ideas about the effect of music and motion when you tell stories to children. The home made instruments are very creative. I appreciate the info.