Ten Steps to Successful Music Teaching in The Early Childhood Classroom

Young children learn by doing, by being actively involved in their learning through exploring and experimenting, through copying and acting out. And so it is with learning music, the foundations for which are best learnt while developing primary language. As such, a successful early childhood music program must incorporate movement and should quite naturally involve learning across the curriculum. The music program, therefore, can form the basis for the whole curriculum.

1. Make it Fun. They are not in your class to learn music, but learning music is what happens while they’re having fun. It it’s not fun you’ve lost them. Fun for them may not be fun for you. If it’s not fun for you, you’ll NEVER be able to convince them that you’re enjoying it. You’ll start using every excuse not to do the music session because you’ll see it as a chore. If, on the other hand, you have a song, a piece of music or an activity you think is really cool, you’ll have no trouble engaging the kids as your enthusiasm will carry them through. Sounds pretty logical, yet few class teachers conduct music lessons as part of the daily curriculum. Find a resource that suits you and do something every day – even if for only five minutes.

2. Establish clear rules from day one. Without this your class will quickly disintegrate into a shambles. They must stop when the music stops. This encourages listening skills. Listening is a skill that has to be learnt. Hearing is a sense we are born with. There’s a huge difference. If they can listen, they can respond, and they can learn. Teach them about “space bubbles”. Have them stand with arms outstretched and gently swing around. No-one is allowed to go inside their space bubble. Anyone who does must sit to the side. They will not want to miss out on the fun so encourage them to join in for the next track of music or next activity. Do not allow “time out” to be a preferred option. Not every child will feel confident enough to participate fully but sitting out is not an option.

3. Young children learn by doing. Get them actively involved. Music at this age is music and movement. This will incorporate story telling through use of percussion instruments or drama; it will involve dance and action songs and also singing. It will also involve interpretive movement – play some gentle classical music and use scarves to stimulate the imagination.

4. Include motor co-ordination activities. This will stimulate and integrate right and left sides of the brain. Musical instruments are played with both hands. This subject is the topic of a great body of research. Children today are generally not physically active enough to get sufficient stimulation to establish neural pathways. If you can do something daily in the way of motor skills, especially cross-patterning activities conducted to music, it will help enormously.

5. Relate activities to their level of understanding. Engage their imaginations. They live in a fantasy world ‘ take advantage of it. You personally may not feel inclined towards fantasy. It doesn’t matter. Whatever engages them is what matters. Whatever you are wanting them to learn can be done best by engaging their imaginations, and fantasy is the easiest. Use drama in any way to engage their imaginations.

6. Praise them often. They respond best to positive reinforcement. A baby is born fearless. No matter how many times the baby falls over when attempting to walk, and despite injuries along the way, he or she will get up and try again, over and over until that skill is finally mastered. It never occurs to the child, or anyone else, that you have to get it perfect the first time. Everyone encourages them which is an added bonus. Somehow along the way though, by the time many children are in mid primary school, they have already been given so many negatives which erode their self-esteem that they give up trying new things.

7. Remember the K.I.S.S. principle and Keep It Simple Sunshine. Only do a few activities or songs at a time in your music lesson. Repeat them often and only when mastered do you add modifications or a new activity. Keep the whole lesson simple but fun. Do not confuse simple with easy. If the class structure is simple, you can easily add in a more challenging activity.

8. If the children are unused to music and movement sessions, do not try to be too ambitious. Five minutes a day may be enough for the first few weeks, depending on the children. Repeat the lesson (maybe up to three or four times) until confidence and competence improve. They need the repetition. You can add modifications for greater complexity and variation or change one or two activities before moving onto a new lesson. Set them up to succeed.

9. Initially the teacher should model the movements but not necessarily do all the running around. Choose a child to model for you (or the Teaching Assistant or even a parent) if you prefer not to or are unable to model the movements yourself. Observe the children’s ability to perform the skills in movement, music, drama, listening and social interaction. The music lesson thus contains so many more outcomes. You are then leveraging your time by combining learning areas. That is why the movements need to be modeled appropriately.

10. Finish each session with stretching and relaxation. (Stretches should never hurt.) After a “mat session” music lesson the stretch only needs to be a full body stretch on the floor, after which the children close their eyes and listen to the music. Initially –

Tell them what you want them to listen for, or, tell them a story of what the music is about, or, ask them to tell you what they think the music is telling them.

If you don’t relax the children at the end of the lesson, thus utilizing this time for the affective aspect of music, they’ll be unsettled for the rest of the day, especially if it’s a dance and drama session. When they are used to relaxing at the end of the lesson they will happily lie down and relax but they need to be taught how to first. Each relaxation session, therefore, does not necessarily have to involve active listening but initially it must. Children are sometimes loud and boisterous because they think that’s how they are expected to behave. Give them permission to be still and silent and teach them how. They need it.


About The Author

Marlene Rattigan is an Early Childhood and ESL teacher with a background in Music and Physical Education. She has written the Kidz-Fiz-Biz resources – Kidz-Fiz-Biz – learning through drama, dance and song, and Kidz-Fiz-Biz MULTICULTURAL – learning about other cultures through drama, dance and song. To purchase, to receive her free e-newsletter or for further information, go to http://www.kidzfizbiz.com. 

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