Posts tagged Music
Making Music: Tips for Circle Time Success

No one wants to sing a song with a group of squirmy, inattentive, interrupting children. It’s just plain frustrating! Good teachers set the bar high for good behavior, but excellent teachers engage the restless like Mary Poppins with her magic bag.

While there’s no movie magic in real life, effective music strategies and an enthusiastic attitude can work like magic to command the attention of even the wiggliest child. Check out the article “Circle Time Singing Is More Important Than You Think” to learn more about the research behind the magic.

Here are six tips and strategies to get you going. 

1. Embrace the Fun

To nurture a love of music in kids, we need to demonstrate our love. Pick a fun song and embrace the silliness. For example, “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” is nearly a surefire hit (See Printable). In the song, an old lady swallows a fly, of course, and then goes about swallowing ever larger creatures to catch whatever she ate last. As the creatures grow more and more absurd, so, too, does the hilarity.

The song's simple fun has two hidden teaching objectives – ordering by size from smallest to largest and sequencing backwards. Plus, because it's a cumulative song it has a simple, repeatable structure that makes it great for playing with the lyrics. More on that in #6!

2. Be Expressive

To make the song more interesting, don’t forget to lead with dramatic facial expressions. Make sure to start out smiling and then raise your eyebrows, subtly shifting your face into greater expressions of surprise as the song moves from verse to verse. Peter, Paul, and Mary give a great example.

3. Get Children Into the Action

Adding body movements may strengthen memory and recall the order of the animals. It also calms the spirit. Instead of asking children to sit still while we sing, we should be asking them to sing with their whole bodies. You might make up your own movements (fluttering your hands for “fly” and wiggling your fingers for “spider”) or you might consider using sign language.

4. Make It a Game

If you are singing this as a group, consider choosing several children to represent each creature in the song. At the end of each verse, invite the child representing that verse’s creature to sit with the others in the middle of the circle.

If you are a parent singing at home, consider playing the role of the lady gobbling up the creatures. Your child might squeal with joy as you capture the fly (your child) and, with a little tickle, pretend that it is now in your belly. Depending on the age of the children, you might feel more comfortable with changing the last line to “Perhaps she’ll cry” instead of “die.”

5. Put It Out for Repetition

Singing in a group can be inspiring, and some children may want to repeat the experience later on their own. Put pictures of the different creatures (See Printable) in a basket on the classroom shelf or, if you are a parent at home, in a spot of your child’s choosing.

6. Write a Book

Emergent writers often love scaffolded writing experiences where they are responsible for illustrating on paper and writing a simple word or phrase. Because it’s a cumulative song, “The Little Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” is a perfect compliment.

Using the template (See Printable), have children either write the original song or make up their own lyrics (“There was an old lady who swallowed a…porcupine!” (Cue laughter.) If children cannot yet write, encourage the illustrations and do the writing yourself to model.

After everyone who wants to has contributed (or if a child wants to make several pages), staple it into a book and sing it out loud. Because it’s a modified version, it won’t sound like the original, but don’t worry. Just make sure to giggle at each surprising ending.

If you are creating a book with only one child, start with just a few pages and then offer more. Some children will want to create many pages of silly verses.

Click here to download the printable kit.

Singing Together Is More Important Than You Think

Ever meet someone who claims they can’t sing? Maybe you even greet that person when you look in the mirror. Well, science has a message for you -- you’re almost certainly wrong.

Researchers estimate that only about 2 percent of humans lack the ability to detect differences between musical notes. Plus, music is found in all human societies and dates back ages (we’ve found 40,000 year old flutes).

In short - while the other 98% of us may not have a secret Diana Ross buried inside, we’re almost certain to have the ability to sing.

Circle Time is Good Medicine

Singing makes us feel feel good (promoting the release of oxytocin and endorphin) and is a critical tool for social bonding. In fact, singing may have evolved specifically for that purpose.

In other words, sharing music make society work better. The only reasonable conclusion is that daily circle time singing also makes our classroom communities work better.

And if all that’s not enough to convince you to sing with children, music is great for building up the brain. Researchers have positively linked college students’ access to music programs with their likelihood of graduation and shown that, for younger kids, intensive exposure to music at an early age improves cognitive outcomes.

Teaching Cumulative Songs

Because singing is basically as human as human can be, you don’t need a degree in musicology to make or enjoy it. However, a bit of knowledge about how music works might boost your confidence and get your creative juices flowing. You might even know more than you realize!

Case in point - if you’ve ever sung “Old MacDonald” or “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” you’ve sung a cumulative song. “Cumulative song” is a fancy way to describe a song where each verse builds on the last (i.e., the lyrics accumulate) in a repeating pattern.

Here's an example using the cumulative classic “The Green Grass Grew All Around”:

The Benefits to the Child

Cumulative songs are fun and beneficial. Because the singers must remember an ever growing list of items (e.g., birds, bugs, eyelashes), cumulative songs have a game-like quality good for sharpening memory.

Additionally, because they have simple, repeated structures, they’re easier to teach and learn, making them great for social bonding events.

Their predictability also make them great for improvisation. For example, try leading children in a version of the “The Green Grass” where you get absurdly tiny (e.g., a germ, an atom, an electron).

So get out there and sing with your kids. You may not be pitch perfect, and that’s perfectly okay! 

Ready to try it yourself? Check out our guide and printable for “There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.”

9 Never Fail Name Games and Songs for Circle Time

As a Kindergarten teacher, I spent years collecting songs and name games that were winners for breaking the ice in a new class during circle time at the beginning of the year. I kept a large stack of index cards of my favorite songs and added to the box as I learned new songs from other teachers.

I now am the proud owner of an index box ridiculously full of hundreds of songs appropriate for the 18mo-6yo crowd. Because music is meant to be shared, I pulled together some of my favorite chants and songs. Who knows...maybe you'll learn a new one to add to your own collection!

1. Hicklety Picklety Bumblebee

For this name game, sit cross-legged on the floor and pat your knees while you chant in a regular, somewhat emphatic voice . It's not an easy one for little ones, so it will be mostly the adult chanting. You want their attention to draw toward you as you get softer so that by the time you are mouthing the name silently, the children are totally focused on your mouth and you have their full attention.

Hicklety picklety bumblebee

Who can say their name for me?

Allison! (loudly)

Allison. (whispered)

All-i-son. (mouthed without vocalizing)

2. Johnny Whoops

This is a name game that starts with your index finger pointing to each finger in succession. Start by pointing at the pinky and when you get to the index finger, "whoops" toward your thumb, say the name on the thumb, then whoops backwards again toward your pinky. The sillier and more drawn out your "whoooooooops" the more laughter and excitement you'll generate. This is a real crowd pleaser. Every child loves to hear his/her own name whoopsing back and forth.

Johnny Johnny Johnny Johnny

Whoops! Johnny

Whoops! Johnny

Johnny Johnny Johnny!


3. Jack in the Box

name games and songs for circle time pinnable

For this name game, the child sits on the floor all curled up hiding his head (the yoga "child's pose").  When you shout, "Yes, he will!" the child pops up...just like a jack in the box, arms up overhead as if to say, "Ta-da!"

Christopher in the box, sits soooooo still.

Will he come out?

Yes he WILL!

4. Willoughby Wallaby Woo

First listen to and learn the tune to Willoughby Wallaby Woo by Raffi. Then just sing this short verse below, substituting in the child's name. If you have an elephant puppet or little stuffed elephant to literally "walk" over and "sit" on the child, all the more giggle-inducing!

Willoughby wallaby woo

An elephant sat on YOU (point finger toward child whose name will be used)

Willoughby Wallaby Wistopher

An elephant sat on Christopher!

5. Pig On Her Head

First listen to and learn the song Pig On Her Head by Laurie Berkner. Fill a bag with small toy animals. Let the child reach in and take one out of the mystery bag and place the animal on his head. Switch the song up by choosing another animal out of the bag or by placing it on another body part. This is a delightfully goofy song.

George has a sheep on his neck,

George has a sheep on his neck,

George has a sheep on his neck,

And he'll keep it there all day!

6. Who Is Missing?

Lay out a blanket or very large scarf on the floor. Ask the child to curl up (child's pose) on the floor, and make a dramatic point of draping the blanket carefully on top.  It then becomes a game of peek-a-boo. It's so foolishly simple, but always a winner! I never had a child who didn't want to take a turn hiding after this game was played a few times and everyone was comfortable. Sometimes you  have to speak quickly because the child won't want to wait for the dramatic pause and will swoosh the blanket off him/herself very quickly. That's just part of the fun.

Hmmm....someone is missing! Who is it? Who's missing? It's...(pull off blanket in a big swooosh).....Kaitlyn!"

7. Yoo Hoo! 

I learned this one back in my college music education class and I have no idea who wrote or published it, so feel free to link up the tune if you find it. Until then, make up your own little tune to sing to the words. This time the child hides behind something in the room (a desk? the couch?). You begin by singing and "hunting" with your eyes.

Somebody's hiding inside the closet.

I wonder who it could be... Yoo hoo... You hoo...(child sings back from the hiding place)

I wonder who it could be. ....It's Evan!

8. Clapping Names

So simple but also fun! Just go around the circle clapping each child's name with each syllable.

Let's clap Harriet.  Harr-i-et!

Now let's clap Kathy. Ka-thy!

9. Who Do We Appreciate? 

Be forewarned. This is not a quiet chant. It's a rile-em-up and make them feel like a million bucks chant. For this one, you're going to put on your very best cheerleader voice and grin, clap your hands and at the end wiggle your fingers up in the air like you've won the game!

2-4-6-8 Who do we appreciate?

Zachary! Zachary! Yaaaaaaayyyyy Zachary!


The Continent Song

One of my favorite things about teaching the 3 - 6 age group using Montessori philosophy is the heavy focus on cultural studies, including geography.

We want children to understand not only that they live on a planet called Earth but also that humans are just one piece of a complex web of life.

Teaching them the names of the continents will open up their eyes to the entire world they live in. The new awareness will lead to questions about different climates, landforms, animals, and cultures.

Click HERE to watch The Continent Song video on YouTube, or you can just watch below.

Share your love for our planet Earth daily and act very interested in inspecting your map; your child will catch Continent Fever before you know it.


Anatomy of an Anatomy Lesson

If you don't have a miniature human skeleton in your house, stop what you're doing right now and get one. I can't tell you what a difference it makes having an actual skeleton as opposed to simply looking at a picture. get the skeleton, and now what?

You might want to start by singing "Dem Bones," the well-known spiritual song. Here's a cheesy, though more educational, variation I love:

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.

These are the bones in your body.

Phalanges connected to your metacarpals.

Metacarpals connected to your carpals.

Carpals connected to your radius.

These are the bones in your body...

What next? Bone games. Kids find them hilarious. In Simon Says fashion, say "Put your phalanges on your clavicle! Put your phalanges on your patellas!" And before you know it -- BOOM -- your kid has all the bone names completely memorized with hardly any effort.

To my surprise, just having the skeleton on our dining room table was inspiring. When I passed by, I found my son involved in drawing the skeleton in detail by hand.

I quickly typed up the names of the bones, and he glued them onto the correct places. I think today we may try our hand at taking some easel paper and drawing around my son's body, then drawing the bones inside.

Aubrey HargisMusic, Science