It seems like programs for children not quite ready for kindergarten are popping up in my area of Michigan and music teachers are being challenged with this new class. These classes are called so many different names – pre-k, young 5s, DK, child development, begindergarten, jr. k – but no matter the name, the challenge is real. I have been teaching short music centers for the past 4 years at my children’s co-op preschool and thought I should offer some tips I’ve learned along the way.
Keep It Short
The first thing to keep in mind is that activities must be super-short. In general students are able to focus on an activity 1 minute for each year of age they are. Since most students in this type of class are between 4-5 years old, activities should only last 4-5 minutes. That means in a 30 minute class at least 8 activities should be planned.
Explore the Tools
You might be afraid to let children so young play the instruments. I know I was at first. Young students might struggle with playing instruments gently, but the excitement of playing draws many into the music. There are options for instruments developed with young hands in mind and feature handles or are sized appropriately. I love setting out shakers for beat keeping, but also allow them to explore the different ways shakers can be played – rolled, fast shaking, slow shaking, tapped, etc. One of my favorite songs to use is The Laurie Berkner Band’s “I Know a Chicken”. If you are timid worried about using xylophones, let the children have a 12” section of pool noodle. They can practice tapping on the floor or different body parts to get the motion before introducing the barred instruments.
Keep Them Moving
We have all seen the memes and articles talking about how children need to move often. Sitting still is not a natural thing for children – or even many adults. There are so many ways to include movement activities in PreK music lessons that are quick and easy. Tried and true fingerplays (like “Where is Thumbkin?”) and movement songs (“Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”} are great. Having this age play Freeze Dance is perfect for creative movement, developing listening skills, and body awareness. I also like to include simple parachute activities to highlight phrasing and beats without labelling as such. If you are looking for research regarding movement and brain development, check out the BrainDance developed by Anne Green Gilbert.
Bring Out the Props
Bringing the joy of music to littles means also bringing in a sense of wonder and novelty. Singing or listening to songs about bubbles while allowing students to catch actual bubbles is joyful. Bubbles can turn a PreK music classroom into an imaginary world to inspire creativity. Small plush animals are great buddies for students to interact with and keep unfocused hands busy. I love pulling out my puppets for students to sing to or even sing as to encourage solo singing.
Bring Your Patience
This is probably the most important thing I could tell you about teaching PreK music. Many of my students come without any musical experience – no KinderMusic, Music Garden, Music Together or any other program geared toward the very young. Music could be a scary new experience for them. You might find that many students won’t participate immediately. You may often find you are singing and dancing with yourself. That is totally fine. Before children join in with a new experience, they need to feel safe and comfortable. Encourage them, but don’t call them out for not participating. Let them soak in music in all it’s beauty. Provide for them those important positive exposures to music. Eventually you will find the majority of students will join you on the musical journey.
Do YOU teach 4-5 year olds? I’d love to hear what your favorite activities are!
I am a para for a 4k group and would like to add more music time during summer. Adding music time has been a challenge with my group so far. I can sing a song or 2 tops then they will lost interest and start just running around the classroom and playing with other toys. I am thinking about introducing different instruments in classroom see if they be interested in it. What should I do first they be most fun for a 4k group?
My biggest recommendation with this age level is to have lots of very short activities/songs. It sounds like they need more movement/instrument activities to break up the singing. When you organize a lesson, you might try alternating singing with movement and instruments activities. For movement, have them dance with scarves or blow bubbles for them to catch. They could move like a certain animal or with a certain type of step – march, tiptoe, sliding, etc. If you want to add instruments, egg shakers are a good place to start. You can have them shake their eggs high, low, fast, slow, behind their backs, hiding under their legs, etc. There are a lot of other small percussion instruments made specifically for younger kids, which helps with grasping them. You could also use a community drum, which is larger and meant for everyone to sit around. The big take-away though is to move on to different activities within 4 minutes. 4k has a short attention span, so trying to focus longer than that is really difficult for them.