Music Class and Kindergarten: Updates


Working with Kindergartners in Music

A few years ago, I wrote about ideas for calming the kindergartners because, as we know, kindergartners can be a big challenge, especially since their development is different from child to child.Kindergartners are a mixed bag of experiences. We have kids who are expected to not only know their letters, but need to be ready to read by midterm. We have kids who aren’t just counting, they’re counting and grouping. We have kids who attending school since infanthood. We have kids who have a couple of years of preschool. We have kids who never had preschool. We have kids whose parents spent time playing music to Mommy’s tummy and reading to the child in the womb, playing music constantly, and singing to their children. We have kids whose parents plop them in front of the TV.  We have kids whose parents prepared them for school through social interactions. We have kids whose parents give in at the first sign of a tantrum and “NO!”. We don’t do naps for kindergarten anymore. Kids don’t get much explore time in public school. Some kids have trauma experiences that they cannot verbalize, but bring out in behaviors. Some have been tossed from home to home in foster care when their parent cannot take care of them.

No wonder they go bonkers. They are live in the moment, concrete thinkers who are still learning fiction versus non-fiction.  I often say that there is a special place in heaven for kindergarten teachers (and special education teachers). So many variants of personalities. We only have to work with them maybe no more than an hour a day. And yes, you, too, can survive an hour of kindergarten.
Class Management:
Yes, kindergartners are newbies. That being said, they need structure. They need to understand there are rules. Some will obviously take longer to learn. But insist. Repeat your rules every day. In my teaching, I used to incorporate some form of the Whole Brain rules:

  • Follow directions quickly.
  • Raise your hand for permission to speak.
  • Raise your hand for permission to leave your seat.
  • Make smart choices.
  • Keep your dear teacher happy.

The basis of Whole Brain is repetition, repetition, repetition. If someone is way off track, stop and make them recite the rules. It seems like a time-waster, but in the end, for the majority of kids, it will catch on. 

If the kindergarten classroom teachers are consistent with each other, you can adapt their behavior management plan if it is workable. Don’t feel you have to. It’s nice to keep the consistency with the children, otherwise they may not respect or remember yours. This is just a 5 year old brain. Don’t take it as an insult if they don’t remember. After all, they have you, their classroom teacher, art, gym, library, maybe a case manager, counselor, speech, reading, principal, custodian, and those fabulous lunch folks to remember, too.

Definitely stick with your building plan. That provides consistency as well. A few years ago, after my building had implemented PBIS,  I had one of the more active, immature students kicking up his legs, talking back, refusing to sit on his rug square, and other actions. My first action was to pick up the phone, because this youngster had had problems since Day One. I was told, “Keep him there and reteach, and call later if it doesn’t work.” At first, I thought, “They’re all on the verge of squirrelly!” But I asked the student to sit in the “Rest and reflect” seat, because he was upset because I called for help. And I retaught. We went over the rules, and I literally used him as an example. After going over the rules, I ignored him, except to point out to him that hanging upside down from the chair wasn’t a good idea, because he’d fall and hit his head, and that would mean I’d have to call the office and tell them he got hurt because he couldn’t sit in the seat correctly. That got his attention. As I started on Mortimer (a great book for the four voices, by the way), he quietly said, “Could I try again?” And, for the rest of class (about 30 minutes), I only had to redirect him once and he responded immediately. So, even the tough cookies can turn around. There are, of course, the ones who need more than what we can give them. The issue is your judgement call.

If they are in a safe spot, think corner, or whatever you use, do your best to ignore them unless they are going to be a danger or get so loud you must do something. I once had a little girl who would yell. She wouldn’t stay in the safe spot. She’d march around and pull books out the bookcase, get in my face….all those nice things. The problem was….I had little administrative support. (This was a post-retirement position). I broke out a story. I told the kids that it was tough, but little Susie was probably frustrated for some reason, and she was still learning the correct way to use her words. Then I just kept reading. Did she sit down? Well, no. But, I modeled the correct behavior for her classmates. You will have kids like that, most likely, no matter what grade. This is where you find that person with whom you can connect: counselor, classroom teacher, parent…and document. And, yes, the girl had to come in later and put the books back during my plan. Then she had no audience. She quietly put them away and hugged me. 

We’re musicians. We think outside of the box. We need to improvise, even with classroom management. And remember, even if you are at the edge of your rope, with calmness and patience, you will plant a little seed. In this little girl’s case, she was used to adults yelling, including her classroom teacher. A word of advice from the Bible (which has words of advice for everyone, including those who aren’t into the Bible): Proverbs 15:1 — “A soft word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Use your indoor voice as much as possible with them. Do your best to not go all negative. (“SIT DOWN or you’ll go to the principal!”. Well, some kids like that because they’re one on one, even if it’s negative behavior). Instead, give a positive angle and give them some choice: (“When you feel you can join the rest of the class and participate in the right way, come on over”. “When you are finished being angry, come of over.”) If you make the activity appealing enough, most will be there. There are so many littles that need that calm. Be that calm.

Work out a plan of action with other educators. Like my little girl above, you need a plan of action, even if your supporting adult doesn’t follow through. In that school, it was common for teachers to stop teaching and call and parent. I did that. I don’t think it helped much, but I could document that I did it, and the dad was very supportive.  What did help was conferring with the classroom teacher. There was also another music teacher in the building, right next door. We would be each others’ buddy rooms. Support is crucial.

You will have those who will sit and refuse to participate. Remember, they might have had adult caretakers who would give in if the kiddo didn’t want to do something. It could be an issue of shyness or feeling overwhelmed. The activity might even remind them of something unpleasant in their lives. Just work around them. It might take a few days, but eventually, that child will figure you out and participate.


So, What Are Those Fun Activities?

I mentioned doing fun activities that would get the attention of most kinders. There is an old adage about which many teachers have heard: Give students an activity that equals one minute for every year of their age. We need to consider 5 minute activities to quickly pull out when the kitty cats leave the corral and run around, lie on their backs and kick up their legs, whine to go potty, scratch their underwear, or smack their neighbor.

As far as those 5 minute activities? Here’s a typical music class for kindergarten at the beginning of the year:

  • I started with my Hello Song, accompanying myself on ukulele. If you can play an instrument while singing your hello song, the kids are fascinated.
  • My reward for coming in quietly was Puppet Masters. If a class, for the most part, comes in quietly, sits in assigned squares, and looks ready to go, and I used the scrambler in iDoceo and pick 4-5 names. These students got to hold a puppet during class. They learned the proper way to hold a toy while listening. Students who came to class in an improper manner know that if their name was picked, it will be skipped. I didn’t tell them, but if they complained about it, I told them it was because either the scrambler didn’t pick them or they did something that wasn’t a good choice. And the kids learned to reflect on that. I was also big on chanting, so to be proactive, I taught the kids to say “Maybe next time” if they didn’t get picked. If they pouted, I merely say, “Sit in the chair until you’re over it, and then you can join us.”
  • We sang “This is  my place, this is my space, my place, my space, nobody but me.” I learned it in Kodaly level one, but if anyone knows the actual source, please let me know! We put our bubble gum in our mouth, blow our bubble, and got ready for our opening movement activity, usually Tempo from Eric Chappelle’s Music for Creative Dance: Contrast and Continuum, Vol. 3. (You can purchase this from West Music or download it on iTunes.)
  • I am big on drums and chanting. The less silence in transitions, the less of an opportunity the kids have to fill in the silence. For getting into self-space, I tapped a ta, ti-ti ta rhythm and say “Find your own space, find your own space in five (ti-ti-ta ta) four, etc.” I continued to play the drum during the movement activity for focus and to help control their bodily tempo. My good friend Joshua Block has a method for getting those runners and bumpers in check that I have used, and it works well. He tells those who break other students’ bubbles that they need to “sit down and watch until they learn how it is done”. No argument. They sit and wait, and ask to get back in. I had kindergartners who get to the point where, if they bumped into someone, took themselves out of the movement.
  • During the lesson, I made sure I interspersed some breaks or used diversified teaching. For instance, when I started with the four voices, we sang the song/chant “This is my speaking voice. This is my whisper voice. This is my singing voice. This is my calling voice.” (again, if you know the source, please let me know so I can give credit). I showed a Power Point with clip art of children using the various voices. I changed my voice and asked them to tell me what voice I’m using. I used pointer pages to have them point to the correct picture that represents the voice I’m using. I read Mortimer.

What about fillers? 

You must overplan kindergarten and have Plans B, C, D, E………Sometimes you won’t get through your main lesson and sometimes you’ll have half a class left. What do you do?

To be honest, I have tried to use GoNoodle. But, I feel like classroom teachers use this resource enough and as a music teacher, it’s my job to teach traditional game songs and nursery rhymes.

Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Mr. Stick. Mr. Stick is one of those poseable mannequins that artists often use. I use it to get the kids to contort into various poses (and yes, I give them the opportunity to even lie down!” My chant for Mr. Stick:

              Mr. Stick, make it quick.
              Show me a pose and make it slick.

The kids ASK for Mr. Stick. One day, I forgot it when I went to my second school. The downcast faces were heartbreaking. You bet I had him in my rolling cart after that! Here’s a picture of some of my kids posing like Mr. Stick (yes, the kid in the back? There’s always one):

2. Vocal exploration. Checking back to my previous blog post on this topic, I used a variety of props. If kids seem to get twitchy, I break one of those props out.

3. Movement songs. I used the following sources and kept them handy for a quick filler:
             Eric Chappelle’s Music for Creative Dance CDs (available from West Music)
             Anne Green Gilbert’s Brain Dance sources
             Movement Songs Children Love from Theme and Variations (Denise Gagne) (One Green Jelly Bean is terrific AND nonlocomotor!)
             The Music Effect, Books One and Two by Joy Nelson
             Movement in Steady Beat by Phyllis Weickert
             John Feierabend books, such as his book of Echo Songs and Circle Games
            Highway Number One from Folk Dances of Terra Australis, Vol. 3, by Shenanigans

4. Nursery rhymes. Youngsters aren’t exposed to nursery rhymes as much as they were in my day. The repetition, rhyming, and imagination are just right for these minds. Just check out the background of them, please. Once, you do, you have great opportunities for a preparation for ostinato and beat as well as rhyming.

5. Rhythm band. Rhythm band visuals are a great way to introduce instruments. Make sure you introduce them precisely. You are probably used to how to hold and play a triangle, but kindergartners will grab the instrument itself instead of the string. They will shake a maraca or tambourine until they hit themselves. Don’t assume anything; just practice with them and establish ground rules. If they do not play the instrument correctly, feel free to take it away. The kids will not be ruined for life, although they might want to make you feel that way!

Folk Song Games:

Charlie Over the Ocean is a BIG hit. But, the students know that if they have been rambunctious, I will tell them that I don’t think they would be able to play safely.

Other games my kinders loved: The Old Gray Cat, Naughty Kitty Cat, Bluebird through My Window, Shoo Turkey, Bee Bee Bumblebee (getting ready for steady beat!),  and Circle Round the Zero. (See directions at the end of this post)

Great books with recordings (that also make super sub plans):
John Lithgow books (such as I’m a Manatee)
Octopus’s Garden by Ringo Starr

Jazz Fly series by Matthew Gollub

How do you know when to and how to pace? You don’t. If you notice them getting twitchy, don’t worry about breaking your lesson plan sequence. Break out a movement activity. Don’t worry about doing it over and over each day. Yes, you will tire of it before they do. Consider that kids this age love repetition. And chances are, you have 3-4 kindergarten classes in your allotted block or week time frame. You can handle it. So, redo that Tempo Tantrum. It’s OK.

Above all, keep them busy. Watch your downtime. If you find unexpected downtime (like technology glitches that need to be fixed), chant. Make it up. Say things in a chant. Sing things in a chant. When my computer would act up, I would merely say “Come on, computer!” over and over. Kids started saying it with me, and it kept their minds occupied.

So, corral those kitties. And love those kitties. Curious. Cute. Chaotic. Cuddly. Kinders. You’ve got this.???


Products for kindergarten from Dr. Stafford’s Musical Cures:

Deedle Deedle Dumpling Activity Pack

Vocal Exploration Growing Bundle

Skeleton Movement Cards (free!)

Halloween Color Pages

What Is Music Class? (Free!)

Primary Music Name Games

Hello Song (Free!)

Peter and the Wolf Color Pages

Carnival of the Animals Color Pages

Game Directions:
Old Gray Cat: 

The old gray cats are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping
The old gray cats are sleeping in the house.

The little mice are creeping, creeping, creeping
The little mice are creeping in the house.

The little mice are nibbling, nibbling, nibbling
The little mice are nibbling in the house.

The old gray cats are creeping, creeping, creeping
The old gray cats creeping in the house.

The little mice are running, running, running,
The little mice are running in the house.

One child is the cat, and the others are the mice. Designate a cat corner and a mousehole corner. Act out the words. During the running part, the children must be on hands and knees. The children who make it to the “mousehole” by the end of that verse get to be cats as well. Example

Naughty Kitty Cat

Naughty Kitty Cat

Naughty Kitty Cat, 

You are very fat

You have butter on your whiskers

Naughty kitty cat (Scat!)

(Joy Nelson says she isn’t comfortable using the word “fat”, so her line is “why did you do that?”)

Students sit in circle. One student is the mouse, and the mouse sits in the center. Another student is the cat. The cat walks around the circle while students sing. There are two doors. On the word “Scat”, the mouse runs around the circle, going out one door, trying to get to the other door before being tagged by the cat. Example: (To be honest, I didn’t use the door feature, but made sure they only ran one full circle. I like the door idea better!) I had the mouse become the cat if they were not tagged. In order to keep the cat from pouting, I would say, “<Susie> is in Cat Vacationland, where they get all the catnip they want and sunny windows.” The cat would have to pick a new mouse.

If the mouse got caught, the cat would say “I caught the mouse, the mouse in the house”. That cat would be the new mouse.

Bluebird through My Window

Bluebird, bluebird through my window,

Bluebird, bluebird through my window.

Bluebird, bluebird through my window.

Oh, honey, I am tired. 

Game directions are found from the link. Example: 

Another bluebird game is Here Comes a Bluebird.

Shoo, Turkey

Directions can be found my this blog post from November, 2020.

Bee, Bee, Bumblebee

Bee, bee, bumblebee.

Stung a man upon his knee.

Stung a pig upon his snout.

Goodness me if you’re not out!

Students are in a circle. One student has a bee puppet or bee pointer. The “bee” is directed to tap each child gently on the heat every time I strike a drum. The students in the circle need to be told to not lean forward trying to avoid the bee, or it throws the beat off. The child who is tapped on the word “out” is the next bee. The former bee gets too rhythm sticks and taps the beat with me. (It is EXTREMELY important in elimination games to keep those who are out occupied.)

Circle Round the Zero (found in book by the same name by Maureen Kenney)

Circle round the zero,

Find your lovin’ zero.

Back, back, zero

Side, side, zero

Front, front, zero

Tap your lovin’ zero. 

Children make a circle. Those in the circle clap the beat while singing. There is a child who walks around the outside of the circle. At “Back, back, zero”, that child, stops,  stands back to back with the child in the circle he is next to. On “side, side, zero”, that child stops and bumps hips with the child he is next to. On “front, front”, he will pat hands with the child he is next to. On “tap”, they tap each other on the shoulder. The old leader sits down, and the tapped child is the new leader. The leader should skip anyone sitting down until everyone has had a turn.

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Hi there!

I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.

I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have just completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.


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