Doing Music Class Activities Outside


Several months ago, I wrote about keeping kids moving in the classroom. Believe it or not, keeping kids moving within certain parameters actually cuts down on classroom management issues, keeps them engaged, and helps the brain.

Well, now, of course, is spring. It’s early spring, and it might be a while before some of you will be able to take your students outside. SHOULD you take your students outside? Why not?

  • It’s a change of pace for you and for them.
  • It helps them learn how to work in an even less restrictive environment.
  • It can help with frayed nerves.
  • It’s good for them physically and mentally.
  • It’s good for YOU.

These are the types of things I would do with my classes outside:


This had to be the absolute favorite of my students. Usually, I wouldn’t start this until second grade so they would be big enough to help carry the drums out. 

students drumming outside

I woud plan the following activities:

  • Question/answer
  • Call/response
  • Echo
  • Grooves

I discovered the students benefitted from the opportunities to improvise and lead at their own comfort levels. A shy student could incorporate small “color” or beat in a groove, or a short question in question/answer. In addition, there was something about being outside that loosened inhibitions, but surprisingly, not in any misbehaving way.


Folk dances are fun outside, plus you have plenty of room. My classes have done a variety of “alley” dances and “under the bridge” dances such as Alabama Gal. I found The New England Dancing Masters resources to be the most helpful with a variety of suitable outside dances.

Students dance outside-Alabama Gal

The North Skelton Sword dance (found in Welcome in the Spring) was a huge hit with my older students. My husband developed “swords” with lattice board and foam insulation. The goal for each group is to interlace their “swords” to form a star.

North Skelton Sword Dance

North Skelton Sword Dance

“T’Smidje is another dance, one my students initially resisted until they fell in love with it. The challenge of “T’Smidje” is the “driver/passenger switch”. The dance consists of two concentric circles of partners, with all standing next to each other in promenade style. (See video link). In the driver/passenger switch, the “driver” is the left partner and the “passenger” is right. The “driver” slides to the “passenger” spot, while their “passenger” goes to the “drivers” side of the couple ahead of them. This is what I used to chant while the students learned it:

1, 2, 3, turn around

Backwards, 2, 3, 4

1, 2, 3, turn around

Backwards 2, 3, 4


Change with your partner.


Driver-passenger switch.

Here are the original moves for T’Smidje, as “performed” by one of my classes several years ago:

*. Concentric circle, partners side by side.
*Partner on the inside is considered the “driver”. Partner on the outside is the “passenger”
*4 Steps forward, turn, and 4 steps backward in the same direction
*Partners jump in, out, and switch places
*Jump in towards each other, jump out.
*Here’s the tricky part, one that Sanna Longden (who taught this at an Orff conference I attended) calls “driver/passenger switch”: driver goes to the passenger side of the couple in front of them. Passenger switches to their driver’s side, so it’s a zigzag effect.

Since the kids are outside, they found out they had opportunities to teach others! With the drum circles, younger students would often be outside at recess. Forgive me for my similie, but the little ones were drawn to older students with drums like moths to a flame.

Students play on a tubano outside.

Sometimes, even adults who were passing through the recess area got involved. In this picture, the assistant principal joined in on T’Smidje (Several of these students are now freshmen in college!):

Assistant principal learns the dance "T'Smidje"


I liked using relay races for review. The picture below is from a recorder fingering relay game: 

Student finding the letter name for the recorder fingering in a relay game.

Kagan activities are also great outside, like Fan-n-Pick or Quiz, Quiz, Trade games.


You and your students need this. Schools are wrapping up an extremely stressful year, and the stress seems to just generate from other sources. GIve yourself a chance to keep your class student-centered AND provide yourself an opportunity for a much-needed change of pace, if even for a few hours. Aren’t YOU worth it?


Rhythm Fan-n-Pick

Recorder Fingering Relay

Rhythm Relay

Alabama Gal

Bucket Drumming: Ode to Fruitcake

Summer School Activities MEGA Bundle

Name Games Bundle

Bucket Drumming: Solar Sensation

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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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