Music activities for preschoolers – 5 Quick tips

Finger Puppets LijaHere are five tips to literally put into the tips of your fingers so you and your kids will have fun during music activities for preschoolers.

After my mini-lecture two days ago, I decided to post something about music activities for preschoolers that’s quick and easy.  This is to remind us all to not take ourselves too seriously when working with little kids.

Thumbkin – remember to have a good intention or a “will to succeed” before you sit down for music time with your kids. To get them on your frequency, try singing Hello to each one by name.  They will be squirming to have a turn – Hello Song.

Pointer – remember that it’s OK to engage in direct teaching as long as you don’t do it all the time.  So you can tell them, “This is how we do the actions.  I’ll do it, now you show me.” Try a body percussion – Shimmy Shimmy Cocoa Pop.

Tallman – remember to get up and stretch, wriggle, jump around for a few breaths, music lessons aren’t just about sitting on the floor concentrating the mind.  Music works in the the whole body so don’t be afraid to stretch out and move.  Try a dance or drama game – Dog Jumps through the Window.

Ringman – remember to touch the sensitive soul of the child with poignant melodies, soft lullabies and beautiful orchestral or instrumental music.  Try a relaxation with gentle music – Tafta Hindi.

Baby/pinkie – remember that preschoolers are not officially “in school” and they need to be treated with tender loving care. If the lesson or session isn’t working to your satisfaction, maybe it’s you that needs to change because in many ways they still need lots of leeway and understanding.  Maybe it would be good to have more playtime today – so instead of struggling on with a full music lesson, sing a quick story such as Sing a Song of Sixpence followed by a Goodbye Song and let them run outside.

So those are my quick tips about running music activities for preschoolers.  To see complete music lessons that worked for us click here.


How long is a preschool music lesson? Program planning

Recently I was asked how long one of our Lesson Plans lasts.  The short answer is it’s up to you.  That’s the beauty of having a whole series of Music Activities that you can run in any order.  However, if you want some structure to get you started you can follow our suggestions.

In a setting such as a church hall with parents and children I generally do a whole lesson lasting 45 minutes with ten or so activities.  Then I repeat the whole lesson the following week.

If you think 45 minutes is too long you are not alone.  However, we do have a successful time together because there is so much variety in a Musical Child Lesson Plan with games, movement, dances, props and instruments. Towards the end of each lesson I include a short music appreciation activity, generally dancing to classical music with scarves followed by a restful times with lullabies, nursery rhymes or story songs with illustrated books.

Importantly, the children are given many opportunities throughout the lesson to exercise agency and think and do for themselves so the time flies. I run 40 lessons a year for each age group that way.   When I first started to develop the programs I used to do five different lesson plans over five weeks and then repeat them all but I soon found that repeating the lesson the very next week gave better learning outcomes.

In a childcare or kindergarten setting for toddlers or kindergarten I might not get through a whole lesson plan in one session so the next week I’ll do the bits I missed and drop activities I did the first time.

Sometimes I’ll work with a group of mixed ages and do most of a Bounce and Sing lesson plan for 1-3 yr olds and then after 30 minutes take the older children away for more complex musical tasks from Sing and Play such as dances or songs with puppets or props.

If I have a group of babies I’ll run a twenty minute activity session and perhaps take my guitar and sing nursery rhymes for the last ten minutes making the whole session no longer than thirty minutes in all.  The working year goes for more than 40 weeks in child care settings so I might do three or four lessons for three weeks or else I’ll make up playlists of favourites activities rather than following one of my Lesson Plans.

For a children’s party I’ll make up a playlist with the parent to suit the guests ages and the interests of the children.  They usually like the traditional songs and games so they and the other adults can join in.

A music lesson can last for one activity or ten activities, it’s flexible and depends on the needs of your learners and the time/place constraints.  Once you have the individual activities you can string them together in any order you like. Just make sure you provide music education regularly and often.  Musicality is one of the things that distinguishes us from the other species and it needs to be nurtured.

Here is the format for 1-3 years-old Bounce and Sing Part 1 We Play Music. 

Here is the format for 3-5 years- old Sing and Play Part 1 Beautiful Farm 

Remember music – there’s nothing quite like it!


Music lessons for pre-primary, junior primary, pre-k or kindy kids

Pack Away Song

pre-primary, junior primary, pre-k or kindy kids

What do you do when you’ve been given the job of planning the music lessons for the pre-primary, junior primary, pre-k or kindy kids in your workplace? Head for the aspirin!

After you calm down, you ask your colleagues what to do.   They say “There’s heaps of stuff online – just search on preschool music and you’ll be right”.  So you do that and find hundreds of thousands of results!

Here’s a way to get your head around teaching 3-5 year-olds.   Search for twelve different activities.  These twelve activities make up most of the lesson plan we use to run lessons or sessions when we go into a kindergarten, school or child care centre.

Get out of the Internet maze

The links take you to the Musical Child resources or you can search specifically for other activities using the underlined terms in your browser.

  1. Social Convention: Sing a Hello Song naming each child. It fulfils the social convention of greeting everyone for the day.
  2. Body Percussion: Sing a body percussion song and watch the concentration on their faces as they coordinate brain and body right at the top of the lesson.
  3. Finger Play: Perform a finger play to stimulate the touch sensory pathways. This playful working of the fine muscles will enhance control over individual fingers so that writing, drawing and playing advanced musical instruments (e.g. recorder, piano and guitar) will come easily when needed.  These are the muscles that tire quickly for many children when they are expected to learn writing at school.
  4. Memory Song: Use a prop or some number or letter cards with images to teach a memory song to pay attention to those thing you just have to learn “by heart” eg the sequence of the numbers forwards and backwards, the days of the week, the letters of the alphabet or song lyrics in a language other than English.
  5. Rhythm Instruments: Hand out or let them come and collect a set of three different small, hand-held percussion rhythm instruments e.g. sleigh bells, finger cymbals and shakers.  Let them experiment for a minute or so while everyone settles down.   Then play the same instrument at the same time together while you sing a song with clear places for instrument-playing, e. g. different animals.  Get them to follow your cues as to which instrument to play.  Otherwise, if it’s free choice you overload their hearing.
  6. Social Convention:  Clear the instruments while you sing a Pack Away Song, following the social convention of clearing up the workspace before starting something new.
  7. Melody and Harmony Instruments:  Give out, or let them collect a melody and harmony instrument, such as chime bars and sing a song with a strong melody while experimenting with ways to play the instrument.
  8. Drama and Movement Horse-riding:  They have been sitting for a long time so switch to whole body movement, we always use a horse-riding song at this point to encourage strong locomotor activity and dramatic play.
  9. Drama and Movement:  It’s good to try a drama song that follows some kind or narrative as long as you have enough props for all to have a turn, e g doctor’s stethoscopes and sick dollies etc.
  10. Games and Dances:  A game or dance is beneficial and fun if you have enough adults to keep it together.  You can encourage them to mimic your actions and make up their own.
  11. Story Song:  A short rest is necessary after all that activity so story songs work well at this juncture.  If the song is short we always sing it at least twice but a long song requires concentration and should be performed quite dramatically just once.
  12. Social Convention: We sing a Goodbye Song to let the children know we are leaving and music time is over.  Then it’s time for hugs or special conversations that have been waiting on their lips!

So that’s it, 12 activities to make up a long music session.  You can do them all or select a few and run several short sessions throughout the week.  Be sure to come back and leave a reply below. We’d love to hear from you.

Remember, there’s nothing quite like music!

Musical Instruments for Toddlers-Bells

Bells on her toesToday I’m going to focus on bells. Instrument playing works best when you limit the instrument type to one.  Then the auditory nerves are not over-stimulated.  There’s absolutely no need to give anyone a headache when playing instruments.  It should be an enjoyable activity for all.

The kind of bells we usually find in child care centres, preschools and schools look like this:

They are actually based on real sleigh bells worn, perhaps reluctantly, by real horses.  You can imagine how they sound if you think about those cheerful Christmas songs such as Jingle Bells and Walking in a Winter Wonderland. Real sleigh bells look like this:

The best sleigh bells to buy usually have the biggest bell and are not necessarily the attractively coloured ones on plastic handles – in my experience they break easily in the hands of a strong two year-old, and what’s more they often sound tinny.

When running music sessions with toddlers I work on three guiding principles:

  1. everybody gets the same thing as quickly as possible (we all share the good things)
  2. when you have an instrument you’re allowed to play it straight away (children learn best through free-play)
  3. you can take it out of the basket yourself and put it back yourself (choice and agency are important)

Once everyone has quickly chosen their instrument it’s time to play together.  My first suggestion is the song  Li’l Liza Jane (click here for downloadable product).  Here’s a preview of our version.  You can hear the bells clearly in the backing track:  Lil Liza Jane Preview

Here’s the same song, this time with Michael Cashen singing:  Lil Liza Jane Vocal Preview

While the children play along with the music track they are exploring the musical elements of timbre and rhythm.

Another song that features bells is She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain (click here for downloadable product).  I use them in the verse “She’ll be drivin’ six white horses when she comes, Whoa back!”  We hold the wooden handle with both hands and pull back as though the bells are reins.  Here’s a preview of the backing track, once again the bells are clearly audible:  She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain (bells) Preview

Here’s the same song, this time with Mish Bown singing:  She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain (bells) Vocal Preview

As the children handle the musical instruments they are increasing their manipulative skills.  The fine muscles in the hand and wrist are being strengthened.  We do a lot of fun things like “wear them on your feet, wrists”, “play high, play low”, “tap them on your knee, shoulder, belly-button etc”.  We look through them for “I see . . .” We hide them behind our backs and bring them out with a flourish.  If a child comes up with a new way to play them we take up that new idea straight away.

For a third song, why not try The Wheels on the Bus (click here for downloadable product).  We represent the sound of windscreen wipers with sleigh bells.  Here’s the backing track preview:  Wheels on the Bus (bells) Preview

Here’s the same song, this time with Mish Bown singing: Wheels on the Bus (bells) Vocal Preview

As the children play they experience emotions of joy and happiness.  The “feel-good”  chemicals released during this musical social interaction lead to feelings of togetherness and really cement social bonding.

As the children tune in to the starting and stopping of the music they are practising auditory discrimination.  Many of them will be playing in time to the music, others will be engaging in spontaneous imaginative play – it’s all valuable musical experience.  There is so much learning happening and yet it takes very little effort on our part to make it all come together.  Children should be doing this kind of activity every day.  Plan to make instrumental music with your group soon!  Here’s a helpful link to get you started.

Musical talent in children – advice for parents

It’s time for a rant.  This is aimed at parents but teachers may like it too.

I just read an article about musical prodigies in which the author of the study claims that musical talent is nearly 50 per cent hereditary.  Well so what?  What is 50 per cent telling us?  That if you are related to musically talented people then you are more likely than most to display musical talent? This doesn’t strike me at all as a revolutionary idea.  And it was a pretty small study – only 224 people.

In contrast, I’ve read some stunning research that concluded that all human babies are born musical.  It was conducted over 30 and more years at the University of Toronto Mississauga by Prof. Sandra Trehub.    And furthermore, she said that musical sophistication can drop away after one year if not nurtured.  Now- that’s a study!   I’m happy to read about studies of talent but let them be about that – the gifted few.  Most of the parents reading this belong to the majority of wonderful souls who haven’t been born gifted. Nor have they put in the 10,000 hours of piano or violin practice in childhood that make an international star.   But many are amateur singers and players and are great audience members.

Here’s my advice to parents. Teach your kids music experientially, from birth but especially from the age of one.  Sing, dance, play the kitchen pots and pans, take them to live music events and cavort around your living room with “classical music” turned up loud on the sound system.  Music activities are the way to teach music to the young child. Start them on an instrument from about age five to seven, keep them up to daily practice of 15-30 minutes.  Then you know you managed the nurture side of the story magnificently.  And they won’t say to you when they are twenty-five “I wanted to play an instrument but you wouldn’t let me.  I could be really talented by now.”

Shinichi SuzukiLet me finish with a reference to the influential music educator Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998) whose Suzuki Method is practised worldwide.  His precept is that all children are born with abilities that can be developed and enhanced in a nurturing environment.  In fact his method is also known as Talent Education.

Remember, there’s nothing quite like music.  It speaks to us all because we are all born musical.

Playing at Pirates: the development of children’s moral sensibility

Is that a pirate ship?

Grey, green, greasy – that’s the look of the water in the Port River near my home.  It’s a working river so there’s always a hint of oil slick.  It’s also home to a large number of dolphins strangely enough. Occasionally I can hear a long and exceptionally loud siren which makes me wonder what it’s like if you live up close, right in Port Adelaide, because I’m a good thirty minute walk away.

At night there’s a luminous blue streak flying right across the river.  That’s the neon decorative stripe following the gentle curve of the ultra-modern cantilevered opening bridge. It’s an eerie sight.

When I first read about calls for groups to participate in the very first Port Adelaide Festival I knew I wanted Musical Child to be a part of it.  It’s such a soulful, complex place and a festival would help cement my environment in the minds of arts lovers as a destination for local tourism and a historical treat.  A live performance would also enrich our standing with parents and teachers in the local area.

Mish Bown, Maggie Fiddian and Merrilyn Greer

So I looked through our songs and found a heap of water songs and sea shanties.  There wasn’t much to bind them together in a narrative so I took the strongest character, the pirate and the most treasured local animal, the dolphin and started weaving the songs into a story-shape.  My colleagues sharpened up the plot and script during the rehearsal period and “Pirates Ahoy!” emerged.  The local Maritime Museum agreed to be the venue and gave us the use of their sloop, the Active II as a “stage”.


The season of performances was thrilling, brilliant, well-attended and loved by all.  Since then various combinations of staff have performed in childcare centres, kindies, outdoor events. Very soon, October 2nd 2012 in fact, Michael and I will perform it in at the Goodwood Community Centre as part of their school holiday program.

is something scary happening?

There’s something to be said about bringing young children face to face with someone as terrifying as a pirate.  Since the days when feature films first started showing us stories of swash-buckling adventure on the high seas, the idea of the Caribbean pirate has stuck.  Johnny Depp’s outstanding performances in recent times have given us the “look” and any reference to here-and-now piracy is overshadowed by a romantic idea popularised by film-makers.

However, the fertile fantasy-driven mind of a three, four or five year-old can still ignite a frisson of fear at the mere mention of the word “pirate”.   Archetypes are very strong at this age and pirate is synonymous with “baddie”.

Would you trust this person?


My take on this is to make our pirates morally bad, after all they steal from people and threaten their victims, including each other.  But we also give them a lovable dimension.  This allows the children to fear, condemn and like them all in the same short time-span.



There’s room for a nuanced response, for a bit of questioning of the behaviour, motives and rationale driving such reprehensible characters as Cap’n Carol and Pirate Mikey.  Perhaps someone who is afraid of sharks and loves dolphins might be human after all?  How would I behave?  Do I like people who do bad things?  Can they also be funny?  Do they bleed?

We do have one thoroughly nasty character, One-eyed Jack, but we play him with a puppet so he can be feared and sneered at.  Being a one-dimensional monster, he allows us as story-tellers, to provide an appropriate resolution to his law-breaking.  His fate is sealed when he is caught and put in gaol.



Meanwhile our two slightly-lovable pirates sail away to look for more dolphins and to chase each other around the deck.



One-eyed jack the pirate chief was a terrible, fearsome ocean thief.


If you want to play at pirates with your children and see what sort of moral dilemmas arise, here are links to a couple of great songs with suggested activities.  Play hard, wallow in the speech and language development and find out what happens to your child’s moral code when there’s the thrill of thievery and skulduggery involved.  Arrr!

Three Pirates

One-eyed Jack

Music lesson plans for kids in daycare: how to plan for babies and toddlers?

What do you do when you’ve been given the job of planning the music sessions for the babies and toddlers in your daycare centre? Panic, right!

Next step is to ask people around you for advice and they’ll say search online, so you do that and find it’s a maze!

Here’s a way to get your head around it by searching for 12 different activities.  It’s the lesson plan we use to run lessons or sessions when we go into a daycare centre.

The links will take you to the Musical Child resources or you can search specifically for other activities using the underlined terms and get out of the maze.

  1. Sing a “hello song” naming each child. It fulfils the social convention of greeting everyone for the day.
  2. Sing something with a bit of bounce and excitement to get them jigging on their bottoms.
  3. Do action songs that are games and tickles to stimulate the touch sensory pathways.
  4. Hand out or let them come and get an instrument e.g. sleigh bells to play while you repeat a song three times.  Make sure you put out only one kind of instrument, otherwise you overload their hearing.
  5. Clear the instruments while you sing a Pack Away Song, another social convention of clearing up before doing something new.
  6. Give out another different instrument, such as rhythm sticks and sing a song with a strong rhythm while experimenting with ways to play the instrument.
  7. Switch to whole body movement, we always use a horsie song at this point to encourage strong locomotor activity and dramatic play.
  8. A circle dance is beneficial and fun if you have enough adults to keep it together.
  9. Following you is one of the ways they learn so perform whole body actions to a mimcry song and encourage them to copy.
  10. A short rest is good after all that activity so lullabies work well at this juncture.
  11. Now they are calm it’s a good time to use books to tell stories. We recomend nursery rhymes with tunes as a great way to finish a music session.  We always do two nursery rhymes and sing them at least twice each.
  12. We always sing a Goodbye Song to let the children know music time is over.  Then it’s time for hugs!

So that’s it, 12 activities to make up a long music session.  You can do them all or select a few and run several short sessions throughout the week.  Be sure to come back and leave a reply below. We’d love to hear from you.

Remember, there’s nothing quite like music!


Nursery Rhymes: Ride a Cock Horse

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross,

To see a fine lady upon a white horse,

Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,

And she shall have music wherever she goes.

Ride a Cock Horse  is an extremely versatile nursery rhyme.  You can sing it while you bounce a baby on your knee, give a toddler a ride on your leg or ride around on hobby horses. I like to use it as an instrument song.  I hand out sleigh bells to a group of toddlers and get them to discover various ways of playing them.  I always end up tucking the hand strap over my foot especially on the line “bells on her toes”.

I have a very fond attachment to this song as it was one my father sang when he played with all the babies in our family.  He was a tall man so there was ample space for a child to climb onto his leg for a horsie-ride.  He was very kind to young children and took great delight in reciting poems and songs to them.  Passing on the nursery rhyme tradition is one of the most important roles for a grand-parent to play.

Have a look at the Musical Child website to find this and lots of other fabulous nursery rhyme tracks and activities.


Child’s play inspired by rainbow song

Seb's rainbow of instruments

I just love it when children take my ideas and extend them into realms I wouldn’t have imagined.  I was teaching my preschool group of all boys a rhythm instrument song called Sends a Rainbow and I merely mentioned the idea of choosing some scarves to make a colourful playing space for the instruments.  Three year-old Seb, who has an older sister “into art” and a mum who decribes herself as “consultant to Eve and Seb”, chose exactly the right shades to make the seven-part spectrum and then started colour-matching instruments to go onto each scarf.  You can see in the picture he has matched the blue sleigh bells to the blue scarf and even matched the golden-coloured brass finger cymbals to the yellow scarf.  He has a green shaker-egg in his hand which he later puts onto the green scarf.

The following week, Seb’s mum brought in a wooden rainbow toy puzzle that was a favourite plaything with both of her kids.

There is always room in my “lessons” for a child or a group of children to take the activity into another direction through their inventiveness.  That’s why I often run over time – we are too busy playing to watch the clock.

Music, there’s nothing quite like it!

Body Awareness – How to prepare a lesson plan on My Body

my bodyBody Awareness – Ways to incorporate music when preparing the topic “My Body”.

Preschoolers aged 3-5 are very interested in the workings of the human body.  There are plenty of great songs to help you plan rich learning experiences around this perennial topic.

Here is a music lesson plan titled My Body built around three rich driving concepts

  1. My body has different parts – hands, thumbs and fingers, head, shoulders, knees, toes, eyes, ears, mouth, nose, hair, feet and lips.
  2. My body can become unwell and well again with common childhood illnesses – mumps, measles, chicken pox.
  3. My body needs good food – spaghetti and meatballs; peas in a peapod; nutmeg and pear.

And here are three ways to use my body

  1. Small skilful movements as in body percussion, finger plays and playing instruments.
  2. Large movements as in dramatic play and dancing.
  3. Stillness as in concentrating on a picture book.

Here’s how I run a lesson called My Body

First, we connect body and brain with a Body Percussion Activity: A Stone Fell on My Hand followed by a Finger Play Activity: Come Dance Little Thumbkin.  That gives plenty of opportunity to talk about the hands and fingers as clever parts of “my body”.

Second, we name other parts of the body.  Then, we get the whole body activated with a standing game of Head and Shoulders but add the mental challenge of doing it in a language other than English. In our lesson we sing Kata Alipiri. It’s Pitjantjatjara, one of the 200 Australian Aboriginal languages still in use.   It’s what we call a Memory Activity.  Here’s the whole song in Language:

Kata, alipiri, muti, tjina,

Muti, tjina, muti, tjina,

Kata, alipiri, mutu, tjina,

Pina, kuru, winpinpi, mulya.

After this gross motor activity, it’s time for more skilful small muscle to work with our Rhythm Instruments Activity.  We sit in a circle and call each child by name to collect a set of instruments from baskets in the middle. Our instrument song is pretty silly. Aiken Drum is about a man whose hair is made of spaghetti and lots more body parts are made of food – but that silliness just helps everyone relax.  This song sets up an opportunity to make artworks with body parts made of food.  We look at images of  the Renaissance painter Arcimboldo for inspiration. But let’s get back to the music lesson – we let the children play with their instruments while everyone gets set up, there’s not much noise really and what’s the point in sitting in front of a set of percussion instruments if you can’t test them and play with your favourites? Play is so important and music is all about playing, right?

Our Melody and Harmony Instrument song Five Little Peas is also good for fine muscle control activity. If you don’t have chime bars (or resonator bells) D, E, G and A you can do this song as a finger-play.  This gives us the chance to talk about yummy vegetables like little green peas – so appealing to small fingers and mouths.

After all that concentration it’s time to get up and move the whole of the body and in this Drama and Movement Activity we use a sea shanty, Donkey Riding, for it’s strong working rhythms. It’s fervent call to action “Way! Hey! Away we go!”.  It arouses a vibrancy in the class members and binds them to each other as a group.  We talk about using our strong leg and arm and back muscles to do strong physical labour.

Role-playing is next on the list.   We do a Drama and Movement Activity about a baby who might have mumps, or measles or even chickenpox depending on what each new visitor thinks.  The song, another silly one, is Susie Had a Baby and as it is derived from a street-game for skipping. It too has strong rhythms and a driving pulse that makes us believe the mischievous baby will soon get well.  Children can discuss having an illness that needed a visit to a doctor or nurse.

Next comes a Games and Dances Activity that once again identifies separate body parts.  It’s a favourite amongst many educators because they remember it from childhood – Dr Knickerbocker.  The whole body is engaged in large motor function for most of the game, but mindfulness occurs as different small muscles like eyes and lips are called into action.

The lesson’s concludes with a Story Song. The children can relax, rest their bodies and imagine the world evoked by the picture book.  In this instance it’s a scene in Tudor England with a Spanish princess and a hero’s escape by sea. The song is I Had a Little Nut Tree and the mood is definitely mysterious with its magical tree that bears only a nutmeg and a golden pear.  The only sensible thing to do next is to eat fruit, any “golden” coloured fruit would be suitable and then go outside and play.  Where possible I cut open a “golden pear” and share it.

You can find all of these activities and the audio tracks on our website.  Follow any of the links or go to the home page and explore My Body and other options for rich and rewarding preschool music lesson plans. Have fun!