I teach ages 2 – 6 in a small school and have multiple sections of 2-year olds, 3-year-olds, Pre-K, and Kindergarten. I have taught grades Pre-K – 8th, and although I miss my older students, teaching early childhood is pure joy for me. After creating my own lessons from scratch for 2 years, I took a First Steps in Music course taught online by Dr. Missy Strong (highly recommend). The Pre-K curriculum is a breeze to implement, but the 2 and 3-year-old classes are a bit tricky because the original infant/toddler curriculum is designed for one-on-one use with parents.
How to Adapt the Purple Book for a School Setting.
The First Steps in Music infant/toddler curriculum comes in the purple book, as Dr. Strong calls it. I’m going to go over how I adapt the activities for use in a school setting. It takes tweaking because there is only 1 of me and about a dozen tots. At this age, you will certainly have another adult in the room, but I’m able to develop enough of a routine to where their classroom teachers and assistants can relax for a bit. To create a better flow, I do the First Steps activities in a different order than in the textbook.
I start with the wiggle activities. Children wiggle their own fingers as I chant the rhymes. Out of all the activities, I find that students are able to learn wiggles and tickles the fastest. They usually rhyme and students can fill in the rhyming words after a few sessions. The 2-year-olds may not be wiggling all five fingers even at the end of the year, but that’s ok. I always start by saying “wiggle your thumb!” As long as they wiggle something, I’m happy.
Next, I move on to Tickles. Parents tickle their children at the end of the tickle rhymes, but I’m not going to tickle the children, obvs. This is where Lynn Kleiner’s huge gathering drum comes in. This puppy costs $1K, so if you have a smaller gathering drum, you could have the kids play in groups, or have multiple drums going. You may have to get creative with instrumentation here.
Below is an example of how I transferred the tickle rhyme, “A Little Flea Went Walking” onto the drum. Afterward, I roll the drum away.
If there are two tapping/clapping songs, sometimes I’ll only do one because the kids do a lot of tapping to the beat with my modifications. I also tend to stick this section wherever I want. Sometimes I save it for the end to make sure I get the other areas first. Instead of the parent tapping the child, I just have the child tap their bodies, stamp their feet, etc. These are easy to adapt. If given the option, students are excited about telling me where they would like to keep the beat next. I either ask them “where else can we tap?” or “how else can we keep the beat?”
Next up, Bounces. I won’t be bouncing any children on my lap so this is where Beat Buddies (AKA Beanie Babies) come in. I call them “babies” (for reasons that will become clear later) and toss “babies” to the children while saying “catch your baby!” The kids love bouncing their stuffies to the bounce songs and chants. They especially love telling me where they’d like to bounce them (head, toes, knees, etc). I try to cross the midline by bouncing the babies from one knee to another for at least one repetition of the rhyme. Since these songs are old as dirt, I freely change the words. For example, with the song, “Riding Here to Get Married,” I ask the kids what we are going to buy at the store. If they say chicky nuggies, the song is now “Riding Here to Get Nuggies” and we bounce our babies on the floor (or wherever) to travel to the store.
Since we have the babies in our hands, I do lullabies next. This is a big hit with the kids and they look forward to it every lesson. To save my voice, I will play a recorded version of the lullaby. I teach about 6 classes back-to-back per day and if I can reserve my voice for a section or two, I will. Students rock their babies to the song and then they gently place their babies in the basket for me to collect. Next, the speaker rolls right into the song, “Sleeping Bunnies” by the Kiboomers, and all the children “sleep” on the floor. They LOVE this. I flip off the lights and when the alarm goes off, I turn them back on. While they are sleeping, I have time to tidy up and sanitize instruments.
For simple songs, I have them listen to me sing the song while they keep the beat. Then, as a way to dismiss the children, I have them each strum the chords of the simple song on my ukulele with one finger and then line up at the door. I sing to the beat of the students’ strum. I also do this with Pre-K and Kindergarten. It’s a perfect way to have them get in line to walk back to their classrooms.
Beat Motions with Recordings
Where are the Beat Motions with Recordings? I stick these at the beginning of the class as an entrance activity while they come in from the hall, or at the end, before the ukulele dismissal. Sometimes, I set out hula hoops with various classroom instruments while they play to the beat as an easy entrance activity. Their teachers love this and usually snap pics for the parent portal during this section. It’s wild to see how proficient they become with the instruments after a few months.
If this is your first year using First Steps and you are using both the purple book for tots and the green book for Pre-K and up, do not start with lesson 1 for both groups at the same time. Stagger them a little by using another lesson plan to start off one of the groups. This is helpful because every 12 weeks, you will be teaching all-new songs and you do not one to learn all new songs in the same week for both levels!
Be flexible with the order of activities and put your own twist on things. I like to incorporate books and the kids seem captivated by them. I usually have extra time in class so I like to add a little something super engaging every week.
Any time there is eating or drinking at the end of a rhyme or song, have them eat their imaginary food, or sip their imaginary drink. I don’t know why but this can be all it takes from them to go from bored to excited about a rhyme.
Tilt the gathering drum and use it as a slide for the “babies.” They can say “wee!” with their voices going downward as their babies slide down.
It took me a bit of time to figure out how I would adapt the lessons so I hope this was helpful. If you are looking for more early childhood ideas, follow me on Instagram (and everywhere) @SillyOMusic where I share activities that I use at school. You can also find my EC TpT resources here!