Have you ever introduced a song or chant to your primary music students, only to have blank faces staring back at you? After teaching early childhood music for several years, I’ve found that the fastest way to instant engagement from your students. All you have to do is change one word. That’s it, really! Your Pre-K and Kindergarten students’ eyes will widen, and the blank stares will turn into eager participants!
The Magic Word
I’ll use the song “Frog in the Meadow” as an example. Sing the song for students a few times, and then ask them who else is in the meadow. They can name people, animals, objects … whatever they say, just go with it, even if it doesn’t make sense. If your students are a bit older, you can ask for animals that actually might live in a meadow.
They LOVE this because you are taking student voice into account. Not only are they participating, they have a small role when it comes to decision-making. You’re letting them know that their input is valuable. You will go from blank stares to excited children calling out all kinds of things and waiting to hear each new version of the song. This works for songs, chants, fingerplays … anything with lyrics.
What to Change
Some of the words I’ve changed are obvious, like names (Johnny had One Hammer), people (These are Grandma’s Glasses), animals (Frog in the Meadow), places (Trot on to Boston), and colors (Little White Ponies). Since you can change anything, I will change the lyrics to old songs to make them a little more current. For example, with the song “Riding Here to Get Married,” I will change “married” to “candy.” Students can then swap out the word “candy” for anything else, like “toys” or “strawberries.”
If you are teaching young 2 and 3-year-olds, they may not be ready to sing the songs with you, but they may be able to fill in the magic word! They are, however, also just as content to listen to you sing and will still benefit from the active listening.
What if I Don’t Want the Children Shouting Out?
I don’t mind when my 3 and 4-year-olds call out because the class sizes are small. I love the enthusiasm. However, if you’d like to avoid this and have them practice waiting to be called on, just go around the room. Make sure everyone has a turn, and if they are having trouble choosing a new word, give them options. “Would you like red or purple?” Most, if not all, students really look forward to sharing their chosen words. You can shorten the lyrics if needed to get to everyone, but I find it doesn’t take very long to get the whole class.
Break out the Beat Buddies!
Another way to add excitement to your songs and chants is to add beat buddies! Give each child a Beat Buddy (AKA Beanie Baby) or manipulative of your choice, like a movement scarf. Have them bounce their buddies to the beat of the song. If you are using a song like “Cobbler, Cobbler Mend My Shoe,” have them bounce their buddies on the tips of their shoes. Then, you can ask them what else the cobbler can mend. If they say, “watch,” then they will bounce their buddies on their wrists. You can let them know that cobblers mend shoes, so you’re not sure if the cobbler will be able to fix their watch. After the song is over, ask them to examine their watches to see if they are working again!
I wish I had known this a decade ago when I first started teaching Pre-K. Now that I know, I can always use this idea to extend an activity and create added joy in music class. I hope you try it out and find value in this simple tip!