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Music in the Pre-K Classroom

A Dozen Good Songs for your Pre-K

(Click on PLAYLIST below to select a particular song.)

I have chosen these eleven songs , out of at least hundred possibilities, as fun, strong, catchy songs for four year olds. I have chosen them because I think the melody is accessible for you the teacher, and the song content (and rhythm and melody) will be attractive to children most likely.

As you listen, please note the order

1. "You Sing a Song." (Ella Jenkins, whose pioneering recordings of early childhood music are still used today in classrooms across the country.) This song is a starter song, used to gather the children into the circle space, and to encourage them to use their bodies for tap, clap, click, hum; this allows the circle of singers to begin to unify in purpose and prepare for more complicated music activities.

2. "Mary Wore Red Dress." (American traditional. Source: "American Folksongs for Children" by Ruth Crawford Seeger, ) is a song to include names of children and the colors they are wearing. Best, it provides a moment of personal choice for each child.

3. "The Everyday Song" (Betsy Blachly) was created to encourage children to think about their day; the events that are consistent, both morning and night. This shape of song is easily converted into the ideas that children want to share about their day. Don't forget, a verse about 'what is not all right' can be an important one to include, if it comes up organically.

NEXT comes four active songs.

I recommend that you do these active songs in a row, as a medley, so that the children are "dancing" for ten minutes, at least. Segue (e.g. follow immediately without talking) these dances one after another. You can insert "Hokey Pokey" also. [I recommend at this point in your music time that you avoid "Ring around the Rosie" because children all want to fall down(!), and the momentum can be lost. Save it for outside, or right before lunch.]

4. "A Ram Sam Sam" (Trad. Middle Eastern) is actually a two part round, but it works as a simple two part song. The form is called AABB, which means each part is repeated two times.

First A: Clap hands loudly, as in a vertical swipe. On "Guli", guli" roll your hands, as in "wheels on the Bus." Repeat the claps for "A ram sam sam."

Second A: Repeat again.

First B: Arms up high for "Arafi, arafi." (The "Guli guli" action is what you did in the first part.)

Second B: Repeat from "Arafi."

Later, invite the kids to march to this song! March in place, not going anywhere. Then march anywhere. You will be initiating a task of regulation is to stand still for the B part and raise the arms.
How important it is to allow moments for children to stretch and breathe in and out, intentionally with joy!

5. "Walk and You Walk."(Ella Jenkins) This apparently simple song carries in it an essential element of music and dance: STOP and START. These dance moves reflect the musical elements of melody, phrasing, and beat. Have fun with the "AND YOU STOP" part; you can rush it, and smile, and make a freeze shape. The children will imitate. They learn to anticipate the recurring "Walk and you walk" with a sense of accomplishment.

Next, add movement words like "tip toe" or "jump" or "sway." Return to the "walk and you walk" as a chorus!

6. "I Let Her Go-Go." (Trad. Tobago and Trinidad) This fascinating game is perfect for four year olds; there is clapping, extending the voice, leaning forward without falling (!) and jumping and turning. All these actions are evident in the words. Stand still and just sing the song with these actions.

"Go go" clap two times. "Go go" repeat. "Gooooooo" hold hands up and lean forward, without falling down. "Go go go" jump three times and turn at the last one."

Eventually, two children can clap two hands with another child!!! (Beginning of clap games). On the "Gooooooo" (when the children become more familiar with the shape of the song) they can lean in and actually turn around each other, let go, and find another child to clap with. It is kind of "Messy" but the music is organizing, and four year olds like to clap this pattern, because the songs energy is aligned with their own.

7. "Here Comes Zodiac." (Trad. African-American) This game has many variants in many cultures. Every time I share this with teachers, I hear about another set of possible words. This version is what I have settled with for four year olds. (So use your own version, if you have one.) It takes several repeats for the children to become attached to the fun parts of this singing game.

[** the words preceded by ** contain motivations and rationales that I have developed.]

Stand in a circle, or, if a circle is too challenging, a clump.

"Here comes Zodiac" swivel your body left and right (like "the Twist")

"Step back Sally" 4 steps backwards, with that swivel.

[** Expecting that the children will count the 8 beats, or not stop before they maybe hit the wall or a bench is not recommended. Keep going! Don't focus on being exact, yet.]

"I looked down the alley" pretend to look left and right, with a hand on your brow, searching around.

"A great big man from Tennessee" Say this nice and loud, and exaggerate bigness with your arms.

[** on purpose, I do not sing the word 'Fat." If a child sings out "fat," I stop and explain that the man is BIG BIG BIG, and that fat is not a friendly word.]

"I bet you five dollars" Index finger out, shaking, and repeat with other hand.

[** I do not ask for rights and lefts form four year olds.]

To the front, etc" Jump to the front, back, side side side" (No time to be lazy, here)

"I called my doctor" pretend to have a phone, and pretend to look serious.

OoooAhhh is loud and forceful with swivel hips. Point to hip. Then to elbow. Then to shoulder. Then to head.

The last "Ooooo Ahhhhh" repeat four times, taking small steps inward.

REPEAT I recommend three times, because I have learned that some children do not even consider trying until the third time.


For a transition, try singing (in the melody of "Here comes Zodiac") "Time to sit down, sit down, sit down, time to sit down, on the rug."

At this point in music circle time, I always take this sit down time to ask children "What songs do you want to sing?"

They always mention their age old favorites: Old MacDonald, Twinkle Twinkle, Itsy Bitsy Spider, ABCD. I always grant sing these requests, out of respect for their forthrightness in naming a choice, out of recognition that the faithfulness of these songs is part of a four year olds comfort factor.

8. "This Train." (Trad. African-American) This song could be sung everyday, if you wish to embrace the myriad of variations that evolve. Bringing moments of autonomy into the discourse of your classroom is valuable for individual reasons, and for the learning about others in community. Recognizing the words of a child can be part of building independence and connections.

9. "Listen to the Water." (Bob Schneider) Like the above "This train," Bob Schneider's "Listen to the water" has myriad possibilities, not only in naming places, things and attributions about the water, or river, but also for a robust curriculum development. Substitute a verb such as "Going, " add a place your children all go to, such as the auditorium, or the farmer's market, or the playground or the museum. The children can start to tell you what they "saw" there, and you can enfold these words in the melody. VOILA, a new song for your curriculum collection, words by your children.

10. "May There Always Be Sunshine." (collected by Pete Seeger) This song, with its gentle melody and lyrics, is used by Pre-K teachers at Bank Street School for Children as a song for their Family Curriculum. Immediately inclusive and easy to join in.

11. "This Pretty Planet" (Tom Chapin/John Forster) Singing this round as a simple song can be compelling, settling and other worldly. While this is a terrific song for conversations about the planets and the environment, save these conversations for another time; focus on celebrating the singing sound.

I choose to sing it as a "Getting ready to sing goodbye" song, the second to last song. I recommend choosing a calming song to fit this purpose, and then blending it in with a "Goodbye" song. Remember that one of the key elements to the Pre-K year is about learning that goodbyes happen in so many places and time of day. Be consistent with this song, and you are instilling a sense of trust in transitions.

12. "Bye-Bye." (Betsy Blachly) Intentionally simple. Repeat as often as needed. At your discretion, you can inset names. Then use the melody to sing about what is happening next in your classroom (For example, “Now, let’s get ready, to go to snack time.) Especially written for children's voices, so be careful not to pitch it too low.