Early Childhood Movement Activities

“Movement helps children learn about music, and music can help children learn about new ways to move,” says NAfME member Wendy L. Sims.

Music and movement activities serve several goals:

  • Developing freedom and confidence in creative and expressive movement,
  • Developing concepts about the body in relation to space,
  • Exploring concepts related to rhythm,
  • Providing a nonverbal way to respond to the expressive characteristics of music,
  • Providing an opportunity to practice following directions, develop coordination, and enhance social skills.

Give students lots of opportunities to experiment with moving their body parts in various ways.

Use songs that suggest action, such as “Stamping Land,” and change stamping to walking, jumping, sliding, etc. Solicit suggestions for new movements.

Ask children to lead movement games after they’ve experienced inserting movements into songs. This helps develop creativity and confidence in movement and self-esteem as a leader. Help the child find acceptable alternatives for impractical movement (e.g., somersaults).

Use dramatic activities, singing games, and finger plays. To dramatize “Riding in a Buggy Miss Mary Jane,” children can pantomime holding the buggy reins and progress to riding a motorcycle, flying an airplane, rowing a boat, or whatever they suggest.

Free Movement

Inspire creative movement by asking children to move the way a piece of music makes them feel like moving. Use music from many different styles during the course of the school year.

Start with more structured activities, such as music with a specific story line or meaning.

Plan carefully and prepare the children step by step to avoid management problems.

  • Establish “when the music stops, we stop” at the beginning. This allows the music to set the structure and provides a clear cue.
  • Start with children in a seated position, then progress to moving while standing in place. Walking, jogging, or tiptoeing in place may be a new concept for many children.
  • Allow children to move about the room when they show they can respond to the starting and stopping cues.
  • Start with small groups in preparation for large-group activities.
  • Use imagery to help children maintain self-control (e.g., “no traffic jams” and “no bumps or crashes”).

Body movement is a natural way to introduce concepts about rhythm. Model and lead activities with motions using a steady beat or rhythm patterns.

Mixed Age Groups

Younger and older children move differently. “Three year-olds are more likely to choose familiar, small, stationary movements, such as clapping or nodding, while five-year-olds typically are more interested in exploring large, locomotor actions like jumping jacks or turning around,” says Sims. Provide opportunities for various types of movement and suggest alternatives.


Children’s responses and suggestions should be valued.

Participation should never be forced. Children who don’t participate will need to stay out of the way for safety, but don’t ostracize them. Let them know they’re welcome to join in when they’re ready.

Adapted from “Guidelines for Music Activities and Instruction,” by Wendy L. Sims, Music in Prekindergarten: Planning & Teaching.

Wendy L. Sims is director of music education at the University of Missouri—Columbia. She is the editor of the Journal of Research in Music Education.

—Linda C. Brown, November 17, 2010, © National Association for Music Education (nafme.org)