Early Childhood Singing Activities

Young children thrive in a playful, relaxed, joyful environment with music activities designed to elicit exploration, cooperation, and success, says NAfME member Wendy L. Sims. “Singing is the most intimate way for children to make music and to express themselves through music.”

Here are her suggestions for developing singing skill.

Encourage chanting, rhythmic speaking, vocal exploration, and improvisation. Some children make up songs spontaneously, while others need models and planned opportunities.

  • Play question-and-answer games
  • Converse in song
  • Use poems, chants, and finger plays with strong rhythmic feeling

Allow children to develop their ability to sing at their own speed—it takes time, experience, and maturation. Never label children as poor singers or tell them not to sing with a group.

Pitch singing activities in the appropriate pitch range for young children—generally middle C or D up five notes to G or A.

Offer opportunities for children to match pitch, although accuracy is not to be expected from all.

  • Use echo games using short pitch patterns and songs requiring short repetitive reponses
  • Descending patterns may be the easiest.

Vocal Awareness and Exploration

Use vocal play to help children find their singing voices.

  • Gliding their voices from high to low like a siren.
  • Hooting like an owl.
  • Following a wavy chalk line as it rises, falls, or stays the same.

Help children develop confidence in singing alone or with a group.

  • Invite but never force them to participate.
  • Those who don’t initially participate often join in next time or sing the song at a different time and place.
  • Singing games, keeping eyes closed, or providing the voice of a puppet help timid singers participate.

Participation is important, not the level of correctness.

Traditional children’s songs, folk songs, nursery rhymes, singing games, and finger plays are most appropriate. Select songs within the children’s singing range without too many leaps or melodic contour twists and turns.

Discuss and explain song vocabulary and subjects, and avoid stereotypes by gender, ability, or anything else.

“Singing provides a direct way to experience and learn about music,” says MENC member Wendy L. Sims.

Teaching a song

Step 1—hearing the song.

A listening task will motivate children and focus their attention. For example:

  • answering a question about the lyrics
  • performing a certain movement whenever a specified word is sung
  • listening for the longest sound

Let them hear the song many times (use it for a game or vary the activities).

Step 2—teaching techniques

Teach a recurring segment of the melody to insert at the proper time, gradually teaching the rest of the song.

Echo-sing the song phrase by phrase.

  • Make sure the melodic structure of the song works this way, and use logical phrase units.
  • Make the steps small enough to ensure success. For a 4-phrase song, it’s too large a step to echo-sing each phrase and then expect the children to sing the whole song. Combine groups of two phrases or successively add two, then three, then all four phrases.

Teach the song from the end first. Teach the last phrase first, then sing from the beginning with the children filling in the ending. Successively add phrases from the end until the whole song is complete.

Instrumental accompaniment

A cappella is very appropriate.

Guitar or Autoharp are good accompanying instruments because they produce light, quiet sound and allow you to keep close proximity to the children.

Use recordings sparingly; they don’t promote independence and can’t be adjusted to match the children’s vocal range or a comfortable tempo.

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 10, 2010, © National Association for Music Education (nafme.org)