Promoting Equity, Community, and Culture among Our Youngest Musicians, Part 1

Promoting Equity, Community, and Culture among Our Youngest Musicians, Part 1: Music Engagement Connecting Research with Practice


By NAfME Members Alison M. Reynolds, PhD and Diana R. Dansereau, PhD


Jamie begins class music class with “Clap Hands, Clap Hands, ‘Til Daddy Comes Home,” one of the Kindergarteners’ favorite songs and activities:

              Clap hands, clap hands ‘til Daddy comes home,
              With buns in his pocket for baby alone.
              Clap hands, clap hands ‘til Daddy comes home,
              For Daddy has money and Mammy has none.

Jamie has noticed the children delight in singing the song, tapping each other’s hands to the beat and then throwing their arms in the air on the word ‘none.’  After singing the song a few times, Jamie next sings, “Jeremiah, Blow the Fire,” a song the children heard for the first time last week:

              Jeremiah, Blow the Fire, Puff, Puff, Puff.
              Jeremiah, Blow the Fire, Puff, Puff, Puff.
              Jeremiah, Blow the Fire, Puff, Puff, Puff.
              Jeremiah, Blow the Fire, Puff, Puff, Puff.


equity | FatCamera


Today, Jamie pulls out a box of colorful scarves and passes one to each child. The children hold the scarves like a curtain in front of their faces while singing. At the end of the song, they take a deep breath. As they blow, they release their scarves and let them float gently to the floor. Jamie segues to the next activity, using a scarf to now pantomime the words to the last song of the class, “Little Johnny Brown.” Jamie begins singing:

              Little Johnny Brown, lay your blanket down.
              Little Johnny Brown, lay your blanket down.
              Fold one corner, Johnny Brown, fold another corner,  Johnny Brown
              Fold one corner, Johnny Brown, fold another corner, Johnny Brown
              Little Johnny Brown, lay your blanket down
              Little Johnny Brown, lay your blanket down.

The children immediately recognize the activity, and begin copying Jamie. They toss their scarves into the air after each of the first two lines, then spread their scarves in front of them on the floor and fold the corners. They toss their scarves again after each of the last two lines. Jamie leads the children in repeating this activity several times, then collects the scarves and prepares the children to return to their classroom.




On several levels, the activities Jamie presented could be evaluated as successful: the children engaged in musical activity, demonstrated their singing and movement capabilities, and enjoyed the activities. Jamie likely is accustomed to selecting songs, rhymes, and activities that align with informal objectives for supporting children’s music and movement interests and skills. Apart from success with engaging in music and movement, though, what other types of success might teachers strive for?

In early childhood music classes, equity can relate to social, economic, racial, cultural, and gender constructs, among others.

Gauging success through a lens of equity may be less easily or immediately observed than music and movement engagement among children, and perhaps less familiar to teachers’ considerations while planning and presenting activities. We argue, though, that equity is of critical importance.  In early childhood music classes, equity can relate to social, economic, racial, cultural, and gender constructs, among others. At the National Association for Music Education In-Service Conference on November 13th, we will offer practical tips and activities that demonstrate responsiveness to equity, community, and culture. Here, we will focus only on gender equity when choosing and presenting repertoire and activities for early childhood music classes (i.e., classes for children from at least birth through 8 years).


When Do Children Begin to Notice Matters of Gender Equity?


Researchers have learned that children as young as 3 years identify with a particular gender (Egan & Perry, 2001) and are capable of forming gender stereotypes (Powlishta, Serbin, & Moller, 1993). Further complicating possible messages, researchers also have learned that children identify with characters of the same sex/gender in literature (Singh, 1998), and that female characters typically are underrepresented in literature. Children’s stereotypes about gender are influenced by messages they absorb from cultural materials (e.g., TV shows, songs, books) (Hamilton, Anderson, Broaddus, & Young, 2006), their parents (Leaper, 2013), teachers (Bigler, Hayes, & Hamilton, 2013), and peers (Fabes, Hayford, Pahlke, Santos, Zosuls, Martin, & Hanish, 2014).

With researchers’ findings in mind, what messages about gender might children absorb after the example lesson described above?


Possible Messages


We notice that the lyrics convey unintended gender messages, particularly in the combination of the three tunes packaged in Jamie’s lesson. While singing “Clap Hands, Clap Hands ‘til Daddy Comes Home,” a child might absorb one view on a woman’s role as mother and caregiver. A child might also assume that the woman does not (or cannot) earn her own money. From that realization, the child might detect a societal message about this woman’s worth or power within the household and beyond. Further, children who do not live with their parents, have a single parent, or same-gendered parents might absorb messages that contrast their personal, lived experiences. In the case of this song, for example, children with same-gendered parents may feel disconnected from the heteronormative message in the lyrics—even as they outwardly engage in the activities with their peers.


working mother | monkeybusinessimages


Finally, we notice that the lyrics of those three songs emphasize one gender over another. If we apply what we have learned from researchers to the lyrics of the three example songs, the following questions emerge:

  1. With which character in these songs could a child identifying as female associate?
  2. With which character might a child identifying as male associate?
  3. Which gender orientations might these song selections exclude?
  4. How might song selection and balance ensure equity regarding matters of gender?

How can we as educators be more critical and careful about the messages our selected repertoire, activities, pedagogical approaches, and curricula may send to children regarding gender as well as other dimensions of equity?

Finally, we ask this question: How can we as educators be more critical and careful about the messages our selected repertoire, activities, pedagogical approaches, and curricula may send to children regarding gender as well as other dimensions of equity? And, what are effective ways for intentionally transitioning from the role of single decision-maker who selects or modifies song content for children to facilitator alongside them to select, analyze, and modify content?


gender equity | kali9


In our session in November, please join us for hands-on unpacking and reassembling of active music engagement activities to achieve possible increases for inclusion and equity. We will offer suggestions for using documentation of music engagement with children that provide springboards for co-reflection, discussion, and action. By considering issues of equity, community and culture, and including children in the decision-making processes during early childhood years, music teachers lay the foundation for creating an inclusive community of learners, and supporting children’s agency in their music learning and enjoyment.

Read Part Two in this series.



Bigler, R., Hayes, A. R., & Hamilton, V. (2013). The role of schools in the early socialization of gender difference. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development.

Leaper, C. (2013). Parents’ socialization of gender in children. Gender: Early socialization, 6.

Egan, S. K., & Perry, D. G. (2001). Gender identity: A multidimensional analysis with implications for psychosocial adjustment. Developmental Psychology, 37(4), 451-463. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.37.4.451

Fabes, R. A., Hayford, S., Pahlke, E., Santos, C., Zosuls, K., Martin, C. L., & Hanish, L. D. (2014). Peer influences on gender differences in educational aspiration and attainment. In I. Schoon & J.S. Eccles (Eds.), Gender differences in aspirations and attainment: A life course perspective (pp. 29-52). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Hamilton, M., Anderson, D., Broaddus, M., & Young, K. (2006). Gender stereotyping and under-representation of female characters in 200 popular children’s picture books: A twenty-first century update. Sex Roles, 55(11-12), 757-765. doi: 10.1007/s11199-006-9128-6

Powlishta, K. K., Serbin, L. A., & Moller, L. C. (1993). The stability of individual differences in gender typing: Implications for understanding gender segregation. Sex Roles, 29(11-12), 723.

Singh, M. (1998). Gender issues in children’s literature. ERIC Digest. Retrieved from ERIC database. (ED424591)


About the authors:

college professor

NAfME member Dr. Alison M. Reynolds is Associate Professor of Music Education in the Boyer College of Music and Dance at Temple University. She focuses her research and teaching interests on expressive and creative music development, early childhood and general music teacher preparation, and developing curriculum materials for children 12 years old and younger.

Dr. Reynolds has been published in Journal of Research in Music Education, Bulletin for the Council of Research in Music Education, Arts Education Policy Review, Research Studies in Music Education, Journal of Music Teacher Education, Journal of Historical Research in Music Education, Perspectives, and several state music educators’ journals. She is in her second term of service on the review board for Bulletin of the Council of Research in Music Education, and recently joined the He Kupu (the word) review board. She is co-author of Jump Right In: The Music Curriculum (Revised Edition) and Music Play, which has been translated to Korean, Lithuanian, and Chinese. She is a frequent presenter of research and practice in international, national, regional, state, and local venues.

At Temple, Dr. Reynolds guides undergraduates in the Music Learning and Development course, and has served as mentor for Diamond Peer Teachers, Diamond Research Scholars, and Creative Arts and Research and Scholarship award recipients. At the graduate level, she has taught Introduction to Research in Music Education, Learning Theory in Music, From Research to Practice in 21st Century Music Education, and Qualitative Research. She guides graduate students’ extended practice in Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade music settings and higher education; collaborates with them on research and practical projects; and offers guidance on independent study and research projects, theses, dissertations, and preparation for music teacher education.

Dr. Reynolds serves as academic advisor to undergraduate and graduate students. She is serving as Past Chair of the National Association for Music Education’s Early Childhood Music Special Research Interest Group, and currently serves as Research Chair and a member of the Strategic Planning Committee for Pennsylvania Music Educators Association. Since 2011, she has been in partnership with Project P.L.A.Y. School in Elkins Park, PA, collaborating with its directors, Temple music education students, and children as they co-construct music and research.

Alison M. Reynolds, PhD
Presser Center for Research and Creativity in Music
Boyer College of Music and Dance
Temple University


gender equity

NAfME member Dr. Diana R. Dansereau is Assistant Professor of Music Education at Boston University. She is Chair of the National Association for Music Education’s Early Childhood Music Special Research Interest Group, Vice President of the Early Childhood Music & Movement Association, and Editorial Chair for Perspectives: Journal of the Early Childhood Music & Movement Association. She is a contributing author to the book Learning from Young Children: Research in Early Childhood Music and has been published in Psychology of Music, Journal of Research in Music Education, The Music Educators Journal, and Perspectives: Journal of the Early Childhood Music & Movement Association.

Dr. Dansereau is dedicated to enriching the musical lives of young children. She demonstrates this by researching music learning in early childhood; implementing innovative musical experiences in early childhood and elementary settings; working with pre- and in-service music teachers to critically analyze research and practice; serving professional organizations whose missions pertain to advancing children’s music learning; and evaluating arts organizations’ and schools’ music programs for children.

She was an instructor at Georgia State University, held teaching assistantships at Georgia State and Penn State, and served as Assistant Director of Education & Outreach for the Pittsburgh Symphony. She taught elementary general and instrumental music in Rochester, NY, early childhood music in Georgia and Pennsylvania, and was the Early Childhood Music Specialist for the Lincoln School in Providence, RI. She currently teaches music to infants and toddlers as part of Soundplay – a program she co-founded at the Rhode Island Philharmonic Music School.

Dr. Dansereau is on the Board of Directors of Community Music Works and is a member of the Research and Music Teacher Education Council of the Massachusetts Music Educators Association. She has consulted for various educational institutions and arts organizations including Orchestras Canada, the Cathedral Choral Society, and the Moses Brown School. She collaborated with the League of American Orchestras and Georgia State University’s Center for Educational Partnerships in Music (CEPM) to coauthor an evaluation of the Ford Made in America program, and evaluated and coauthored reports on the Bank of America Awards for Excellence in Orchestra Education 2006 and 2007 honorees. She also has worked with CEPM’s Sound Learning program, Creating Pride partnership, and Laboratory Learning School Network of the Music-in-Education National Consortium.

Diana R. Dansereau, PhD
College of Fine Arts
Boston University


Alison Reynolds and Diana Dansereau presented on their topic, “Promoting Equity, Community, and Culture Among Our Youngest Musicians: Music Engagement Connecting Research with Practice,” at the 2017 NAfME National Conference last November in Dallas, TX. Register today for the 2018 NAfME National Conference!


Did this blog spur new ideas for your music program? Share them on Amplify! Interested in reprinting this article? Please review the reprint guidelines.

The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

Catherina Hurlburt, Marketing Communications Manager, July 17, 2017. © National Association for Music Education (