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Recently, I was appointed to the NJMEA Board of Directors as the Early Childhood Music Chair. I am very honored to be apart of the NJ Board of Directors, especially representing early childhood music, a passion close to my heart. When I was fourteen, I used to volunteer in my church’s PreK Sunday School classroom and teach Sunday School with a parent because I adored teaching younger children. When I was a music education/music performance major at Ithaca College, I knew that some day, I would be a music educator to early childhood and elementary students. Though I was concentrating on middle school instrumental programs in my degree, something inside of me knew that my calling was with younger students and helping them to achieve a great appreciation for music.
My first job was working for a PreK music program that sent me to 12 different daycares/preschools to teach their music program. It was a stepping stone job because I felt that I spent more time driving in my car from one school to another and worrying about quarterly taxes than I did enjoying teaching PreK students. However, that job moved me into my next job, PreK-3rd grade general music/5th grade instrumental/4-8 grade band educator, that I still hold today, 17 years later. One of the reasons I love my job is because I teach PreK music.
When a music educator receives notice or takes a job that involves teaching PreK music classes, and if one is not prepared for this, then a fear comes over the music educator. The music educator feels like he/she has had no training for this age group. What does the music educator do when PreK music is added to the schedule?
- Read up on literature about the learning styles of students ages 2-5. Some suggestions include:
- Music and Intelligence in the Early Years by John M. Feierabend, Ph.D (http://www.giamusic.com/music_education/feier_musicandintelligence.cfm): In this article, it supports why music needs to begin in the early ages. “What a child has heard in his first six years of life cannot be eradicated later. Thus it is too late to begin teaching at school, because a child stores a mass of musical impressions before school age, and if what is bad predominates, then his fate, as far as music is concerned, has been sealed for a lifetime.” – Zolton Kodály, 1951.
- The Importance of Music in Early Childhood by Lili M. Levinowitz, Ph.D. (http://www.musictogether.com/importanceofmusic): In this article, Dr. Levinowitz shows a variety of research that supports why music education should be included in early childhood education, from music as an important intelligence to a basic skill, to also supporting that from age zero to six, music is like a language and is developed as such. “Audiation is paramount in importance because it is basic to all types of musical thinking. Without audiation, no musical growth can take place.”
- A Conversation with Edwin Gordon by Mary Ellen Pinzino (Musicstaff.com 1998) (http://www.comechildrensing.com/pdf/other_articles_by_MEP/2_A_Conversation_with_Edwin_Gordon.pdf): Gordon speaks about how movement is important in PreK music, how he began teaching music to young children as a necessity and how it turned into a great joy, and about his musical aptitude profile (MAP).
2. Ask questions to other PreK Music Educators. You can find many of them via facebook groups (https://www.facebook.com/groups/musicpln) and (https://www.facebook.com/groups/generalmusic) or find music educators on twitter to follow and tweet about PreK music. To show an example of just one excellent post about the topic, click here to read about what curriculum should a music educator use with PreK on the Music Teachers Facebook.
3. PreK Music Curriculum: If you click on the link above, you will see what many PreK music educators list as their favorite materials.
- Some of my favorite are Feierabend’s First Steps in Music Series. I first found his materials in my Level 1 Kodály course I took at NYU and I loved them. They are made for PreK and involve finger plays, vocal explorations, movement, and more.
- Denise Gagne’s materials are also some of my four-year-olds favorites like moving to “Falling Leaves” with scarves from her Sing and Play on Special Days and singing and moving to her alphabet songs with Alphabet Action Songs. I use the latter to reinforce the musical alphabet. In addition, I must have sang “Be-Bop the Bear” so often that my oldest daughter named her “lovey” B-Bear.
- Music Together’s materials are excellent and filled with numerous songs and musical activities for young children.
- There are more. These suggestions are just a beginning. Here is where I list some on my pinterest page: http://www.pinterest.com/awillisburns/music-and-movement-class-for-prek-k-1/
4. FAQ when teaching PreK Music:
- What does a typical class look like?
- My PreK class follows a format, but it changes around depending on the class, day, etc:
- Welcome Song
- Finger plays
- Movement Activity – this could involve tempo, or levels (high, middle, low), or fine motor skills, or gross motor skills, or moving to the steady beat, or moving to dynamics changes, or moving to form, etc.
- Finger play or book – read a book that the class will move to or sing to or add instruments.
- Activity related to the finger play or book – movement with props, perform on instruments, or act out song.
- Sing a song
- Perform a chant
- Perform a group movement activity like a circle activity from Music and Movement for PreK by Steven Traugh.
- Goodbye activity
- Basically pace the activities for every 3-4 minutes and if an activity is not working well, change it to keep their attention.
- My PreK class follows a format, but it changes around depending on the class, day, etc:
- What do you do if they cry? If they have to go to the bathroom?
- It depends on what is causing the crying. If there was an altercation, then it needs to be addressed and if it can be moved through quickly, then move through it quickly and return to teaching the class. If the crying is a result of a young child being sad and missing a parent or caregiver, then try to distract the child or bring the child to you and have him/her sit next to you or give the child a special doll to hold, with the preface that this is to help the child with today’s class. If they have to go to the bathroom, do your best to distract them unless it is an emergency.
- What is a good class time for PreK?
- A PreK class time can vary due to the age, the attention span, the environment (are you teaching them in a janitor’s closet-yes, this happened to me in my first job), the time of day, and whether or not a teacher is present in the room with you (this depends on the teacher-to-student ratio for your state). I teach 3-year-olds for 20 minutes, three times during a seven-day cycle, and I teach 4-year-olds for 30 minutes, two times during a seven-day cycle, and I find these times to be a nice fit for their age groups.
- What is the best part about teaching PreK music?
- The students! They are like sponges. They absorb everything you teach them. And they will adore you if you love to teach them. They are inquisitive and wonderfully observant. If you want to be there, they know it and appreciate it. If you do not want to be there, they can assess that in the first two minutes of class. Therefore, enjoy them and teach them. They will take it all in and think that you are the biggest rock star that walked on the planet (or think that you are Cinderella, as one of the four-year-olds stated to her mom on the first day of school, “Mommy! My music teacher is fun, and sings, and dances, and is Cinderella!”
Finally, to drive home the point about the research, here is my youngest daughter at age 11 months, and 1 year and 11 months, singing to her mama. She is sung to every day and listens to her older sister sing daily throughout the day. She also has music class once a week in her 2-year-old preschool class.
I hope that this post helps you if you are about to walk into a music classroom of PreK students.
Amy M. Burns is an elementary music educator, clinician, author, and musician. She currently works at Far Hills Country Day School in Far Hills, NJ teaching PreK through Grade 3 general music, grade 5 instrumental music, and grades 4-8 instrumental band. She is the author of Technology Integration in the Elementary Music Classroom, Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with a SMART Board, and Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with One or more iPads! She is also an author for Online Learning Exchange™ Interactive Music powered by Silver Burdett. She has given numerous presentations on integrating technology into the elementary music classroom as well as being a keynote speaker for music technology conferences in Texas, Indiana, St. Maarten, and Australia. She is the recipient of the 2005 TI:ME Teacher of the Year Award, the 2016 NJ Master Music Teacher Award, the 2016 NJ Governor’s Leader in Arts Education Award, and the 2017 Non-Public School Teacher of the Year Award. You can find out more about Amy at her website: amymburns.com