Saturday, September 27, 2014

Kindergarten Magic: Make-Believe in the Music Room

I remember my first day having a classroom of Kindergarteners all to myself. We sang! We danced! We moved to the music! We read a story! We got out the instruments and played! And then I looked at the clock and only 15 minutes had gone by!! Wow!!!

It really was like herding cats that first year - playing game after game, singing song after song and not really diving deeply into anything.

Over ten years later, my Kindergarten classes look completely different (post-Kodaly of course!) but there is still that electric energy at the beginning of the year. Now, I love teaching Kinders and hopefully they love being in my class!

Getting the Year Started Out Right

For most of the first grading period, we are learning new repertoire, practicing procedures and developing relationships with each other! 

We have to learn how/when to go to the bathroom, how to get out/put away the instruments, how to raise our hands before asking a question or telling a story. Practice this phrase: "Tell me later."

And that's when most music teachers (myself included) go over types of voices to get the year started right. Then it's off to the races and we run through the concepts like there's no tomorrow! Loud/Soft! Steady beat! High/Low! Fast/Slow! Rhythm/Beat! 

And all the while interweaving topics like: Instrument Families! Music from around the world! Listening! Classroom Instruments! Patterns! Audience Behavior! Not picking your nose! 

What makes it all work together like magic? 

Entering the room

From the minute the step into my class, we pretend. We take a train ride to music land by marching to "Engine, Engine" as we enter the room and our train makes a circle. It works only as well as you buy into it. 

Before they enter my room on the very first day of school, I meet them in the hall and say, "We're going to stay in line and make a big circle in the room. Everyone put your arms like this. Stay in line and follow me!" 

As we enter the room, I say, "Stay on the train!" and "Can you make this sound?" as I ch-ch-ch and march into the room at a pretty fast clip. (arms in "marching" position of course!)

When we've made a circle-ish shape, I say, "Freeze! Who froze?" and look around for movers. Then I say, "Go!" and ch-ch-ch some more. We freeze/go 4-5 times before I say, "Now like this" and slow the tempo down to a comfortable tempo for Engine, Engine

Eventually, they will sing with me, but on the first day of school, I let them make 4 slow "chh" sounds and then I begin singing Engine, Engine to our beat. Some will continue to make the "chh" sounds (part-work!) and some will just listen. Either is fine with me.

Pro-Tip: As we go through the year, the marching turns to stomping, so I like to say, "Oh, I just love how you are lifting your knees!" - it really helps turn it into a nice march plus it helps keep it on the beat.

Solo Singing / Singing Voice: 

A million years ago when I was teaching band and elementary music (K-12 baby!), I heard a TMEA presenter speak about having a puppet or stuffed animal for the kids to sing to. Even the shy kids would sing to a puppet, or make the puppet sing. It worked so well that I still do this!

Meet Melody! She loves to sing so she hangs out in the music room all day singing with the boys and girls. Occasionally she goes on vacation and comes back with shades or a cute new ribbon. Just enough to freshen it up.

We read a story about elephants...

{You could choose any elephant book you like, but this is one I grew up with so it has a special place in my heart. :-) It also has a nice demonstration of "calling" or "shouting" voice.}

...and sing Melody's favorite song, Elephants Have Wrinkles from Movement Songs Children Love - you could also use another elephant song like "Elephants All Over the World." 
And then get down to business!

I say, "Melody will do whatever you ask her, if you use your singing voice. Like this. Melody, do a flip! (I toss her high in the air) Melody, give me a hug! (hugs) Melody, do a cartwheel! (spoken voice) Oh no! Why won't Melody do a cartwheel?!" 

One kid will always speak up and say, "You didn't use your singing voice!" 

Then we take turns around the room (volunteers, not everyone) and they get a chance to make Melody do whatever they want: spray them with water, jump on my head, blow me a kiss, turn off the lights. They come up with the best ideas!

And if they don't use their singing voice, Melody doesn't do it. I usually prompt and say, "Oh! Can you use your singing voice?" If they try again and can't, I simply say, "Sing it with me," and then Melody will act. 

Thanks Denise Gagne for this sweet activity I've held onto over the years!

Inner Hearing:

I used to have a huge parrot puppet with a gigantic mouth. It was perfect for practicing inner hearing. "Whenever Sam's mouth is open he sings for all to hear, but when his mouth is closed up tight, he's using his inner ear." 

Now I have a sweet puppy dog puppet that does the same thing. He helps the boys and girls know when to sing inside their heads. What do you use for inner hearing?

Transitions & Repetition:

Make-believe is PERFECT for creating smooth transitions in your Kindergarten lessons. I can be in the middle of a sentence and I stop and look at Melody (the elephant) and say, "What? You want to go see your friend Dog E. Dog?" And off we go singing Doggie, Doggie.

Or I say, "Last week Pup E. Dog was at Old MacDonald's farm and something was buzzing. It sounded like this: Bzzzzz! Does anyone know what could make a sound like that?"
Lamar Robertson shared tons of stories in our Kodaly training - he had a story for every song! He loved to tell a story that had the kids singing a song over and over again. 

One of my favorite "repeat" stories is for Doggie, Doggie. I tell my students that Dog E. Dog is looking for his bone. I walk around the room and sing-ask each of the stuffed animals or imaginary people about his bone that is missing. Eventually he goes to the "music room" & there it is - right where he left it last week!
The most important thing is that you are engaging their hearts with a story that they can latch onto, instead of jumping from song to song. I polished the phrase: "Now, let's sing __" for YEARS until I figured out it was more fun with a story. 

Tips for Make-Believe Success

1. Just go with it! It's all about the improv in the Kindergarten classroom. Whatever the kids say, take it and incorporate it into your lesson. If they're talking too much, I look at one of the stuffed animals and say, "What?! You want to give them a star but you can't give them one until they're quiet?"

Bonus: Check out my popular post on positive behavior management here!

2. Keep it going! Next week is week 6 at my school and I have a student who has said in every class, "Shh! Don't scream! It hurts Melody's big ears!" I said that the first day to help with random screaming that tends to happen when Kinders get excited - and now I don't have to say anything! Plus I have older kids who still ask about Melody and how she's doing.

3. Keep it simple! Don't try to do it all in one day. Start small and simple and just get the creative juices flowing. Before long, you'll be adding in little make-believe bits without even thinking. 

Need some Kindergarten resources for your classroom? Check out these products at my store on Teachers Pay Teachers. Follow me on Facebook for more ideas and to hear about new products first!

How do you use "make-believe" in your classroom? Follow me on Pinterest to see more ideas!


  1. Yes. Just yes! This is how I approach Kindergarten too and favorite class to teach! I love their enthusiasm and that they think my jokes are funny. :-) Fifth graders don't always laugh at my jokes or want to play pretend. *giggle*
    Great article!

    1. Thanks Mrs. King! It's so much fun to teach! Their hearts are so precious at that age. :-)

  2. Great blog post! I just wrote a blog post about Kindergarten and referenced this one. :)

  3. Love these ideas! I bought a bunch of puppets this year to use with my kindergarten classes- can't wait! :) Thanks for sharing. #fermatafridays

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