Staying in Tune: Music in the Preschool Classroom


Lyra Repplinger, MS
Preschool teacher,  
Colorado Oral-Deaf Preschool

Many people may envision music time in preschool as a designated 15-20 minutes of experimenting with instruments, playing a CD in a boom box, and singing songs as a group. At the Colorado Oral-Deaf Preschool, we believe that music cannot and should not be contained into one section of a child’s day. Music time can be all the time!

When the Colorado Oral-Deaf Preschool opened its doors in June 2011, I was the lucky individual who was given the great responsibility to create a language rich environment for our toddler and preschool students. Our goal is to give children with hearing loss a fun place where their listening and spoken language skills can cultivate. Songs and fingerplays do just that…they open a world of language fun for the students, for the parents, and for me.

The school, located in the Metro Denver area, is a language haven. As the teacher of the deaf, I am constantly using spoken language to describe the environment in the room and the activity we are doing. The classrooms have beautiful acoustics and the children use their hearing aids and cochlear implants to listen to my language modeling. I have discovered that nothing tunes them into listening more than hearing a familiar melody. New listeners need to be motivated to attend to environmental and speech sounds in the classroom. Music in the form of songs and fingerplays is a great motivator for listening. When children hear me start singing a familiar tune, they look right at me and I know I have their attention. Music is used throughout the day in our classroom, but there are three specific times when we use songs and fingerplays that I define as invaluable language learning moments: in Circle Time, during transitions, and when learning new vocabulary.

 Music in Circle Time

Our class starts the day with Circle Time with our toddlers and parents. At first, many parents are skeptical that their active two year old will participate in anything that requires sitting still, but music is an enticing invitation. We start by singing a Good Morning Song followed by a few fingerplays. I found that singing familiar songs like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star can be even more enjoyable if the children are holding something while they sing. In our class, each child gets a shiny star on a popsicle stick. Manipulatives not only motivate a child to participate, but also gives them a visual reminder of the song or rhyme. We have fingerplays about cars, apples and birds and a matching popsicle stick to go with each of  them. There are always enough manipulatives for each child and their parents, so everyone can participate.

 Music During Transition

Working with toddlers and preschoolers means that we are constantly changing activities to keep them interested, engaged and learning. Many of our activities last for about ten minutes. When we are ready to do something different, we sing a cleanup song to cue the children that we are moving on to another activity. For me as a teacher, singing a cleanup song or chanting a rhyme about joining story time makes it more inviting to the students, and helps them to become familiar with the routine. It is more fun for me to invite them versus feeling like I am barking out commands about what we are going to do next. How you say something is just as important is what you say, and this is especially true in our classroom. Using songs is a more auditorily pleasing way for the kids to learn and get excited about the next thing we are going to do.

Music Introducing New Vocabulary words

One of the keys to teaching new words to new listeners is repetition. A child needs plenty of exposure to a new word in order for it to become meaningful and before they can say it spontaneously and use it as a label. Creating special songs for thematic units allows me to introduce vocabulary words in a fun way. We recently had a transportation unit in the toddler classroom and I was able to incorporate new words such as dumptruck, motorcycle and jeep because of the songs that we were singing about them.

If there isn’t a sing available for a certain words or concepts I want to teach, I find myself just making them up. The best part about new listeners is that less is more. The songs that I create don’t have to be too wordy and elaborate. I just pick out a familiar and fun tune and I use words that I want them to learn and that they can easily repeat.

For our transportation unit, I couldn’t find a song about dumptrucks, but the kids loved playing with this toy in the classroom. I created a quick song using the tune for Darling Clementine.

“I’m a dumptruck. I’m a dumptruck. I’m a dumptruck on the road.

I am driving very slowly then I dump my heavy load.”

By the end of the day, the kids were making great attempts at saying “dumptruck”  while we were singing.

 Music in the Home

It only took a couple of sessions before I had parents telling me that their son or daughter was singing the clean-up song at home. One mom told me that her son started creating his own version of Eric Carle’s Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See?  When they were waiting at a stop light her son started chanting, “Red light red light what do you see? I see a yellow light looking at me.”  It’s so exciting to hear the stories of how language in the classroom carries over into a child’s everyday life; it is literally music to my ears!

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