Music and Movement

5.1 Music 

When children develop an awareness and knowledge of musical elements, children progress in their understanding and ability to control the elements for personal musical expression. Although early childhood music education is primarily about introducing the child to musical sounds and holistic experiences that are of the highest quality, enriched learning occurs when the child understands and ability to manipulate the music elements of rhythm, melody, form, loudness/softness, tempo, timbre, articulation, and style.

Educators can support music with the following:

  • Find ways to expose children to music being conducted and performed.
  • Provide music areas where children can experience instruments or musical activities as individuals or in a small group.
  • Set up a “Science of Sound” area where children can explore and experiment with building sounds.
  • Provide a conductor’s listening and play area.
  • Make instruments with the children.
  • Incorporate chant games and songs related to sound production.
  • Include a variety of songs that related to a particular topic area.
  • Use songs that have movements or gestures that accompany the words.
  • Provide children with an opportunity to conduct the group by singing or playing instruments.
  • Dramatize poetry and nursery rhymes as a fun way to explore and develop vocal inflection and pitch capabilities in the young singer.
  • Invite young children to move through instrumental program music, or music that “tells a story.”
  • Invite local professional musicians or family members to demonstrate and talk about their instruments and the sounds made.
  • Invite live musicians for the children to conduct; encourage the child conductor to stop and start, go faster and slower, and give arm gestures for louder and softer sounds.
  • Incorporate books related to music. Include storybooks on conductors and orchestras.
  • Encourage children to create simple rhythm patterns.
  • Extend learning about different ways to lead a music group.
  • Incorporate freeze-and-move games as a fun, simple way to help children develop control of the body in space and to learn and practice fundamental locomotor movements.
  • Provide opportunities for independent and group play through musical play kits, which can be stored in a music area.
  • Incorporate the use of websites of children’s music and other age-appropriate software (if available), to engage children’s interest in sound
  • Encourage children to be playful and spontaneous when singing—they often sing made-up songs as they play alone or with other children.
  • Minimize the use of recorded music when the goal is singing.
  • Have the children draw pictures of songs.
Table 5.1 Suggested Materials for Music

Type of Materials 

Examples of Materials 

Found or Recycled Materials  
Pots, pans, metal or plastic cans, spoons, chopstick-beaters with cork stoppers for rhythm Glass jars filled with various levels of water for a water xylophone Pieces of 12” dowel for rhythm sticks; shakers made of plastic eggs filled with varied materials. 


Rhythm sets with shakers and simple drums Singable books; glove puppets for nursery rhyme songs; song maps made of paper or fabric; selection of CDs, CD player, and headset for personal listening, use of streamed music.  


Single-note resonator bells; child-sized xylophones; multiple-sized hand drums; ethnic instruments; child- sized guitar or ukulele; small electronic keyboard; recorder/flute; music software; music videos; songbooks. 
Natural Environment  


Rhythm blocks made of small tree limbs; homemade wooden or stone xylophones suspended on a garden hose; wind chimes made of natural objects. 
Adaptive Materials  


Thicker handles on some materials; instruments in a fixed position, such as a drum on a stand. For children with reduced hearing ability, instruments that resonate and vibrate allow for touching or holding.  
young child playing on a xylophone and drum
Figure 1: Music Experiences for Infants (Image by thedanw from Pixabay)

Indegenous Perspectives

Indigenous children during a powwow
Figure 2: Powwow (Govisible Galleries)

Indigenous nations have a love of music and danceCeremonial songs are sacred and connected with specific events such as maple syrup, strawberry, and bean seasons. Social songs can be used at any time and are for the enjoyment of the people. Babies and children participate with their families in both drumming and dancing. They learn the steps through observation. 

5.2 Movement

Dance and movement are an inherent part of life and are as natural as breathing. Dance is an elemental human experience and a means of expression. It begins before words are formed, and it is innate in children before they use language to communicate. It is a means of self-expression and can take on endless forms. Movement is a natural human response when thoughts or emotions are too overwhelming or cannot be expressed in words.

Educators can support movement with the following:

  • Help children to become enthusiastic participants in learning dance.
  • Warm-up! Even though preschool bodies are much more resilient than adult bodies, they should still be gradually prepared for any vigorous activities.
  • Use play with games that require dance movements and cooperation.
  • Be aware of cultural norms that may influence children’s participation.
  • Create environments and routines conducive to movement experiences.
  • Consider the space, music, costumes, and props you provide.
  • Establish spatial boundaries to ensure children have personal space when engaging in movement and dancing.
  • Use children’s prior knowledge.
  • Structure learning activities so children are active participants.
  • Introduce the learning of a dance skill by using imagery.
  • Draw on children’s interests in dance-making.
  • Plan movement activities appropriate for various developmental stages and skill levels.
  • Incorporate dances that can be performed without moving the entire body.
  • Encourage variety in children’s movement.
  • Teach rhythm using traditional movement games.
  • Use the “echo” as a helpful rhythm exercise.
  • Use dance to communicate feelings.
  • Use movement to introduce and reinforce concepts from other domains.
  • Provide opportunities for unplanned, spontaneous dancing.

Indigenous Perspective

Haudenosaunee dancers move in a counterclockwise (to the left) direction to acknowledge life and the original dance of Skywoman when Turtle Island was created. It is understood that the direction Skywoman danced is why the earth rotates as it doesWhen the Haudenosaunee dance in the opposite direction, or clockwise, their focus moves from honouring life to honouring death. Children would learn this early in life as they dance with their family members at ceremony or socials. 

Table 5.2 Suggested Materials for Movement 

Type of Materials 

Examples of Materials 

Found or Recycled Materials  
Boxes, wheels, chairs, hula hoops, balloons, umbrellas, scarves, and other found objects can be used for choreographic variety. Costumes can be assembled from fabrics or donated by families or the community.  
Open rug space; outdoor environment with defined dance space. 
Piano, drums, maracas, tambourines, claves, triangles, cymbals, woodblocks, or music system A local dance troupe may donate children’s costumes that are no longer used in productions.  
Natural Environment  
palm leaves, feathers, sand, water, and sticks can be used in movement activities.  
Adaptive Materials  
If a child has a prosthesis, he or she can decide whether to dance with it on or off. If a child uses a wheelchair, props can be useful to extend what the body can do; a few possibilities are balloons tied to a stick, crepe paper streamers, and scarves.  
cartoon image of children dancing
Figure 3: The joy of movement (Image by Christian Dorn from Pixabay)

5.3 Musicality and Creativity 

This section will outline some of the characteristics and key elements of music and play, including a discussion of the innateness of musical creativity and suggestions for encouraging creativity.There is little research on children’s musical play or creativity, making it difficult to draw any large conclusions on the topic. What research exists on musical play is based on behaviors from two broad categories of data: 1) observations of younger children’s spontaneous musical behaviors in daycare or educational settings designed by adults, or 2) observations of older children in educational settings or outdoors (Marsh and Young, 2006). With a few exceptions, children were not taken seriously as the main subjects or creative agents in studies of musical cultures until Patricia Shehan Campbell’s book Songs in their Heads (2005). Campbell, a noted music educator and ethnomusicologist, acknowledged, “Up until a decade ago, the music culture (or cultures) of children had been largely overlooked and under-researched by ethnomusicologists, and had rarely been studied ethnographically by educators” (2005, p. 17-18). The capacity to make music is present in all humans, “and that musicality is as universal as linguistic ability” (Hallam, 2006, p. 104). Each child is born with different strengths and abilities, including diverse types of creative thinking.

What is creativity? Can musical creativity be taught? Are only brilliant people creative? One of the foundational questions regarding any talent or ability is whether it is innate or learned—in other words, are we born musical, or can musicality and creativity be taught? Recent research into creativity has begun to answer some of these questions.As it turns out, creative thinkers do not need to have a high IQ. According to neuroscientists, what makes a creative thinker is the high activity in the association cortices sections of the brain—responsible for making new connections and for “eureka” moments. The more associations, connections, memories, or meanings an individual can make, the more creative the individual (Andreasen, 2006). Measuring creativity often utilizes tasks that reveal divergent thinking versus convergent thinking. A divergent thinker can produce many different answers to a question, while a convergent thinker will produce the one correct answer to a problem. One example might be to think of as many ways as possible to play a musical instrument. There is, of course, one standardized way to play an instrument (convergent thinking), but any instrument can be struck, plucked, banged, or shaken to produce many, many distinct types of sounds.

Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences 

Another take on creativity and intelligence involves Howard Gardner’s Multiple Theories of Intelligence, which posits that intelligences are complex in that they are influenced by a combination of factors such as environment and biology, and that they are educable, capable of being educated or taught (Gardner, 1999). In other words, variations in opportunities and experiences can affect a child’s skill-building and therefore impact their intelligences.

Table 5.3 Learning Styles and Approaches

Types of Learners 

How They Learn 

Learn by seeing (graphs, maps, pictures) 
Learn by hearing (oral instructions, music) 
Learn by touching (hands-on activities) 

Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1999) is one of the most significant educational influences of the 20th century and even today. He developed the theory to distinguish between different “modes” of intelligences rather than thinking of intelligence as one unified ability.

Understanding these distinctions can help to guide educators in addressing the different learning needs of children.

Gardner understood that children are innately musical, and that creativity can be nurtured and taught using music as a means of expression not only helps develop the child psychologically and internally as a whole human being, but any musical expression also develops a sense of community and group cohesion.

Musical intelligence is the capacity to discern pitch, rhythm, timbre, and tone. This intelligence enables us to recognize, create, reproduce, and reflect on music, as demonstrated by composers, conductors, musicians, vocalists, and sensitive listeners. Interestingly, there is often an affective connection between music and the emotions, and musical intelligence may share common thinking processes with mathematical intelligence. Young adults with this kind of intelligence are usually singing or drumming to themselves. They are usually quite aware of sounds others may miss. (Campbell, 2008, p. 3)

Encouraging Musical Creativity

As educators, we can facilitate music making with children and encourage them to explore their musical selves, including their originality, intelligence, and musical capacity. A study by Koutsoupidou and Hargreaves (2009), found that improvisation had significant effects on the development of children’s creative musical thinking and that musical originality—the way the child manipulates musical sounds in a unique fashion—increased along with the child’s musical flexibility. One of their significant findings reiterates the common-sense idea that “encouraging children to be creative in the classroom can promote creativity while preventing them from engaging in creative activities might inhibit their creative potential” (p. 265-266).

One of the ways of fostering creativity is to encourage improvisation. The term improvisation is often misunderstood to mean, “making something up on the spot.” Even the Merriam-Webster definition, which states “to speak or perform without preparation,” is highly misleading. In fact, improvisation is an advanced and highly sophisticated skill in which the musician must draw upon all their previously practiced knowledge and techniques to compose “in the moment.” Musicians must also respond immediately to their own sound through acute music-listening ability, often coordinating with other musicians around them.

Although there is discussion over whether improvisation skills can be taught, there are some basic steps that allow children a safe, secure context in which to experiment with improvisation. Begin by stressing play and participation over performance. This is critical since most of the self-confidence issues regarding the arts is centered around the idea that children can “get it wrong” or the idea that what they create is less than perfect.

Indigenous Perspective

Sing societies in the Haudenosaunee nations are responsible for learning and performing ceremonial and celebratory songs. They play a critical role in child development because they are responsible for teaching younger generations our songs and their meaning. Children learn how to sing songs or use a rattle or drum by observing the group and would gradually increase their participation as they grow. 

Pause to Reflect

Humans of all ages and abilities enjoy music, even in utero. Music can stimulate and calm the brain, helping children to self-regulate.

How do you use and include music in your life?  

Important Things to Remember

  • When children develop an awareness and knowledge of musical elements, children progress in their understanding and ability to control the elements for personal musical expression.
  • Educators should encourage children to be playful and spontaneous when singing.
  • Dance is an elemental human experience and a means of expression. It begins before words are formed, and it is innate in children before they use language to communicate.
  • Movement is a natural human response when thoughts or emotions are too overwhelming or cannot be expressed in words.
  • Howard Gardner understood that children are innately musical, and that creativity can be nurtured and taught using music as a means of expression.


Andreasen, N. C. (2006). The Creative Brain: The Science of Genius. New York: Plume.

Campbell, P. (2005). Songs in their Heads. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence reframed: Multiple intelligences for the 21st century. Basic Books.

Hallam, S. (2006). Musical Psychology in Education. London: University of London.

Koutsoupidou, T., & Hargreaves, D. J. (2009). An experimental study of the effects of Improvisation on the development of children’s creative thinking in music. Psychology of Music, 37(3), 251–278. DOI:

Marsh, K. and Young, S. (2006). Musical Play. Doi:



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