Why start your day with music in your classroom?

teaching methods Aug 17, 2022
Patty So Teaching Music at a Piano

Since the start of my teaching career, I was blessed to have a piano in my classroom. We would start each morning with “My Country ‘Tis of Thee',' followed by my standard, “Good Morning'' song on the piano. We would either sing 2 or 3 seasonal songs along with the piano, or some good old standards that practiced rhyming and predictability. I used songs like Corner Grocery Store: “There was cheese walking on it knees,” for example or “Down by the Bay” using categorical animals, such as cow taking a bow, sheep driving a jeep, goat rowing a boat, then ask, “What did all the animals have in common?” all on a farm. You can do it with bugs, birds, zoo animals, etc. just pre-plan it!

Two “sitters” followed. These songs would have hand motions or sign language most of the time. I learned any sign language I needed for the songs from online videos. This really turned out to be an excellent strategy that was used often in class! With limited English speakers, and many students who are print-deprived at home, the sign language cues would often continue to help students during reading and spelling activities as clues to help with words throughout the school day. They also learned the alphabet in sign language which was equally key in getting vowel clarification and phoneme segmentation in reading and spelling. Sign language also helps with that right-left brain connection and solidifies learning. The more modalities you can use to deliver and retain information, the better! For a quick reference guide on the benefits of using sign language in the classroom, click here

Two “standers” followed next. These were always a “kid song” dance, then a more contemporary (meaning 60’s-80s! ha!) dance. I made sure we had a lot of cross-brain movements to start the day getting both sides of the brain warmed up, and learning dance movements reduce stress, increases levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin, and helps develop new neural connections, especially in regions involved in executive function, long-term memory, and spatial recognition. I love this article about the importance of dance and academics. 

Music and movement helps with lowering that affective filter or anxiety level many students have when they come to school. When students come from home in the morning, we have NO idea how their  day began. Working in Title I schools for my entire career (29 of 33 years in first grade), I quickly learned that for some, school is the most predictable and safe place in their daily life, so if we can begin that day with something happy, social, anxiety-relieving, and movement oriented, we are giving them a chance for a more successful day. 

Think about how your day starts. When you get to work, do you immediately go to your desk quietly and begin on an assignment, or do you say good morning to people, talk about last night’s episode of a show, anything to get you aligned to what’s coming the rest of the day? We need to especially afford that to our students. Some students at my site would go to a running club before school, but many didn’t, so I couldn’t rely on that as the sole source of getting them warmed up for the day. 

What about the students who don’t want to dance? That’s fine most of the time! My rule was if you didn’t want to do what we were doing that morning, you’d need to move to the side (but still stand because you just never know when they might get the urge to move a little bit!) so they wouldn’t get run over by the rest of us! Think about a line dance at a country bar–at some, bouncers will actually say, MOVE or get off the floor! It’s really for safety. 

After we get our brains connected, our morning cobwebs cleared and whatever happened prior to the bell ringing pushed from the forefront, our brains and bodies are then ready to start So Simple Sight Words for the day. I’ll talk about that in the next article. 

Check out a blog on gesturing, movement and brain hemisphere integration here.     

Check out an article/study on language acquisition through music here.

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