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Music and Movement for Preschoolers and Toddlers

Discover how preschool music and movement activities help promote children's physical, cognitive, and social-emotional development.

Music and Movement for Preschoolers and Toddlers

Music and Movement for Preschoolers and Toddlers

Music and movement play pivotal roles in the development of young children. With an innate affinity for rhythm and motion, children find joy in singing and moving, presenting preschool educators with a unique opportunity to foster growth across physical, cognitive, social, and emotional domains. By weaving music and movement into daily routines and lesson plans, educators can significantly enhance the educational experience.

Although music and movement activities are often used for fun and entertainment, they are also powerful tools for teaching preschoolers essential skills and concepts. Early exposure to these activities not only enriches their learning environment but also lays a foundation for future achievements.

For preschool educators, understanding how music and movement influence child development is crucial. This article explores various music and movement activities suited for young learners, discusses their benefits, and offers practical advice for seamlessly integrating them into classroom settings.

Teacher and children holding hands and walking in a circle in a preschool classroom.Source

What is music and movement?

Music and movement activities combine music with physical movement. This includes singing, dancing, playing instruments, and moving to the beat.

Most early childhood education programs include music and movement activities such as singing nursery rhymes, dancing to children’s songs, or playing instruments together.

Music and movement activities can be adapted to meet any child's needs and can be used in various settings. The key is to choose developmentally appropriate activities that fit the interests and abilities of the children you work with.

With brightwheel's Experience Curriculum, you get access to a complete curriculum system with digital lessons in brightwheel and hands-on learning materials mailed to you each month. These engaging learning experiences include games, discovery projects, songs, and dances to help build essential skills.

Why is music and movement important in child development?

Children are born with an innate love of music and movement. They show signs of enjoyment when exposed to music and movement from the moment they are born. Music and movement help children in many ways as they grow and develop. Here are some key reasons why they are important in child development:

Supports physical and motor skills development

Large and small muscle groups are developed through music and movement activities. Bouncing, clapping, stomping, dancing, and jumping get children moving and support physical development in children. Fine motor skills, such as playing instruments and participating in finger-play songs, are also enhanced through music and movement activities. 

While children are exploring their movements, they are also building an understanding of how their bodies work and what they are capable of doing. This physical awareness can lead to a stronger sense of coordination and independence.

Enhances language development

Phonological awareness, letter recognition, and other early literacy skills are enhanced when children engage in activities such as singing the alphabet song, clapping out syllables in words, and playing instruments. Children also learn new words and concepts when singing songs or chanting rhymes, and their listening and comprehension skills are also improved.

Improves social-emotional skills

Singing and dancing together help children feel connected to others and develop a sense of belonging. It also develops social skills, such as turn-taking, following rules, and sharing.  The rhythmic nature of music can help to calm and focus the mind, and the physical activity of moving releases pent-up energy and tension, teaching children how to regulate their emotions.

Encourages creativity

Music and movement activities encourage children to be creative and use their imaginations. They can experiment with different sounds, rhythms, and movements to create unique expressions when dancing to songs or creating music with instruments.

Strengthens cognitive skills

Cognitive skills such as memory, categorization, and problem-solving are strengthened through music and movement activities. For example, songs with repetition and counting can help support memory and counting skills. Children can also learn pattern awareness by detecting patterns in a song’s beat, rhythm, and lyrics and categorizing similar and different sounds and instruments.

Reinforces healthy habits

Music and movement activities are a great way to get children up and moving, which is essential for physical fitness. These activities also help children develop healthy habits, such as being active, which can continue into adulthood.

Children and teacher playing musical chairs.Source

How to use music and movement in the classroom

Successfully incorporating music and movement activities into a preschool classroom requires careful planning and a bit of creativity. Here’s some practical advice to integrate these activities into your classroom setting:

Create a routine

Make music and movement a part of the everyday schedule. This could be during circle time, transitions between activities, or as a way to break up longer stretches of sitting.

Reinforce lessons

Educators can incorporate music and movement activities into their existing curriculum as a way to reinforce learnings from their lessons. For example, if a teacher is focusing on the alphabet theme for one week, songs about letters and sounds can be used in the lesson plan to strengthen children’s understanding of letters. 

Designate a specific space

Create an area within the classroom for music and movement activities. This can be a space with musical instruments, scarves, ribbons or other props that children can use during free play.

Improve transitions

Transitioning from one activity to the next can be challenging for some children. Playing a song can signal to children that it’s time to stop one activity and move on to the next. A quick song and dance break can be a fun way for children to expend restless energy and improve their attention for the next task.

Consider all perspectives

Incorporate a diverse range of songs and movements that represent the children in your classroom. This promotes inclusivity, celebrates diversity, and helps children feel represented and included.

Music and movement activities for preschoolers

Incorporating music and movement into a preschool curriculum is not only beneficial but also highly enjoyable for children. Here are some engaging activities that can stimulate development and encourage creativity:

Singing and dancing

Simple songs accompanied by movements such as clapping, stomping, or jumping are easy to incorporate into circle time or transitions between activities. These activities help develop gross motor skills, enhance listening and memory abilities, and foster a sense of rhythm.

Musical instrument exploration

Providing children with an array of age-appropriate musical instruments, from shakers and drums to xylophones and hand bells, encourages exploration, creativity, and self-expression. It also promotes fine motor skills development.

Freeze dance

This activity involves dancing to music that is periodically paused. When the music stops, everyone dancing must freeze in place until the music starts again. This activity helps develop listening skills, coordination, spatial awareness, and impulse control.

Musical chairs

A classic game beloved by children of all ages that involves walking or dancing around a group of chairs while music plays. When the music stops, everyone must quickly find a seat on one of the chairs. The person left without a chair is eliminated, and one chair is removed with each round until there is only one winner left. However, to make this a noncompetitive game, simply play with enough chairs for each child. This game supports gross motor skills development, turn-taking, and social interaction.

Animals in action

This song encourages children to imitate various animal movements, helping them explore motion and space while learning about different animals.

Marching to the beat 

Play a song and show your children how to march to the beat around the classroom or outdoors. 

Preschool movement songs

Preschool movement songs are often accompanied by simple, repetitive dance moves to make learning fun and also improve motor skills, coordination, and rhythm. Below are some examples of movement songs:

If You're Happy and You Know It

This song that promotes emotional awareness and expression through its lyrics, asking children to perform actions like clapping their hands or stomping their feet to show happiness.These simple, catchy lyrics make it easy for even the youngest children to sing along and follow the movement prompts.

The Hokey Pokey

An all-time favorite that teaches body part identification and coordination as children follow the instructions in the song, moving different parts of their body in and out of the "hokey pokey."

The Wheels on the Bus

The actions in this song match the lyrics, making it easy for children to follow along. Children can mimic the wheels going round and round, the wipers swishing, and the people on the bus going up and down.

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

This song is perfect for helping children learn their body parts. As they sing, they touch each body part mentioned in the song, accelerating both their physical and cognitive development.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Have your preschoolers stand up and row their arms as they sing this song. Consider having the children pair up in groups as they row along in their imaginary boats and pick up other children to row along with them as they sing along.

Five Little Ducks

This song is perfect for helping children learn to count. As children sing, have them hold up the corresponding number of fingers for the amount of ducks mentioned in the song.

The Itsy Bitsy Spider

Children use their fine motor skills during this song as they use their hands to crawl their fingers up high and then splash them down low as they sing along.

Ring Around the Rosie

This song encourages children to work together as they move in a circle and fall down in time with the lyrics.


Children love clapping and patting to this song. Give each child a partner and have them clap and pat each other's hands as they sing along.

I'm a Little Teapot

This song encourages preschoolers to use their imaginations. As they sing, they pretend to be teapots and pour tea into their “cups.”


Music and movement activities engage young children in the learning process and help develop things like motor skills, coordination, and balance. They also improve children’s language and social-emotional development and promote creative expression. Children of all ages and abilities can benefit from music and movement activities. So have fun, be creative, and get moving!

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