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Music and Movement for Preschoolers and Toddlers

Promote children’s development through music and movement.

Music and Movement for Preschoolers and Toddlers

Music and Movement for Preschoolers and Toddlers

Music and movement are essential elements in early childhood development. Children naturally love to move and sing, and preschool teachers can use music and movement activities to promote physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development in children by incorporating music and movement into daily routines and lesson plans.

While music and movement activities are often used for fun and entertainment, they are also powerful tools for teaching preschoolers essential skills and concepts. Exposing them to music and movement activities early helps them develop the skills they need to succeed in school and life.

Understanding the basics of music and movement and how they impact child development is essential for preschool teachers. This post will provide an overview of music and movement activities for preschoolers, their benefits, and some tips on incorporating them into the classroom.

Children dancing and jumping up and down with their teacher during a music lesson


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.

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 reasons why they are important in child development:

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.

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.

Social and emotional development

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.

Creative expression

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.

Cognitive development

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.

Health benefits

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.

How music and movement promote development

Educators can use music and movement in many ways to promote development in key learning domains and create an effective learning environment.

Enhance learning

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. 

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 to prepare the class for their next lesson.

Capture attention

Music and movement activities are another strategy that educators can use to gain children’s attention when they start getting restless. Marching to the beat or dancing along to their favorite song can help children get the wiggles out and improve their attention for the next task. 

Teach new concepts

Teachers can use music and movement activities to teach new concepts in an engaging way. For example, songs can introduce new vocabulary words, rhymes, or math concepts. Songs that feature repetition or that incorporate specific body movements, such as songs like Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes that reference certain body parts, help children remember new information.

Include music and movement activities in your lesson plans to reinforce key learning objectives. Download our daily lesson plan template and customize to suit your teaching style and children's needs.

Download our free daily lesson plan template!

Preschool movement songs

Here are some of our favorite music and movement activities for preschoolers. These songs will get children up and moving while teaching them essential concepts such as turn-taking, sharing, and following directions.

Party Freeze Dance Song

This action song is sure to get your children moving. Create enough space for your children to sing along, dance, freeze, hop, and skip, as the lyrics suggest. 

You Can Take a Turn, Then I’ll Get it Back

This song teaches children how to take turns and why sharing is important. Pair children in groups of two and give each pair an item, for instance, a teddy bear, to share as they sing along with the song. 

Musical Chairs

This is a classic group game your children will enjoy moving to. Place chairs in a circle facing outwards. Play music and have the children dance freely as they move in a circle around the chairs. When the music stops, have the children find a chair and sit as quickly as possible. This game is usually played with one less chair than players, removing one chair per round as children get eliminated. However, to make this a noncompetitive game, simply play with enough chairs for each child. 

Jumping Animals

This jumping game will strengthen your children’s coordination, balance, and gross motor skills. Children can pretend to be different animals jumping around the classroom. Add music while playing this game for additional fun.

Marching to the Beat 

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

If You're Happy and You Know It

These simple, catchy lyrics make it easy for even the youngest children to sing along and follow the movement prompts.

The Wheels on the Bus

The actions in this song match the lyrics, making it easy for children to follow along. Make up your actions to match the lyrics.

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.

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.

The Hokey Pokey

This popular song is easy to follow along and teaches preschoolers the names of different body parts. Have children form a circle and act out the lyrics with you.

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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