What younger children have taught me about singing in the early years - part 3

24 February 2022

​Part 3 - What I actually sing in the early years: 7 songs that work

Part 3 - What I actually sing in the early years: 7 songs that work

(Includes singing in response to play, spontaneous singing, song bag, scrunchy and lycra)

This blog series is for early years practitioners, teachers, music practitioners, parents, family members and anyone with an interest in early childhood studies.

Part three of a three part series written by Kate Maines-Beasley

Read time: Approx 6.5min | Songs: Approx 6min 

About my work

I have been working as an early years music specialist since 2002. I use music and movement play. Children are at the centre and forefront of my approach. It is the children I have worked with who have taught me how to best approach singing in the early years.   I facilitate longer term Youth Music-funded projects with under 2s and their families. 

I am passionate about younger children’s rights when it comes to music and movement.

I believe that:

  • All children are entitled to make music, sing and dance. This is their right
  • Children are musically competent. I respect and value their musical expression
  • Parents/carers must be involved in creative projects, and respected as the child’s primary educator

About this blog series

This is number three of a three part blog series. If you haven’t already make sure you check out part 1 and part 2

Written with early years practitioners in mind, this resource is equally relevant for parents and family members of younger children, peripatetic teachers, music leaders and practitioners, and anyone with an interest in early childhood studies.

I specialise in working with children under the age of two and their practitioners and families. However, this blog series can be applied to all children under the age of five, especially as we re-emerge out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

I am sharing approaches to singing in the early years which have been effective with the children I have worked with. It is my hope that this resource inspires you in your musical work and play with our youngest children. There isn’t one set approach to anything in the early years, and singing is no exception. This is because there are no two children the same, no two parents the same, and no two practitioners the same either. 

I believe that the best approach to music in the early years is to respond sensitively to the child/ren in front of you.

So, use this resource as a prompt to think about possibilities when using singing in the early years. Adapt ideas; tweak approaches; take what works and leave what doesn’t.  I like being part of a wider conversation and learning from others, so please comment, ask questions, challenge ideas. That’s how we all learn isn’t it?

3. What I actually sing in the early years: 7 songs that work for me

(Includes singing in response to play, spontaneous singing, song bag, scrunchy and lycra)

Make sure you listen to the songs and download the song sheets to make the most of this one. 

I believe the best songs are those you can easily adapt and personalise for the child in front of you.  Simple is best. I am still using the songs Steph Brandon taught me back in 2002, from Sue Nicholl’s Bobby Shaftoe, clap your hands. This book from 1992 has stood the test of time and has a really good range of accessible, simple songs to adapt and play with. I highly recommend it. 

Make up songs on-the-spot in response to children’s play

The ability to do this empowers me to follow the children’s lead and means I’m never stuck for a song.

Skip to my Lou and London’s Bridge are both fab for this. 

E.g. Mya (2) was playing in the construction area building a tower. I sat alongside her, chose the tune of London’s Bridge, and sang ‘Mya likes to build a tower, build a tower, build a tower. Mya likes to build a tower, when she plays at nursery.’ Mya was delighted to have a song made up especially for her. Older children can extend this and make up their own words. This is the beginning of song-writing. 

London's Bridge PDF 

London's Bridge Song: Click the below video to play.

Skip to my Lou song: Click the below video to play.

I have found that singing in this way sometimes extends the length of time a child is engaged in independent play. I change words to reflect what they are doing.

Support individual children’s spontaneous singing

I do not force this, or take over creative and essential independent play time. I gauge the child’s engagement.  I trust my instincts. 

I look out for individual children singing to themselves. I then position myself close by, so I can hear what they are singing. I notice the pitch (how high it is) and tempo (speed) they sing at.  I might take a video of this and then play it back to the child. This can be an empowering experience for the child. It also shows I value their contribution. 

I might position myself sitting alongside the child. This is a different experience than sitting opposite: I find it is a good leveller.  I might have a go at joining in with their song at the same pitch and same tempo as them, and using the same sounds.  I try not to take over (this is tricky!).  I might try singing back then leave a gap for them to continue. I have had a whole conversation with a child through singing in this way.

I might not be singing actual words. Voice-play is great for language development.  Babies respond very well to this, and as adults we naturally engage in this, but often as children grow older we stop doing it. It is a very powerful tool. This is especially true for non-verbal children or those with limited language skills. 

Finger puppets and songbag

I find that using finger puppets makes singing more engaging, as well as supporting emerging communication skills. A child does not need to know the word hedgehog to understand I am singing about one, if I am holding it up and moving it as I sing a hedgehog is very prickly

Songbag songs

My song bag has a selection of puppets in it.  Right now, it has a star, spider, and selection of mini-beasts and garden animals in it. I like to choose puppets I think the children might see in their own garden or walking to nursery as a starting point, especially as we re-emerge from the Covid-19 Pandemic. Some of our youngest children have hardly left their houses over the last two years, so for me, familiarity is Queen. 

I have fun taking my time and revealing the puppets as they come out of the bag. I make this musical, by using this simple tune, which uses notes some younger children find the easiest to sing (think playground chant nur-nur-nur-nur-nur). 

What’s going to come out of the bag song

I find it effective to take one song I can change the words to, and explore this for 10 minutes or as long as the children are engaged with it. The little green frog and a hedgehog is very prickly work very well and you can find them below. In both of these songs, you can easily change the animal/creature/object and also what they do or how they move. 

Little Green Frog PDF 

Little Green Frog Song: Click the below video to play.

A hedgehog is very prickly PDF 

A hedgehog is very prickly Song: Click the below video to play.

Movement play

Jabadao inspires me. I have done Jabadao training courses, and Penny Greenland (director and author of Hopping Home Backwards) worked on one of my projects with me. Penny has developed the language of ‘developmental movement play’ or DMP. I highly recommend looking into this further if you are not familiar with her work.

I always keep in mind Jabadao’s core principle ‘you are a body’ rather than ‘you have a body’ and that ‘the body is the child’s first home and movement their first language’.  I do not expect very young children to ‘sit nicely’ for extended periods, as I learned from Penny that it is totally unnatural for their developing bodies, and that a state of stillness requires physical control they simply do not have yet.

I try to bring movement into as many songs as I can. I adapt songs so they have movement in. We sing songs lying on our backs or crawling around. There is no rule book for a toddler about singing. Later in their life they can focus on good posture and breath control, but for now, I want them to have fun with their singing and to make it a part of their play. 

My favourite resource for movement play is my scrunchy 

Think giant 80s style hair scrunchy with different fabrics, colours, textures. 

I work with small groups of two year olds. 4-8 is ideal with 2 adults. It is possible to work with a large group with a huge scrunchy, but I find that quieter non-verbal children can get lost in this, and it is only the vocal, confident children who take turns to go in the middle and ‘do their thing’. An exception to this would be a family music-making group, where there are lots of supportive parents to support all children. I have used a 10 metre scrunchy in a family stay and play group before.

Firstly, we sit in a circle together and hold the scrunchy. I might sing ‘pass the scrunchy round and round, round and round, round and round. Pass the scrunchy round and round, where will it stop?’ using the London’s Bridge tune. We do what the song says. When it stops, there are opportunities to talk about colour, texture, patterns. 

Then I might introduce ‘in the ring’, encouraging individual children or pairs of children to go into the middle to ‘do their thing’. 

Let's Go In The Ring PDF 

Let's Go In The Ring song: Click the below video to play. 

Lycra play

Great to explore push, pull, proprioception, spacial awareness, communication, this is a developmental movement play delight. 

I really enjoy watching children explore how their bodies feel underneath it, pushing against it with hands, feet, and faces as a group of us hold it over the top. This takes courage. I build up to this, often over a few weeks, maybe starting with a peekaboo game first, then demonstrating going underneath myself first and asking if they can tell which bit of my body I am pushing up. 

With two year olds, I am likely to first introduce this with a small group and one other adult, and follow the children’s lead. We might sing songs with the children sitting or lying down on top of the lycra; underneath it; holding onto it around the edge. We might play peekaboo; bounce things on the top; or do lycra swings with individual children. Small groups enable more child-led and centred responses from me. 

In terms of song choices, here is one which works well with age 3 and over.

Aye Aye Yipee song PDF 

Aye Aye Yipee song: Click on the video below to play. 

I could write for days about singing in the early years, as it’s my joy and privilege to do this as a job.  I am pretty sure that I learn more from two year olds than they learn from me. They are a continual source of fascination, inspiration and wonder. 

Right now? Download the pdfs, listen to the songs and choose at least one to have a go at today or tomorrow with the children in your care.  

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If you would like to contact Kate directly please email the CBNE team - bridge@twmuseums.org.uk and they will be happy to pass on Kate's details.