Teaching and learning

10 music and movement activities for the Early Years

Want to get the children moving and grooving? You're in the right place.
Adult and children playing Early Years rhythm and music games
May 26, 2021
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In a rush? Here's the quick run-down.

  • Music and movement games are a wonderful way to get little ones moving and grooving with one another. You’ll see children overcoming shyness and learning how to socialize as they develop rhythm and a love for their favourite songs and instruments.
  • Music activities help Early Years children with the development of memory, concentration, literacy skills, communication, coordination, and many other vital abilities. In addition to helping with these important developmental milestones, these activities are just plain fun, keeping little ones active and adding excitement to the day.  

1. Musical statues (also known as ‘freeze’) 

This music and movement activity: This one will help children develop spatial intelligence, a sense of rhythm, and the ability to move on the beat, all while having tons of fun.

What you need:

  • A speaker to play music
  • A playlist with songs from a variety of genres
  • Plenty of space to move around

How to do it: Have the children help you clear out plenty of space, then explain to them that they should dance freely while the music is playing. The trick is, they must stop when the music stops and stay completely still until it starts again. Encourage the children to change their dancing style to match the music.

Source: Kid Activities

2. Dancing with props

This music and movement activity: Props always add excitement to any activity. Children will have to compromise (when someone else picks the same prop as them, earn to execute their tasks quickly, and have a ball moving about and expressing themselves.

What you need:

  • A music player
  • A playlist with songs from a variety of genres
  • Plenty of space
  • A table filled with props (scarves, hats, ribbons, plastic flowers, toys, and the like)

How to do it: Begin by designating a play area large enough for children to dance.Set up a music player and spread your props out on a table. Explain to the children that when you start playing music, they should select a prop from the table and begin dancing to the music. Whenever the music stops, they are to return the prop to the table and choose another one.

Source: Icebreaker Ideas

3. Exploring musical moods

This music and movement activity: Introduce toddlers to the connection between music and emotion with this imaginative game. Help them develop lateral thinking abilities, empathy, and communication skills.

What you need:

  • A music player
  • A playlist with songs from a variety of artists, genres, and time periods
  • Plenty of space

How to do it: Take some time to develop a varied playlist filled with music that conveys different moods. Explain to the children that the way they feel can often be expressed in music, then play them different songs and ask them how the music makes them feel. Take this exercise a step further by having the children express the emotions they’re feeling through dance and movement.

Source: Scary Mommy

4. Follow the (musical) leader

This music and movement activity: Encourage the development of social and communication skills with this fun musical variation on follow the leader.

What you need:

  • A music player
  • Some fun music
  • Plenty of space

How to do it: Have the children take turns at being the leader who creates all the dance movements and sounds for everyone else to follow.

Source: Very Well Family

5. Draw what you hear

This music and movement activity: Encourage creativity and independent thinking with this fun game that allows children to transform the sounds they’re hearing into shapes and patterns.

What you need:

  • A playlist of songs from a variety of artists, genres, and time periods
  • A music player
  • Paper
  • Crayons, finger paints, or markers

How to do it: Play a variety of songs for the children and have them draw what they hear. You can use this as an opportunity to introduce musical and emotional vocabulary. Have the children describe what the music makes them see and feel: What images come into their mind? What physical sensations do they feel? What emotions does a song bring up?

Source: Child Fun

6. Rhythm sticks 

This music and movement activity: Rhythm sticks are quick and easy to pick up, making them an excellent first instrument for toddlers. Teach them rhythm, beat-matching, and spatial awareness as you add rhythm sticks to their favorite songs and nursery rhymes.

What you need:

  • Rhythm sticks (two each for every child)
  • Songs and nursery rhymes to play along to

How to do it: Start by demonstrating how to use the sticks. When the music starts, have them pick up their sticks and clap them together to the beat. Once they have the hang of it, they can start singing along too.

Source: Teaching 2 and 3 Year Olds

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7. The Hokey Pokey 

This music and movement activity: The Hokey-Cokey is more than just a fun, energizing game. It helps children develop listening skills, coordination, and balance while teaching them different body parts and helping them tell their left from their right.

What you need:

How to do it: Play the song and show the children how to sing along and what body movements to do to match each verse.

Source: Petit Journey

8. Call and response song

This music and movement activity: Call and response songs allow children to develop their listening skills and their sense of rhythm. They’re a whole lot of fun, and they introduce little ones to the ability to memorise through music.

What you need:

  • Call and response books or recordings

How to do it: One of the best call-and-response songs for toddlers comes from Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury’s book We’re Going On A Bear Hunt. To turn this book into a call-and-response song, simply have the children repeat each line back to you before moving on to the next. You can start out with a recording of We’re Going On A Bear Hunt to get a feel for the tune.

Source: Atlas Mission

9. Fun with personalised drums

This music and movement activity: Help children develop a sense of respect for musical instruments by creating their very own drum. Then teach them rhythm and listening skills through fun drumming patterns.

What you need:

  • Drums (these can be empty containers, cans, boxes, cookie tins, and the like)
  • Decorations like stickers, glitters, and pom poms for the drums

How to do it: Set up a drum creation station with a range of decoration options, and help the little ones decorate their drums. Teach them different rhythms, starting with short, simple patterns and gradually increasing the length and difficulty of the patterns as the children learn and progress.

Source: Music Together

10. Dance like an animal

This music and movement activity: Get toddlers exploring their creative side and developing their timing and coordination skills with this animal-inspired musical game.

What you need:

  • A music player
  • Pictures of animals
  • Plenty of space

How to do it: Collect all your animal pictures and then play some music. Call out the name of an animal and hold up the picture so they can get a feel for how it looks. Each time you call out a new animal, they must start dancing the way they think that animal might move. Encourage them to make noises and interact with each other while in character as each creature.  

Source: Mom Junction

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Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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