We all know that physical exercise is essential for keeping our bodies fit and healthy. In addition, research shows that by adding music, movement can be a very powerful tool for building the brain and we can make it fun.
“So how can music and movement during the pre-school years help your child prepare for school?”
Picture your child at school in this typical situation: teacher says, “I would like you to write a story about what you did during the holidays”.
What is involved in this seemingly simple task?
To do this, your child needs to have many skills in place. Firstly, they must be able to listen, follow instructions and communicate their story to the reader. So, let us look at how music and movement can encourage literacy skills.
When we sing a song, the words and language are generally slowed down, giving children more opportunities to process and understand it. There are also many opportunities to practice the pronunciation of the words, especially when we choose songs wisely by selecting those that use short, simple and repeated phrases, or echo phrases, for example:
I hear thunder (Adult) I hear thunder (Child)
Hark don’t you (Adult) Hark don’t you (Child)
Using this example, the children have a chance to hear the words before they practice them, so auditory skills are focused and refined. This allows children to try out small phrases and gives them a greater chance of success, thus building their confidence.
Children gain a better understanding of a word if they can experience it. For example, if we take the tune to “I hear thunder” and change the words as follows look what happens.
|Adult chants||Child echoes||Impact by adding movement|
|Marching, marching||Crossing all 3 midlines on the body top/bottom, front/back and left/right by lifting alternate legs and swinging opposite arms.|
|Jump, jump, jump|
|Jump, jump, jump||Weight-bearing movement that builds gross motor muscles.|
|Running, running, running|
|Running, running, running||Short burst of energy that works the heart muscle.|
|Stop, stop, stop|
|Stop, stop, stop||Effort to control the body to keep still.|
We have now made it a didactic (instructional) song. This song now has words that relate to the actions. If a child hears words that relate to an experience while the child is experiencing the language, the word will have greater meaning and the child will develop a better understanding of that language and the context it has been used in.
Understanding directional and positional language is essential for literacy skills when a child is learning how to form letters. If children can practice in a fun, multi-sensory way with concepts such as up, down, around, on, off, through, above, below, left and right, then they will have a greater understanding of position when learning to write.
In my experience, one of the fun, multi-sensory ways to practice position is to use a parachute. Ask the children to lift the parachute up, down, around etc. By moving in an upward direction as they say and hear the word “up”, the child is experiencing the movement physically and will develop a greater understanding of the word “up”. This type of activity needs to be practised in many different ways. For example: feet going up, arms going down, bodies spinning around etc.
Involving children in role play will also help them to develop a wider range of vocabulary, which in turn will support them with story writing. Therefore, songs about driving a police car or helping with the gardening, for example, will have different vocabulary in them to those about pirates or space travel. We need to encourage creativity and fire up the imagination, build memory and sequencing skills so they have something to write about in a logical order.
These young children (below) are driving a police car. They have dressed up to get into character and are improvising with a hoop as a steering wheel. Travelling around the room to practice their spatial awareness, using simple language such as ‘nee nah’, ‘nee nah’, negotiating by swapping roles between ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’; basically trying stuff out in a safe place.
We need to provide activities that will support many areas of physical development. Children must have balance, posture control and neck strength to sit comfortably in a chair and good eye strength to track words across a page. Batting balloons or popping bubbles is a fun way to practice eye-tracking skills.
Physically, children will need to develop many connections between both hemispheres of the brain. They will need the left side of the brain, which tells them how to form the letters, to work with the right side, which tells them what to write. Research shows that by using movement to cross midlines, this will speed up the process of transferring information in the brain.
In order to hold a pencil, we need to be able to control fine motor muscles but before we can do this we need to work on the bigger muscles. The body develops from top to bottom and from inside to outside, developing the coordination from large muscles through to small muscles.
There are many fun, multi-sensory ways to build fine motor skills such as manipulating different materials, painting, cutting, threading, building, moving objects, posting, mark-making and pegging out the washing. These are all meaningful activities for hand-eye coordination that encourage bilateral coordination, using both hands to do different tasks. By asking the children to play an instrument softly and loudly, pressure is asserted – children need to know about applying pressure when learning how hard to press pencil to paper when writing.
‘Play Dough Dancing’ is another fun activity which combines the use of play dough with a series of movements designed to improve fine muscle control, hand-eye coordination and sense of timing. The overall aim of the activity is to ultimately support children’s handwriting skills.
Whatever physical activity you choose, make it SAFE and make it FUN!
Download a free song from our website to inspire your children to move
About the author
Our songs and activities were born out of a passionate belief that all children deserve the very best. Good songs leave a lasting impression and contain huge potential to make a difference to our lives. The importance of music and movement cannot be emphasised enough, and I firmly believe that multi-sensory activities linking both body and brain provide an excellent foundation to prepare children for formal learning.
Kim has been running very popular music and movement classes for 14 years and produced four award-winning albums and teachers’ guides.
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