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Literacy skills are fundamental to higher level skills like planning, critical thinking, problem-solving and socio-emotional development. It all begins with fine motor skills like holding a pencil effectively, listening to stories and being able to retell them while anticipating events and consequences, recognising sounds and word shapes, and finally, forming letters and/or words that can be recognised by others. Music can be used in all of these, whether introducing shapes by walking in lines and circles, playing instruments accurately to the beat like drumming, or singing songs with developing storylines.

Research shows that the best environment for developing these skills is a positive one, where adults read together with children (Wirth et al., 2021), and where children can express joy in the books and stories that they share (Nordström et al., 2021). Role-models are important in childhood (Herrmann et al., 2021), whether inside or outside of the home, and have the potential to influence future mindsets and behaviours. We hope that by using these songs, adults will feel empowered to play these games, knowing the thinking and developmental planning behind them.

Fine motor: Aiken Drum

There was a man lived in the moon

Lived in the moon, lived in the moon

There was a man lived in the moon

And his name was Aiken Drum

And he played upon a ladle

A ladle, a ladle

And he played upon a ladle

And his name was Aiken Drum

And his coat was made of smelly cheese

Smelly cheese, smelly cheese

And his coat was made of smelly cheese

And his name was Aiken Drum

And his shoes were made of pineapples …

This song can be used with children taking turns to sit in a group and play drums or triangles (instruments with beaters) while the rest walk around them in a circle, like the moon going around the earth. Use children’s suggestions to develop the story.

Literacy: Green Grass

Adult:

There was a hole

Down in the ground

The prettiest hole

That you ever did see

Children:

There was a hole

Down in the ground

The prettiest hole

That you ever did see

Altogether:

And the hole in the ground

And the green grass grew all around and around

And the green grass grew all around

Adult:

Now in that hole

There was a tree

The prettiest tree

That you ever did see

Children:

Now in that hole

There was a tree

The prettiest tree

That you ever did see

Altogether:

And the tree in the hole

And the hole in the ground

And the green grass grew all around and around

And the green grass grew all around

Adult:

Now in that tree

There was a nest

The prettiest nest

That you ever did see

Children:

Now in that tree

There was a nest

The prettiest nest

That you ever did see

Altogether:

And the nest in the tree

And the tree in the hole

And the hole in the ground

And the green grass grew all around and around

And the green grass grew all around

Adult:

Now in that nest

There was a egg

The prettiest egg

That you ever did see

Children:

Now in that nest

There was a egg

The prettiest egg

That you ever did see

Altogether:

And the egg in the nest

And the nest in the tree

And the tree in the hole

And the hole in the ground

And the green grass grew all around and around

And the green grass grew all around

Adult:

Now in that egg

There was a bird

The prettiest bird

That you ever did see

Children:

Now in that egg

There was a bird

The prettiest bird

That you ever did see

Altogether:

And the bird in the egg

And the egg in the nest

And the nest in the tree

And the tree in the hole

And the hole in the ground

And the green grass grew all around and around

And the green grass grew all around

This song introduces sequencing, vocabulary and anticipation. The call-and-response format supports the children in retelling the story within the song – pictures can be helpful!

Writing: Mulberry Bush (circle)

Here we go ‘round the mulberry bush

The Mulberry Bush, the mulberry bush

Here we go ‘round the mulberry bush

So early in the morning

This is the way we brush our teeth

Brush our teeth, brush our teeth

This is the way we brush our teeth

So early in the morning

This is the way we put on our shoes

Put on our shoes, put on our shoes

This is the way we put on our shoes

So early in the morning

These songs help the experience of creating shapes. Lines and circles are used so often that we introduce them first.

Writing: How many miles? (line)

How many miles to Babylon?

Three score and ten

Will I get back before you do?

Yes, and back again

Open the gates and let us through!

Not without a beck and bow!

Here’s the beck, here’s the bow

Open the gates and let us through

This fun call-and-response song has children standing in two lines across from and facing each other. The first group asks the question, and the second group replies until in the end, the second group holds hands and raises them (‘gates’) for the other group to walk under – and the groups swap places. Then the second group has a turn to ask the questions and go through the ‘gates’.

These non-competitive games are fantastic learning tools because they are self-correcting and rely on participants concentrating in order for the game to work. They are improving their literacy without realising it, until or unless the adult reminds them of the shapes they were making during the song/game. And whether children catch on immediately or learn from each other makes no difference – they all get to play, all together.

About the author:

Musician, researcher and author, Frances Turnbull, is a self-taught guitarist who has played contemporary and community music from the age of 12. She delivers music sessions to the early years and KS1. Trained in the music education techniques of Kodály (specialist singing), Dalcroze (specialist movement) and Orff (specialist percussion instruments), she has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology (Open University) and a Master’s degree in Education (University of Cambridge). She runs a local community choir, the Bolton Warblers, and delivers the Sound Sense initiative aiming for “A choir in every care home” within local care and residential homes, supporting health and wellbeing through her community interest company.

She has represented the early years music community at the House of Commons, advocating for recognition for early years music educators, and her table of progressive music skills for under 7s features in her curriculum books.

Frances is the author of “Learning with Music: Games and Activities for the Early Years“ “Learning with Music: Games and Activities for the Early Years“, published by Routledge, August 2017.

www.musicaliti.co.uk

 

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