Music & Motor Skills Lesson Plans for Ages 3-5

Young child listening to music on headphones
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Young children have an intrinsic desire for active, multisensory learning. Music lessons that integrate motor skills activities help children appreciate music as they build muscles and develop coordination. But these lessons do more than that. When children feel something in their bodies, it helps them understand concepts such as patterning and counting. When teachers employ music and motor skills lessons, they reinforce math skills and language development.

1 Develop Fine-Motor Skills With Finger Play

Finger play is an activity in which students “act out” songs with their hands and fingers. “The Eensy Weensy Spider” is a good example. Finger play helps develop fine motor skills and reinforces language development. Students can do finger play while sitting down, so it is a good way to keep the class settled if children are getting fidgety. To enhance the lesson, use finger puppets. Make these by using simple die-cut shapes with holes punched in them for finger spaces. Children will be more engaged if they color the puppets themselves. To add another tactile dimension to the lesson, wrap chenille stems around students’ fingers, or have a collection of gloves students can slip on during finger-play time.

2 Move to Classical Music

Introduce children to classical music with songs composed with specific themes in mind. For instance, “Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint-Saëns consists of 14 sections, each representing a different animal. Play the sections for the children, explaining which animal is being represented. Instruct them to move to the sound of the music like they think that animal would. Gioachino Rossini composed “Tarantella.” An Italian dance by that same name was inspired by the idea that when a person is bit by a tarantula, he moves about wildly. Play Rossini’s “Tarantella” and tell students to move about as if they had been bitten by a tarantula. Gustav Holst composed music in which each movement is named after a planet. Supply students with watercolors, paper and paintbrushes, and have them paint pictures of the solar system while they are listening to Holst’s “The Planets.”

3 Listen for Cues

Incorporate music and motor skills lessons that build listening skills. Teach children folk songs that have accompanying body actions. Cue students to action with song lyrics. For instance, “The Farmer in the Dell” cues children to pick classmates to stand in the center of a circle with them. “Hokey Pokey” requires students to listen to follow instructions. “Eensy Weensy Spider” cues students to follow the life of the spider in a rainstorm.

4 Incorporate Art and Math

Expand your music lessons to include art and math. Have students make simple instruments in art class. For instance, put dry rice or beans into plastic eggs or paper towel tubes stapled or taped shut. Have students paint them. Make drums out of coffee cans. Decorate paper plates and attach jingle bells for a tambourine. When art projects are finished, sit in a circle. Have each child take a turn in the middle of the circle demonstrating his instrument along with some “dance moves.” To reinforce math skills, have children count out the beat of her song.

Debbie McCarson is a former English teacher and school business administrator. Her articles have appeared in "School Librarians’ Journal" and "The Encyclopedia of New Jersey." A South Jersey native, she is a regular contributor to "South Jersey MOM" magazine.