Music & Movement

Encouraging Physical Activity Indoors

Hello Everyone,

I hope you are enjoying the fall season and are having fun preparing for the upcoming holidays!

As the cold weather comes to many parts of the country, often children will have less opportunity to play outside. The question for teachers is how to keep children physically active during the winter months ahead? And, as we are all well aware, obesity and health issues are very important during the early childhood years.

CHAMPS researchers call for more teacher involvement in promoting preschoolers’ physical activity in the classroom to control obesity and encourage good health practices in the early childhood years.

The CHAMPS report found that, in their study, young children participated in a high percentage of sedentary activities when they are indoors during the day.  Classroom activities include nap time, large group, indoor transition, snack, and manipulative time. Although teacher organized physical activity and music exercises, when observed, were related to very high levels of physical activity, very little of the classroom time was dedicated to these activities.

Since physical activity is so important, here are some specific suggestions:

  1. Schedule daily music and movement activities in your classroom. If music and movement are on your daily schedule, chances are those activities will happen versus doing them at random times and days.
  2. Include many large motor movements in the music and movement activities so children can use their whole bodies and move about in time and space with lots of energy.
  3. Include locomotor skills such as running, jumping, skipping, hopping and sliding in your in the physical activities you do with the children.
  4. Music is a great motivator to move. Vary the kinds of music you use to get your children moving and encourage them to fully explore different ways to move.
  5. Explore a variety of ways to move and characters to move about as, for example, elephants, rabbits or dogs.
  6. Add stories to your music and movement activities.
  7. Integrate music and movement with other curricular areas such as literacy or basic math.

Children learn by doing.  A Joint Position Statement from the International Reading Association and the National Association for the Education of Young Children states: “…children are active learners, drawing on direct social and physical experience as well as culturally transmitted knowledge to construct their own understandings of the world around them.”  By integrating music and movement with concepts children are more likely to understand and learn new skills.

There are many CDs that have been developed by artists who also are early childhood educators – their music and movement activities often promote critical skills for young children.  For example, Hap Palmer’s Oh What a Miracle (on the CD “Walter the Waltzing Worm”) introduces body parts and action words with an inspirational song;  Brenda Colgate’s Silly Willy Moves Through the ABCs encourages children to move to the letters of the alphabet and their sounds.  The all-time favorite, Five  Little Monkeys, helps children grasp basic subtraction.

If you work with English Language Learners, music and movement activities help introduce new vocabulary in a welcoming way.

How do you use music and movement in your classroom?  How do your students react to music and movement activities?

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Dr. Vardin

The CHAMPS report is in Child Development, 80(1), pp. 45-58.


Quality Physical Education Experiences for Young Children

Dear Early Childhood Educators,

 Welcome to the Early Education Corner!

I hope your school year was very successful and that you are enjoying the warm summer weather!

For those of you teaching summer school programs or beginning to prepare for fall, you might want to review the physical activity goals in your curriculum to ensure that you are providing quality opportunities for young children to stay fit and healthy.

One of my colleagues, Dr. Rhonda Clements, Chair of the Physical Education Department and a Professor at Manhattanville  College, recently brought to my attention a new publication that she helped develop, which, I think, will be of great benefit to early childhood education teachers. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) and Playworld Systems, collected 101 tips from early childhood movement specialists to help teachers of young children provide quality physical education experiences in their classrooms and on the playground.

The 101 tips are organized into eleven  best practices principles for creating  an excellent physical activities program for young children.  I have highlighted and summarized some of the main points made in each section. 

 1.      Provide developmentally appropriate movement opportunities

Summary: Appreciate and recognize the importance of movement for young children and the unique ways and differing levels of movement ability of each child.

Provide enough time for physical activity in your program and give children the opportunity to feel success.

2.      Maximize the environment for play

Summary: Play outdoors and indoors, and create optimal movement environments in both spaces. Use music, appropriate equipment and include a wide range of movement experiences, including jumping, twisting, running and dancing.

3.      Be creative with equipment

Summary: Use balls, bean bags, hoops, beach balls, tape as a balance beam, props such as puppets, costumes, scooters and trikes. Use equipment for multiple purposes and teach spatial awareness and spatial relationships in the process. Encourage children to make up their own games.  Note: Music can also encourage and support these activities!

4.      Make safety a priority

Summary: Always provide appropriate supervision. Check that the play space is safe and always have emergency kits and emergency plans available. Use age-appropriate materials and spaces. Help children learn safety rules and use signals such as a horn or music to help children stop their activities.

 5.      Use play to teach social skills

Summary: Use games to help children learn to work together. Also use games that are active such as Duck, Duck Goose.  Through games, show them how to take turns and share.  Support and praise children when they are using good social skills.

 6.      Provide instruction during structured play

Summary: Give simple and clear instructions, include songs for creative movement.

Include walking, marching, jumping, hopping, galloping and sliding as well as bending, reaching, stretching and swaying movements. Give support, encouragement and positive responses to children’s efforts.

 7.      Integrate physical activity into the curriculum

Summary: Use movement vocabulary in your classroom including body parts and physical skills. Use colors, letters and numbers when doing activities with young children. Read books with  pictures that show action.  

 8.      Be reflective and flexible

Summary: After doing movement activities, think about what worked and what didn’t. Take notes about successful strategies.  Ask children what they enjoyed and what they didn’t like. Teach children the names of the games you introduce and provide them with choices.  Modify games with rules to accommodate all children. 

 9.      Talk about and practice healthy eating

Summary: Teach children about the importance of drinking water for hydration and how foods provide energy for movement. Encourage them to taste a variety of foods. Require children to wash their hands before meals.  Model and encourage good table manners.   

10.  Involve parents and families

Summary: Remind parents that children should have appropriate clothing for outdoor play.  Encourage parents to do physical activities with their children and act as active role models. Organize active parent/child events at school.  Send home tips and ideas for healthy eating and physical activities.  Help parents identify safe outdoor environments for their children, and encourage them to incorporate physical activities into their family vacations.

 11.  Employ existing resources

Summary: For additional ideas, look at physical fitness websites, such as:

I hope these suggestions are helpful to you!  Please feel free to send us ideas or activities that you have found useful in your programs!

 Best wishes,

 Dr. Vardin


Week of the Young Child Activities

Hello Everyone,

I hope that you and your students are enjoying the beginning of the spring season!

Each year at this time, early childhood educators celebrate the NAEYC Week of the Young Child, April 10 –  April 16.

This year the theme is “Early Years are Learning Years” with a focus upon the following areas:

  • Raising Public Awareness
  • Public  Policy and Advocacy
  • Reading and Writing
  • Violence Prevention
  • Child Health
  • Creativity

 NAEYC suggests ways for teachers to engage families, businesses, political officials , non-profit organizations and other community groups in activities to heighten the importance of  the early years and the significance of quality early childhood education.

I would like to highlight three of the topic areas mentioned above: Reading and Writing and Creativity.

 Reading and Writing/Creativity

A great idea is to involve families and other members of the community in your literacy program.  Since the creative or expressive arts can enhance children’s ability to learn in subject areas such as reading and writing, I have included some approaches below. 

Any opportunity for young children to hear and respond to stories and to look at books is a great way to support young children’s literacy development. Check out the NAEYC website to see how you can involve the community in early childhood literacy awareness.  

Here are some specific suggestions to promote children’s interest in reading and writing, using some fun and creative approaches:

  • “Mystery Reader” Ask family members to sign up to be a classroom reader once or twice during the year. Make sure each child in your group is represented by someone who will be his or her “Mystery Reader.”   When the “Mystery Reader” knocks at the door, none of the children know who will be the reader that day. They are very surprised and excited when they see that it is a member of their family who is the “Mystery Reader” of the day! All this excitement around the reading experience heightens children’s interest in the activity. 


  • “Book Bag Buddies”   Provide each child with a book bag filled with a couple of read-aloud books, which he or she can take home on a weekly basis. Ask families to read the books at home to their children and to talk to their children about the stories.  Each week, have children in the class exchange the books they have read at home with other children in the class.


  • “Act it Out” Select one of the children’s favorite stories to act out in class. Make sure each child has some role in the play and that the children are very familiar with the story.  Invite family members to see the children in the play.  Simple stories might include The Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, The Billy Goats Gruff, Stone Soup or Andy and the Lion. Add simple props and music to make the play even more fun!


  • “Story Reflection Book” After you read a book to the children, encourage them to comment about the story and ask them questions about it.  Select an aspect of the story or character, and ask the children to draw pictures of it. Then have the children dictate a sentence or two to you about their drawings and write it on their papers. To encourage beginning writing, ask the children to write their names on their pictures and any other letters they are able to write.  Make a story-response book of the children’s drawings and dictations.  Invite community members to attend a children’s “Story Share” day.


  • “Puppet Characters” Ask children to select their favorite story and create a puppet show with their puppets. Encourage children to make up their own stories to act out with the puppets as well. Invite family members or other members of the community to see the show!


  • “Library Explorers”  Schedule trips to the library with the students to participate in the story hour and to browse and check out books. Encourage parents to accompany your class to the library and see what the library offers young children. Ask members of the business community to support library projects with your school such as children’s authors day, special speakers events, or new picture books and materials for the library.


  • “Family Storybook” Ask children to bring photos of their family members and photos of objects that have significance to their family. Have each child create a family storybook.  As the children to dictate stories about their families and the objects they have chosen.  Examples might be a photo of a shawl that their grandmother wore at her wedding in Chile or a guitar that their father played in a high school band.


  • “Music, Music, Music” Many children’s songs are actually stories and poems put to music.  Adding music with storybooks to your literacy activities will further support children’s literacy development.   Look for nursery rhymes that have been made into songs such as Classic Nursery Rhymes  as well as songs that have been made into books such as Old McDonald Had A Farm and The Ant’s Go Marching.


I hope you and your students find ways to celebrate and enjoy the Week of the Young Child with the members of your community!

With best wishes to you,

Dr. Vardin


Developing Important Fine Motor Skills

Hello Everyone!

I hope you are enjoying the last days of summer!  If you are already back in school, I wish you success in the new school year.

Recently, some early childhood teachers told me they have noticed that some young children seem to be having more difficulty these days using their fingers and hands to do basic activities such as tie their shoes or zip their jackets.

One reason for this problem might be that, reportedly, children are spending more time in front of TV and computer screens, time when they are not using their fingers to play or to make things. Helping children develop fine motor skills, skills involving the movement of the fingers and hands with strength and dexterity, is crucial during the early childhood years.

Children need to develop good fine motor skills so they can do activities such as pour themselves some juice,  button their clothes, draw and write! 

Below I have listed some ways teachers can help young children develop fine motor skills in the early childhood classroom:

1. Play-Doh and Clay

Provide children with the opportunity to use their hands to explore play-doh and soft modeling clay.  Encourage them to pound, roll, squeeze and do a variety of different physical actions on the material. Add some implements such as small rollers and cut-out shapes for them to use. 

2. Finger Play

Teach children rhymes and songs that include actions with their fingers and hands such as Where is Thumbkin?  and The Wheels on the Bus. These are excellent activities that encourage children to use their fine motor skills as well as language and cognitive skills.

 3. Puzzles

Provide children with an array of puzzles including puzzles with large knobs, small knobs, large knobless pieces, small knobless pieces, large pieces and small pieces, table puzzles and floor puzzles, in order to encourage fine motor development.

4. Art

The art area is a great place to help children work on their fine motor skills.  Although not all children enjoy art, most children willingly will explore tissue tearing, painting with different size brushes, pasting an array of collage materials and paper folding.

5. Self-help skills  

Set up opportunities for children to practice basic self-care skills such as frames for tying, buttoning, snapping and zipping. Encourage children to attempt to dress themselves for outdoor play, gym time, nap time and any other time when they might need to change clothes. 

6. Blocks

Children can be encouraged to use their fine motor skills in the block area or with a set of construction materials on a table top.  Children are actively using their skills when they build a tower with blocks, construct an object with Lego® or Duplo® blocks, or move a small car around a pretend block village.

7. Games

There are many games that encourage children to use their fine motor skills such as pattern bead stringing, placing pegs in boards, parquetry blocks as well as board games such as Chutes and Ladders and Lotto.

8.  Scribbling, Drawing, Tracing, Writing

Providing materials for children to create marks on a piece of paper or on a white or black board, gives them the opportunity to explore the writing experience and strengthen their fine motor skills. Including materials such as finger paints, markers, crayons, chalk, stencils, paints and pencils will enable them to increase their skills and explore new media.

Do you have enough opportunities in your classroom for fine motor skill development?

What kinds of activities do you think you might add this fall?

Best wishes,

Dr. Vardin


Holiday Music in the Early Childhood Classroom

Holiday time is usually “music time.”  Some of our strongest and most pleasant childhood memories may come from singing traditional songs.   How do you include music in your holiday celebrations?

Often, children put on small performances for their parents and families in their classroom.  There are many original songs made especially for young children that engage them through holiday-themed music with movement activities.  


Early childhood artists such as Hap Palmer, Ella Jenkins, Greg and Steve, Mar. and Vincent have created holiday CDs especially for your classes.  Many provide “music only” versions, so your children’s voices will be easily heard.


Holiday time is also a great time to explore different cultures as well.  Whether you have children from a variety of cultures or not, you can help your students discover other cultures through holiday music. 


If you do have children who come from different backgrounds, enlist their parents’ help in selecting songs to introduce.  Don’t forget, young children are most engaged and learn best when music is combined movement, so include movements to the songs when possible.  In addition to the music, you may want to ask parents to bring in foods — both traditional holiday foods and foods from other lands.

·        Play holiday songs on your CD player throughout the day.

·        Teach the children the words to holiday songs and send the words home so children can sing them with their families at home. Include simple instrumental accompaniments to the songs such as a tambourine, bells, or a drum. For example, Jingle Bells is a wonderful song to sing during the holidays. Have the children use real jingling bells to accompany the singing.

·        Encourage children to draw pictures of the images the holiday songs bring to their minds, connecting art and music.

·        Encourage the children to share their favorite holiday songs with the group.

·        Ask parents to come to school and teach the children holiday songs from their family’s traditions.

How do you make holiday time special in your class?


Best wishes,

Dr. Vardin


Summer Activity Ideas

Dear Early Childhood Educators, 

Welcome to the Early Education Corner, a little space on the world-wide web early childhood educators can “gather” and “talk” about topics related to our work with young children! 

Are you running a summer program for young children? Summer programs can be lots of fun for children and teachers alike. Sometimes teachers find it a bit challenging, though, to plan activities for children that are different from what they do during the school year.  Here are some ideas that may be helpful to you: 

1.  Increase outdoor playtime.

Try to schedule lots of outdoor time each day. If children were at home for the summer, chances are they would be spending as much time as possible outside.   

This is a great opportunity to engage children in active play. For unstructured activities, make sure that you have enough play equipment so that each child has something to do and that each play area is carefully supervised.  For structured activities, bring your CD player outside to enjoy movement with music (the use of music increases participation of even children who are reluctant to move1).   

Adding materials such as a sand box or a sand table as well as a sprinkler or a wading pool can add hours of fun to your program. If you plan to spend long periods of time outdoors, be sure to include shady play areas, sunscreen and lots of available drinking water.  

2. Do arts and crafts projects.

Summer is a great time to explore all those wonderful arts and crafts projects that you might not have time to do during the school year. Some suggestions include making a collage of summer things such as flower petals, shells, and leaves, painting a class mural on butcher paper fastened to the fence, using colored chalk on a walkway, creating puppets by decorating household items such as wooden spoons and paper towel rolls and using the art easels outdoors.  Making a variety of art materials available to young children will also encourage them to design their own art projects as well. 

3. Have a picnic.

Everyone loves a picnic! Involve the children in planning and preparing a class picnic. With your assistance, children can help develop the menu, prepare the food, plan the activities and carry the picnic basket – and of course eat the food! Memory games such as “I packed my picnic basket” and music such as the Teddy Bear’s Picnic can add to the fun! 

4. Shows, shows, shows!

Add some live entertainment to your summer program! Children love even the simplest  performance.  Puppet shows, children’s theatre presentations, magicians and children’s concerts can all be exciting experiences for young children. During the summer, you might even be able to find high school or college groups that will perform for your students for free or for a reasonable fee. 

5. Take a trip.

Summer is also a great time to take field trips. Before any field trip, be sure to have enough chaperones. 

Field trips for young children don’t have to be elaborate affairs. Excursions as simple as a walk to the fire station, the post office or the grocery store are adventures for young children. Be sure to prepare the children for where you are going by discussing the venue and reading books. 

Taking a trip to the library can be fun and educational for young children.  Often libraries have a story time where the librarian reads a book to the children. Learning how to choose and check out a book helps children establish positive feelings about the library and helps them develop a love of books. 

What activities will you be doing with your group this summer??  Looking forward to hearing from you. 

Best wishes,

Dr. Vardin

1 I Am Moving, I Am Learning: A Proactive Approach for Addressing Childhood Obesity in Head Start Children.  Region III, Administration for Children and Families. (Philadelphia, PA: 2006), p.10.