Music Sets the Tone for Young Learners

A librarian shares her best practices for using songs and movement to teach early learners emotional regulation and social skills.

By Karyn Lewis

Today’s teachers are responsible for teaching more than just math, science, history, and art in their classrooms. They are also responsible for teaching and reinforcing crucial social and emotional skills. One of these skills is self-regulation, which is generally defined as the ability of a student to handle activities and emotions without intervention by an educator.

Self-regulation for early learners is a bit more simplified, since they still need to be guided through activities. For younger students, self-regulation is the ability to handle social situations appropriately and without getting upset. For example, young children who are able to self-regulate can easily move from one activity to another and not be disappointed about having to put away the materials they were using in order to do so. As with everything, all children develop differently, but most school-aged children can follow directions, share, take turns, and leave an activity when asked to do so.

Music can be a great tool to help signal children and transition them from one activity to another. Music can also indicate a certain activity, which helps children know what is expected of them, and helps make a boring task more enjoyable. Music can also help soothe children who are upset and allow them to focus on something familiar. Even adults often use music in this way.

In my library, I use music to teach students self-regulation during transitions. I also teach them to use music for emotional regulation by playing calming and relaxing songs. Cantata Learning has wonderful books with music hat help teachers instill self-regulation in their students. I particularly like the “School Time Song Set” for assisting with classroom routines. For example, the book Elephant Line Up gives students a great visual, as well as an audio clue, to help young learners know what is expected when teachers tell them to line up. It is a perfect song to end library story and checkout time.

During my open library times, I allow students to use various musical elements to help them take a break from their classroom activities. Some students enjoy yoga-type activities, some students enjoy a dance party to get some energy out, and others just like to plug in and listen to a playlist of music to help them focus on an activity.

Movement and dance can also help students get in a better mindset for learning, since these activities increase oxygen and blood flow. An average class time is longer than most children would voluntarily sit still on their own, so getting students up and moving can serve as an important break for their body, as well as their mind. There are so many Cantata Learning books and songs that students love to sing and dance to, but several of them lend themselves to brain breaks since most adults already know the motions. Two such books that I love to use in the library when we need to get the wiggles out are “Ring Around the Rosie” and “The Hokey Hokey,” because they get the kids up and moving! Again, this is something adults do all the time, and it’s a valuable skill to teach young people as well. In fact, when students take frequent play and movement breaks throughout the day, it helps to improve student attention span.

As students grow increasingly independent, it is extremely important for them to have many different tools that help them to self-regulate during difficult social and emotional situations, as well as in everyday life. Music and movement can set the tone at school and at home, and can be used to help children learn what soothes and motivates them in different situations.

One of the most valuable things we can teach our students is how to take care of themselves, both physically and emotionally. While academic skills are important, what is required in those areas may change year to year, or career to career. However, social and emotional regulation is a skill that every child needs, no matter where life takes them.

Karyn Lewis is a pre-K–5 librarian at Meadow Wood Elementary in Houston, Texas. Follow her on Twitter at @ktlewis14.


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