10 Tips on Engaging Preschool Music Students through Movement

10 Tips on Engaging Preschool Music Students through Movement


Teaching Preschool Music Students

Read right to the end to find out details for this week’s free live webinar on how to thrive teaching troubling toddlers!

Preschoolers are a popular demographic to reach within a piano studio these days. The under five crowd is a delightful group to work with. They’re fun, curious and energetic. They interact with music very naturally and intuitively. Really, there is a lot adults can learn from them!

From a piano teacher’s perspective, it makes a lot of sense to welcome preschoolers into your studio.

Conveniently, they are available at non-peak times of the day while most of your other students are busy at school or work. They are also the perfect candidates to become your future piano students a few years down the road. 

Can you imagine all of your beginning piano students starting their first official piano lesson with an excellent sense of rhythm, an understanding for keyboard geography and basic coordination skills that sometimes take months to develop in beginning piano studio? You can read here about 14 benefits young children receive from preschool music classes.

Adding a movement-based preschool music class to your studio offerings is a smart move for piano teachers. It might seem overwhelming or intimidating to take on something new, but it doesn’t have to be.

Keep reading for 10 helpful tips on how to get started, but first, let’s clear up the difference between a movement-based music class and traditional piano lessons.

Do you teach preschool-aged students in your studio?

The first time I had an opportunity to teach a three year old preschooler, I made the huge mistake of treating him like a miniature piano student. I went to my local music store and found some colorful beginner’s piano books. I attempted to have him work from the books and we spent a lot of time sitting at the piano.

We had a few successful moments, but in reality, I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea that this time of structured book work was completely inappropriate for his age level. I was unaware of the developmental milestones that were normal for his age. I really didn’t know the best ways to use our time together.

While my approach was very successful with older, elementary aged students, it was clear to me that something wasn’t right with my youngest student.

Looking for more great help on teaching preschool and beginner music students? Grab your FREE DOWNLOAD from Tim’s popular No Book Beginners course by clicking here

Preschoolers don’t need books and they really don’t need to spend very much time sitting at a piano. Instead, it is a preschoolers job to learn how to move, become aware of their body and their self and to experience the world through play.

Music is the perfect avenue for preschoolers to do their job.

A movement-based preschool music class doesn’t need to require any kind of books or special materials. Instead, it focuses primarily on giving children the opportunity to move and learn along with music.

Amazingly, the ways that children move and experience music in their early years transfer beautifully to more traditional piano lessons down the line. 

Movement based music classes work best in a group setting where many children can interact together and feed off of the energy of the group. They can include children of mixed ages from 0-5, which makes them ideal for parents with more than one child.

There might be certain situations where a preschooler does well in a more focused environment that imitates a traditional piano lesson, but as a whole, children under five are best suited to movement-based activities.

These are our top tips on how to teach preschool music students.

Top Tips for Engaging Preschool Music Students

If you’re thinking of adding preschoolers to your studio, here are 10 tips to think about as you get started.

1. Keep It Simple

Don’t plan anything super elaborate or flashy for your preschoolers. Simple story books, stuffed animal props and basic rhythm instruments can go a long way with this crowd. And, even better, your students won’t tire of these simple things. You can use the same exact props from week to week and they usually stay fresh and interesting with this group. 

Your preschoolers will thrive on your nurturing, attentive spirit. Focus on giving them a positive, warm environment to learn and grow in.  

2. Embrace Chaos

Preschoolers can be loud and unpredictable. Don’t expect this group to operate by the same standards you have for older piano students.

There will be crying and petty arguments over who holds a toy. This age group is prone to meltdowns that don’t always make sense to adults. 

These students are going through a lot of developmental milestones – teething, learning to walk and run, learning to communicate and physically growing and changing by the week are exhausting tasks that they are facing.

Expect that things might seem a little hectic or messy. Don’t over invest yourself in toddler emotions. Keep your class moving and provide a stable and predictable presence for them. Let their parents handle the meltdowns and crying.  

3. Have an excellent plan and be willing to change it on the spot

As you plan for a class, plan more than enough songs and activities. Keep activities short and simple and expect to move through them quickly. Make your transitions quick and be ready for the next activity as quickly as possible. 

Be aware of how your students are responding the activities. If something isn’t going over well, move on to a different activity. Remember that this age group loves repetition. If students are asking to hear a song again, be willing to repeat it, even if this means you have to skip something else later in your plan.

If your students are wound up and excited, direct their energy towards activities that will channel their excitement in a productive way. 

Having a plan is vital when teaching preschool students.

4. Breakdown skills you would like your preschool music students to know

As you are planning activities, think through every skill that you teach your piano students in the first months of piano lessons. Design your activities to prepare students for their first piano lesson.

While preschoolers might not actually apply these activities directly to the piano yet, they can form a foundation to build upon later on.

All of these concepts and more can be explored with preschoolers away from the piano:

  • High and Low
  • White Keys and Black Keys
  • Finger Numbers
  • Sequencing
  • Sitting Correctly At A Piano
  • Steady Beat
  • Rhythm
  • Musical Expression
  • Loud and Soft

(You can see a practical sequence of how to present these concepts to preschoolers in this free mini-course: Teach Hot Cross Buns To Preschool Music Students.)

As you are planning activities, think through every skill that you teach your piano students in the first months of piano lessons. Design your activities to prepare students for their first piano lesson.

5. Communicate effectively with parents

While preschoolers are the focus of your class, you are ultimately teaching their parents. You are giving families tools and resources to enjoy and participate in music. The parent is your consumer and you’ll want to make a point to communicate effectively with them. 

Throughout your class, educate parents on the importance and benefits of every activity. Follow up after each class by emailing parents. Affirm them in their decision to start music early, reiterate the benefits of each activity and point them in the direction of more resources and activities that they can use with their child at home.

6. Use themes to relate to the children’s world and to provide continuity

As you are planning your activities, do so within the framework of a theme that will relate to young children. Using a theme creates continuity in your classes and gives your students predictable and enjoyable music to work with. Keep your themes broad to allow yourself flexibility and also give yourself permission to work outside of your theme when appropriate. Transportation, animals, counting and seasons are popular themes that young children enjoy.

Preschool students often thrive when they can make connections

7. Spend time with young children and observe their patterns

You can see from my example above with my first preschool piano student that I was really unaware of what should be expected from a three year old. I worked with him before I was a parent and I didn’t have any other young children in my life at that time. I didn’t know his age-appropriate milestones and I didn’t know what he was and wasn’t capable of.

If this age group interests you but you aren’t already in the loop with young children, make a point to spend time with young children. 

Observe your nieces and nephews, spend time with friends who have young children, or volunteer with other programs geared towards children.

When this age group isn’t on your radar, you easily forget what is normal for them. 

For example, many young children really struggle with transitions. It is completely normal for them to cry when changing activities. Young children are very in-the-moment people. They often enjoy what they are doing right now and don’t understand why that has to come to an end, even if something better is about to happen.

Most children also grow out of this by the time they reach school.

However, it might take some adults by surprise that every single transition can be so dramatic. If you aren’t prepared for this, it can be really frustrating.

On the other hand, knowing that this is normal for kids, you’ll see that letting children have their natural responses to difficult transitions is actually helpful to them. It gives them an opportunity to learn how to move through transitions in a helpful way.

Let’s ensure our preschool music students are having fun.

8. Start small

When you’re first starting a preschool music class, don’t be discouraged if you have to start small. Really, starting with a really small group will make it easier for you to learn how to carry out your role as the teacher most effectively.

Form a small group of your own kids or relatives, your friends’ kids, siblings of current students, or acquaintances you know from your involvement in different groups.

Use this friendly audience to test drive your ideas and get used to what you can expect from working with young children.

Let your group grow organically and slowly over time. 

9. Find a class time that is ideal for little ones

Since young children do bring along with them their own challenges, think through times that work the very best for them. 

My experience has been that a mid-morning class is perfect. Some groups might do well with an early afternoon class, but in some cases, your class could conflict with nap times.

I often get requests from working parents for a 5:30 PM class. I can see why they would want to pick up their kids from childcare after work and immediately spend some quality time with their child.

However, I have never had success with evening times with this age group. Since it’s right around dinner time and so close to bed time, most young kids are not at their best at this time. They are often hungry, tired and irritable.

Weekend times can be a good option to present to working parents.

10. Stay in the loop with good resources

There is no shortage of good preschool music resources online. It’s easy to find high-quality, educational material to fill your classes. Here are some of my recommendations:

Pianissimo – this is my personal blog where I frequently post my own preschool lessons plans as well as recommendations for resources that I have had success with. 

Teach Preschool Music Facebook Page – this is my own page curated with all of the best preschool music resources and ideas to nurture the littlest musicians.

Teach Preschool Music – This is my full training course for piano teachers who would like to add preschool music classes to their studio.

Preschool Music Lesson Plan Crash Course – This course assumes you already teach preschoolers and gives you the best tools and resources for quick and simple lesson planning.

JBrary on YouTube – This is one of my favorite places to find new songs and activities. This page is run by 2 children’s librarians who have complied many of wonderful songs and activities for young children.

Music For Kiddos – This is another helpful website and facebook page that frequently posts thematic playlists for young children.

As you are searching for resources, don’t forget to fall back on your own childhood favorite songs. Browse YouTube to learn new songs or rediscover music you may have forgotten about. Think about ways you could adapt or simplify the music your piano students learn to make it more accessible to preschoolers. Use your local library to find books and CDs that would incorporate well into a preschool music class. 

Most importantly, enjoy the process of learning with young children! Keep things simple and let your love of music be contagious. 

Join our free webinar and learn how to thrive teaching younger students.

Free Webinar

If you are looking for more tips on how to thrive teaching preschool music students, look no further than this week’s free webinar held by Tim Topham and Nicola Cantan.

The webinar will be one hour of free live training, showing you how best to keep toddlers focused on the piano and most importantly, have them loving music education.

The webinar will take place Friday morning Melbourne time, or Thursday late afternoon in the USA.

If you cannot make the live webinar, don’t worry! If you register we will send you a replay link so you can watch it when you want to.

For more details on how to register and to save your seat, just click here. You won’t want to miss it!

Megan Desmarais

Megan Desmarais runs a dynamic piano studio in Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA where she helps students from ages 0-70 to succeed with and to love music. She blogs at verypiano.com where she loves to share resources and ideas with teachers and learners of piano. Megan recently created Teach Preschool Music, a comprehensive online course for piano teachers who wish to add a preschool music program to their studio. Megan enjoys spending time with her husband and 2 kids, playing violin in a community orchestra and learning new things.

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10 tips engaging preschool music students
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  1. It is a great post, I bought the lessons a few weeks ago I’m virtually ecstatic with how I’ve finally managed to play after a year of slogging away trying to learn to read music. I’ve given up on that and I’m really learning so quickly now by applying what you teach.
    Please feel free to put my testimonial on your website. I have literally tried everything I found online to learn and I was considering giving the piano away to a friend when fortunately I found your lessons. Thanks a lot! Cheers
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