The question of how to motivate children to sing and move along to classroom music is often asked of me in my workshops and presentations. The question was also asked on my HeidiSongs Facebook page by Sue Keeler, so I thought I would address it in a blog post, since student participation is essential to multi-sensory learning and a big part of learning through HeidiSongs.
“I know it’s been addressed before, but what are some ‘positive’ ways of motivating kids who refuse to sing the phonics songs, etc.? Of course, they haven’t learned too many of them…”
Set Clear Expectations
First, I tell parents at the beginning of the year that non-participation in music is not allowed and will be treated as refusal to do any other academic activity would be treated. We learn from music and movement, just as we learn from doing worksheets- but we probably learn MORE from the music and movement! So if the child refused to do a worksheet, he would be disciplined in your classroom, right? The consequences are the same. It’s very important that parents understand this, because you will need to get them on board in some cases. A couple of times, I have asked a parent to stay for a few minutes after school to help me get a child to participate in music. Together, we put on the songs and tried to get the child to sing and move along with us. Once the child sees that this is what the parent wants and expects, they often do it. Most of the time, the parent is surprised and says, “WHAT???? He does it ALL the TIME at home!!!!”
Try Natural Consequences
I once kept a child in from recess and had her sing the songs and do the movements by herself at recess with the DVD because she was hiding in my classroom while the rest of the class was singing, etc. (This was a child that never wanted to do anything physical, and was over-weight. She didn’t want to get up when I asked the class to stand, etc.) It must have worked because she never did that again!
I have also sent children to my aide to sing the song and do the motions for her since the rest of the class was finished. My only purpose in doing this is to make sure that the child knows that he or she should just cooperate, because in the end, he or she will still have to “do their work,” no matter what. After all, if the child just refuses to cooperate and then “wins” by doing nothing, then the child has no reason to cooperate next time, right?
Move Enthusiastic Class Leaders to the Front
But as far as positive methods are concerned, I try to move the more naturally enthusiastic children to the front of the room, and the more reluctant children to the back. Their enthusiasm is contagious!
Catch Them Being Good and Make a Big Deal Over It
Also, when a child that doesn’t usually participate much starts really “moving” or “boogie-ing” to a song, I often say, “Wow! Go Alfonso!” or something like that. “Look at ____ go!” (And I say that right in the middle of the song!) That usually makes everyone want to do the same, of course. So positive reinforcement works its same magic in this arena as it does in others!
Mix Favorite Songs In With Others That They Need to Work On
Making playlists that include songs that your children really respond too, mixed with songs that they may not like as well also helps. I try not to just keep playing ones that are not their favorites over and over without mixing it up with others that they really like. And their favorites change yearly!
Invite Kids To Lead A Song with a Buddy
Over the last two years, I invited kids to come up and lead the songs for us. That really made it fun for some of them! If you can get some of the reluctant ones to come up with a friend, sometimes the positive reinforcement that they get from that helps, too. Usually once a few of them are “begging” for a chance to come up and do it, things change!
Make Sure Parents Understand That Their Attitude Matters
The only time I completely failed in getting a child to participate was several years ago, and in this case, I discovered that his father was telling him not to do it because “it was stupid.” That poor little boy was certainly smart, but wound up knowing fewer sight words than anyone in the whole class, and this was probably due to his lack of engagement in so many of our class activities. He was finally moved in February to another Kindergarten class at his father’s request. Unfortunately, his teacher told me that he didn’t learn many new words in her class, either.
Andrea Sims Gibbs:
When I explain to the students that there isn’t a choice of whether to sing or not to sing, I usually don’t have to many problems. I address this problem from the beginning and then it becomes a non-issue. The love the silly movements that can be incorporated.
Krista Baczynski Claassen:
I put the CD in my listening center. Even my quiet ones sing along when they’re wearing headphones! (Of course it makes for a rather noisy center, but it works for me.)
Amber Monson Schaefer:
My own son was a kid who didn’t sing. He had hearing issues as an infant and missed all the singing I did for him. He really struggled to get his words out and when he sung, it was slow. He could not get the words out to the rhythm and it really frustrated him. My advice is to just give them time and space. Show them how fun it is and keep them involved by dancing with them. They’re still getting the academics from the song, even if they’re not singing the songs.
That’s good advice. I like it when a child is moving along to the best of their ability. A child that is unable to get the words out and is trying is a totally different thing than a child is will not cooperate. All I ever ask of the children is that they participate to the best of their ability. And that really varies from child to child. I do think that the children will learn more if they are repeating the words somehow, but again, each child needs to do it to the best of his or her ability.
Tammy Owensby Carpenter:
I agree, and looking back on it, the ones who didn’t like to participate were the very ones who ended up being retained. In the end though all pretty much participated. I miss my daily “Heidi” fix with the kids…“unk spells unk like skunk, pee-u, pee-u!” “Hey you bossy e, stop bossing me!”
Sheila Mack Gonzales:
The big thing I see here is know the child. As teachers we can usually tell who is shy and needs time and positive reinforcers vs those that tend to choose not to for the sake of not doing it and need a little more directive approach. I do like the suggestion of having a buddy and moving the more enthusiastic singers and dancers forward letting their enthusiasm spread and keeping eyes off the bashfuls until they are ready.
T Nell Woolworth:
As Dr.Jean said at one of her conferences, sometimes you just let them observe, and what they’ll see is their peers having fun! Encourage, congratulate the fun and most kids will join in eventually!
Tammy Owensby Carpenter:
At circle time I say, “Whose gonna Participate?” They say “everybody” and I say “tell your neighbor, I’m gonna participate (they repeat) so you gotta participate.” They love this and it does help!
I have used many of the suggestions above. Also, reading a story like Horton and the Who where it emphasizes EVERYONE’s participation has helped, too. However, in recent years, I have had more kinders who think it is somehow COOL to not participate. I’m unsure if this is because of their lack of participation in other areas of their lives such as entertainment or what. I have even explained to them how moving and singing help their brains develop and learn. Knowing the child is key… are they struggling or refusing? And why?
I, too, explain to them that this is how we learn, and this is why we do it. We learn by doing, and not as much by watching. They will learn a little bit by watching too, but they will probably learn more slowly. The question again, as Muriel Weidemann said, is “why?” Why are they refusing? That’s the key. If you can figure out why and solve that problem, then the issue can often be overcome.
Not all of my students sing the songs, but that is where the reward comes in to play; I use ClassDoJo, an online classroom management tool. After the 5 words of the day are played and the students tell me what words they listened to and then read them; They get points for reading the words. The points are earned toward popcorn and movie on Monday from the previous week.