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3.4.1: Songs and Movement

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    You’re likely already including songs and movement in your storytimes, and you’ve probably seen how much children enjoy them! You can use what we learned from both our study and research into best practices to reflect on the songs you use, to consider adding songs, and to consider how you can present songs to ensure their use is even more valuable to children’s learning and school readiness.

    Note: These selection and presentation strategies can also be used with action rhymes or chants.

    Selection Strategies

    As you think about choosing new songs to incorporate into storytime, try one or more of these research-based strategies to select songs most likely to promote school readiness.

    Choose songs that are paired with movement. Researchers have found that children prefer songs played with movement over songs without (Walton, 2014).

    Choose songs with action verbs. Children can learn these verbs through movement and repetition. Some suggestions:

    Choose a song that complements the theme of the session or the content of a chosen book. This helps promote both vocabulary and background knowledge for later reading. Many traditional English children’s songs can be modified to include relevant vocabulary (Giles & Fresne, 2015). For example, If You’re Happy and You Know It ( can be modified to relate to several common storytime themes or stories. For use with an animal theme, you might modify the song by using features of the animal: If you’re a birdie and you know it, flap your wings, peck with your beak, shake your tail feathers, etc. For use with a story in which a character works through a strong emotion, you can change “happy” to another emotion such as sad, grumpy, frightened, or excited and use an appropriate accompanying movement.

    Choose songs with concepts that are connected to school readiness such as counting, letters of the alphabet, shapes, size, colors, directional prepositions (e.g. over, under, in, out), days of the week, weather, seasons, and opposites. Some suggestions:

    Choose songs representative of diverse cultures (Wiggins, 2007). These can be cultures within the community your library serves or from around the world. Check out:

    Invite caregivers to share favorite songs from their childhood. This can help all families feel welcome and introduce new vocabulary words.

    Choose songs with rhyming words or alliteration (words that start with the same sound). A key building block of early literacy is phonological awareness, the ability to recognize that words are made up of sounds. Songs with repetitive sounds help children build this ability (Giles & Fresne, 2015; Riordan et al., 2018). Some suggestions:

    Include songs that use fine motor skills (small muscle and finger movement) and songs that use gross motor skills (whole body or large muscle movement) in each session. This variety helps promote brain and physical development (Office of Head Start, 2015). Some suggestions:

    Virtual Variations: Song Selection and Copyright


    If you will be recording a storytime session, make sure there is no copyright restriction on any song lyrics, sound recording, or video you wish to share. Most of the songs suggested in these guidelines are traditional songs with lyrics in the public domain. However, the sound recording or video of such a song by a particular artist may be copyrighted by that artist. Therefore, it is advisable to learn the lyrics of the public domain song and perform it yourself, if you are recording your virtual storytime. Alternatively, if you do wish to use a song with copyright restrictions, you should contact the rights holder for permission. For more information about copyright considerations for storytime, consult the “Copyright Considerations” section of the ALSC’s and CLEL’s Virtual Storytime Services Resource Guide available at


    As one of their suggested best practices for virtual library programs, Nolet, Lockwood, and Gam (2021) recommend checking for copyright restrictions on any music shared during a recorded program.

    Presentation Strategies

    No matter what songs (or action rhymes or chants) you’ve chosen, the way you present each song can be thoughtfully chosen to promote early literacy and school readiness skills. Here are some research-based strategies to consider.

    Change up the lyrics of familiar songs with synonyms to teach new words or with key vocabulary words from a story or your chosen theme (Wiggins, 2007). This can be a particularly helpful way to teach verbs.

    Encourage continuous participation. If all children aren’t singing or moving along, pause and try these strategies:

    Promote vocabulary growth by using direct vocabulary instruction to teach a word or words from the song. Before singing, state the word, define the word with common words, and give an example of how the word is used in an everyday context. After singing, ask children to recall the definition of the word and encourage them to try using the word in a sentence of their own. To reinforce learning, repeat the word, definition, and example later in the storytime session.

    As you teach the lyrics to the song, point out the words that rhyme or words that start with the same sound (alliterative words). As you sing the song, pause before repeated rhyming or alliterative words to let children fill in the words. After singing, ask children to share a word that rhymes with a word from the song or that starts with the same sound as a word in the song. These strategies can help promote phonological awareness (Giles & Fresne, 2015). Some suggestions:

    Empower caregivers to participate by sharing the lyrics on paper or on a screen. This may be especially helpful for caregivers who are English language learners and can also help all caregivers learn the songs well enough to repeat them at home. However, be sensitive to the literacy levels of caregivers and do not assume that all can read the lyrics.

    Guide children and caregivers to create a steady, calming beat to lullabies and nursery rhymes by patting their knees or thighs rhythmically or by swaying or rocking rhythmically while standing. Repetitive, calm movements help children practice listening, concentration, and muscle control (Giles & Fresne, 2015).

    Online Resources:

    3.4.1: Songs and Movement is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.