Ten songs that work: Using YouTube™ videos in early childhood classrooms
by Sarah Mercado
Children sway from side to side in what appears to be a modified version of the Michael Jackson Thriller dance. They dance and sing along to You’re Alive on YouTube. We’re all in a semi-circle, singing and dancing to the beat of the song, following along on the classroom computer screen. And the learning is infectious: The Muppet™ rock band sings about the characteristics of living things—essential curriculum components.
The children’s favorite part is when we breathe in and breathe out in a loud and exaggerated fashion, mimicking the Muppets’ effective teaching. I am using this video—and its music and movement components—to teach life science, helping young children understand the differences between what is alive and what is not. The children are engaged, eager to expand their knowledge and demonstrate their competency in measurable ways.
Music and the brain
Children love music. People have been engaging in musical behaviors “…in all times and in all places…” since we’ve been around (Hodges 2000). A study by Devin McAuley has shown humans have specific beat-detecting neural networks in the brain (Hannon 2012). Babies have innate musical behaviors, seen in cultures around the world (Fox 2000). Even in the last few months before we are born, we respond to music! This strongly suggests the brain is set up to process music (Hodges 2000).
Further, researchers have found that fetuses exposed to music showed neural changes in the brain that lasted for at least six weeks after the last music exposure. Infants heard the music again after birth and showed a greater response than the infants who had not been exposed prenatally. This enhanced neural responsiveness to the sounds fetuses hear in utero could have applications to babies at risk of problems with auditory processing (Partanen, Kujala, Tervaniemi, and Huotilainen 2013).
Children learn when they sing and dance to a song because they are actively engaged in the task. The active engagement changes the brain (Fox 2000). This is why singing and dancing, while shaking a maraca, can help us remember song lyrics and rhythms. Research also suggests that from 30 to 60 percent of the brain’s connections are influenced by environmental factors (Fox 2000). This research, based on scans of the brain, suggests musical instruction in early childhood can increase neural connections and thus improved function in memory and information-processing tasks (Flohr, Miller, and deBeus 2000).
Children and media
In 2012, the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media published a position statement to help clarify best practices and update an earlier position that discouraged the use of screen time with young children. In the statement, two principles stand out.
First, developmentally appropriate practices must guide decisions about whether and when to integrate interactive media in early childhood classrooms. Media should enhance essential materials, curriculum content, and interactions—and never replace them. Use of media should be intentional, active (and interactive), and supportive of children’s development across all domains.
Second, effective media are active, hands-on, engaging, and empowering. Children should use the technology to explore, create, problem solve, and learn from and with one another.
With these principles in mind, I’ve built music and movement activities into plans for science, literacy development—including that for dual-language learners—and math. Many music and movement tools are available on the Internet for free, including YouTube music videos. Many of the YouTube educational songs have the lyrics printed on the screen, helping support early reading and writing skills. Most important, I’ve found that the media keeps children engaged—and actively learning.
Songs that work to teach English language arts
Phonics Song 2 (New Version) by KidsTV123, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffeZXPtTGC4
Spanish Phonics Song, www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqakwIzQ70c
This YouTube video helps teach students the connection between letters and their sounds, featuring upper and lower case illustrations of the letter being sung. There are also illustrations of the object that demonstrate the sound of the letter, along with a visual of the written word.
For example, Annie is working to learn the sounds of the letters in her name using this song for support. She mastered the /m/ sound quickly, and now when I ask her what sound the letter /o/ makes, she replies, “o, o, octopus” in the rhythm of the song. I play the song both as a language arts support and during large group time. I might also play the song as children spell their names on magnet boards, on the sidewalk with chalk, or on paper. They repeat the sounds of the letters, and practice using large and small motor skills to write their names.
The children also use the parallel Spanish language video. Like the English Phonics Song, it has images of the letters, with words and pictures that illustrate the sound of the letters.
Songs that work to teach social studies
There are several crowd-pleasing songs and videos that work for teaching the days of the week.
7 Days of the Week by Learning Station, www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tx0rvuXIRg
In this upbeat video, days of the week are sung while words appear on the screen. When the lyrics reach “7 days are in the week,” the number 7 is superimposed over the words. The song repeats the same words over and over but changes the way they are sung—for example, quietly, loudly, with clapping, and with other variations. I use this short video to reinforce the calendar; the children and I sing it together. As a follow-up activity, the children practice putting the days of the week in order on a Velcro® calendar.
Days of the Week Song for Kids by Dream English, www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tx0rvuXIRg
This video also shows the words to the days of the week as they are sung. The performer, Matt, plays a guitar in the video while adding hand motions that kids really dig.
Months of the Year Song by Maple Leaf Learning, www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4s-ut7N0jQ
This video features a singing moose. As the months of the year are sung, the word appears on the video along with an image of something associated with that month, such as fireworks for July and a carved pumpkin for October. When I show videos, I pause a few times and point out familiar images. The children now do the same when they watch the video independently. For example, a child might pause this video to point out the umbrella, the snowman, or a familiar letter in a word.
Deep in the Heart of Texas by the Texas Chamber of Commerce, www.youtube.com/watch?v= VGF4ibgcHQE
Beyond calendar work, you can explore—and reinforce—other social studies through music and movement. One favorite is this video that shows the words of the song along with real images referenced in the lyrics, such as the “stars at night,” the “sage in bloom,” and the “rabbits that rush, around the brush.” I use this video to introduce children to concepts like geography and territory. They enjoy the clap, clap, clap, clap part of the song, along with the images. The video ends with an image of the Texas flag, so that children can associate the image of the flag and the place it represents.
Songs that work to teach science
How’s the Weather? by Super Simple Songs, www.youtube.com/watch?v=rD6FRDd9Hew
The video shows cartoon images of sunny, rainy, snowy, and cloudy days, with cartoon children looking out the window to see the weather. While the song doesn’t have the words to the lyrics on the video, it is still useful. I appreciate that the video shows children going to the window. We can stop the video and move to a concrete discussion of the weather outside our classroom window. The group chooses—sometimes with fierce negotiation—icons to represent the weather for that day.
You’re Alive by Little Chrissy and the Alphabeats, www.youtube.com/watch?v=jY0P008dZZM
To teach students about the difference between something that is alive and not alive, I use the video mentioned at the beginning of this article. It’s the Sesame Street® video with lyrics such as “You’re alive, and that’s no jive,” “You eat and breathe and grow, and that is how you know, you’re alive,” and “They don’t eat or breathe or grow, and that is how you know, they’re not alive.” While the song plays, I have the words eat, breathe, and grow on index cards and point to each word when it is sung. We watch the video as the children play sorting games separating image cards into Alive and Not Alive categories.
Songs that work to teach math
Numbers Song, Let’s Count 1-10, (New Version) by Dream English, www.youtube.com/watch?v= 85M1yxIcHpw
This video is definitely a hit. The words to the song appear in the video, along with printed numerals and objects corresponding to the number being counted. The video also includes activities such as jumping and stepping forward. Supported by the music and movement of this video, the children practice counting objects and matching numerals to the same number of objects.
Number One (Number of the Day) by Sesame Street, www.youtube.com/watch?v=E45ZZKPXX80
If you need a song for recognizing the number one, this video is catchy. It features the Count, Big Bird, and a whole crowd of puppets singing and stomping their feet. The video also shows a visual of the number one several times. Before I play this video, I introduce the numeral 1 with a variety of tactile examples—in foam, cardboard, and magnetized plastic, for example. While the song plays, we all hold up the numeral and move it to the beat while we sing.
Given the ongoing research on music, movement, and brain strength, you may want to make music and movement a regular component of curriculum and activity planning. The YouTube videos of 10 songs that work can help energize and reinforce the important learning in early childhood classrooms.
Flohr, J.W., D.C. Miller, and R. deBeus. 2000. EEG studies with young children. Music Educators Journal, 87 (2).
Fox, D.B. 2000. Music and the baby’s brain, early experiences: Do young children benefit from early childhood music instruction? Music Educators Journal, 87 (2).
Hannon, E. 2012. Symposium 1: Mechanisms of rhythm and meter learning over the lifespan. Proceedings from Introduction to the Neurosciences and Music IV: Learning and Memory. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Edinburgh, U.K.
Hodges, D. 2000. Implication of music and brain research. Music Educators Journal, 87 (2).
National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College. 2012. Position Statement. Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children From Birth Through Age 8. www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/PS_technology_WEB2.pdf.
Partanen, E., T. Kujala, M. Tervaniemi, and M. Huotilainen. 2013. Prenatal music exposure induces long term neural effects. PLOS ONE, 8 (10). Retrieved from www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0078946.