helping children develop creative thinking

Rhythm Instrument Activities to Teach Creative Thinking Skills

NAEYC 2006 Handout


Some of these activities are included in my book, 101 Rhythm Instrument Activities for Young Children, published by Gryphon House. The book is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Gryphon House (ghbooks.com). For more information, go to http://freewebs.com/teachcreativity/ or e-mail me at Connors419@aol.com.


How to Introduce Rhythm Instruments -

1.Demonstrate. Take out one instrument (or one pair of sticks or sand blocks) and demonstrate the correct way to play.

2.Set rules. Keep the rules clear and very simple, i.e. “Keep the instrument away from your face.” (When I first started out, I’d say “Don’t hit the sticks too hard, don’t hit other people’s sticks,” and all this other stuff, and all the kids would chime in with their ideas for more rules… One little girl said, “And don’t put them inside your nose!” I hadn’t thought of that one! Now I keep it very simple.

3.Maintain order. Have children sit “criss-cross applesauce” and keep their hands in their laps while you pass out and collect instruments.

4.Practice signals. Have children practice picking up/playing and stopping/putting down on your spoken signals.

1.      Do You Know the Tapping Sticks? (tune: Muffin Man) Do you know the tapping sticks, the tapping sticks, the tapping sticks, Do you know the tapping sticks, who live on Drury Lane? Repeat with scraping sticks, hammering sticks, rolling sticks, jumping sticks, and children’s ideas.

2.      If You’re Happy and You Know It Tap Your Sticks. If you’re happy and you know it tap your sticks, if you’re happy and you know it tap your sticks, if you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it, if you’re happy and you know it tap your sticks. Repeat with “scrape your sticks,” “slide,” and kids’ ideas.

3.      The Tapper in the Dell. The tapper in the dell, the tapper in the dell, hi-ho, the derry-o, the tapper in the dell. Repeat with the scraper, the roller, and kids’ ideas.

4.      Tap, Tap, Tap Your Boat. Tap, tap, tap your boat, gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream. Repeat with “slide your boat, wiggle your boat,” etc., and kids’ ideas.

5.      Merrily We Roll Along. Roll sticks and sing: Merrily we roll along, roll along, roll along, merrily we roll along, over the deep blue sea. Repeat with “jump along, tap along,” etc., and kids’ ideas.

6.      Simon Says Tap! Use a rhythmic instrumental background. Simon says…tap sticks together, tap the floor, scrape your sticks, hammer your sticks, roll them, make them jump, make them walk, etc. Then have kids take turns being “Simon.”

7.      Sticks on Toes. “Simon Says,” but standing up. Bend, stand, tap sides, turn, etc.

8.      Painting With Sticks. Use beautiful classical music as background. Kids can “paint” on the floor with sticks, whatever they hear in the music.

9.      The Little Red Hen. (tune: Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush) Who will help me water the seeds?…cut the wheat?… bake the bread?(stir)…eat the bread?

Have kids create movements with shakers to illustrate the song.

10. The Animals in the Jungle. (tune: Wheels on the Bus) The elephant in the jungle

has a long, long trunk, a long, long  trunk, a long, long trunk, the elephant in the jungle has a long, long trunk, all through the jungle. (Hold shaker out from nose to be a trunk and sway to the beat.) Have kids create shaker movements for other jungle animals, i.e. snake goes wiggle wiggle, monkey likes to climb, etc.

11. Vacuuming the Floor. (tune: Farmer in the Dell) We’re vacuuming the floor, we’re   

       vacuuming the floor, hi-ho, the derry-o, we’re vacuuming the floor. Vacuum to beat      

       with shaker. Then: we’re vacuuming our arms… our feet…etc. Have kids add ideas.

12.  My Friend Shakey. (tune: Glory Glory Hallelujah) My friend Shakey likes to

shakey-shakey-shake, my friend Shakey likes to shakey-shakey-shake, my friend Shakey likes to shakey-shakey-shake, that’s why I call him Shakey! Then – My friend Rolley likes to rolley-rolley-roll… etc., kids add ideas.

13.  Where is Shaker? (tune: Where is Thumbkin?) Where is Shaker, where is

Shaker? (hide shaker behind back) Here I am! Here I am! (bring out shaker and shake it) How are you today, friend? Very well, I thank you! Run away, run away. (hide it behind back again.) Then tell kids Shaker will do a trick this time. For third line, sing “Jumping on the floor, Jumping on the floor,” and hold shaker upright on floor and make it jump. Then have kids make up their own tricks for Shaker.

14.  The More We Shake Together. Just like “The More We Get Together,” but after

first verse, have kids create new movements – the more we stir together, tap (on     palm) together, fly together, etc.

15.   Stir Up My Soup. (tune: My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.) Stir with shakers  

while singing (to “bring back, bring back” tune): Stir up, stir up, oh, stir up my soup  for me, for me, Stir up, stir up, oh, stir up my soup for me. Then put shaker down and pretend to add ingredients: (to “My Bonnie” tune) First put in some carrots and celery, some chicken and noodles and peas, but please don’t put in too much pepper, ‘cause pepper will make you sneeze! At-CHOO! Repeat, having kids substitute new ingredients, i.e., cereal and  onions, some peaches and spaghetti and peas. (You have to keep the peas to rhyme with “sneeze.”)

16.    I Picked Up My Shaker. Say and act out: I picked up my shaker, and I shook my

   shaker, and I gently put it down. Then: I picked up my shaker, and I rubbed it on my 

   tummy, and I shook my shaker, and I gently put it down. Go around the circle, each

   person adding a movement.

17.    Shaking Around the World. (tune: 100 Bottles of Pop) Children should be

standing. Shake shaker in a circle and sing: Oh, we’re shaking around the world, we’re shaking around the world, we’re shaking up (shake above head), we’re shaking down (shake low), we’re shaking around the world (shake in circle). Then sing to tune of “Happy and You Know It:” At (Miss Abby’s) house we shake like this – (do a funny motion) – At (Miss Abby’s) house we shake like this, can you shake like this, can you shake like this, At (Miss Abby’s) house we shake like this.

Let each child add a motion for their “house.”

18. Happy Birthday Cha-Cha-Cha With Shakers. Sing “Happy Birthday” and have

       kids improvise different ways to go “cha-cha-cha” with the shakers.

19. Jingle and Jump. (tune: Dinah, Won’t You Blow) Children should be standing.

Sing: Jingle and jump (jingle bells and jump on the word “jump”), jingle and jump,      Jingle, jingle, jingle, and jump, jump, jump, Jingle and jump, jingle and jump, jingle,    jingle, jingle and jump! Then – jingle and turn, jingle and bend, etc., add kids’ ideas.

20. Everybody Jingle. (tune: Shortnin’ Bread) Children should be standing. Sing:                   

       (Miss Abby) likes to jingle, jingle, jingle, (Miss Abby) likes to jingle just like this.

      Everybody jingle, jingle, jingle, everybody jingle just like this. (Make up a funny

      motion with bells for the group to imitate.) Kids then take turns making up motions.

21. Let’s Jog and Jingle. (tune: Go Round and Round the Village) Children should be

      standing. Jog in place while jingling bells and sing: Let’s jog and jingle, jingle, let’s

      jog and jingle, jingle, let’s jog and jingle, jingle, as we have done before. Repeat with

      different motions, i.e., Let’s kick and jingle, jingle; Let’s reach and jingle, jingle.

22. Bells on Ankles. Attach bells around children’s ankles. Children should be standing.

      Play rhythmic instrumental music as background, and have kids improvise motions

      with feet for the group to imitate.

23. Circus Tricks With Bells. Background music: “Entry of the Gladiators” on

       “Preschool Playtime Band” recording by Georgianna Stewart. “Juggle” by gently

       tossing bells from left hand to right and back; spin bells on pointer finger; balance

       bells on your head; have children create new tricks.

24. Can You Jingle? (tune: Clementine) Gently rub bells on your knee and sing:

       Can you jingle, can you jingle, can you jingle on your knee? Can you jingle, can

      you jingle, can you jingle on your knee. Repeat with kids’ ideas, i.e. Can you jingle

      … on your arm…head…tummy, etc.

25. Jingley Jingley Joe. (tune: Hickory Dickory Dock) Jingle bells and sing: Jingley

      jingley Joe, I jingle on my toe (jingle on toe),  I jingle up (jingle bells up high), I

     jingle down (jingle on floor), jingley, jingley, Joe. (Jingle bells in air again.) Repeat

     with different body parts. Add kids’ ideas.

26. Polar Bear Night. Background music: “Aquarium” from “Carnival of the Animals”

      by Saint-Saens. Read “Polar Bear Night” by Lauren Thompson. Have kids portray

      the twinkling stars (very softly) and the star shower (with gentle falling motions)

      with jingle bells. Very special and magical.

27. The Little Train. (tune: Polly Wolly Doodle) Scrape sand blocks with “chugga-

       chugga” motion and sing: The little train went down the track, going chugga-chugga

       choo-choo all day, When all of a sudden it had to stop (stop) ‘cause something was

      in its way… It was an elephant (stomp heavily on floor with face-down blocks), it

      was an elephant, stomping across the tracks, It was an elephant, it was an elephant,

      stomping across the tracks. Repeat with other animals – a bird flying, a duck

      waddling, etc. Add kids’ ideas.

28. Chugging Down the Track. (tune: Hole in the Bottom of the Sea) Scrape blocks

       and sing: There’s a train that’s chugging down the track, there’s a train that’s

       chugging down the track, there’s a train…  there’s a train…  there’s a train that’s

       chugging down the track. Then – There’s a horse (clip-clop on floor with face-down

       blocks) on the train (back to scraping) that’s chugging down the track… Have kids

       add items like duck, bird, bug, rabbit, etc.

29. Then They Like to Clap! (tune: Skip to My Lou) Make blocks “jump” face-down

       on floor and sing: Sand blocks like to jump up and down, sand blocks like to jump

       up and down, sand blocks like to jump up and down, and then they like to CLAP!

       (Clap blocks together once on the word “CLAP!” Repeat with other motions – sand

        blocks like to scrape scrape scrape, walk walk walk, fly around, etc. Add kids’ ideas.

30. The Blocks On The Bus.  (tune: Wheels on the Bus) The blocks on the bus go

      scrape, scrape, scrape, Scrape, scrape, scrape, Scrape, scrape, scrape, The blocks

      on the bus go scrape, scrape, scrape, All through the town. Repeat with kids’ ideas

      for motions – fly, jump, twirl, slide, etc.

31. In the Middle of the Night. (tune: London Bridge) Hold blocks quietly and sing:

    In the middle of the night, I hear footsteps (“step” softly with face-down blocks),

    I hear footsteps, In the middle of the night, I hear footsteps. Repeat with kids’ ideas

    for other night sounds, i.e. a door, the wind, thunder, airplanes, etc.


Eleven Strategies to Inspire and Support Creative Thinking

 (Note: No matter how I tried to edit it, I couldn't get this section to appear normal!

I'm sorry if it's hard to read. )

1. Listen.                     Not as easy as it sounds.

                                    Be patient – it may take them a minute to explain what they mean. 

                                    If other children are talking, ask them to be quiet so you can hear the speaker.

                                    They might just say an idea – for instance, "motorcycle.” Ask them how we could act out a

                                    motorcycle with the instrument – don’t just jump in with an idea of your own unless they seem

                                    really stuck.

2. Watch.                    They may not be able to express their idea verbally.

                                    Describe their movements – “you’re rubbing the shaker on your shoulder.”

3. Clarify gently.       “Are the sticks jumping?” (They might mean dancing, or something else.) or they might say, “an     

                                     animal" - you could ask, “what kind of animal?” Again, if wejust assume we know what they   

                                     mean, or jump in too soon with our own ideas, they might be less likely to

                                     share ideas next time.

4. Enjoy.                      Smile and have fun, throw yourself into it.

5. Notice.                     Verbalize details of technique, sound and movement.“That’s a very quiet way."                               

6. Warmup.                 It can help to present a few different ideas first.

7. Suggest categories.  What’s another animal, part of the body, food, etc.?

8. The Magic Phrase.  “What’s another way we could play it?” or

                                      “What’s a different way?” More magic words: new, never

                                       done before, silly, surprising, funny, interesting.

9. “Try it.”                    Encourage kids to try out their ideas, even if they

                                       seem strange or “off topic.” If your activity is about

                                       farm animals, and a child wants to make the instru-

                           ment a stomping dinosaur, you could say, “Well,

                                       dinosaurs don’t live on farms, but let’s try it.”

10. Experiment.            Challenge children with “what-if’s.” What if we

                                       only used one hand? What if we played without

                                       using our hands at all? What if we closed our eyes?                                                      

11. Model creativity.    Consciously try out new ideas yourself. Challenge

                                       yourself to play your instrument in a way you’ve

                                       never done before.  

 The Three Part Model: 1. Create a climate of respect.

                                          2. Inspire, challenge, ask questions, pose problems.

                                          3. Acknowledge and appreciate all ideas.

Creativity Cheat Sheet 

There’s nothing mysterious about coming up with new ideas. As a matter of fact, there are no new ideas, only new combinations of existing ideas.  

Being creative with musical instruments is all about changing around different variables in different ways. Here are some examples. (By the way, many of these ideas can also be used in dance, movement, poetry, songs, and drama.) 

  1. Tempo  Play fast or slow.
  2. Dynamics  Play loud or soft.
  3. Area  Play with a large or a small motion.
  4. Height  Play instrument high (above head), low or anywhere in between.
  5. Directionality  move instrument up, down, side to side, in a circle, diagonally, and so on.   
  6. Space  high or low, in front or in back
  7. Position of instrument   hold rightside up, upside down, sideways, etc.
  8. Play instrument on different parts of the body  knee, shoulder, tummy, toes, etc.
  9. Type of movement  make instrument walk, slide, wiggle, jump, etc.

     10. Hit or scrape different parts of the instrument against other parts (for two-piece instruments)

      11.Different hand movements on instruments tap with finger, pat with whole hand, scratch, knock with knuckles, brush with fingertips, rub with palm, flick with thumb and third finger, etc.

      12. Animals  How would different animals (mice, elephants, kangaroos, etc.) play the instrument?

      13. Characters  How would a (pirate, ballerina, baby, princess, robot, etc.) play the instrument?

     14. Nature  use movement and sound of instrument to portray rain, thunder, falling leaves, sunshine, stars, ocean waves, etc.

     15. Timbre (sound quality) play instrument with or on different materials (cardboard, wood, blanket, etc.) or fill homemade shakers with different materials (rice, building bricks, paper clips, etc.) to change sound

     16. Staccato/Legato  Perform the same movement in a sharp, choppy (staccato) way or a smooth, flowing way (legato)

     17. Rhythm  play in a regular rhythm (steady beats), a skipping or galloping rhythm, or an irregular rhythm

     18. Acceleration/deceleration  gradually play faster or slower

     19. Crescendo/decrescendo  gradually play louder or more softly

     20. Position of body  play standing, sitting, squatting, lying down, or while marching or dancing

Have fun using these ideas, combining them in different ways, and inventing more ideas with your students for creative and musical experiences.

 c. 2006 Abigail Connors


 NAEYC Policies and Standards Addressed by Rhythm Instrument Activities:

From the position statement, Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth to Age 8: Guidelines for decisions about developmentally appropriate practice:

2. Teaching to enhance development and learning:

  1. Teachers develop, refine, and use a wide repertoire of teaching strategies to enhance children's learning and development.

2. Teachers pose problems, ask questions, and make comments and suggestions that stimulate children's thinking and extend their learning.

3. Teachers extend the range of children's interests and the scope of their thought through presenting novel experiences and introducing stimulating ideas, problems, experiences, or hypotheses.

8. To strengthen children's sense of competence and confidence as learners, motivation to persist, and willingness to take risks, teachers provide experiences for children to be genuinely successful and to be challenged.

NAEYC Early Childhood Program Standards

Focus Area: Children

Performance Category: Curriculum

The program implements a curriculum that is consistent with its goals for children and promotes learning and development in each of the following domains: aesthetic, cognitive, emotional, language, physical, and social.

Rationale: Curriculum that draws on research assists teachers in identifying important concepts and skills and effective methods for fostering children's learning and development. When informed by teachers' knowledge of individual children, a well-articulated curriculum guides teachers so they can provide children with experiences that foster growth across a broad range of developmental and content areas. Curriculum also helps ensure the teacher is intentional in planning a daily schedule that maximizes children's learning through effective use of time, materials used for play, self-initiated learning, and creative expression.