We explored...

How we could provide opportunities for children to move to music and create space for children to freely express themselves physically. We experimented with both offering children movement ideas taking an adult led approach as well as encouraging the children to physically respond autonomously.

We found...

When offered space some children just wanted to move and run around, it did not encourage those children to listen. Other children however were physically engaged with the music and physically responded stylistically to different genres of music. Watch the children in the following two clips and see how they physically respond.

In 2007 Marshall and Hargreaves conducted a study which involved the use of cassette tapes with excerpts of music recorded onto them. Children aged three to four were asked to match one piece of music with the same piece of music on another cassette by playing them themselves in a cassette player. The results of the study show that participants were able to make accurate stylistic discriminations at a much earlier age than predicted by the results of previous research. We found that some children move differently to different styles of music. This therefore concurs with previous research in that young children are able to identify differences in style. This may not be very surprising as many of you may have seen children move fast to dance music and this seems obvious. Next time you see children move to music observe them carefully and play a range of styles of music. Using a range of styles of music can clearly support physical development, although this may sound obvious - ask yourself how many styles of music have you drawn upon in your practice?

The following clip was taken in the tinies room at Allens Croft, this room is for children aged eight months to two years old. When music is played it travels and is not in isolation. Music was played for short periods of time – five to ten minutes, at a time that the staff felt appropriate.

When the music was played some of the children were engaged in the music and others were not. When the staff in the room joined in by singing along, clapping or moving, the children seemed to respond more positively. Perhaps some children need reassurance to join in actively, they may want picking up or may want to simply hold your hand. This may be more so when playing music that they have not heard before. New experiences, whatever they may be, may be a little daunting for some children.

In the space for two to three year olds at Allens Croft there is often a designated space for music and movement. The space includes pom-poms and ribbons that the children can easily access. Children are able to move freely or just sit and listen if they choose to. In both the tinies room and the two to three year old room the practitioners are active listening partners with the children. By listening with children they demonstrate that they value music listening.

When listening with two year olds practitioner Emily acknowledges children’s movements by copying them or talking about them. When listening and moving to The Blue Danube by Strauss a two and a half year old child said to Emily:

“This is quiet and slow, let’s move like this”.

The child moved slowly from side to side whilst swaying her arms, Emily copied her and by doing so valued her physical ideas. Sometimes the practitioners join in with the children and at other times they do not, they carefully observe and document the movements that the children make.

Large groups

When working with large groups of children and movement with music we found that some children liked to be offered movement ideas, particularly whilst listening to music with a slow tempo, music with an upbeat tempo seemed to engage the children more readily.

Amie from Hillfields noted that children “seem to know what to do, how to move to music with a fast tempo, it’s instinctive. With music with a slow tempo children don’t seem to know, they need more help and guidance”.

At times we offered simple movements such as tapping to the music, the children often then created their own physical responses. Some children followed the suggested movements and some created their own. We also often copied the children’s movements and shared them with the group. Some children thrived on being led and being offered suggestions and others naturally physically responded and moved freely and expressively.

Using resources

· Offering resources such as ribbons, scarves and pom-poms may help children feel less inhibited to move if they have something to move with.

· On the other hand, some children may find that having something to hold limits their ability to physically express themselves. When exploring the piece of music Mbube with a group of children we began by playing the music and inviting children to move to the music. Some children were very engaged and physically responsive, other children were not. We then played the music for a second time and offered children claves (rhythm sticks) to use whilst moving. Some children moved much more when they held the claves and others moved much less. This could be due to children needing to concentrate to play the claves or that they were interested in the sound that the claves made as opposed to the music that was playing.


Marshall, N.A. & Hargreaves, D.J., (2007). musical style discrimination in the early years. Journal of Early Childhood Research. 5, (1), pp.32-46.