Music and Movement in the Classroom

The Importance of Music and Movement in the Classroom

EDT 422 - Fall 2014

Chelsea Lamassa and Sam Tipton


EDT422- Fall 2015

Lucia Kollat


“Speech and music have a number of shared processing systems. Musical experiences which enhance processing can therefore impact on the perception of language which in turn impacts on learning to read." - Susan Hallam (Institute of Education; University of London)

Even before children reach the age of early childhood education, music and movement are intertwined and effecting them. Infants can be soothed through the use of music and often bounce or sway to music. It is effecting them in some way.

Children learn by using their senses. They do this through play, exploration and discovery, repetition, and imitation.

Benefits of Music in ECE: Does making up a song in your head help you to remember things? This is because while you are adding a tune or melody to your words, you are stimulating neural pathways associated with higher levels of thinking. One side of your brain processes words in a song, while the other side of your brain processes the music. By stimulating both sides of your brain, you are more likely to remember things!

Not only is music important in remembering, but it can also help young children improve communication skills. Because of the fact that music has a rhythm and beat, it can help children learn the rhythm of speaking. It isn’t something that is usually thought about, but speaking involves pauses, stops, and starts, which is considered tempo!


By using activities with developmentally appropriate music, the whole child is involved because children desire language and they want to move, and their brains attention to patterns is stimulated.




Benefits of Movement in ECE: How do you feel when you’ve been sitting down for hours on end? Probably like you don’t have a lot of energy and you need to get up and move to wake yourself up a little bit! It is a known fact that physical movement promotes health.


In classrooms, clapping to music or jumping in time to a beat will stimulate brain function. This will help students’ brains to organize thoughts and behaviors! By moving together as a single unit, students feel a sense of belonging.


What to do in the Classroom: First of all, students need to have time to get up and let their energy out! By giving children time to move and free play, they are less likely to feel pressured and can be themselves. During play time, children may role play or imitate each other. By doing this, children are able to learn how to better socialize with others. Children feel safe while they are free to play and move about!

Teachers should incorporate movement throughout the curriculum, especially if children are not getting to go to physical education classes or have outdoor recess. This can be done very simply. Teachers can have children imitate shapes they are seeing, act out the meaning of words from a text, and count how many body parts it takes them to stay balanced.





This is an example of one way to set up an early childhood classroom to have more room for movement. This setup leaves more space for the student to be able to move and either gain or let out some energy!


The Cycle: Physical education has been used in the past to promote health and keep children moving. In education currently, there is so much pressure on testing, specifically in mathematics and language arts. Because of these things being so important to educators, more time is being devoted to those subjects and less time is being devoted to not only social studies and science, but specials as well! There is less time in the week for fine arts, such as physical education, music, and art. Due to the fact that more time is now spent in the classroom, teachers are doing their best to provide time to get children moving while they are still in the classroom and attempting to learn other concepts and subjects. As far as music goes, there is less time spent in music classes for the same reason. However, teachers are better able to incorporate music into the curriculum to help students learn things in an easier manner. Teachers aren't necessarily having to make more time in their classes for music because they already used it, but children aren't necessarily given the time to play with instruments or learn music notes.



It's truly astonishing that the dominant model for formal learning is still “sit and git.” It's not just astonishing; it's embarrassing. Why do we persist when the evidence that lecture alone does not cut it is so strong?"      

(Dolcourt, 2000; Slavin, 1994)


This statement encompasses the importance of movement in the classroom. Is it possible for students to understand, learn and engage with the materials they are taught by remaining in their seats? Throughout all stages of life students go through physical changes. This particularly affects middle school students (4-9). As a Middle Childhood education major with multiple experiences in the classroom I found that lack of movement is an overarching problem that has an effect on more than students learning, it also affects their behaviors, attitudes towards school, success in school, and their motivation.

First it is important to know and understand why movement in the classroom is so imperative. Here are the changes that students go through, and how they affect students physically, mentally, emotionally, and physically. These changes are specifically relevant in the MCE and AYA classroom.


Physical Changes 

 I. Growth

         -Growth in students is rapid and varies from student to student.   

         -Student’s height changes and can vary from student to student, while one                     student may be less than fivefeet tall, another student can be well over six feet tall.


          -Body changes in students can affect their behavior in the classroom.                            It can cause students to feel awkward and clumsy. It can cause                                     students to feel uncomfortable with their changing bodies. Rapid change physically in students can cause a lack of self-esteem.


According to the NEA rapid physical changes in the body cause the following:


  1. The skeletal structure is changing and hardening which therefore                                   causes nerve discomfort when seated for too long.

  2. Bone growth surpasses muscle growth. This then causes “growing                                   pains” or pain caused by the over stretching of the muscles in the body.

  3. The stomach becomes larger and longer. This increases the activity in the                     stomach, because it is growing  larger, more food is needed and feelings of                  “emptiness” may occur at a more accelerated level than in years previous.

 4. More food is necessary for changes in the skeletal and muscular                                   systems. These systems need nutrients for sufficient growth. It is also necessary for additional activity that often accompanies middle school students. (

 5. Physical Growth is not consistent in students

 6. There is NO timetable for physical changes in students.

 7. According to the NEA hereare some physical changes, and there                                   variances throughout students.

 8. Girls tend to experience these changes earlier than boys.

 9. Girls do not develop at the same time; it is typical to see girls of the same age at completely different stages of physical maturity.

 10. Boys also develop at differing rates. This includes height, physical                                maturity, vocal changes, etc. (

Why does this matter?

Particularly to educators and people who work with children it is imperative to understand the physical changes that the children we work with are going through.

By understanding our students we can better provide them with an effective learning experience, and understand why their behaviors are triggered by these physical changes.

Behaviors that Accompany Physical Changes:  


-Students become more aware of themselves and more aware of their surroundings.

-The physical changes they go through can cause a flocculation in body image, self-esteem, social interactions, peer groups, etc.

-Hormonal changes affect moods and behaviors of students.

-Awareness of the other sex with the development of secondary sex characteristics.

-Students tend to judge themselves in relation to the development of their peers.

-Students may obsess over changes and become concerned over characteristics that may make them stand out from their peers.


-High energy levels.

1. Can cause: increased movement, increased conversation, increased impulsiveness, and inability to sit still for periods of time, “crash and burn” towards end of energy boost.

-Students have varying levels of endurance, strength and flexibility.

-Attention span may decrease if students do not have physical activity.

-Students may seem lethargic.

-Students may become restless and havetrouble sitting still for longer periods of time.

-Students may make impulsive decisions without thinking of the consequences. (Daniels, E. (2005). On the minds of middle schoolers. Educational Leadership, 62-7 52-54.)

  Support for Physical Activity

-Researcher Terrence Dwyer has conducted research on the importance of physical activity and movement in school.

-What did his research find?

-That physical activity in the classroom improved both behavior and academic performance.

-That when the experimental group was given four more times exercise/physical activity per week than the control group their “loss” in academic study time did not contribute to lower scores or performance.

-Social skills improved in the groups that exercised and had more physical activity.  (Dwyer, 2001)

-Research done by Marzano also explains the importance of incorporating movement into the classroom.

-What does the research tell us?

-One aspect of creating a classroom environment that incorporates movement is providing ample opportunities for students to work in groups with various different peers.

1. Think-Pair-Share

2. Providing students with the opportunity to think independently about a topic, pair there ideas with peers throughout the room and have meaningful discussions about what they thought about, and then sharing these findings as a whole class

3. It is not necessary tocreate a “competitive atmosphere” it is more important to provide an interactive, energetic learning environment.

-Transitioning from various activities throughout the school day/class period. “A change in location is one of the easiest ways to get the attention of students”

-What can this transition time include?

1.Stretching, dance, manipulative, a game, or a walk

2. Interpersonal such as a discussion with a small or large group

3. Journal writing, reflection, or creative writing

4. The most important aspect of these techniques and frequent breaks are, “What happens in schools where frequent breaks from seatwork are instituted? Not surprisingly, academic achievement increases.” (2000, p.66)

The Simple Equation: Physical Activity + Quality Instruction = Increased Brain Compatible Learning

-Using movement thoughtfully and purposefully at all grade levels andin all content areas provides a valuable opportunity to create powerful learning experiences. For the brain’s perspective there are six critical reasons to add more movement in the classroom. They include:

1. The brain is attracted to novelty and is preprogrammed to notice differences. Therefore, using creative and innovative strategies that infuse movement into instruction allows the brain to stay connected for longer periods of time.

2. The brain wants the body to move. The brain is stimulated and naturally learns through the movement of its own body. Using movement to teach content creates a very natural and efficient way to learn.

3. The brain is a social organ that needs to interact with people. At varying levels, we are all social creatures and crave human engagement and attention. Interactive, cooperative experiences provide the brain with an optimal environment to flourishsocially as well as intellectually. Movement activities encourage cooperative learning experiences.

4. Learning is primarily an emotional process. When the individual cares about what is being taught, the brain remembers and retrieves information more effectively. We are our emotions; they practically run our lives. Experiential movement is a productive way to create a positive, fun, and engaging classroom environment that enhances the learning process. The brain operates from concrete experience. Exposing the brain to “hands-on” learning experiences is critical to memory and retrieval.

5. The brain prefers active, not passive, learning. The more student movements are aligned and connected to instruction, the more profound the learning process.

6. The brain is always trying to create a reason for learning. Movement creates increased brain connectivity which enhances higher level problem solving and critical thinking skills.

Practical Applications: Ways to Incorporate Movement

  Yoga: Research has shown that school yoga has many benefits. Aside from the benefits of physical well-being of children, school yoga has been shown to reduce problem behavior, test anxiety, and anger. It has also been shown to increase self regulation and focus according to Karma Carpenter, founder and director of the Association of School Yoga and Mindfullness (

SEE VIDEO: Middle School Students Yoga Lunch Break at bottom of page. 




-Where do I begin?

1. As a classroom teacher looking to improve the classroom climate and help children focus, become more engaged, and subsequently  more learning ready,  you might be wondering: how do I start yoga and mindfulness into the curriculum?

2. There are certain times throughout the school day when yoga is appropriate and helpful, these include:

-Morning meeting/start of the day

-Between subject transition times

-Pre-testing/or mid testing break

-Writing preparation or writing break

-After recess

-After lunch

-When students are tired or drained

-When students need a confidence or mood boost

-To alleviate negativity

-While waiting in line

-Anytime when focus and attention begin to diminish

-To celebrate/just for fun

-Community builder

-Close of day/conclusion

-These are some of the many times that you can incorporate yoga into your classroom. Here are some teaching tips provided by the online editorial magazine “Green Teacher” Issue 97, Fall 2012.

Creating a Kinesthetic Classroom

Kinesthetic teaching is the use of creative movement in the classroom to teach across the curriculum. SEE VIDEO: Morgan Spurlock at bottom of the page. 

-Release students from a passive learning posture: glued to their seats, dissociated, decreased oxygen in their brains

-Engage them physically

1. Simply by getting them out of their seats you encourage new levels ofself-discovery and self-expression.

2. Allow students to experience the curriculum through their bodies, help them to make deeper emotional, interpersonal, and kinesthetic connections to academic subjects.

3. How?

-Imagine students working with their classmates: figuring out how to:

1. Show the causes of the American Revolution through whole body shapes

2. Climbing into the skin of a literary character or improvising a creative movement response to a plot element

3. Enacting a journey through the water cycle

4. Arranging themselves as solid, liquid, and gas molecules to demonstrate density.

Remember: we move every day. By implementing movement in a meaningful way, teachers can bring aesthetic, cultural, social, and historical values to the classroom.

Vocabulary of Movement:

1. Shape: an interrelated arrangement of body parts of one person or group

2. Axial: movements around ones’ own axis

3. Locomotor: traveling movementsthat traverse a space


Activity 1: The Director — this activity uses shaping to focus on clear communication but can easily be used for addressing leadership, vocabulary, and patience. All of these skills assist with developing healthy relationships. Students are placed in groups of three. One student is the director, one the shape maker, and one the blind-folded person.

-The blind folded person stands with his or her back to the shape maker as to not see the shape

-The shape maker forms his or her body into an interesting shape

-The director must instruct the blink folded person to get into the shape by using descriptive words. It is very important not to use gesture to show or use touch to guide the blind folded person.

Activity 2: Physical Telephone — this activity incorporates gestures to address the malice of gossip. By seeing how small changes in the process affect the final outcome, students develop personal responsibility and empathy. It also requires focus, absorbing information quickly, and memory. Students stand in a line facing the back of the person in front of them, as if waiting in line.

-The last person in line, taps the person in front of them on the shoulder. The student turns around and is shown four gestures.

-Without talking or repeating the gestures, he or she turns and taps the next person in line and repeats what he or she saw. This continues down the line.

-When the gestures reach the person at the front of the line, that person and the person who initiated the gestures face the group and simultaneously perform.

Activity 3: Circles — this activity entails moving around a concentric circle pattern to discriminate different degrees of intimacy and is also excellent for learning about the solar system and molecular structure. By understanding the relationship between bodies, students come to respect personal space. Students engage in conversation on the various relationships they have with people in their lives. A pre-drawn concentric circle pattern is used to represent social distance.

-The teacher calls out one relationship (example: friend) and asks the students to move to what they believe to be a appropriate circle. The students apply locomotor movement that indicates the relationship.

-The students create a shape that also signifies the relationship.

-Another relationship is called. The students move to the suitable circle and pose.

-The teacher asks one student to make eye contact with another student and gesture the appropriate way.

-This continues and the students adapt their movements and gestures accordingly


Interested in Learning More? Check out some Literature! 

-Research Article by Marzano and Heflebower on creating a highly engaged classroom. (

-"Drawing on cutting edge researh this exciting book shows how to integrate movement with classroom instruction, providing hundreds of of activities that improve attention spans and student learning." THE KINESTHETIC CLASSROOM. By: Traci Lengel and Mike Kuczala. 

-"Neurophysiologist and educator Dr. Carla Hannaford brings the latest insights from scientific research to questions that affect learners of all ages. Examining the body's role in learning, from infancy through adulthood she presents the mounting scientific evidence that movement is crucial to learning. Dr. Hannaford offers clear alternatives and remedies that people can put into practice right away to make a real difference in their ability to learn."  SMART MOVES: WHY LEARNING IS NOT ALL IN YOUR HEAD By: Carla Hannahford, Ph.D

-"The Well Balanced Child is a passionate manifesto for a "whole body" approach to learning which integrates the brain, senses, movement and play." THE WELL BALANCED CHILD: MOVEMENT AND EARLY LEARNING By: Sally Goddard Blythe

-"New and unique exercises in yoga, meditation, guided imagery and somatic explorations fill this comprehensive skills guide. Hollistic Strategies include: Meditation to support body-mind-spirit connection, Yoga pose adaptations for autism, sensory processing and special needs, Trama sensitive and grounding guided imagery, etc."  MINDFULNESS & YOGA SKILLS FOR CHILDREN AND ADOLSCENTS By: Barbara Neiman


Brannagan, Meg. "Importance of Music & Movement in the Education of Young Children." LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 05 Feb. 2014. Web. 19 Sept. 2014. Retrieved from 


"Benefits of Music & Movement." Benefits of Music and Movement for Children. MusikGarten, n.d. Web. 17 Sept. 2014. Retrieved from


Davis, Jill M. "Music Together in the City." The Music-Movement Connection in Early Childhood. Music Together LLC, n.d. Web. 19 Sept. 2014. Retrieved from 



"Early Childhood Education (Position Statement)." NAfME. National Association for Music Education, n.d. Web. 19 Sept. 2014. Retrieved from 



Harman, Maryann, M.A. "Music and Movement - Instrumental in Language Development." Earlychildhood NEWS. Excelligence Learning Corporation, n.d. Web. 19 Sept. 2014. Retrieved from 



Pica, Rae. "Moving and Learning: Using Movement Across the Curriculum." Earlychildhood NEWS. Excelligence Learning Corporation, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2014. Retrieved from 



Jenson, Eric. "Chapter Four: Movement and Learning." Teaching with the Brain in Mind,




Bragaw, Kathleen. "The Middle School Student" Changing Classrooms. 20 March. 2015. Retrieved from:


Braniff, Carrie. "Perceptions of an Active Classroom: Exploration of Movement and Collaboration with Fourth Grade Students" 13 Feb. 2015. Retrieved From: file://Users/luciakollat/Downloads/282-2799-1-PB.pdf


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