Rhythm Sticks

When it comes to music and movement time in the classrooms I see one thing: Music playing really loud while the children jump around manically.

Occasionally there might be some instruments passed around to make this chaotic time even more chaotic (if that’s at all even possible); or sometimes there might even be some dancing ribbons or scarves tossed in as well.

Often times these scarves and ribbons are quickly collected as the children are admonished for waving them in other children’s faces or using the stick end of the ribbons as swords.

I also see classrooms that have a music center, but again there is no direction.  Therefore, the rhythm stick sit beckoning to the boys to be swords or other weapons; the drums call out to be beaten on roughly almost to the point of let’s-see-how-hard-we-have-to-hit-it-before-the-stick-punches-through-it.

What I don’t see, however, are children being taught how to use these materials. I rarely, if ever, see the teachers sitting down at free choice and exploring the drums with the children, showing them how they work.  I definitely don’t ever see the children being taught how to use the rhythm sticks.


Musical instruments are items that many of us have in the classroom.  If you set your room up according to ECERS standards, you probably even have a music center in the room.  What good does it do it you don’t show the children how to use the materials?

They can be great tools to use to teach patterning, team work, and even beginning reading.  If you just change the outlook of them from something-you-have-to-have-in-the-classroom-because-ECERS-or-your-director-says-so to something-that-can-be-a-great-tool-to-use-in-the-curriculum-over-all

Here’s how to introduce music to the classroom.  First, use the best musical instrument: your hands.

Get a poster board size of paper.  Evenly spaced apart, make one line of 8 circles.  Just below that line, make a line of 8 squares.  Just below that line, make a line of alternating circles and squares (so there are 8 circle, square, circle, square, circle, square, circle, square).  Just below that line, make a line of two circles, one square pattern (so there are 8: circle, circle, square, circle, circle, square, circle, circle).

If you want, you can add to the rows, but that’s a good start.  Later, you might even make a poster with velcro pieces and circles, squares, and even x’s with the other velcro parts on them so the children can make their own patterns.

Okay, now have the children sit in a circle and tell them that they are going to play music with their hands.  Every time you point to a circle, they are to clap their hands together.  Now point to the first row one circle at a time in rhythm.  This way, they will get the idea that with a circle they are to clap.

Once they stay in rhythm with your pointing to the circles, explain to them that every time you point to a square they are going to hit their thighs.  Demonstrate to them then point to the row of squares in rhythm.  Repeat this until they do so in rhythm with you pointing to each square. 

Then, repeat the first line and the second line until the children can stay in rhythm and can change from clapping to hitting their thighs.


Then challenge them by pointing to the third line.  Do this until they can stay in rhythm with you and can identify when to clap and when to hit their thighs.


This should only be about 10 minutes each day or else some children will get overwhelmed with the information if it’s longer.  After about 3 to 4 days, they will begin to catch on to what to do.

The second week, as they sit down for circle, quietly place two rhythm sticks in front of each child, parallel to them, and tell each one, “Leave them there until I tell you.”

If one child picks them up or even touches them, pick them back up and remind them not to touch, then put them back down.  It is VERY IMPORTANT that you not allow them to touch them until you are sitting down and ready and that you respond immediately upon them touching them.

Once you are sitting down show them how to hold the sticks, one in each hand, with their hands resting on their knees.  Show them how to tap them on the ground and tap them together (making an x).  Then tell them that every time they see a circle, they tap them together and every time they see a square they tap on the ground.

Again, walk them through the circle and square rows and walk them through reading the pattern and playing.

Eventually, add the x to the pattern.  On an x there is NO SOUND!

In 3 weeks time you will have the children making music, rather than just noise, reading patterns, and even creating patterns of their own.  Go from there and, if you start it early enough in the school year, by the end of the year you will have the children reading simple music notes.

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