SEL: Strategy Songs for Our Youngest Students

Explore how songs can be used to emphasize social and emotional learning practices with young learners.

Do you remember what the world was like when you were little? Anything new could be scary or bewildering. Grown-ups would often tell you to do something that didn’t seem to make any sense, and not tell you why. At the same time, the world was magic, with places to explore and adventures to create.

It can be easy to forget how bewildering school, and the world in general, can be for our preschool and kindergarten students. Establishing strategies to address new situations and feelings even before they are necessary can provide children with valuable tools.

As a music teacher, my strategies are usually attached to a melody. Strategy songs are generally short, easy-to-sing melodies that give kids a quick reminder of what is going to happen or of what they can expect in a particular situation. These songs can be a stand-alone phrase or a small part of a longer song. There are many songs already written or you can make your own. 

Here’s an example of a longer song I wrote (to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”). After learning the full song, the first line can be used to prompt the students.

When you have to cross the street, stop and look.

When you have to cross the street, stop and look.

With a grown-up by your side, look left and right.

When you have to cross the street, stop and look.

Whether using a piggyback song (new words with an existing melody) or an original tune like those in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood the important part in creating a strategy song is that both words and melody are easy to remember and easy to sing. Allowing students’ input into a song’s creation can also make the strategy more effective, and give you insight into their thoughts, feelings, and questions about a situation. 

Abigail Newman is an elementary music teacher and an eMediaVA Ambassador.

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