Spontaneous Song: Singing Magic for Classroom Management

After specializing in puppetry and the expressive arts for a long time, I surprised myself this year by discovering a new tool: Spontaneous Song. Having fun with music, particularly singing, did not come easily. Rather, it came from necessity, the mama of all inventions. I was experiencing a great deal of frustration when it came time for clean up or changing activities. All my effective tools had lost their edge as the children turned 4 and became more independent (i.e., began pushing limits).

I was losing some of my joy and delight in working with the children, and this was unacceptable to me. I could have put the blame on burnout, or told myself that, after 27 years, it was time to gracefully retire. I could have put the problem on the kids themselves. However, being an emotionally intelligent adult, I chose instead to change my response to the situation. I had the burning desire to make this change, but I just didn't know how to do so.

As is often true of burning desire, the answer comes from within (or from others). One day, during a particularly frustrating session where I'd been virtually ignored by the preschoolers, I found my emotions expanding. Here I was, a veteran preschool teacher, engaged in a power struggle with eight 4-year-olds, and I was losing. It's a known fact that even when we win a power struggle with a preschooler, what we lose is peace of mind.

For those of you who appreciate brain science, my emotions were about to hijack my amygdala. I needed to get back to a place of choice, to let my intellect catch up. I knew there were other choices, but I was clueless as to what they were.

I took some extraordinary long breaths and centered myself. It was then, from the depths of me, that a solution came to mind: SING! What? Me sing? I had been labeled a "listener" in my childhood for not knowing the purpose of a pitch pipe when I tried out for chorus. But I trusted my inner knowing. If "SING" was the message, then I would do my best.

And so, I burst into Spontaneous Song!

To the tune of "This Old Man," I sang out:

 That little boy, He's two plus two.

He won't put on his shoe. What can I do, What can I do? He won't put on his shoe.

The room grew silent. They were listening. Preschoolers love repetition, so I sang another verse:

That little girl She's two plus two. She will not put on her shoe.

What can I do, What can I do She will not put on her shoe!

The room of preschoolers burst into giggles. I had them now and invited them to help me solve the problem.

What can I do what can I do? They will not put on their shoes.

Within moments, the children grabbed their discarded shoes and put them on. Having fun with music had saved the day. And I had once again fallen in love with my preschoolers.

I laughed through the final verse:

I was frustrated, now I'm calm.

Thanks for helping shut off The Elyse alarm.


With all of our spirits raised, I returned the children, with their shoes back on, to their classroom.

Now I make up songs about what I appreciate in the children, about what I value. I sing of the kindness I've noticed them offering their friends. I also sing about the behavior I would like to change. Singing about what I'd like to see them doing differently can create ease instead of struggle.

It's still a lot of fun to make up a song about my responses to their behavior, particularly misbehavior. Laughing at myself is a wonderful way to move through my frustration and get back to having fun with these amazing preschoolers.

HELPFUL HINTS for those of you who are not veterans to this practice:

  • Choose a tune that's easy for you to remember for spontaneous song writing
  • Note the behavior that is happening, either as modeling or something you'd like to change
  • Are there any feelings you'd like to name either in yourself or the children? Building emotional literacy is an ongoing value
  • Is there a need for change that you'd like to see, or recognition of an act of kindness or fairness? Our noticing these positive values, put to song (particularly rhyme), is something that will delight the children.

Music Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Growing Up with Ella Jenkins CD (Item # ELLA)

"All-Time Favorite Dances" CD by Kimbo Educational (Item # DANCE)

Rhythm Club™ - Set of 4 Drums (Item # CLUB)

African Music Instruments - Set of 6 (Item # AFINT)