Kindergarten Chaos: Corralling the Kittens in Music Class

Corraling the Kittens: Calming Kindergarten Chaos

We've seen the commercials, videos, and memes....

The famous commercial (that doesn't really make the teacher look that good professionally, but I'm not getting into that argument. But let's face it. I'll wager the vast majority of us know how that teacher is feeling, even though we probably have better attempts at classroom management than she does.).

Or it's like this:

We have kids who are expected to not only know their letters, but need to be ready to read by midterm. We have kids who aren't just counting, they're counting and grouping. We have kids who attending school since infanthood. We have kids who have a couple of years of preschool. We have kids who never had preschool. We have kids whose parents spent time playing music to Mommy's tummy and reading to the child in the womb, playing music constantly, and singing to their children. We have kids whose parents plop them in front of the TV.  We have kids whose parents prepared them for school through social interactions. We have kids whose parents give in at the first sign of a tantrum and "NO!". We don't do naps for kindergarten anymore. Kids don't get much explore time in public school. No wonder they go bonkers. They are live in the moment, concrete thinkers who are still learning fiction versus non-fiction.  I often say that there is a special place in heaven for kindergarten teachers (and special education teachers). So many variants of personalities. We only have to work with them maybe no more than an hour a day. And yes, you, too, can survive an hour of kindergarten.

There is an old adage about which many teachers have heard: Give students an activity that equals one minute for every year of their age. We get quite a few five years ago, so we need to consider 5 minute activities to quickly pull out when the kitty cats leave the corral and run around, lie on their backs and kick up their legs, whine to go potty, scratch their underwear, or smack their neighbor.

Class Management:
Yes, kindergartners are newbies. That being said, they need structure. They need to understand there are rules. Some will obviously take longer to learn. But insist. Repeat your rules every day. In our PBS school, most teachers have incorporated some form of the Whole Brain rules:

  • Follow directions quickly.
  • Raise your hand for permission to speak.
  • Raise your hand for permission to leave your seat.
  • Make smart choices.
  • Keep your dear teacher happy.
You are going to be tired of repeating these over and over. But, persist. And, like we say in PBS, reteach. Ask other students to explain. Today, I had one of the more active, immature students kicking up his legs, talking back, refusing to sit on his rug square, and other actions. My first action was to pick up the phone, because this youngster had had problems since Day One. I was told, "Keep him there and reteach, and call later if it doesn't work." At first, I thought, "They're all on the verge of squirrelly!" But I asked the student to sit in the "Rest and reflect" seat, because he was upset because I called for help. And I retaught. We went over the rules, and I literally used him as an example.
After going over the rules, I ignored him, except to point out to him that hanging upside down from the chair wasn't a good idea, because he'd fall and hit his head, and that would mean I'd have to call the office and tell them he got hurt because he couldn't sit in the seat correctly. That got his attention. As I started on Mortimer (a great book for the four voices, by the way), he quietly said, "Could I try again?" And, for the rest of class (about 30 minutes), I only had to redirect him once and he responded immediately. So, even the tough cookies can turn around. There are, of course, the ones who need more than what we can give them. The issue is your judgement call.

As far as those 5 minute activities? Here's a typical music class for kindergarten at the beginning of the year:
  • I start with my Hello Song,accompanying myself on ukulele. If you can play an instrument while singing your hello song, the kids are fascinated.
  • I taught the kids the Echo Roll Call song from One Two Three Echo Me. Yes, it takes a little time, but it's a way to assess singing voice versus talking voice. It's also a way for me to reinforce that we all get turns singing or talking and how to wait your turn.
  • My reward for coming in quietly is Puppet Masters. If a class, for the most part, comes in quietly, sits in assigned squares, and looks ready to go, and I use the scrambler in iDoceo and pick 4-5 names. These students get to hold a puppet during class. They learn the proper way to hold a toy while listening. Students who have come to class in an improper manner know that if their name is picked, it will be skipped. And I do. I don't tell them, but if they complain about it, I can tell them it's because either the scrambler didn't pick them or they did something that wasn't a good choice. And the kids learn to reflect on that. I'm also big on chanting, so to be proactive, I taught the kids to say "Maybe next time" if they didn't get picked. If they pout, I merely say, "Sit in the chair until you're over it, and then you can join us."
  • We sing "This is  my place, this is my space, my place, my space, nobody but me." I learned it in Kodaly level one, but if anyone knows the actual source, please let me know! We put our bubble gum in our mouth, blow our bubble, and get ready for our opening movement activity, usually Tempo from Eric Chappelle's Music for Creative Dance: Contrast and Continuum, Vol. 3. (You can purchase this from West Music or download it on iTunes.)
  • I am big on drums and chanting. The less silence in transitions, the less of an opportunity the kids have to fill in the silence. For getting into self-space, I tap a ta, ti-ti ta rhythm and say "Find your own space, find your own space in five (ti-ti-ta ta) four, etc." I continue to play the drum during the movement activity for focus and to help control their bodily tempo. My good friend Joshua Block has a method for getting those runners and bumpers in check that I have used, and it works well. He tells those who break other students' bubbles that they need to "sit down and watch until they learn how it is done". No argument. They sit and wait, and ask to get back in. I have kindergartners who get to the point where, if they bump into someone, take themselves out of the movement.
  • During the lesson, I make sure I intersperse some breaks or use diversified teaching. For instance, we are now starting on the four voices. We sing the song/chant "This is my speaking voice. This is my whisper voice. This is my singing voice. This is my calling voice." (again, if you know the source, please let me know so I can give credit). I show a Power Point with clip art of children using the various voices. I change my voice and ask them to tell me what voice I'm using. I use pointer pages to have them point to the correct picture that represents the voice I'm using. I read Mortimer.
What about fillers? Here are some of my favorites:
  1. Mr. Stick. Mr. Stick is one of those poseable mannequins that artists often use. I use it to get the kids to contort into various poses (and yes, I give them the opportunity to even lie down!" My chant for Mr. Stick:
              Mr. Stick, make it quick.
              Show me a pose and make it slick.

The kids ASK for Mr. Stick. One day, I forgot it when I went to my second school. The downcast faces were heartbreaking. You bet I have him in my rolling cart now! Here's a picture of some of my kids posing like Mr. Stick (yes, the kid in the back? There's always one):

2. Vocal exploration. Checking back to my previous blog post on this topic, I use a variety of props. If kids seem to get twitchy, I break one of those props out.

3. Movement songs. I use the following sources and keep them handy for a quick filler:
             Eric Chappelle's Music for Creative Dance CDs (available from West Music)
             Anne Green Gilbert's Brain Dance sources
             Movement Songs Children Love from Theme and Variations (Denise Gagne)
             The Music Effect, Books One and Two by Joy Nelson
             Movement in Steady Beat by Phyllis Weickert
             John Feierabend books, such as his book of Echo Songs and Circle Games
            Highway Number One from Folk Dances of Terra Australis, Vol. 3, by Shenanigans

Charlie Over the Ocean is a BIG hit. But, the students know that if they have been rambunctious, I will tell them that I don't think they would be able to play safely.

To be honest, I have tried to use GoNoodle. But, I feel like classroom teachers use this resource enough and as a music teacher, it's my job to teach traditional game songs and nursery rhymes.

Other games my kinders love: The Old Gray Cat, Naughty Kitty Cat, Bluebird through My Window, and Circle Round the Zero.

Finally, another one of my saving graces when the kids need a break: The ORIGINAL Pete the Cat books. Yes, the Eric Litwin ones. Is your voice tired? There are recordings! Chances are, you have kids who can recite the stories word for word. Mind occupied. Singing voices ensue. Your voice can relax a while.

Other great books with recordings (that also make super sub plans):
John Lithgow books (such as I'm a Manatee)
Octopus's Garden by Ringo Starr

How do you know when to and how to pace? You don't. If you notice them getting twitchy, don't worry about breaking your lesson plan sequence. Break out a movement activity. Don't worry about doing it over and over each day. Yes, you will tire of it before they do. Consider that kids this age love repetition. And chances are, you have 3-4 kindergarten classes in your allotted block or week time frame. You can handle it. So, redo that Tempo Tantrum. It's OK.

Above all, keep them busy. Watch your downtime. If you find unexpected downtime (like technology glitches that need to be fixed), chant. Make it up. Say things in a chant. Sing things in a chant. When my computer would act up, I would merely say "Come on, computer!" over and over. Kids started saying it with me, and it kept their minds occupied.

So, corral those kitties. And love those kitties. Curious. Cute. Chaotic. Cuddly. Kinders. You've got this.🙂🙂🙂


  1. Keeping little ones busy is so important! As soon as there is a second of downtime, you lose them. Thanks for sharing all of your great ideas!

  2. This is a FANTASTIC post! Thanks for sharing!!

  3. I was a Chinese music and art teacher in the U.S. before. I totally agree with you. Love you post and the video.

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