What makes a great preschool song

Music and songs are, in my experience, among the most effective tools for getting preschoolers involved in creative activities that hold their attention and get them up and moving. The best thing about songs for preschoolers is that they support children’s holistic development in a number of extremely important areas, while at the same time just being good plain fun.


Have you ever met a preschooler that didn’t like singing and dancing? Appreciation for music is ingrained in humans ever since birth; you can even buy headphones now for playing music to your baby while still in the womb!

There are a number of practical reasons why you should incorporate songs into your preschool classroom as well. As music engages a different part of the brain, it can be a great transition activity for breaking up the day, especially if there are lulls in the collective attention span of your class.

Music is a great transition activity for preschoolers: http://tictacteach.com/preschool-songs/

The science of music and development:

There is an increasing amount of literature coming out these days, demonstrating that music helps develop the brain in under 7 year-old children [http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130212112017.htm]. Playing an instrument, or even dancing to music, matures their brains faster – and develops a platform for higher-level learning in many areas.

So getting your kids up and dancing (or even better, playing instruments) is not only a great deal of fun and highly educational, they will experience real and practical benefits well into adulthood.

What attributes makes for a really great preschool song?

In my experience, there are five main components to a preschool song that children just love:

1. Actions
2. Repetition – catchy words
3. Humor
4. Relatability
5. Brevity


I’ve found that where a song contains actions for children to participate and get moving, they will enjoy it and get into it with much more enthusiasm. But not only that, songs with actions teach a number of other important things, all at the same time.

For example, take ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ – yes, the kids love the song because they get to move around and sing along to a fun song with a pleasant tempo. But at the same time, they’re working on their coordination skills as they touch each of these body parts. They’re also learning what those body parts are and learning to follow instructions (all while having lots of fun)!

There are less obvious benefits to children from songs with actions, too – they learn sequencing; in this example, moving from heads to shoulders, then knees and toes in order, and perhaps even faster each time, teaches them to make those connections faster and more reliably. This also supports children’s comprehension – for example, ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ works, because these are all body parts that children are familiar with.

Active songs enable kids to be involved as a group, socializing and interacting with the other kids through the joy of music and being active. Finally, children just respond better when they’re doing something practical – all parents, and certainly all teachers, understand this – and songs with actions are perfect for this.

Active songs enable kids to be involved as a group, socializing and interacting with the other kids through the joy of music and being active.

Repetition and catchy words:

Preschool songs containing repetition tend to be the most popular and effective in my experience. This is borne out when you look at the most memorable songs from your childhood. Think of the following songs:

– Row, Row, Row Your Boat
– If You’re Happy and You Know It (Clap Your Hands)
– Hot Cross Buns
– Mary Had a Little Lamb

Mary had a little lamb, classic favorite preschool song - TicTacTeach.com

Image courtesy of Akarakingdoms at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

These classics have one key thing in common – they all contain a lot of repetition. Kids love them because they are accessible, fun and happy. One of my personal favorites is ‘This is the Way We Wash Our Hands’. I like it because it’s extremely memorable, the kids enjoy it and we can adapt it to anything:

“This is the way we wash our hands, wash our hands, wash our hands;
This is the way we wash our hands, early in the morning.”

“This is the way we wash our hands, wash our hands, wash our hands; This is the way we wash our hands, early in the morning.” www.tictacteach.com/preschool-songs

Can very easily be adapted to:

– This is the way we brush our teeth
– This is the way we shut the door
– This is the way we take a nap, etc. etc.

This song is the gift that keeps on giving!


Children love to laugh – and they love finding excuses to laugh. Any song that’s a bit funny, or especially silly, is guaranteed to elicit a good reaction from a preschool class.

Humpty Dumpty is one such example – a time-honored classic, but pretty dark; after all, Humpty Dumpty falls off the wall and shatters to bits! But the kids love it, of course 🙂

But humor is generally one of the best ways to engage children in an activity and preschool songs are no exception. If you can find a song that’s a bit funny, you’re halfway there.


Replacing words of songs to make them more relatable can be extremely effective for children as a learning aid. For example, singing ‘I’m a little teapot’ as ‘I’m a tube of toothpaste’, can help you teach important lessons to children and keep them interested in a more relatable subject matter.

I'm a tube of toothpaste - Great preschool transition song at TicTacTeach.com

Image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As children are able to better associate songs to their own experience, they appreciate them more and the process of learning and participating becomes that much easier and more enjoyable.


Preschool children have yet to develop a prolonged attention span. While they do enjoy music and songs, the more effective songs are those that are punchy and to the point. As children at a young age learn by rote, the shorter the better to a certain extent – though of course, the above advantages can help maintain a child’s interest and enthusiasm for a much longer period of time.

‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ has only two lines, yet endures as a classic song for kids all around the world. This is because it’s accessible, fun and to the point.

What are the best preschool songs in my experience?

I’ve got a shoebox full of CDs with my favorite songs for preschool children. However, there is a formula to a really effective preschool song, which I’ve outlined above.

If you’d like to check out, and perhaps buy, one of my favorite preschool CDs please see the preschool music products page.

How can you nurture a child who is particularly musically talented?

It’s our responsibility as teachers to encourage children to pursue their interests wherever possible. Exposing children showing particular interest or aptitude in music to a variety of different styles of music and rhythms is a great place to start. Don’t just stick to preschool songs and kids’ music; branch out into classical, jazz, etc. And see what interests them.

Here are some strategies I’ve employed to encourage musically-inclined children to indulge their love of music and songs:

– Tape record their singing voice and let them hear it back. This allows them to hear what they actually sound like and they always enjoy it. It also introduces the concept that you sound different in your head than to other people (which is always novel).

Record the children singing so they can listen to their own voices: TicTacTeach.com

Image courtesy of Phaitoon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

– Let them lead the group in singing and musical activities.

– Get them playing musical instruments, to encourage an appreciation of rhythm and tempo at an early age; this also greatly helps to enhance coordination.

I recently had a student in my class who was showing a very keen interest in music. It turned out that his Grandmother was an exceptional musician herself so I engaged the family, who got involved in encouraging his interests. One day I brought a music book into class for him, so he could study the notes. Even though neither of us could read music, it really helped him to see what music looks like on paper and he could interpret changes in music from the notes – as they went higher, the pitch of the song followed.

Before long, he was using his ruler to draw his own musical staffs in class.

Music is a tremendous way to bring excitement and creativity into your classroom.

If you would like more information on the benefits of music for preschool children, please read my specific article on the topic.

What creative uses for music do your children love?  Get in touch, let me know!

What makes a good preschool song? Infographic from TicTacTeach