Singing science concepts

Posted: April 7, 2016

In the STEM and STEAM educational movements, teachers are being challenged to emphasize science, math, and the arts in children’s play. Brain researchers are uncovering evidence that shows that musical experiences enhance children’s thinking and executive function. What better way to tap into these movements than by making a habit of singing about science and math as children play, discover, and explore?
Musical memory is tenacious, “so that much of what is heard during one’s early years may be ‘engraved’ on the brain for the rest of one’s life.” Oliver Sacks, Professor of Clinical Neurology and Psychiatry, author of Musicophilia

Caregivers already use songs as prompts for hand washing, saying hello, and taking turns. Why not use songs to help children remember color concepts, physics principles, and anatomy facts?

Why sing? Singing science concepts can help children remember science facts and principles. This will help them with recall for school tests and experiments, problem-solving tasks. As importantly, singing and music makes science feel FUN! That’s a crucial part of attracting a broad range of children to science experiences. (Smith 2014)

a microphone with a musical staff emanating from it. Instead of notes, the staff has science symbols on it

Nancy Stewart, children’s recording artist, explains that music makes sounds and words into patterns so our brains can remember them. (Stewart n.d.) Early care teachers can blend science and songs in several different ways. Some teachers sing familiar songs that have science information in them, using the songs to complement other learning and conversations that are happening among the children or capitalizing on a natural event like a rain storm or a sprouting seed. Caregivers can also use familiar tunes but make up new words (or substitute new words that someone else has thought of) to reinforce a science experience. Finally, some musicians are creating brand new songs to relay science information. In elementary school and early care classrooms, teachers are using science music CDs as a part of their daily programming. These new compositions are also effective ways for children to think about and remember science ideas. The musical pieces work best when presented in tandem with hands-on experiments or investigations and conversations. The music reinforces the life experiences strengthening the pathways in the brain and connecting different regions of neuro-processing for a richer, longer-lasting understanding.


Familiar science songs

Caregivers can brainstorm together about songs that have to do with science concepts and write these songs into the lesson plans or keep them in mind for spontaneous singing while playing outdoors or experimenting around the sensory table. Consider these examples:

Nearly every child knows “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Providers can sing this song when children are wondering about how spiders move or what happens when it rains. This could even be a reassuring song for adults to sing with children if it feels like the sun won’t ever come out again. This song reinforces with motions and words the concepts of up and down.

Old MacDonald, another favorite, reinforces lessons about farm animals or pets. Teachers can substitute words to make it more realistic for the group. “Dear Miss Kelly had a home.  E-I-E-I-O. And in that home she had a cat. E-I-E-I-O….” If the group has been learning about an animal that isn’t on the expected list, the teachers can talk about what kind of a noise that animal makes before singing a verse. Children can suggest animal verses. Again, the teachers should talk about the noises that animal makes before singing the verse. Welcome movements and motions as well, because the more senses and areas of the brain that are used during a song, the stronger the impact of the singing.

New words to familiar tunes

Most toddlers and preschoolers enjoy “The Wheels on the Bus.” This song reinforces basic engineering and physics concepts. How might staff use this song to talk about the parts of a different machine, such as a fire engine, back hoe, or taxi cab? If the children are learning about it, there’s a way to sing about it. “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” and “The Hokey Pokey” also encourage children to think about part-whole relationships, how the various components of something work together. Check out how one person modified “The Wheels on the Bus” to sing about insects:

a microphone with a musical staff emanating from it. Instead of notes, the staff has science symbols on it

“Insect Song”

(see resources section below)
The firefly at night goes blink blink blink
Blink blink blink, blink blink blink
The firefly at night goes blink blink blink
All around the town.
The bees in the flowers go buzz buzz buzz....
The ants in the grass go march march march...
The crickets in the leaves go chirp chirp chirp...
The caterpillar in the field goes creep creep creep....

If children already have a tune memorized, it gives them a starting pathway in the brain to link new words. (One less thing to learn.) Anyone can make up new words to a familiar melody. Here are two more examples from

"The Seeds Grow"

Sung to: “Farmer in the Dell”
The Gardner plants the seeds
The Gardner plants the seeds
Deep down inside the ground
The Gardner plants the seeds
The rain clouds give them water
The rain clouds give them water
seeds need some water to drink
The rain clouds give them water
The sun gives heat and light
The sun gives heat and light
Seeds like it warm and bright
The sun gives heat and light
The Gardner pulls the weeds
The Gardner pulls the weeds
Seeds need the room to grow
The Gardner pulls the weeds

"Planting Time"

Sung to: “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”
Dig, dig, dig the earth (make digging motion)
Then you plant your seeds (pretend to drop seeds)
A gentle rain (Flutter fingers down)
And bright sunshine (Circle arms above head)
Will help your flowers grow (Hold one arm parallel to ground and move other arm up behind it with fingers extended to represent a flower growing)

New songs with concepts you’re exploring

The possibilities for new science music are endless. Musicians like They Might Be Giants, The Chromatics, and Nancy Stewart are just a few who are performing children’s science songs. The children in the program can become composers and create songs about the things they are learning. Whatever the science investigation is, remember to sing as everyone discovers!



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Singing science concepts

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