Making the Most of Circle Time: Mindfulness & Social Emotional Learning

This is a post from the blog of one of our new artists, Dr. Jeremy Jensen(see original post here; see Dr. Jensen’s music on Songs for Teaching here!)

kids in tubeCircle time has been the focus of much of my professional work.  Back in the early 2000’s, working as a music therapist, I spent countless hours creating songs and activity ideas for preschool and elementary teachers.  At the time, No Child Left Behind was driving much of the content and as a result most of these activities focused on basic language and academic skills.

Almost two decades later a lot of things have changed, including circle time. Designing circle time activities now, as a psychologist, I’m privy to the latest research that’s driving the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Movement. These days supporting preschool readiness and early elementary success hinges less on letter and number concepts and much more on attention control and basic social skills (1).

Research in this area commonly refers to early SEL competencies as “gateway skills”, highlighting the critical importance of learning these skills first, as failure to do so can block further learning in all areas.  For example, young students who exhibit a higher degree of voluntary control of attention are more likely to exhibit stronger language development, academic learning, social functioning, emotional control, and impulse/behavioral control (2).  Similarly, even small improvements in the early development of executive skills, a key component of mindfulness, can promote substantial physical, psychological, and social gains realized later in life (3).

Many classrooms, as a result of this paradigm shift, are spending less time with the ABC song and more time focused on activities that specifically target SEL.  Four states in particular (Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia) have already adopted comprehensive SEL standards in PreK-12 public education with many more likely to follow.

Mindful Youth Project incorporates new insights from the SEL movement into the songs and activities that engage young learners.  I want to support teachers and related service providers as they embark on developing a powerful new professional offering that holds the promise of not only support academic success but also personal wellbeing and stronger community ties.

Dr. Jensen’s projects come with songs, instrumentals, videos, picture books and lesson materials:

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1) Thompson, R. A., & Goodman, M. (2009). Development of self, relationships, and socioemotional competence: Foundations for early school success.  In O.A. Barbarin, & B.H. Wasik (Eds.), Handbook of child development and early education: Research to practice (147-171). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

2) Wass, S. V., Scerif, G., & Johnson, M. H. (2012). Training attentional control and working memory – is younger, better? Developmental Review, 32(4), 360-387.

3) Diamond, A. (2012). Activities and programs that improve children’s executive functions. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(5), 335-341.

Songs at MY Speed: An Interview with Margie La Bella

margieBMusic therapist and songwriter, Margie La Bella, recently released her latest album, Songs at MY Speed.  

What is the idea behind your CD?   “SONGS AT MY SPEED” has been purposefully crafted to allow kids the opportunity to sing along to their most desired, time-tested songs through the slowing of the lyrics but NOT the drive and movement of the Beat.

How did your project start?     A speech pathologist friend of mine suggested I make a CD of slowed lyrics because the kids on her case load weren’t able to sing along with their peers during class circle time.

Songs at MY Speed500x500Why not?  The kids in my school all have speech/language delays and other related issues.  Speech is insanely complicated and requires precise manipulation of breath, lips, tongue, jaw, and hard and soft palates.  Not only that but the movement has to be in the correct intensity and sound sequential order.  So, my music and the slow lyrics allow these kids to plan, sequence and coordinate their whole oral structure.  In other words, it allows them extra time to get their words out and be heard!  The rehearsal of this all fosters acquisition of new skills.

I hear that music and language are related….    That couldn’t be more true! Think of it.  Music and language both require auditory perception,  give and take, listening and responding, coordinated attention , auditory discrimination, correct volume,  pitch (intonation),  proper speed, auditory processing and assigning of meaning, syllabic emphasis (think meter/pulse.) The list could go on and on.

So is music really on the right hemisphere and language on the left?  Music is all over the brain.  So many things are happening at once. Singing is linguistic, motoric, muscular, respiratory, cognitive and more.  Part of what makes music so powerful is that it is a whole brain experience. (Science used to believe that language was on the left side, but this has changed.)  That’s why it is such an immense,  vital tool for teaching.  Songs teach.  This website has it right! If a part of a system is affected, an different part can help make up for it.  The brain has so much plasticity,  and music is such an intrinsic motivator and reward that if an issue occurs, then  a new alternative neuropathway can be established and strengthened.  This is what I take advantage of as a music therapist!

Any last words?   My intent with this CD is to create a situation where kids and their adults explore and play with sounds and language,  and where learning happens as a happy (but deliberate on my part) byproduct.    Listen to the sample songs and you’ll “see” what I mean!

Find all of Margie La Bella’s music here! 

What Three Little Pigs Can Teach About Reading & Writing

This post was submitted by Liz Buchanan, originally published in her blog on March 17, 2015.

In my songwriting life, I’ve become a little obsessed with characters in threes. My initial “Three Piggy Opera” was so much fun that on my next Once Upon a Tune CDalbum, Once Upon a Tune, I included my own songs about The Three Bears, Three Billy Goats Gruff and Three Little Kittens. You can find all these songs at my Songs for Teaching Page.

What’s with all the threes? Plus there are all the variations and parodies of the above stories: The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, Los Tres Cerditos. How about The Three Little Tamales or The Three Little Javalinas! The three-character theme is a staple of many a kindergarten curriculum.

Why three? This is probably all explained similarly elsewhere, but here’s my take. The three somebodies are a perfect way to teach about the elements of the typical linear story. Stories have a beginning, middle and end. Stories have a protagonist who wants something. Stories have an antagonist who thwarts what the protagonist wants. Protagonist figures out in the end how to overcome antagonist.

Hey, that’s just what they taught us when I got my MFA in fiction writing (though of course there are the feminist variations that just go in circles). What makes a good story all comes down to … The Three Little Pigs!

So at my most recent kindergarten concert, I lined up three children holding their three cut-out houses, of straw, sticks and bricks. I said, “Just like these three pigs, stories have three parts: a beginning, middle and end.” The first pig is the beginning of the story, the second pig is the middle, and the third pig finally figures out how to solve the problem.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff unfolds in exactly the same way. The Three Bears gets more complicated, because Goldilocks isn’t your classic bad-wolf antagonist, she’s just a bit confused about what to do upon encountering a strange house in the woods. But in a slightly more advanced way, the story’s scenes develop with essentially the same three-part structure.

It also occurred to me that The Three Little Pigs is a perfect way to lay the groundwork for writing a simple, cohesive essay. You know: state your premise, develop your ideas in three tidy segments, and tie it all together in a conclusion.

Now, I wouldn’t go telling kindergarteners to write essays based on the three pigs structure (though in this current weird world of ‘kindergarten is the new high school’ somebody might be trying to do that). But I do think that learning the structure of the ‘story of three’ provides an effective overlay for the logical analysis, organization and presentation of ideas.

Again, I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of this. But for me, it was an aha moment.

Do kids get the connection? Do they better understand literature and write more cohesive essays after carefully studying The Three Little Pigs? I don’t know. I’d love to hear from teachers on this topic.

I do firmly believe that giving students a chance to embody the story through singing, moving and acting deepens their understanding and might even make them better writers. Plus they’re having a lot of fun – we can still do that in education, right?

10 Best Exercise Songs and Games for Children

Today’s post comes from Songs For Teaching artist Patty Shukla

Let’s move, dance and be an active example for our kids! Before computers and cable television we played outside and spent a lot time with friends. I can remember being 8 years old riding my bike with exercise-songs-for-children-patty-shuklaneighborhood friends all day. We built forts, created home-made carnivals in our backyards, played hide-n-seek, put on our own talent shows and swam for hours.

“The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake.”- First Lady Michelle Obama at the Let’s Move! Program launched on Feb. 9, 2010

Exercise was not something we thought about or planned, it was just a way of life. Some of my best childhood memories are those times.

Let’s create some lasting memories with our children today. Here are 10 of my exercise songs and 10 exercise games to get your body moving and heart rate pumpin’! Let me know which ones are your favorites. Let the fun begin!


  1. Hokey Pokey Dance – Twist
  2. Musical Freeze Game – S.T.O.P.
  3. Simon Says Game – Play with me, Sing Along!
  4. Jumping Game – Jump!
  5. PE Exercises – I Can Do It! (Jumping Jacks, Hop from side to side)
  6. Dance Off Game – Colors Dance!
  7. Move your whole body dance – Wiggle It!
  8. Move like an animal – If I Were An Animal
  9. Follow the Leader game – Follow Me
  10. Square Dance – Do Si Do

Thank you Patti Shukla for sharing this post with us. 

For more movement & action songs, click below!