I’ve always taught “ta” (quarter note) and “ti-ti” (two eighth notes) in Kindergarten, but in the past few years I’ve ended up doing it earlier and earlier, allowing myself to jump to it when the students’ thinking and questioning naturally opens up for it. Taking this idea a step further, I’ve started approaching it from a more concept-based perspective. The best part of this is that it lends itself to PLAY. 

Starting with the concept of rhythm, the students discovered that our singing isn’t always the same as the beat. And so the concept of rhythm is established. So then we look at how it relates to the beat. The students—and let’s remember these are kindergarten students—figure out that some beats have one sound, and some have two. And so we have established quarter notes and eighth notes. This all goes surprisingly quickly!

At this point, we can think about what we’ll call the sounds so we can keep track of how many sounds there are in each beat. We practice clapping, stepping, chanting, singing, and playing rhythms and continually revisit the relationships these rhythms have to the beat. And then we get to the best part: How can we show these rhythms? If we want to write down our ideas, we need a way to show them. 

Now I won’t deny that part of the reason I made these was because I have a soft spot for cute stuff, but let’s remember that kids do too! All I did was get some colored round magnets (and white ones for “rest”) and two different sizes of googly eyes. Why two? I could have just put one eye on for every sound, but having the “ta” be a bigger eye helps to reinforce that the sound takes up more time. After an hour or so with my hot glue gun, I had eight trays of “monster magnets” that the students could use to explore our rhythms. 

When I first showed them to my classes, I didn’t say anything. I let them discover them and draw conclusions. It didn’t take long before they decided these were ta’s and ti-ti’s. So then I added a white magnet. What is that? A rest. Why? It takes up a beat but doesn’t have any sounds in it. How do you know it takes up a beat? Every circle is a beat. (Did I mention that, in prepping this activity, I drew circles on the board, and we tapped on the circles for each beat?)

Guide your students to a deeper understanding of rhythm through playful, conceptual learning! Here's a fun way to get started! Share on X

This is just one simple way to guide your students through their own inquiry of beat and rhythm. And the cute factor increases the engagement by a lot! Following on this, the monster magnets come out for composing rhythms, dictating rhythms, and now we are starting to look at the concept of meter. The students can’t get enough of these, and I’m thinking about bringing them into my PreKindergarten classes as well. When we give students space to play and discover, they can develop much deeper conceptual understandings, and they can often surprise us with their thinking! These are definitely becoming a staple in my early childhood classes.

What ways do you develop students’ conceptual understandings of rhythm and notation?

Playful Rhythm Practice

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