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Sing a Song of Sixpence

Guest blogger: Diann Gano, M.Ed.

Whether you grew up with Schoolhouse Rock, Sesame Street, the Electric Company, Romper Room or Raffi, chances are good that you can still sing a counting song that you learned way back then. Ah, there are some really great songs from those days and many a Schoolhouse Rock version is being used to teach “skip counting” in classrooms today.



Music holds a powerful place in our brain—and singing utilizes the brain’s language and music areas. When children are actively listening to music, multiple areas in their brains are lighting up!  Combining music with movement is a powerful tool that we can use daily to reinforce math concepts. The more senses we involve, the more learning takes place. What’s in your body sticks in your brain!



We use songs to work on vocabulary, memory and repetition. This week, the children at our center have begged to sing the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” over and over again. It’s so fun to watch the different levels of coordination, anticipation and expectations as children of different ages and abilities participate in this activity. The beauty of this song is that everybody loves it. Everyone feels successful and happy, regardless of their developmental level. It always seems to be developmentally appropriate because…it’s a song!

Songs can be the easy, fun and social-emotional pillars for the children in our care. When we share counting songs such as “This Old Man” or “Five Green and Speckled Frogs,” we are introducing counting and numbers and math concepts such as removing one from a group. The repetition and rhythm in these songs make it easy for very young children to remember the name and sequence of number patterns. As they learn to anticipate these patterns and sequences of events or objects, children are building early math skills that they will need in the years to come.

We also use songs to tell stories and to ease into transitions or new activities, such as pickup time and naptime. At nap time, each child gets to choose a book that we will read as a group. The songbooks make an appearance weekly. I am quite certain that the children all think that they can “read” “The Wheels on the Bus” or “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on a Bed” as they sing the songs along with me. Another daily favorite is “Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear,” which—ironically—I can remember singing back in kindergarten, accompanied by Mrs. Smith and her piano. 

This is the way we wash our hands, wash our hands, wash our hands…


Using songs in your daily routines can help you meet the math standards for early childhood education. Keep it light, easy and age-appropriate! Sing loud, sing often, sing off-key! The children don’t care. That won’t be what they remember. They will remember the words to the song, which will lay a strong foundation for their future math learning. Perhaps that’s what Schoolhouse Rock had in mind. A strong “rock” foundation! 

Interested in using songs to lay the foundation for later math learning? Take a look at some of my favorite music and movement books:

Inch by Inch: The Garden Song by David Mallett (HarperCollins, 1997)

Five Little Ducks by Raffi (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1999)

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes by Annie Kubler (Childs Play Intl. Ltd., 2002)

Mother Goose’s Action Rhymes by Axel Scheffler (Pan MacMillan, 2017)

Diann Gano, M.Ed.

Diann Gano—who opened her family child care program, Under the Gingko Tree in 1986—has long believed that "the earth gives us what we need to learn" and that nature is "the perfect environment for little brains to grow and learn in every day." While conducting research for her master’s thesis on outdoor learning in early childhood settings, she learned about the Nature Explore Classroom Certification Program, which recognizes schools and other organizations that have made a commitment to providing outdoor classrooms and comprehensive programming to help children use the natural world as an integral part of learning. She enrolled in the Nature Explore Classroom certification program after completing her master’s degree in 2010, and Under the Ginkgo Tree was certified as a Nature Explore Certified Outdoor Classroom Program in 2011. A member of the Erikson Family Child Care Portal Project Advisory Board, Gano has also participated in the Erikson Institute’s Early Childhood Leadership Summit and served as a webinar panelist for Town Square Illinois, an online resource and professional development tool for home-based providers. She has presented at the local, state and national levels on topics such as indoor and outdoor learning environments, the importance of loose parts in early math education and the impact of immersion in the natural world on brain development in young children. In 2016, Gano was honored as a recipient of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Child Care Innovator Award for creating a school environment that inspires children to become more active and engaged learners. In May 2019, she received the prestigious Terri Lynn Lokoff/Children’s Tylenol National Teacher Award, which honors 50 outstanding early child care professionals across the nation each year for making a lasting difference in the lives of the children they serve and setting them on a path to success in school and in life. She received her BS in liberal arts from Western Illinois University and her MEd in education from St. Mary of the Woods College in Indiana.

Read more posts by Diann Gano, M.Ed.

8 Replies to “Sing a Song of Sixpence”

  1. Music holds a powerful place in our brain—and singing utilizes the brain’s language and music areas. Is a good tool When children are actively listening to music and help us to multiple areas in their brains are lighting up. We can Combining music with movement is a powerful tool that we can use daily to reinforce math concepts. The more senses we involve, the more learning takes place

  2. Yes music holds a powerful place in our brain. Children love singing and dancing and they also learn through these areas. I’m an adult but I still can remember learning how to count by 3s from “School House Rock.” And I learned The Preamble as well.

  3. I agree that music can be a most powerful tool and to engaging children to math concepts. One of the first things I remember as a new teacher was that yes, children don’t mind if you are not a good singer and that made it easier to include music in my classroom.

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