Action songs are a staple of storytime. Action songs are a great way for children to practice listening skills, to learn the names of body parts, to turn vocabulary into motion, and to build confidence with familiarity. However, one of my favorite parts of storytime is finding a new song that catches children’s imaginations or spirit of play. Here’s how we do Laurie Berkner’s “Wimoweh,” one of the favorite songs in our Toddler Storytime: We learn the song with shakers. When Laurie says, “Go to sleep lions,” all of the kids lay on the floor and pretend they’re sleeping. (I crouch down and rest my head on my hands.) As the song crescendos into the “wimowehs,” I shout, “Wake up, lions!” and we stand up and start jumping and shaking our egg shakers above our heads. When Laurie drops her voice again, singing “Hush my darling,” we stretch, yawn and go back to sleep. (It’s pretty adorable when a roomful of toddlers simultaneously drops to the floor in feigned sleep.) We keep waking up on the chorus throughout the song.

After the kids have mastered this song with egg shakers, eventually (weeks and weeks later) we do it with scarves instead. I show the toddlers how to lay their scarf on the ground and rest their head on it. Then, we wake up and start waving the scarves above our heads. Maybe next, I’ll invite them to crawl and act like lions.

With these actions, the song becomes a story, or a time to pretend, rather than a song of following directions. Playing pretend and storytelling nurture critical components of early literacy development, such as understanding language and its meaning. Hence, songs that invite imagination are a powerful element in storytime, especially when children grow to know them so well, that they can tell the story on their own even after the music has stopped.

What actions have you added to your favorite storytime songs?

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