Music Brings Unexpected Learning

A child brought to school a CD with the “Star Wars” theme song.  Fortunately it was a recording of all the John Williams movie themes, and that means good music and a golden opportunity for learning.  We began with mindful listening to the sound of instruments as the first song on the CD was not “Star Wars”.  That sparked a huge discussion on high and low sounds, and the obvious need to see instruments and hear them individually.


We were on a roll of emergent curriculum, with children wanting to learn.  I was trying to fill their minds with every tool I had; books, pictures, and the iPad.  I started with string instruments (they loved the cello) and moved to horns.  At last we put it all together with a full orchestra.  After all, John Williams was a conductor.  Here is what I wrote to families:

When Unexpected Learning Happens

Yesterday was a perfect example of how planned teaching and curriculum can go out the window because something wonderful happened. Owen brought in a CD of John Williams music. He has written scores of award winning movie themes. The “Star Wars” theme song was big on Owen’s mind. It’s a great piece of music. We played it, yet the CD doesn’t begin with “Star Wars”. That was a good thing, because children had to really listen. Mindfulness. We did our breathing ahead of time so our listening was ready to go.

As we listened we heard different instruments. We decided to raise our hand if we heard a certain instrument. Strings, horns, and drums were the beginning. Then we included the flute. At this point we stopped to talk about high and low sounds, and how each type of instrument has families of highs and lows. Wow! This was getting exciting and complex. Children were focused.

I grabbed a popular classroom book that shows all the instruments. We began with the string family, introducing the violin and the cello. Not only did we talk about high and low, we pretended to hold and play the instruments, under our chin or set on the floor. When we moved to the horns, we learned that you need to blow into the instrument to make a sound. It was fun to imagine sliding a trombone and putting your hand into the bell of a french horn.

At this point we introduced the orchestra itself. John Williams was a conductor, so we began with what a conductor does. We thought it was pretty cool to stand on a platform and use a baton to tell the instruments what to do. An orchestra is a ‘big curve’ around the conductor. But, what does an orchestra look like? We knew what the instruments look like. This was another step in our unexpected learning. Yes, we had picture books, but we also have technology. We used the iPad to watch the Chicago Symphony Orchestra prepare for a performance, tuning up and practicing. Then we watched them perform.

Finally, we watched John Williams conduct “Star Wars”. Every child was clustered and listening. The shouts of, “There’s a violin”, and “That’s a trombone” happened all the time. This was full circle. It brought together everything we had learned. The moment was remarkable.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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11 Responses to Music Brings Unexpected Learning

  1. Lisa Besse says:

    Jennie, you have to show them Mickey Mouses’s fantasia!

  2. reocochran says:

    This was so wonderful and you were great at going with the flow in your lesson plans, Jennie. You saw several “teachable moments” and jumped on it. Smiles, Robin

  3. What a great lesson. My son first got interested in composing because of John Williams. And I’m with your students– ❤ the cellos!

  4. frenchc1955 says:

    What a remarkable moment of teaching that you had! I have also found that the best teaching and learning occurs when improvisation and adaptation in a class also happens. Great work!

  5. jlfatgcs says:

    Thank you, Charles. In the world of preschool, we call this emergent curriculum. Improvisation and adaptation is not so easy. I’m sure you know that! It takes bravery and confidence that you won’t ‘loose the group’. Yet, these are the best moments in real teaching. Do you ever write about those moments in your classroom?

  6. GP Cox says:

    You have a great method of teaching.

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