Looking for ways to expose your students to more “classical” music?  I’ve found Camille Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals to be a great, accessible set of music for even the youngest students.  This semester in my “Music and Keyboard Explorers” classes for 3 and 4 year olds I’ve been roughly following the curriculum by Marjie Van Gunten available through Music in Motion as a part of class each week.  This curriculum provides ideas for movement activities to go along with each animal included in the suite, along with a short song about the animal 816973_1that can be taught in the same lesson.

I love the way she encourages students to listen carefully and respond to the music.  One of the most effective movement activities for my class so far has been with the “Kangaroo” piece.  In the Saint-Saens music you can obviously hear the kangaroo jumping around, but in between the jumps there is some contrasting music.  Van Gunten suggests that the kangaroo is stopping to eat.  I instructed my students to jump like kangaroos, but when the kangaroo stops jumping, to stop and munch on leaves.  They were great at this and knew exactly when to stop and munch!  We’ve also had fun roaring like lions, crawling around like turtles, and stomping like elephants.

I’ve also enjoying teaching the songs included in Van Gunten’s curriculum.  “Once I had a Little Fish,” which goes along with the Aquarium movement, has a melody line which ascends and then descends.   This worked out perfectly in my class curriculum while I was teaching the concepts of going higher and going lower.  We swam around as fish and swam higher as the melody rose, and then  swam lower as the fish swam deeper into the ocean.


I’ve also been using this Carnival of the Animals storybook as we go through the different animals.  This book comes with a recording of the entire Saint-Saens suite and includes beautiful illustrations for each animal.  There are even a few introductory pages about the orchestra that are a great bonus.

If you don’t have a class that you can use the entire curriculum with, why not consider doing some listening activities with your private students?  The recording for each animal is very short, usually just a minute or two, so it doesn’t take much lesson time to hear one.  Several students have seen the storybook in my studio and asked about it, so we have listened to some animals together and they loved it!  With or without the storybook, I think the Carnival of the Animals suite is a great way to get students excited about listening to “classical” music.  Do you have some favorite listening pieces you’ve introduced to young students?

Author: Spring

Spring Seals, NCTM, teaches 60 piano students ranging from age 3 to 70 in Fort Worth, Texas. She also serves as the Director of Certification for TMTA. She is passionate about helping teachers become more effective in their studios through professional development, new resources, and fresh ideas.