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Friday, February 21, 2020

How Music Helps Kids with Social and Emotional Learning

Paige Bell and Adrien Palmer are music teachers who create songs for Social and Emotional Learning as ‘kindie’ (kids’ independent) rock group Narwhals and Waterfalls. Their SEL curriculum includes lyrics, chord charts, lesson plans, and activities that correspond with each of the songs on their “Simple SEL” album. They have several music videos on Youtube and are available for live performances and events in Dallas, TX and the surrounding area.

In this Q+A, Adrien and Paige discuss the benefits of music education for children from infancy through elementary school. They also share their own self-care strategies as busy teachers and performers.

Social and Emotional Learning 

Songs and Activities for Kids!

Why is music helpful in teaching mindfulness and SEL?

Music is elemental and speaks to a part of us that words alone can’t. Many of the parts of SEL, such as learning body awareness, are much easier through music and movement. When you combine a song asking you how you feel with movements that help you feel better, and have it all happen in the classroom with friends all around, it feels more like living than learning.

What should parents and teachers look for when choosing songs to share with kids?

In the classroom, songs are usually chosen to fit a theme, serve a function, or teach something. Often times this same concept doesn’t get applied to the home. Although music doesn’t always need to be educational, music can be an extremely powerful tool. It’s helpful to choose songs that align with our children’s developmental level.

When children are in their Infancy stage, approx. birth-24 months, they’re already learning so much about trust, relationships and language. Singing them lullabies before sleep provides an important bonding experience, in which they experience safety and trust. Also simple, repetitive songs are great for teaching language. 

In the Early Childhood-Preschool Stage, approx. ages 2-5, toddlers are starting to assert more independence and practicing their fine motor skills. This stage is great for songs that have directions in them, such as freeze dances, body movement songs, or songs that teach specific skills and transitions. Songs about cleaning up, brushing their teeth, waking up, bedtime and anything to help establish routines are great!

In the School Age stage, approx. ages 6-11, along with learning how to read and write, children’s social group’s expand and they start to develop a sense of self. Songs that are about feelings, self-awareness, and social skills are perfect for this age group! 

Research has shown that music can be impactful in the brain development of children. Music is so powerful that it affects all parts of the brain, engaging the left and right hemispheres at the same time. So when we’re able to tailor the music to our children’s developmental levels, we're likely to see increased language skills, social ability, fine motor skills, and emotional intelligence along with other benefits.

You recorded a cover of the classic Mr. Rogers song, ‘It’s You I Like.’ What can we learn from Fred Rogers’ approach to empathizing with and communicating with young children?

First of all, to slow down. Mr. Rogers was incredibly patient and present whenever he interacted with young children. 

Second, he connected with adults as well because many of the things kids need to hear are things we still long to hear. 

And third, that kids need to be able to talk about difficult things. He was very intentional, and chose every word carefully, but he made sure to talk about big topics, heavy topics. Even more so now, kids are going to see and experience difficult things and need the tools to process them emotionally. 

Your videos are quite inclusive, showing a wide range of ages and ethnicities, as well as same-sex couples and parents. Why is it important for kids to see images of people who do and don’t look like themselves and their families? 

We are very careful about which images we feature in our videos. 20 years ago, the images shown of different cultures and lifestyles on the screen were very limited. Stereotypes were reinforced so strongly that when individuals defied expectations, it was jarring. It’s important to us that kids see people like themselves on the screen, and that they see people very different from themselves as well. 

It’s perfectly normal to make assumptions about people who don’t look like us and cultures we don’t understand. We hope to challenge those assumptions and build curiosity instead of prejudice.

Have any parents or teachers expressed concern about any of the images?

We haven’t had anyone express any concerns about final videos, but we have had friends and family challenge us before we released them. We always ask friends to review them and have discovered some of our own blindspots through their feedback. 

Your songs “I’m Always Me” and “I Can Still Be Me” explain the difference between our feelings and our identity as a person. Why is this such an important message for kids (and adults)?

Ideas from books like The Whole Brain Child have influenced a lot of our music. In that book, they talk about how as a child, and sometimes as adults, we need to be reminded that feelings don’t last forever. When a child is feeling sad, they may truly believe they’ll never feel happy again.

Both of us are also prone to introversion. We hesitate to say “are introverts” because labels like “shy” and “quiet” can limit what others expect from us. And cause us to limit ourselves. If you’re always hearing how happy you are, you might suppress any sad feelings you have. 

It’s important that kids know their feelings aren’t their true identity, that feelings come and go, and that they are free to try and be things outside of their “identity”.

One of the most important themes here at Mindful Teachers is self-care for educators and other helping professionals. How do you practice self-care in the midst of your busy schedules as teachers and performers?


The most honest answer would be “inconsistently”. But a big part of self-care is accepting my own limitations. Scheduling in downtime before and after performances sometimes means missing out on other social events, but I need that time in order to be at my best. 

Sometimes, I’ve done extra meditations with my classes. Not only does it help us build in time, but also models to the kids the importance of acknowledging when we feel overwhelmed and addressing those feelings.

I have a morning routine of morning pages (a practice I picked up from The Artist’s Way), yoga, meditation, and a big glass of water. I also go to therapy regularly. And indulge a few quirks: I bought a cheap drum set that I “play” to blow off steam after particularly crazy days.


Being a full-time music teacher is fulfilling and fun, but can also be so draining and busy. I notice that when I take time to center myself before work, I tend to be a lot more patient with my students. 

My morning routine includes the 20/20/20 formula, which is a concept from the book The 5AM Club, by Robin Sharma. 20 minutes of movement, 20 minutes of reflection, and 20 minutes of growth. This usually includes yoga (or a short run), meditation and journaling. 

When I follow through with my morning routine, I’m able to go through the day being proactive instead of reactive. If I wait to have self-care time until I get home from work, it may never happen. 

My motto is that a little will go a long way. Even if you only have 10 minutes before work to sit and drink your coffee while reflecting, that will take you far. Find something that feels good to you and try being consistent with it.

There is a great quote from Daniel Segel’s book, The Whole Brain Child, that reads 

“As children develop, their brains ‘mirror’their parent's brain. In other words, the parent's own growth and development, or lack of those, impact the child's brain. As parents become more aware and emotionally healthy, their children reap the rewards and move toward health as well.”

Remember that self-care is NOT selfish. It’s important to nourish ourselves so that we can nourish the kids in our lives. Our kids will reap the benefits of our personal growth and be able to use the tools in their lives. Hopefully that can motivate all of us to take more time for ourselves.


related posts:

Great Children's Songs About Mindfulness, Compassion, and Gratitude

Mindfulness and Yoga for Young Children: Tips, Books, Apps, and Activities

Integrating Academics with Mindfulness and SEL