19 Rhythm And Beat Activities For Kindergarten Kids

rhythm activities lessons for kindergarten

One of the first things I teach in Kindergarten is all about the steady beat. 

By January, it’s time for me to talk about the beginnings of rhythm. 

While I prefer to wait until first grade before introducing the notation and syllables, I do think it’s important to prepare rhythm with movement, visuals, playing, and creative musical experiences. 

I dug through the lessons I’ve used over the past 10+ years of teaching to come up with these 19 rhythm activities for Kindergarten for you to use in your music classroom right now. 

Some of these are more beat-based music activities, but beat awareness is the critical first step before rhythm can be taught. 

The list of rhythm activities includes: 

  • March To The Beat
  • Tap On Different Parts Of Your Body
  • Follow The Hearts
  • Statue Game
  • Ickle Ockle
  • Walk-Tiptoe Challenge
  • Johnny Works With One Hammer
  • Fill The Chairs
  • Rhythm Sticks
  • Egg Shakers
  • Bean Bag Movements
  • My Mother, Your Mother
  • Secret Message
  • Minecraft Rhythm Playalong
  • Pitter Patter
  • Build Your Rhythms
  • Hickety Tickety Bumblebee
  • Food Rhythms
  • Ostinato With A Favorite Song

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March To The Beat

The best place to start with a beat or rhythm is with movement. 

Marching to the beat and moving parts of your body to the beat is one of my favorite ways to get started. 

There are hundreds of great marches (Stars and Stripes, Pride of the Wolverines, etc.) out there to move to. 

Make it a big deal by acting like you’re all in a marching band. You can be the drum major (and then the students can later take turns being the drum major). 

Tap On Different Parts Of Your Body

Take any song or nursery rhyme you do in class and add beat motions to the beat. 

Move the motions to different parts of your body or move in different ways. 

I like to give the kids 4-5 ideas, and then I ask them what they want to do. 

They may be a little reluctant at first to share, but once they do, they’ll come up with some really creative stuff. 

Here are places or ways to move I’ve used or heard from students over the past years: 

  • Tap head
  • Tap nose
  • Pat legs
  • Stomp
  • Tiptoe
  • Dab
  • Cluck tongue
  • Flap chicken wings
  • Tap elbow
  • Touch shoulders
  • Clap hands
  • Pat and cross hands to tap elbows
  • Tap chin
  • Touch ears

As a rhythm extension to this, take your motions and make them now match the words. 

The lyrics are essentially the rhythm as the words move in long and short patterns around the beat. 

Follow The Hearts

I’m all about adding visuals for my 5 year olds. 

But in Kindergarten, I want them to see a visual representation of how rhythm works, not just the notation. 

Here’s a common visual you can make up in Google Slides in seconds. 

  1. Put four heart shapes across a Google Slide (copy and paste them to make sure they’re the same size. 
  2. Have students tap their hearts while you tap the visual. 
  3. Discuss how it’s the steady beat, even, and doesn’t change. 
  4. Now, take a star shape and put it inside the heart. 
  5. Add two stars inside another heart. 
  6. Connect this with rhythm and read with words or rhythm syllables (I stick with “walk” and “tiptoe” at first for quarter note and eighth note rhythms). 
  7. Together, read and follow the hearts for several four-beat patterns. 

Pro-tip: If you make the last rhythmic pattern they read the rhythm of the next song, you can transition into it seamlessly. 

rhythms kindergarten reading

Statue Game

Oh, the Statue Game. 

These are simple activities, yet so fun! 

It starts with a simple direction: 

Walk to the beat when you hear the drum. Freeze when it stops. 

After a little bit, change up the speed of the beat and ask them to match the tempo as best they can. 

Then, add in different types of statue prompts and see how creative they get. 

I like to add in some emotions to help them practice their feelings and how they act: 

  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Mad
  • Scared
  • Worried
  • Excited
  • Strong
  • Nervous
  • Hungry
  • Overwhelmed

Play-acting through these emotions is critical in emotional development for these young children. 

Ickle Ockle

Ickle Ockle is a great way to practice. 

The song and music game are simple: 

  1. Everyone stands in a circle and pats the beat. 
  2. One person skips around the middle. 
  3. On the words “please choose me,” the middle person picks someone and switches spots with them. 
  4. Repeat with the new person in the middle. 
  5. Keep going until everyone has had a turn. 

You can add in some rhythms by having kids echo some rhythm patterns in a B section you add after the song. 

Or, instead of having them pat the beat, have them clap the words instead. 

ickle ockle sheet music

Walk-Tiptoe Challenge

This is an extension of the Statue Game challenge above with a focus on rhythm. 

For this one, I have the students walk in repeated rhythm patterns. 

For example, I’ll make kids walk like this: tiptoe, tiptoe, walk, walk. 

The tiptoes equal eighth notes, and the walks equal quarter notes. 

This provides another way of moving to the rhythm and preparing the knowledge and musical skill they’ll develop even more later on. 

Sometimes I’ll split the class into two groups and have them compete with one another. 

The group that moves and matches the correct rhythm the best, wins! 

Here are a few patterns I like to do with this: 

  • Tiptoe tiptoe walk walk
  • Walk walk tiptoe walk
  • Tiptoe walk tiptoe walk
  • Tiptoe tiptoe tiptoe walk

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Johnny Works With One Hammer

Johnny Works with One Hammer is one of the music lessons I do with the beat on the first day of school. 

While I don’t do a lot with this for rhythm, it would be easy to add a B section with pictures. 

You may add the steady beat hearts and then instead of stars, use pictures of tools and read the rhythms with those. 

For example: 

If you saw hammer-hammer-drill-drill, you would say it, and it would be the equivalent of titi titi ta ta or four eighth notes and two quarter notes. 

Of course, the original game is always a fun game to play as you add in moves with your body for each of the hammers: 

  • One hand patting
  • Two hands patting
  • Two hands, one foot
  • Two hands, two feet
  • All hands and feet and nodding your head

Fill The Chairs

When it comes to teaching rhythm or any music concepts, one of the best ways to build knowledge is to repeat your activities! 

Repetitive activities build knowledge, but if you don’t offer a twist or extension then the kids will likely get bored. 

Extend any of the activities or rhythm reading visuals by using chairs. 

Set up four (or eight or more) chairs. 

Have students pat their laps when you point to a chair. 

The chairs are now the steady beat in the same way the hearts were before. 

Now, ask students to sit in the chairs. 

One student is like a “walk” or quarter note. 

Two students in a chair are like eighth notes (tiptoe as I’ll often say in Kindergarten). 

A blank chair is a rest (don’t forget to add quarter rests after a while, too). 

Have students create their own or pick for them. 

Even though it’s mostly the same activity as reading from hearts, it’ll feel brand new to the kids, and it’ll give you and them that much-needed repeated practice. 

Rhythm Sticks

Take any rhythm lesson for Kindergarten and add rhythm sticks to it, and you have something new for the young musicians to play. 

This works with any new instrument. 

Just make sure you prepare your students with clear expectations ahead of time. 

They’re also great for building motor skills. 

Check out our list of rhythm stick activities at the link. 

Egg Shakers

Along the same lines, add egg shakers for some more rhythm practice that feels new to the kids. 

Egg shakers are affordable (like rhythm sticks), and they provide a different timbre. 

Another great idea is to have half the class on rhythm sticks and half the class on egg shakers. 

Then, have your echoing or rhythm playing be split by groups. 

Waiting your turn is an important social skill to reinforce (and one all Kindergarteners need more practice with). 

Want some more egg shaker activities? Click the link for our list. 

Bean Bag Movements

Here is one of my students’ favorite ways to do rhythm in the lower elementary. 

All you need are some hula-hoops (I borrow them from my P.E. teacher) and some bean bags. 

Put the hula-hoops out (in a group of 4 or 8).

Place either 1 or 2 bean bags in each hula hoop. 

This is now the rhythm. 

The bean bags are the rhythms, and the hula hoops are the beat. 

Students make a line and have to jump through the hoops. 

On one-bag hoops, they jump once and say “walk” or “ta” or whatever you want them to. 

On two-bag hoops, they have to jump or hop in the hoop twice and say “tiptoe” or “titi” or whatever you want them to. 

Using a rest (no bean bag) is doable, but it requires more jumping skills than some may have at this age level. 

But it’s still fun! 

My Mother, Your Mother

Here is a rhyme and chant I learned from a cousin who is also a music teacher. 

You pat the beat for the first steps, and then you have the kids copy what you say and shake to match the words. 

There’s no real music with this, so just say it like a nursery rhyme. 

My mother, your mother, live across the way. 

Every day they have a chat, and this is what they say. 

Then for the second section, I have them echo words like we’re carrying on a conversation. 

Here’s an example: 

Hey, how are you?

I am good. How are you?

Fine, thanks for asking!

What are you up to?

I am cooking breakfast.

What are you making?

Chocolate chip pancakes. 

That sounds delicious! 

Would you like to have some?

Yes, please, my good friend! 

Shaking with the words is actually getting them ready for rhythm later on in their schooling and lives too! 

Don’t be afraid to get a little silly for this one. 

Secret Message

Decoding rhythms is a fancy term for hearing a pattern and figuring out how what it looks like (or what the syllables are). 

Telling your students they’re decoding rhythms isn’t that exacting on its own, but if you make it seem like a secret message, it’ll be a lot more fun. 

Play different rhythms and see if they can figure it out. 

You can have them figure it out in a whole group, small groups, or on their own by: 

  • Saying and clapping with syllables
  • Choosing the right answer from several options
  • Writing or moving pictures to match what you perform

Minecraft Rhythm Playalong

Use a play along video like this one to help kids play rhythms and look at notation without needing to actually read it. 

They replace the notation with words that match the syllables (something that’ll show up later on our list too!). 

Pitter Patter

Pitter Patter is a simple folk song with great opportunity for showing the beat or the rhythm. 

Extend the short basic song by adding an echo section, adding musical instruments, or reading from any of the visuals or movement activities we’ve talked about on the rest of the list. 

Build Your Rhythms

Manipulatives (things for students to put their hands on) are another fun way to practice beat and rhythm. 

It lets kids build their own rhythms or copy yours. 

Either way, it’s a visual and creative avenue to working with musical rhythms. 

Here are some manipulative options: 

  • Use Lego bricks with rhythms written on them to fit together. 
  • Print off heart pictures and use bingo chips to show the rhythm.
  • Print off heart pictures and let them draw their rhythms on the hearts.
  • Use stuffed animals or bean bags grouped together to build rhythms. 
  • Put rhythm cards in sleeve pockets for display hangings. 

Check out my favorite general music games for kids.

Hickety Tickety Bumblebee

Here’s another simple song that started life as something like a nursery rhyme. 

The repeated section goes like this: 

Hickety Tickety bumblebee

Will you say your name for me?

Then, students take turns saying their names, and then we go back to the rhythm chant and making music together. 

You and the class echo them as they say (and maybe play on their own drum) their name.

Make sure the number of times they hit the drum matches the number of syllables in their name. 

This is early rhythm practice, but it’s important to draw that distinction with a steady beat. 

The steady beat is always going, but the rhythms change and match words. 

Food Rhythms

Come up with a big list of food items and sort them by the number of syllables. 

These are now your rhythm syllables. 

Print off pictures of the food and ask the students to arrange the food to match the rhythm they want. 

For example: 

Apple apple pear pear would be like four eighth notes and two quarter notes. 

Extend this same idea by choosing any number of themes. 

I recently did Marvel characters (Antman Antman Thor Thor), and my students ate it up! 

Check out more ways to count rhythm syllables in our complete guide here.

Ostinato With A Favorite Song

Take any song you like or your students like. 

Take a repeated rhythm pattern (or a few of them) and use them as an ostinato to go along with the song. 

It doesn’t have to be a music class song at all. 

Pick any song you and your kids like or familiar rhymes with a strong sense of beat. 

I recently did We Don’t Talk About Bruno, and we rotated through these body percussion: 

  • Step-Step-Clapclap-Clap
  • Patpat-Patpat-Patpat-Jump
  • Stepstep-Clap-Stepstep-Clap

Related Reading: Popular songs with easy-to-follow beat

Save time with these 60 FREE Music Resources to use in your room right away!

Stop searching the whole internet to find good activities. I’ll help you cut to the chase with my favorite 60 FREE resources.

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher in Michigan with 12 years of experience. He's the President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and founder of the Dynamic Music Room.

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