Babies Walkers to 2 2s to 3s 3s to 4s

Overview and benefit

Being able to maintain a rhythm is a skill which children need to learn. Having this inner sense of rhythm helps them with so many other skills such as gross and fine motor skills (walking, skipping, jogging, cutting, and writing). Research suggests that it can even help with academic subjects like maths and literacy. This activity encourages children to move rhythmically to a beat. It also introduces the very basics of note duration using fun characters and a song for each.

Equipment required

  • pictures of each of the animals for you to print and laminate
  • pictures of each of the beats to show your class
  • beat tracks and animal tracks

Link to resources

Training Video

Polly Penguin Step It-1 from MAD Academy on Vimeo.

Step It Milly Monkey-1 from MAD Academy on Vimeo.

Step it

Step It from MAD Academy on Vimeo.


Full half term as this is a complex activity

How it works

There are 4 animals each representing a different beat and with each is an accompanying song.

  • Polly Penguin – crotchet, lasting 1 beat
  • Milly Monkey – minim, lasting 2 beats
  • Trevor Tortoise – semi-breve, lasting 4 beats
  • Harry Horse – quaver, lasting ½ a beat

Children learn to move in time to the different beats whilst pretending to be the different animals.

What to do in the class

Polly penguin should be introduced as a constant fixture in this section. This works well as children will always be familiar with at least one of the animals being presented. Each week Polly will bring along one of her friends to meet the children. The same friend should be used for two consecutive weeks in order for the children to become familiar with the music and actions for each character.

Explain briefly to the parents that this activity is designed to establish ‘Beat Competency’ which means moving in time to the music. Explain that adults will find it helpful to maintain a physical contact with the child in order to guide them into the beat of the music.

Polly Penguin (crochet beats)

Start the activity by holding up the picture of Polly and saying “Look everyone, who is this? What is the animal? What is her name?” As children become familiar with the characters they will enjoy telling you. It is helpful to also show the beat notation, for the benefit of the adults and explain it in simple brief terms.

  • To adults – This is a crochet and there are 4 of these to every bar in this music.
  • To children – This is called a crochet and it is how we write down the beat for Polly Penguin.

Get everyone to stop and then ask them to clap in time to the music – clap the beat or pulse.

This will be equivalent to the crotchet beat. Use the beat track on the CD. After a short time suggest they take steps in time to the music – 1, 2, 3, 4, – 1, 2, 3, 4 etc

Count out loud to help them. Introduce the idea that they are waddling like a penguin (Polly Penguin!), and get them to think about this animal as they are stomping in time. Stick with a single movement for Walkers to 2 but older classes can do other movements to the beat, such as catch fish, jump, flap their wings etc. Encourage big, funny, dramatic movements, e.g. get them to go backwards, sideways, in all directions exploring this crotchet beat ‘feel’. Once Polly has been mastered, you can then introduce one of her friends.

Trevor Tortoise (semibreve beats)

Show the beat notation, for the benefit of the adults and explain it in simple brief terms.

  • To adults – This is a semibreve and it’s a long beat spanning a whole bar
  • To children – This is called a semibreve and it is how we write down the beat for Trevor Tortoise.

Introduce them to the semibreve and Trevor Tortoise. This note lasts for (or is held on for) 4 beats rather than 1 so it is a long note and can be indicated by a very big, slow crawling motion. Make sure the length of the note is emphasised by making your voice carry over all four beats, for example ‘SLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW’ or 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4 etc

For the older groups you can talk about Trevor Tortoise slowly moving around munching a few leaves as he goes. He might do other moves such as bringing his head out from inside his shell.

Advanced – ask half of the room to be Polly Penguin (crotchets) and the other half to be Trevor Tortoise (semi-breves) then swap!

Harry Horse (quaver beats)

Show the beat notation, for the benefit of the adults and explain it in simple brief terms.

  • To adults – This is a quaver and it’s a short beat with 8 of these in each bar
  • To children – This is called a quaver and it is how we write down the beat for Harry Horse.

Quaver beats are quick and last for a half beat. Harry horse trotting along at a fairly fast pace! 1, and 2, and 3, and 4, and 1, and 2, and 3, and 4 and etc. Harry Horse trots backwards and forwards, does side-steps too. You can get down on all-fours for this too!

Milly Monkey (minim beats)

Show the beat notation, for the benefit of the adults and explain it in simple brief terms.

  • To adults – This is a minim and it’s a longish beat with 2 of these to every bar
  • To children – This is called a minim and it is how we write down the beat for Milly Monkey

Minim beats last for 2 beats and Milly Monkey swings from the vines around the room. Swing both arms from side to side reach high and leaning to each side, making each swing last two beats. For older children, develop the movement so that you do two swings, then draw a circle with both arms. 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4 etc


Just ensure that whatever your movements, they are rhythmically enforcing the beat.

Glossary of terms

  • Rhythm – the flow of music or words
  • Beat – a pulse of sound (think of heart beat)
  • Tempo – the speed at which the beat occurs, eg a hip-hop dance track will have a fast tempo, a ballad with have a slow tempo
  • Note – a sign used in music to represent the relative duration and pitch of sound.
  • Semibreve – a note lasting 4 beats
  • Minim – a note lasting 2 beats
  • Crotchet – a note lasting 1 beat
  • Quaver – a note lasting half a beat

Remember to always do Polly Penguin and each week she brings a friend along. Encourage the parents to more rhythmically as well so the children can see and feel it too. It can be a nice one to theme, such as making Harry Horse a reindeer at Christmas.

Polly Penguin – Listen to the beat first with the children, then get them to clap along, then count it. Then you can show them the crochet sign. Tapping on their knees or on their parents can also be fun. After a few weeks of doing Polly, start to introduce her friends, but do Polly each week with one other. Use words to emphasis the beat, such as ‘slow’ ‘slow’ for Trevor, or ‘banana’ for Millie. You could catch fish, e.g clapping 1, 2, 3, 4, or jump on 1 and clap 2, 3, 4.

Trevor Tortoise – move your head in and out of your shell. If you find your knees suffer whilst doing Trevor, Karen Morgan of MAD Academy Epsom recommended some dancers knee pads which can go discreetly under trousers, which she gets from Dance Direct. 

Milly Monkey – move legs to swing; stretch to pick a banana, peel a banana (bending knees as you peel), grabbing branchesAn alternative move for when you use ‘Milly Monkey’ is after doing the swinging arms bit, tell the children we are going to pick the bananas. We then chant, “One banana, two banana, three banana, four. Five banana, six banana, seven banana, MORE.” Whilst chanting, reach up with alternate hands to pick the bananas from the tree (all in time with the beat, of course!)

Harry Horse – With the horse quaver you can tap the beat on the floor if you find the children and parents are flagging and unable to maintain the energetic trot. Feel free to develop the range of movements each character does! E.g.