Finger Plays – Great for the Brain!

By Maryann Harman

This piece is from Maryann’s blog, Mar’s Music Notes.

The cerebellum is larger in musicians by up to about 5%.  This suggests that finger exercise (as used in finger plays for younger children/instrument lessons in older children) may prompt additional nerve growth.  (Schlaug et al 1998)
Last year, I wrote a blog about finger plays and how they help prepare children for math.  I was called out by someone who saw that I may have confused cerebrum and cerebellum, and it has bothered me since, so I’ve done more research.

The area of the brain most associated with motor control is the cerebellum.  It takes up nearly one half of the brain’s neurons.  (Ivry & Fiez, 2000).

Why are finger plays and finger puppets so important for children?  Besides the fact that they are fun and very engaging, they get the whole brain involved.  Any time we move, we activate the motor cortex which is in the cerebellum. This is the same part of the brain that processes learning.

Much is happening in tiny nanoseconds as children themselves manipulate the puppets.  Their brains are processing “Which finger do I move with which word?”, “When do I take that finger down and put the next up?” and “Should I wiggle this finger or bend it up and down?”  WOW!!!  This teaches motor control, self-control, language and is also a child- directed activity.

Music is children’s first patterning experience and helps engage them in mathematics even when they don’t recognize the activities as mathematics.  Geist, Geist & Kuznik, ‘12

When you sit down with a child/children with finger puppets, the children immediately give you their attention.  Introduce the song and puppets.  Know that you will do it more than once.  Then allow opportunity for the children to work with them.  It’s also wonderful to have the 4 year olds perform the plays for the 2 year olds.  What self-esteem and confidence building! That also works on the ability to speak in front of others (a skill often not mentioned in standards but very useful in life.)

Research has been done (and has proven) the myriad benefits of finger plays.  This link, Discovering the Educational Benefits of Finger Plays, has additional information on the topic.  Mary Jo Huff has always been a favorite of mine in the art of storytelling and use of finger plays.  You can also visit Music with Mar and see our line of finger puppets and songs.  Take children to shows or classes where finger plays are used.  Bring some of these tools into your home/classroom.  And, remember, the first tool we all learn to use is our own fingers.  They don’t need to have little puppets on them to engage a child.  The connection with you is beneficial in itself.

Maryann Harman is a CMN member who often delivers workshops and writes about music and the brain.



  1. Mar, interesting research. Thanks for posting. Sems like a very good argument for keeping music (and arts) in the schools.

  2. Thanks for the interesting article, Mar. The more we know, the more we grow as educators of our youngest.

  3. Thanks, guys. Please, go to my Facebook page with the daily brain facts and add your comments. Our voices need to multiply!

  4. Maryann is correct that puppets will rivet the chidlren’s attention.

    Nanci Scheidinger wrote a darling/scale song to accompany a puppet
    she found at WestMusic. She shared it at our NoCA regional.

    Nanci had us hunch/rise on the ascending and lower/hunch on the descending.

    I have been using it ever since and it is “brilliant”.

    Every child in 19 circles each week love it and ask for
    it at every class.

    We alternate between a girl and boy.
    Fun way to identify/ practice “she” and “he”.

    You can check it out in the middle of this video of Nanci’s Kindermusic.

    Have fun…Liz

  5. Great post, thanks. My four year old loves entertaining his baby sister with puppet shows; it’s nice to see benefits beyond keeping them both occupied.

  6. Thanks, Mar, for researching, writing and providing us with some links for further study. I just want to add one thing to your comment about using plain old fingers, this alone helps the imagination as we (possibly) visualize a finger as a person, animal, etc, or a hand as a rabbit hopping, etc. Include the use of puppet songs and finger/hand songs, yes!

  7. Do you know where I can buy this set? I used to have this at a daycare I worked at and would like to buy it for my son. I’m wanting the cd along with all the pieces..

  8. Is there any really good guitar lessons for free on the internet?

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