SING OUT!

Well if you want to sing out, sing out
And if you want to be free, be free
‘Cause there’s a million things to be
You know that there are
Cat Stevens

“Look Renée, it stopped raining!” Akhira pointed to the window and 24 pairs of eyes followed her finger. Sure enough, the incessant rain had stopped. That meant that we could have outdoor play at last. But for my class, it also meant that at meeting time that morning we would all happily sing “Blue Skies”.

Singing infused my classroom with good feelings. When Vicky had a hard time separating from her dad one morning, we all solemnly sang The Comfort Song – “what should I do if my best friend is crying? What should I do? I don’t know what to say. I take my friend in my arms and I hold her.” Of course we then had to go on and sing verses for our daddy, our sister, our puppy.

Singing has always been a strong tool for building community. During the civil rights movement, in the 50’s and ‘60’s, group singing helped freedom fighters hold onto their courage in the most difficult circumstances. ‘‘The freedom songs are playing a strong and vital role in our struggle,’’ said Martin Luther King, Jr ‘‘they give the people new courage and a sense of unity. I think they keep alive a faith, a radiant hope, in the future, particularly in our most trying hours”.

Community building in the classroom is our first goal as teachers. When we have a cohesive, caring community, class rules seem to easily fall into place. Children help and support each other, bullying becomes practically a non-issue and maintaining discipline is not the teacher’s priority.

Now before I continue, I want to address the issue of voice. Many teachers have told me that they really can’t sing in class because they don’t have good singing voices. Well, my voice is somewhat flat and I have difficulty carrying a tune. That fact never, however, seemed to bother the children in any of my classes. We sang every day and for many different purposes. When we were doing a bridge study we sang, “Love Can Build a Bridge.” During our waterways study we sang “Sailing Down My Golden River.” During the years that Connie Norgren and I had our quasi-team teaching experience (her first grade and my kindergarten shared a double room, did studies together and always met to sing on her rug….but that is another story) Connie taught me many ecology songs (“Think About the Earth”; “The Garden Song”), freedom songs (“Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around”; “Rosa Parks”; “This Little Light”) and songs from many different cultures (“De Colores”, “Que Bonita Bandera”; “Santa Lucia”).

Many literacy skills are well supported when children are engaged in singing on a regular basis. Let’s check out some of them.

Phonemic Awareness: When children sing and clap out songs, they play around with the sounds, segmenting and putting them together, tapping and clapping out rhythms. (Ba-by Be-lu-ga in the deep blue sea; Miss Mar-ry Mack, Mack, Mack…)

Rhyme: There are so many rhyming songs; it’s difficult to know which to list. For starters there’s Down By the Bay, Jenny Jenkins, This Old Man (also a counting song) Singing songs that mix up initial consonants, like Willoughby, Wallaby, bring out lots of giggles but also have children thinking about the sounds of the letters along with the rhymes.

Alphabetic Awareness: Besides the old standby of the ABC song, don’t forget about A You’re Adorable. My class sat in a circle and ‘wrote’ the letters on each other’s backs as they sang. Then we ‘erased’ the letters, turned around and re-sang the song in upper case!

Phonetic Awareness and Spelling Patterns: “I Can’t Spell Hippopotamus” is a song that I have used and it is one of the most engaging activities for practicing spelling patterns. I’ve had children work in partnerships to come up with spelling patterns (pot, hot, not; can, man, fan; play, tray, stay, etc.) that we then incorporate into the song. It’s a game, it’s a song, it’s a spelling lesson, and it’s fun!

One to one word recognition: After children know a song really well (‘by heart’), I put it on a chart and the children can start making connections between the words that they are singing and the words on the paper. Children take turns ‘being the teacher’ and, with a wooden stick, point to the words as the class reads and sings along.
In June, I often celebrated our year of singing by taping the children singing together, making copies of the tape (today it would be a CD!) for each child and adding a sing-along songbook. I recently met a former student, now a college graduate, who told me that for years after kindergarten she listened to the tape and that the family played it and all sang along when they went on long car trips!

So, remember the words from the African spiritual and don’t forget to ‘’sing when the spirit says sing” to bring lots of spirit and joy into the school day!

6 thoughts on “SING OUT!

  1. Kathy Collins

    Hi Renée!
    Thanks for this blog post – reminding us how the simple act of singing with children can lead to so much learning…and enjoyment! That said, I want to stand up for those teachers (like myself) who self-identify as horrible singers and are, therefore, shy about singing in public..even with little kids. I want to say loudly and proudly there’s no shame in using your ipod (or your old-school cd-player) as your ‘song assistant.’ Jessica, my teaching partner, showed me how to do this, and those moments when our whole class was singing along to some great music were some of the greatest pleasures of the school day! Thanks again, Renée!

    Reply
    1. Renee Post author

      Good point Kathy! I’m behind the time (no ipod!) but I do remember sometimes using tapes…especially the Judds (Love can Build a Bridge) and Arlo Guthrie (Sailing Down….). However, after the children knew the songs really well, and I did too, we really did stop using the tape and sang on our own a lot.

      Reply
  2. Julie Diamond

    Perhaps I too am old-fashioned (or just old!) – but I want to second Renee on the value of singing with children, whether our voices are decent or terrible (as mine is!). When I was at education school in the nineteen-sixties, we sang, on-key and off-key, and collected pages of classroom songs. At that time, kindergarten teachers were expected to play piano or guitar, and to sing. As Renee points out, singing builds a class community, it connects individuals. (There’s a great chapter on singing, by Betsy Blachly and Sandra Heintz, in “Putting the Children First” ed. J. Silin and C. Lippman.) In addition to the literacy skills Renee lists, singing stretches children’s minds, their memories, and their senses of humor or compassion. Most deeply, singing is a way of being alive, as it has been for many centuries and in many places (and teachers can ask children to ask parents for memories of songs they sang as children…). I think about the children’s involvement when we sang Jennie Jenkins. Individual children would be called on, responding with the next color: red, it’s the color of my head, blue, the color’s too true; and children might also make up their own rhymes. The children’s voices were heard, loud and clear – their own voices, not a taped voice. It seems to me that in recent decades, we have become – as individuals, world-wide – more passive; our identity is often as consumers of this or that object or brand. As I see it, when children sing primarily with commercial tapes, it’s one more area in which they are consumers. Commercial tapes or i-pod songs certainly have their uses in classrooms. But the live human voice, its rumble and tenderness, its imperfections, even, provides a different kind of experience for children than when they sing with a commercially-produced tapes. One problem may be that education schools no longer teach teachers to sing and teachers no longer begin careers with a collection of songs children will love. So I urge teachers to do it: to overcome self-consciousness and sing every day, with gusto and enthusiasm, no matter how good or bad their voices, to bring into the classroom the “spirit and joy” – in Renee’s words – of making music.

    Reply
  3. merril

    What a wonderful reminder! I looked up several of the song suggestions and found a great bit of inspiration. I listened to “sing when the spirit says sing” several times to try and internalize the rhythm of the song – not to mention the lyrics. I think that is part of the reason cd’s and ipods can become crutches, as it truly takes some time to internalize a song and feel confident as a song leader. I will bring “sing when the spirit says sing’ into the classroom tomorrow (no ipods) – many thanks for the inspiration.

    Reply
  4. Joan Kramer

    Thank you Renee!! I love to sing. My first job was with Head Start in 1965 – I assisted a wonderful teacher. She had me sing to the children every day. It was wonderful. I wish I had continued in that role – whether as an elementary teacher or even as a Teacher Librarian – my last job before I retired. I also would love to devise a U.S. History course completely based on songs. It would be a great way to teach history I think. Thank you so much for this!! I hope all teachers will sing — the quality of the voice doesn’t matter. The children learn so much more from song!!

    Reply

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