It often brings up so many negative responses from adults:
I’m tone deaf. I can’t sing. I have a terrible voice. I hate karaoke!
But for children, singing means something very different. For children, singing is natural and fun. And it’s not a loaded word that strikes fear into their hearts, as it does with so many adults. But somewhere along the way, children receive the message that they should only sing if they have a good voice. They stop singing, leaving it to those who have been told they’re a good at it, and consume music, rather than participating in it. Yet for generations, people have used singing as a way to connect and create a sense of community – whether it be singing a folk song with friends around a campfire, or gathering around a piano to create music with family.
Love of singing can be taught
Almost 10 years ago I participated in a music education program called Hand-in-Hand, where the focus was engaging children in community music making through songs – but the difference being that the focus was singing with others, not just for others. Where the aim wasn’t to teach music theory, but to instill a love of singing, and to use singing as a way of bridging a gap between different community groups (for example, children and elderly people). The course was a real eye-opener for me, and it absolutely changed the way I approach music education in the classroom! The first change was a very personal one, where I had to become more comfortable with singing and hearing my own voice. Something that definitely took some getting used to!
Up until this course, the songs that I sang in the classroom tended to be typical children’s songs such as simple, repetitive nursery rhymes that were usually pentatonic. Songs like ‘Old McDonald’ or ‘Heads and Shoulders, Knees and Toes’. But the repertoire of songs taught in the Hand-in-Hand program turned the idea of ‘easy kids songs’ on its head! Songs such as Bing Crosby’s ‘Swinging on a Star’, ‘The Red, Red Robin’ or “A Spoonful of Sugar” from Mary Poppins, are some examples of tunes we sang with the children. There were many songs from the Tin Pan Alley era too (here you can find out more information about why the program uses these songs). These are not easy songs for 3-6 year olds – or so I thought!
But I was so surprised at how quickly the children picked up these catchy tunes, and asked to listen to and sing them over and over again. And I’ll never forget overhearing two children merrily singing ‘when the red, red robin comes bob-bob-bobbin’ along…along!’ when they were washing their hands for snack!
How singing becomes a part of daily preschool routines
Seeing the positive response from the children towards these not-so-typical children’s songs, we began to learn more of them. We learnt traditional Australian ballads such as ‘Along the Road to Gundagai’ and ‘Waltzing Matilda“, too. This led to lots of interesting conversations with the children as we talked about the meaning and history of the songs.
In a natural way, singing became an integral part of our day at preschool. The kids sang everywhere! At group time, in the sandpit, and at the art easel as they were painting. Also, learning these songs had an unexpected bonus of reaching our community outside the immediate classroom. Imagine the kids’ surprise when they realized their mums, dads, grandmas and grandpas knew these songs too! We would often invite family members to come in and sing some of these golden oldie songs with us. It was great fun, and an authentic, meaningful way to involve family members in our preschool.
Singing creates positive environment
So there you have it…the power of music! Singing creates a positive environment and is something that everyone can participate in, one way or another. It touches us in ways that no other medium can. It shows a powerful way of fostering positive relationships – both in the classroom and the wider community. Perhaps you’re like I was – not so comfortable with singing a lot in the classroom, or limiting the choices of songs and music that you explore the children to typical childhood songs. Why not find your voice, and try connecting with the children by sharing a song that has personal or cultural significance to you? Children are the most unforgiving audience of all, and they’ll be singing along with you in no time!
This article was written by Wenone Hope (Blue Mountains, Australia).
Wenone was born and raised in the farming region of Wagga Wagga, Australia. She now finds herself teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) in the Czech Republic. A teacher for 12 years, she has a background in Early Childhood Education and has also done postgraduate studies in Special Education and Early Intervention. Wenone is an Early Childhood Consultant at Lipa Learning, and has also been a Preschool Educational Leader in the Blue Mountains and a Primary School Educational Director in Canberra, Australia. She’s an advocate for inclusive education, where diversity in the classroom (and life!) is celebrated. When she’s not in the classroom, she’s out in nature, playing rollerderby, travelling, or enjoying a good book.