17 Songs to Sing Together with Your Kids
Renée Dinnerstein has over 50 years experience as an early childhood educator. She has taught both in Italy and the United States and has spent eighteen years as an early childhood teacher at P,S, 321, one of New York City’s leading elementary schools. She was the teacher-director of the Children’s School early childhood inclusion annex and worked also as an Early Childhood Staff Developer in the New York City Department of Education, Division of Instructional Support, where she wrote curriculum, led study groups and summer institutes, and helped write the New York City Pre Kindergarten Standards. She received the Bank Street Early Childhood Educator of the Year Award in 1999. Her book, Choice Time: How to Deepen Learning Through Inquiry and Play, was published by Heinemann in August, 2016. This coming March 2019, the book will be published in Mandarin by the Beijing Normal University Press. Renee’s blog, It's Investigating Choice Time: Inquiry, Exploration and Play can be found at www.investigatingchoicetime.com. Renée lives in Brooklyn with her husband, the artist, Simon Dinnerstein.
I always knew that singing together can be a lot of fun and helps foster community in classrooms. However, I was more curious to see if singing could have other benefits that help us in dealing with the stress of living in a world suffering from a pandemic. I found a wonderful website called the Sing Up Foundation that outlines some of the benefits of singing. According to the research, singing lowers cortisol and relieves stress and tension, boosts confidence, and, because it is a mindful activity, allows you to live completely in the moment and distracts your mind from negative thoughts.
With these benefits in mind, I thought that it would be helpful for parents to read a post that I once put on my blog about singing with children in school. Why not use this extra time at home to do some singing with your children while they are home from school and spending lots of time with you
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
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, and our puppy.
Singing has always been a strong tool for building community. During the civil rights movement, 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) 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 your day!