Where Has All the Singing Gone?

If I were to believe my early childhood students, singing with children is passe. Being a small sample (this class has thirty students), perhaps I am being overly harsh. But then again, prior classes had also moved into the dizzying array of YouTube videos for preschoolers. Blingy, fast-moving, cartoonish music videos have become the go-to resource for finding music and movement activities for young children. These have supplanted the older, Fred Rogers, style of meeting children where they are, to my profound regret. In my infants and toddlers course, despite my admonitions to the contrary, teachers use videos of people dressed as gummy bears dancing routines I myself would have to practice before doing, and I used to sing and dance in front of audiences. Up-tempo renditions of favorite children’s songs frustrate young children’s attempts to comply with the teacher’s request to “do what they do on the video”. Students say that their activities allow children to have fun and do their best, but their best means just trying to keep up. And those costumed creatures in the video aren’t going to slow down for them.

What’s the fuss, you may ask. YouTube is colorful, fun, and entertaining. Ah, here’s the rub. Music activities for young children are not just for passive entertainment. They are for forging group identity, cultural awareness, and learning to be with others in a common purpose. In movement, teachers can assess motor issues, and learn what they students enjoy doing. Plus, a music and movement activity allows teachers to bond with children. If teachers have difficulty doing a move, the group laughs, teacher included. How much more warm and inviting this is! Relationships being the center of a great early childhood program, children can connect with adults in community and care.

I do not shun CD’s of such notables as Laurie Berkner, Raffi,or Hap Palmer. I highly recommend them, and have used them often. There are no distracting, over-stimulating visuals. Both teachers and children delight in finding new songs to “do”. My students have brought CD’s into class to dance to. I remember a little guy (now in middle school) sneaking his mom’s Persian music CD into class and asking us to dance with him! Children routinely ask for old favorites (Bear Hunt, anyone?). But CD’s can’t take the place of real singing. I’ve done Raffi’s Something in my Shoe for years, but I memorized it and never did it with the CD. It is too fast. Singing and moving a cappella allows teachers to stop, if necessary, and give support to children. YouTube videos do not stop for anyone.

You can do it! Find songs you like and share them with your students. Let your authentic enthusiasm spark their imaginations. Allow spontaneous and hilarious additions from the peanut gallery! That enthusiasm, and the interactions it allows, is so much more valuable to children than a bunch of dancing gummy bears. Give yourself and your students the gift of real, live musical experiences.

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