Another way you can work singing into your normal routine is to converse with children by singing. All it takes is two or three pitches, and you can easily say or ask children anything while you sing. For example, you could sing Boys and girls; it’s circle time going back and forth between two pitches.You could also sing directions, such as, Sit in a circle and then I’ll read you a poem. Or, you can use call and response. Ask your children what day of the week it is, and then they sing back the answer. Boys and girls, what day is it? Mr. Adams, it is Friday. All this on just two pitches, like the two you hear children naturally chant when they are playing. Musicians recognize these pitches as so and mi. You’re still teaching what you were going to teach anyway, but at the same time you are engaging your children’s musical minds, building their brainpower beyond what just answering in words would. This kind of singing has the double advantage of not only using the singing voice to explore pitch space, but also using rhythm to strengthen that temporal reasoning we were talking about. When things are chanted or sung in rhythm, people have to predict when the next beat and word are going come, so they can be prepared to sing or chant it. They also connect repeated patterns to previously occurrences, which again is temporal reasoning. Using poems spoken in meter accomplishes the same thing. As children listen to you read a poem in rhythm and meter, they are timing the occurrence of the next word and even of the next period, which sounds as a pause placed at a predictable point in time. Here, I’ll show you what I mean: Hickory Dickory Dock, the mouse ran up the clock. The clock struck one; the mouse ran down, hickory, dickory dock. If I had chanted this aloud to you, I’m sure everyone one of you, whether you were aware of it or not, would have begun keeping time with my chanting, and would have been satisfied, even happy when I paused at all the expected places, and you all would have known exactly how the last line was going to go, because before I finished you recognized that it was the same as the first line, which you had already heard and still remembered.
A different kind of song is one that is short but does not have segments for imitating. With a song like this, you sing the entire song to the class three or four times, or until they can sing it to you. “Johnny Has One Friend” is useful because it can be used to teach or review numbers. Teach the children to quietly tap the heels of their feet, or patch a beat that you give them while you sing to them. There’s an amusing unpredictability at the end, which after a few times through becomes predictable, once the children realize that at the end of each time through, the number of Johnny’s friends increases by one. You can say, “now, sing the song to me, and when you get to the end, show me with your fingers how many friends Johnny has now.” After several days of using this song, I would then ask, “who will sing Johnny?” When a child volunteers, ask them how many friends they want Johnny to have, and have the child sing that number at the end. Or, you can have a group of students, or of cut-out boys and girls and have the child count the number of children they see and sing that number. If a child forgets how the song goes, do not correct him or her, but simply take the next turn singing. This gives the child a chance to hear the song again. Let one other child have a turn, and then return to the child who had trouble. He or she has now heard it twice, once by you and once by another child, and will probably sing it correctly or at least better now. This is a good teaching strategy. When a child cannot respond correctly, let the child hear the correct response from someone else, then return to the child and have him or her give the correct response. Even though he or she didn’t think of the response on his or her own, the response is now reinforced as it is repeated.
There will be other times when you will just want to sing your class a song and just have them listen, just as you do when you read them a story. Both have the same benefit; the children are hearing vocabulary, and remembering what you are singing for future reference and use. Here’s a song like that. This song is called “The Crabfish.” There is an excellent storybook published by the same name, so this song can be a connection to literacy. I would use this song with 4-year-olds. Have the children quietly patch the beat while you sing, but otherwise listen quietly.