Here is the Crescendo Music Education Podcast - Episode 45.
In this episode of the Crescendo Music Education podcast, I get to talk with Rhonda Davidson-Irwin again, she is one of my favourite music educators. I just adore talking to her and we're talking about singing games. And really, we can change the world with singing games. This is part one, sit back and enjoy listening to the lovely Rhonda Davidson-Irwin.
And welcome to another Crescendo Music Education podcast. And for this episode, I'm joined again by Rhonda Davidson-Irwin. Hello, Rhonda.
Hello, Deb. How are you?
Great. It's good to chat with you again. We really should chat more, not necessarily for podcasts. So yes, apologies for that. But this makes us catch up, doesn't it?
It does, it's wonderful.
Now, if you have not heard the introductions to Rhonda, go back to episode 9 and 10. And you can hear the introductions and a little bit more about Rhonda's background and some of the marvelous things she's done in her career. Because for today, we're actually going to focus on a particular aspect of being a music teacher and I happen to know this is one of Rhonda's favourite things. It's certainly one of mine and I know yours out there. Lots of you listening would agree that singing games are a really important part of our music programs. And I thought that we would just start talking about singing games leading into some sort of nitty gritty and advantages and stuff as we go through. But I'd love to just start listening to what you have to say about singing games, Rhonda.
All righty. Well, there you go. Thank you for that lovely introduction. Look, to me, it's the the crux of music education, we are so lucky that we get to play with our children, because unfortunately, in the last, even 20 years, this has been gradually declining. The last two decades, we've just seen the current education system becoming very much, almost less child centered. May I say? And the one of the joys, I mean, you think about it, okay, we've got a whole group of children over there. Deb, just over there.
Keep them entertained for half an hour, you know, or an hour. I mean, with children, what's synonymous with kids, it's play, it seems so ridiculous that we're even having this conversation, that children and play, ever since a child started to walk, you know, in the cave, I always go, back to the very basics, thousands of years ago. When we entertained children, we would sing and play games with them and it is quite astonishing that our current education system has just cut so much of the joy from our programs, but the little bit of joy that is left is the responsibility and we are so blessed in the music programs that we have. I also am in the great belief that parents are not singing to their children like they used to and not playing with their kids like they used to. Still one of the greatest things is to be able to go outside with your children and kick a ball or catch a ball, let alone singing and catching a ball and kicking a ball. And I think that we have, that music education has that incredible power to entertain in any situation. And one of the great things that we can do is do this in the classroom. Now we're talking about children, kids love to play. That's the bottom line. So we can use this as a tool. Because we know that kids are going to learn all the important stuff that's very important to growing up. We've discussed before, and I'm sure many of your podcasts have talked about the social, emotional, physical and intellectual outcomes that music education has, well we can have this just happen in spades without anyone even realising through the music games that we do, or any games for that matter but particularly music games. And I think the other huge thing is that like 75% of brain development occurs after we're born. There's a huge amount of brain development that happens after birth. Playing up until really, you know, to be frank, I think adults should be playing more as well, which is why I love being a music teacher because I can sit on the floor and play lots of games with kids and get paid for it.
But I think that the music games are pioneering and have pioneered neurological development. Now with MRIs and all the equipment that we've got, we know this is s true thing. So I guess to sum up the situation we're in, is that the most convenient thing to do is to give a child when they're, you know, not doing the right thing or they're bored, is an iPhone to play a game or some sort of a computer game. And I think that this has stopped a lot of the sing alongs in the cars that we would do on our driving trips, it stops a lot of the play, because it's so convenient. And of course, the child instantly enjoys doing that style of game, but the kind of educational outcomes that they're receiving from the video type game compared to being out in the fresh air, or in a classroom engaging with others, you can't compare it. And it's not happening at home. And not that we're the parents but school is obviously a wonderful place to start reaching out and doing this more. I think the other huge thing I want to say about music games is that we have kids that want to come to our rooms when we have music games happening. So you are the fun teacher of the school, you are the person that can change lives, because the kids want to rock up and play Charlie over the Ocean, they want to rock up and play Hey Dee Ho. And it's through all that amazing repertoire that we've got at our fingertips that the kids play and when they play, and this is one of my big things that I talk about, and we're singing. That's when all the endorphins are released. So we're singing, we're moving, we're physical, we're playing together. And it's our happy place. It makes sense. This is why kids are attracted to music games. And if you've got a happy child, and all the endorphins are being released, what's the next thing that happens? The child wants to be there, they want to learn, which is why I believe, one of my big passions is to think that we could get kids singing at the beginning of the school day, every time they go to school to open their brains up, have a great time, we're ready to learn and all those endorphins are released. So that's a kind of background of music. And it's a big, big statement, isn't it?
Yes, but 100%. Of course, I agree. And I'm sure everyone does. Wouldn't it be amazing if every school just started every day? Well, let's actually say every session. So they come in from their break time, and they sing.
And as you said, we have all of the neurological research now that proves that we're doing something amazing. And I think we all know that screen time should not be replacing singing games for heaven's sake. But I do like one of the things you said earlier, which I think we should not lose sight of, is not only is it fun, and part of helping to lead children to understand music, to do these singing games, it's actually our responsibility. It's almost like we are holding that cultural heritage.
Absolutely we are.
So I like that responsibility. You know, and that adds even more importance to it.
I've spoken to you before about the shock that I've had with some of our younger preppies, prep children coming into the school education system, and they've never heard of Humpty Dumpty, and they've never heard of Twinkle Twinkle and you just go, this cannot be the case, this can't be. Surely your Mum or Dad or Grandma sang this to you. And it's actually something that's terrifying me that we're going to lose a lot of our own traditional songs from our own culture, because we're not being sung to anymore. Yeah, and I think I spoke to you once in a podcast that we've got that message, how important it is that we read to our kids every day. Well, I believe we need to be, our parents and our grandparents and our educators in our schools, should be singing to our kids every day, and playing games every day. And as you said, if we did that every session, you only need five minutes, or in the middle of a hard yakka maths session when the boys just can't sit still, because that's part of their makeup. Let's stand up and play Charlie over the Ocean a couple of times, and then go back and what will happen. Everyone, most of the kids are going to understand so much more. That difficult problem that was being taught by the teacher because when she got the kids up, and she moved them around, and all of a sudden the brains cleared a bit for our next step. This is I just I just kept saying to you, it's not rocket science. But this is stuff that we are losing. This is our basics, I believe of quality education, and this is happening all over the world.
And you know, it's almost ironic that we're talking here about the preservation of culture, when that's really one of the big pushes. It's a cross curricular priority to talk about cultures and connections to cultures and connections to, and we absolutely need to do more of that we need to connect with indigenous perspectives and all of those things.
Of course we do.
But isn't it just a little ironic that we're losing our current culture at the same time.
Yep. And I just see it all as part of that, you know, the best way to understand another culture, including our own is through the music. You know, Taba Naba is one of the most wonderful indigenous songs, you know, games that we can play any all the, Obwisana or African songs, you know, we learned we can learn so much from other cultures. But we also need to make sure that we're maintaining our own through our music, musical traditions and keeping it alive. Because at the moment, I just despair that they could be a time when our children don't know the songs that our Grandma has taught to us. And it's because I think a lot of the media, and when I say media, I mean devices that children have, it's just so easy for parents, and let's face it, they're busy. They're trying to hold everything together, I get that. But we know it's important to read to our kids every day, we can be singing to our kids every day. And remember, it doesn't matter if you're a necessarily a bad singer, a mum and dad singing to a child is, there's nothing better.
That's right. Yes. It's irreplaceable. How do you think? Look I think we do that through schools. I think that's our job is to reignite this, can you think of any way that we can help get it out further than our classrooms? Or do you think really, we're just responsible, we'll just do our classrooms, we'll do what we can and hope it spreads from there. Because just thinking about some of the parents that would probably be mortified. You know, if they thought, well, I should I really want to do the best for my kids. I don't know what to sing to them. You know, I wonder if there's a way, I'm going off on a tangent here. I wonder if there's a way to reach the parents as well. I mean, I think we're reaching the parents through the children, hopefully. But is there another way do you think?
Definitely. So I think that when we have our school fetes, and when we have our opportunities to perform, but particularly the outdoor type, bush dances, fetes, I don't know, year 6 dance, any those sorts of things. I think what we should have is a music game, afternoon or evening, where the parents actually get the chance to play with the children and learn the games. Because again, this is not happening. It's not happening at home very much. And it's such a joy, you know, to have the parents alongside the kids doing the games with them, and therefore they're learning them. And it would be called lower primary music game afternoon, Grandmas and Mums and Dads are invited to come along and join in with the games afternoon, or a music games afternoon. So you actually put it in the program and you call it that. We have bush dances, we have lots of other types of things that we do in the school, why not a music game afternoon? So that's one thing.
The second thing that I found worked really well is to have an open classroom, maybe once a term where the Mums and Dads and whoever can make it come along to observe you teaching a couple of lessons, sorry I shouldn't say a couple of lessons, it could be but like an open day, a music open day. And again, this is an opportunity that okay Mums and Dads up you get it's your turn, or it could be an open day week, where they come to the choir rehearsal and join in on the choir and the band. And I think it's that kind of promoting and actually getting the mums and dads involved. Because I know whenever I've done that, you know, there's hysterical laughter, it's so much fun, it's bonding, it's all the things that we know that a music game can do. And it also focuses on what we are doing in the classroom, because a lot of parents still don't have a clue what you really do. And I don't think we publicise that enough within the school, it's hard for us to do a bigger picture thing where, you know, ideally wouldn't be incredible to have, right, every school things every day, you know, on assembly, you know, a different song. That's another extra opportunity to design assemblies where kids get to show their drama activity, or we can do a music game and the grade 3B will show a game, right? That kind of stuff. Because we just don't think of it like that, because it's our job. It's our work. And we go, why would anyone want to see that? Well, it's pretty cool, actually, when, you know, you see In and Out the Window, and the kids playing a couple of games on parade and you do it, it could be you know, it might take five minutes and and it could be one or two games and you don't do it with all the grade 3's necessarily depending on the size of your school. If it's a big school, you do a different game per class every couple of weeks. So it's about finding opportunities to showcase and then the parents get to know what you're doing number one and number two, they're asked to join in. Yeah so I think there's a couple of ways that we need to do it.
The open classroom I found work really, really well, or the open Music Week and put it in the newsletter and say we're going to be featuring music games and don't you know all the amazing things that happen when we do a music game. Yeah, come and join in and see your children in action. And because it's like like when you do a bush dance and the bush band will go, okay kids go and get Mum for the next dance or go and get Dad, and then they have to, what Mum or Dad's gonna say, No. Of course they're going to join in. Yeah. And I think they have to do that more, and like that kind of thing. And I think that some times teachers just have to push through, some teachers may feel look that's a very vulnerable position to be in. You don't, I don't. I can see the power when I've done it, the comments. The I had no idea we did that, or the grade threes. That was that was actually really hard to do that. And those kids did that. Yes. Like they can see and feel all of the things we're doing. Nothing can replace that. But I think that anybody who would be hesitant to do that needs to just think of the bigger picture. And I think they'd all be very surprised at how positively it will be accepted.
And if that's really intimidating to some of our listeners. And I appreciate that it could be, make sure it's super structured, you know exactly what you're doing, you know how you're going to teach that game, you're not going to do too much. It's not like a normal lesson, you might just do three things that you're super duper competent with. And I think you'll find, you know, once you've done one, and you really select the repertoire that you know, well, then Bob's your uncle, it will be incredible. On Parade it doesn't have to be joining in off parent's, on the parade thing can just be displaying a game like you would display a dance.
What I love about that is that you don't have to give up half of your lesson for half a term to prepare some special performance that is a little removed from your classroom, you're actually not giving up your teaching time, you're actually getting a little little bit of extra teaching time, because they're playing a game they already know. It makes sense, doesn't it?
Well, the other thing I think is really important is that the other teachers who also don't know what you do really, are their watching what the kids are doing and going, Wow, I've never seen Johnny do anything like that before. Doesn't do anything like that for me. How come he's doing it for Mrs. Davidson-Irwin or Mrs. O'Shea? That doesn't make sense, right? Because they don't see what you do either. No one sees what we do, we know half the problem of this whole argument that we're having. And that's why if you do this sort of idea, and particularly on parade, then people start to value you more and value what you're doing. You're not just the non-contact teacher, you are the music teacher. It's all about that prioritising and being a little bit sneaky maybe, a little bit cheeky, about how we get what we do, which we're so proud of, out there, rather than just band and the choir, but that's very important. That's great. But what about your average class, which is really, to me, our bread and butter of what we do as music educators?
That's our job. That's our job. You could even go to the extent, I did my first one last year, put up my hand and went, for one of our last assemblies with the junior school, so prep to grade three, each year level presented two things on assembly, and they were all directly from my classroom. So I chose them carefully. So there was a bit of pizzazz.
That's really importamt.
One was a plate movement, you know, like paper plates. Tetrapack from the Nutcracker. And we sang cannons, walking in concentric circles, you know, I obviously made it visually interesting. But everything that we did, it was directly from our classrooms, and every single teacher that was there commented on something to the effect of, I had no idea you did that, you know, XYZ, They also commented on individual children.
There you go.
You know, I couldn't believe you know, Freddie did x, or did you see Mary when she did y, you know. I'm just, this is just my job. This is what happens every day. But they don't know that.
No. And I think it's it's very important that what you just said, that you've got to be, when we're in the public eye like that. We have to be a bit of a showman, we have to put on an a little mini performance, even if it's not your comfort zone. It's all about validating what we do. And let's face it, we're having to do this more and more at the moment because particularly in Queensland, our extraordinary system that we have in music is being, trying to be a little bit 'white-anted' and so we have to be doing this if we want to be continuing to do music. So to us it's obvious what we do, but to others, it's not and you're the only person in the school mostly, who is a classroom music teacher, sometimes there's two that share, I understand that, but mostly it's just you. And I think these are ways that, you know, we can really, really engage our admin, other teachers, children and parents in a one big swipe. And think about that, because it's really, really important.
And I just think singing games, that's the vehicle, because it does all of these things. It does all of the, I started trying to dot point, some of the advantages. There were so many, I only spent a few minutes, but all of the social things that happen, all of those learning to take turns and being part of the group being accepted by everyone in the group, you can't have a successful circle game if there is one child ostracised.
You can't have a successful society. You can't have a successful anything.
And this is why I think we have come in, we can't say that the world's going in the direction we don't want to do because we're not singing, doing music games. But I tell you what, if we did more every day, it'd be a much better world because we have to cooperate, we have to learn how to get into a circle, we have to learn to work with a partner, we have to learn different parts of our body, clapping, jumping, hopping, stopping and freezing. The thing that I think the social interaction, I love this because it goes back to the word "game". So you just said about you've got to be part, if you want to be part of this game, and you're a child, and all of a sudden, I'm in front of Mary and I don't like Mary. Mary is not very nice to me. She's not my friend, I would much prefer to be with Deb. But I can't be I'm with Mary. But I'm only with Mary for a few seconds, I'm having a really fun time. And for the sake of the game, because I'm seven, I'm just going to be with Mary for three seconds for the game where I've got to do the clapping game. And then I know it's all over. Thank goodness. Then after that child's done that I say, in my brain, you know, Mary wasn't quite as bad as what I thought she was. She was actually quite nice to me then when I did this. So we're learning a tolerance about each other. Socialising is so important. And it's that social tolerance, whether you're of another culture, another colour, another creed, the game is what the kids , that's what's important to them nothing else, because they're children. And that's why we have this incredible gift when we go music games.
Poor Mary, I don't know why I've just picked Mary, by the way. If there are any lovely Mary's out there, I do apologise.
Yes, that's right. Mary, if you're listening, Mary, this is not about you. This is about the fictitious Mary. But do you know, let's look at it from Mary's side, Mary, this may be her only positive interaction in her whole day.
Absolutely. And she may not have spoken to anybody very much the whole day. You know, in a classroom, you've got 25 Kids, you've got some children who never speak to each other. Never have anything to do with each other with the exception of other games. And I think if we can develop all these different skills, well, basically kids are just having the time of their lives. That's the other big secret, is that they are having so much fun. And and you know, I think when we talk about nitty gritty, I'm not necessarily talking about one game for 20 minutes, I just want to clarify that. It can be probably three to four minutes, and we can do two games. And getting back to the nitty gritty of these games and what they do, with the laughter what happens is emotionally, the kids feel happy and comfortable in the space. And they know that this is a happy fun space. So emotionally it's so important, socially it's so important because of what we just said about mixing the group I talk about, it's not you going the teacher going, I'm sick of you two together, you're always together and you're not doing the right thing. I'm going to move you. You don't even have to do that because the game moves you and mixes the whole group up, which is just fabulous as far as I'm concerned.
Intellectually the games are so tricky. You've really got to focus to make it work. These are games that are quite challenging. So you just can't. It's difficult. Like I find I don't have a lot of issues with discipline because the kids want to be there and they know that if we get through the next part, we can write out the first four bars of Busy, Buzzy, Busy Bee, we'll be playing another game. So it's a great motivator, rather than spend 20 minutes on writing four bars.
Yeah, and I'm sure that there are teachers out there like me who have actually used the game. It's not even in the lesson plan. But you have chucked the game in because you want to separate particular children or you see something happening, and you go if we had a quick game of Oh, heavens, what's it called? Ickle Ockle finding partner game.
Let's jump up let's have a quick game of..., which song Am I thinking of? (sings melody of Ickle Ockle) "Ickle Ockle" "Can we play?" "Yes, let's play." That little bubbling issue where those kids weren't getting on sitting in that corner. Instead of going, like you said, "You get away from...", I want to stop using people's names because I don't want to offend people.
Let's go Mrs Crotchet.
You, you Miss Crotchet. And anyway, instead of separating them out, just have a three minute singing game. They're all mixed up, they've got different partners, they've forgotten what they were fighting about, or about to fight about. So just as another little aside, a singing game is an amazing behaviour management tool.
It's the best. It really is.
This podcast is brought to you by Crescendo Music Education, connecting, supporting and inspiring music educators. In the show notes, you'll find links to Crescendo's social media platforms. Please connect with me and be part of the Crescendo community. You might consider becoming a Crescendo member. For a low annual fee you can access hundreds of files, worksheets, printables, workbooks, repeat workshops and webinars and receive great discounts on events. So come and connect with me Debbie O'Shea. See you in the socials.
As we know laughter relieve stress, don't lose sight of the funny side of life. I'm thinking about removing my spine. I feel like it's only holding me back