Singing in Storytime: Why I Do, and Why I also use CDs
I'm late to this party, but I have had a draft post sitting in my files since last April! Lots of smart and talented colleagues have shared their thoughts on the subject already. See here, here, here, here, here, and here for other posts on the topic.
My mom told me a story once about my neighbor, Bob. He asked my mom one day if I knew a song for everything, because one of my favorite activities when I was young was singing to myself while swinging on our swing set in the backyard. Apparently I would do it for long periods of time. Music is something that ingrained in who I am and how I experience the world.
I know that I have a pleasant singing voice. I get compliments from storytime attendees all the time when I sing in programs. But I definitely have had experiences like Katy where I'm the only one singing even though all the caregivers are participating in the actions. So I do a mix of a capella singing and recorded music.
I sing. I can't help myself. At least once a day someone says something in casual conversation that reminds me of snippets of lyrics. I like playing the "what tune can I sing this to" game with rhymes and books. In storytimes sometimes I'll play a song (like Birds in the Trees), so everyone has a chance to hear how the melody and accompaniment sound together, and then we'll sing it a capella as a group so we can add additional verses or do it faster or slower, or in robot voices, or something else silly. Sometimes I make up little "songs" as we put scarves or shakers away. We sing a lot in my Rock, Rattle, and Rhyme program (for 0-36 months) because we utilize mainly classic, American childhood songs or piggyback lyrics with those familiar melodies, but I do sometimes incorporate recorded music with different activities.
I also use iTunes to organize all my music files at work. I have a lot of music. I use the files to introduce jazz music, classical music, "kid classics" like Raffi, Jim Gill, and Wee Sing, "radio" music from the likes of The Beatles, Johnny Cash, Bobby Darin, local artists like the Okee Dokee Brothers, Paul Spring and Go Fish. I like to include such a variety because part of childhood is just being exposed to different things. I did a storytime last year where we listened to Skater's Waltz and "skated" on top of a parachute. The kids were really into it. I love watching their faces trying to figure out Mumbles by the Oscar Peterson Trio. Grandparents and parents sing every word of "Splish Splash," or "Surfin' USA" while we play with bubbles. Those moments of engagement are so fun to watch as a presenter. Recorded music is also great for using rhythm sticks and shakers. Even if I put all my might into projecting, I just can't counter 20 energetic preschoolers making music, but I can crank up the volume to compensate.
Its also a chance for me as a presenter to fully engage with the kids and the activity. This might not be everyone's experience, but it is mine. When I'm the one responsible for "initiating" the music, I have to use more of my brain and less of my heart to make sure I'm singing the correct words, making the appropriate action, singing loudly enough for all to hear, enunciating extra clearly, looking at all of the audience, etc. I find I'm more focused internally, focused more on the "performance" aspect of the song. While I do sing along with recorded music, I'm also "off the hook" in terms of "performing." I can dance and sing and not worry about the whole song falling apart because I had a momentary blank on the lyrics or clapped my hands when I was supposed to be turning in a circle. In other words, I get to use my heart more than my brain. Obviously I'm always alert to signs of boredom, cues the group needs more direction or a suggested movement to get them back on track, etc. but it's easier to do that when you're participating more than you are leading (at least for me). I'm more likely to really see and digest what the kids are doing too. I use an opening song for an entire year (currently Glad to See You by Peter and Ellen Allard) and I am able to take the time to observe a toddler go from just being capable of doing 2/5 actions (usually clapping their hands and shaking their hips), to mastery of less familiar movements in the song towards the Spring.
I'm going to end with a quote from Music and Movement: a Way of Life for the Young Child, a textbook written by Linda Carol Edwards, Kathleen M. Bayless, and Marjorie E. Ramsey. In it they say, "Music and movement represent ways of knowing as well as ways of expressing feeling, and they allow children to move beyond the common ways of experiencing their world and expressing what they know about it." (6th edition, pg41). So whether you sing a capella, use recorded music, or both-- keep doing what you're doing!