Singing Games

Traditional, old fashioned singing games work well in Primary Schools.  They are common all over the world and all children should know at least a dozen by the time you leave Year 6.  Kids absolutely love them but that’s not the point – they learn so much through singing them.  Firstly, the repetitive nature means that you are continuously singing.  Secondly, the songs you sing are being reinforced by the whole group, encouraging reluctant or shy singers.  Thirdly, you have to combine singing with action.  Fourthly, the pitches of many singing games are the ones which are most natural to children so help them to sing in tune.  Fifthly, there are social benefits that help children to learn to take turns.  Sixthly, they are common all over the world so children get to sing in other languages and learn songs from different cultures.  

The best way to learn them is to learn them off other people who already teach them.  I learned many from some fantastic colleagues but the best were from an INSET course we did with Ex Cathedra.  My attitude when Ex Cathedra came to visit us at our music service was appalling.  I had looked them up on the internet about 9 years ago and it said they were a posh choir from Birmingham.  I thought, what could this group of singers teach us about teaching young children when they sing Mozart’s Requiem in cathedrals?  I could not have been more wrong.  They were absolutely brilliant and the material was perfect for young children.  Most the songs were traditional singing games but some were composed by the team and they got the balance of engagement and good quality singing right.  I enthusiastically recommend them, and if you are thinking about bringing in a musical workshop, book them in.  I have done many, many music INSET days and they were the best by a long way.  They have a new publication and CD on their website if you would like to purchase it but in all honesty it really does not make sense without seeing how the games are taught in practice.

Where else can you find Singing Games?  The best publications are the Singing Games books created by the National Youth Choir of ScotlandSing for Pleasure have many small books with them in – one is based on Polish singing games created by one of the education practitioners of Ex Cathedra.  Banana Splits , a book to help children learn to sing in parts has a few and there are a few from the Singing Sherlock series.  Some of the best places to find singing games are not from books but from people who know them – the guides, brownies and scouts have a tradition of singing games and are in most towns and villages.  Asking older members of society is also a good way to learn singing games – I was told a few by a headteacher who was nearing retirement and wanted to pass on the old traditions.  

To get you started, here are my favourite twelve singing games:

  1. Little Sally Saucer – circle game for young children
  2. Jump Jim Joe – partner song
  3. John Kanackanacka – partner song
  4. I hear the Bells – partner and group song in two parts
  5. A Young Austrian – action game
  6. Early in the morning – circle game
  7. A sailor went to sea – partner clapping game
  8. Hear the music – acting game
  9. Copy Andrew – copying games that I wrote
  10. Who stole my chickens and my hens? – competitive circle game
  11. Here comes Sally walking down the alley – line game
  12. Stepping out and stepping in – line game

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