Alternatives to Problematic Children’s Songs

The Sing Play Learn department at MacPhail Center for Music has been busy revamping parts of our curricula for the last couple of years. Our goal was to research the origins of the songs we were teaching.  Joining in the conversations of many teachers of the world, we aimed to de-colonize our music spaces, be more inclusive, and find other songs that can replace ones with questionable pasts. We acknowledge the harm that some of these songs have caused and strive to do better.   

We had an opportunity to sit down with our curriculum development team, Amanda Breininger and Erica Bennett, in the SPL office and get a glimpse of some new material we will be teaching in our classrooms this year.   

One of the first pieces introduced was a song written by Amanda Breininger herself.  The title of the song is Waves Rolling. Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, yet we didn’t have any songs about them in our curriculum.  This song highlights the musical textures of staccato (bumpy) and legato (smooth), as well as allowing children to come up with their own creative ideas about other ways water can move and/or sound. The lyrics go like this: 

“Waves roll, waves roll all across the lake. 

Waves roll, waves roll, inviting us to play. (slow and smooth) 

Jump-Jump-Jump and SPLASH, Jump-Jump-Jump and SPLASH,  

Jump-Jump-Jump and SPLASH some more!  

Jump-Jump-Jump and SPLASH, Jump-Jump-Jump and SPLASH,  

Jump-Jump-Jump and SPLASH (fast and bumpy), now swing right back to shore”. (slow and smooth) 

The second piece Amanda shared is an Ella Jenkins call and response song titled “You’ll Sing a Song”. This piece invites self-expression and opportunities to be a leader.  New musical terms can be added like forte (loud), staccato (bumpy), adagio (slow), etc. and we can ask our musicians, “How do you want to sing?”. Listen below to a recording of Ella Jenkins: 

Erica introduced a piece titled, “Wake Up Sleepy Head” that focuses on teaching musical contrasts like loud and quiet. This song can be a great addition for warming up little voices by making different animal sounds.  The lyrics go like this: 

“Dog is sleepy, don’t wake him up. Dog is sleepy, don’t wake him up. Dog is sleepy, don’t wake him up. Now we’re very quiet. shhh 

Wake up dog, wake up dog, wake up dog, 

Now we’re very LOUD! Woof-woof-woof” 

Finally, we were introduced to an adaptation of “Sing What I Sing” from Sesame Street. This song teaches musical cues, call and response, and emphasizes language skills. Tune into the link below and sing along! 

Published on Date: Sep 22, 2021
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