for Engagement, Integration, and Intrinsic Motivation
Singing games have long been recognized as an integral means for the development of basic musical skills and concepts (e.g. singing, beat, rhythm). In fact, singing games are foundational in a variety of popular approaches to teaching elementary music, including Orff Schulwerk, Kodály, Education Through Music (ETM), and the Gordon Institute for Music Learning (GIML), because singing games actively engage students musically, physically, emotionally, intellectually, and socially. Plus, traditional singing games are time-proven sources for optimal or autotelic experiences. "Autotelic" is a word composed of two Greek roots: auto (self), and telos (goal). An autotelic activity is one we do for its own sake because to experience it is the main goal" (Mihalyi Csiksgentmihalyi, Finding Flow, BasicBooks: 1997). In other words, games that gain popularity and endure for many years do so because they include important elements that make them fun and meaningful—they are intrinsically motivating; it is not necessary to reward children to participate or punish them for not participating. In fact, children are often observed playing, during recess, the singing games introduced in class. Another framework for understanding the motivation inherent in singing games is Self-Determination Theory. In particular, the theory of basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness helps explain why children tend to find the challenges, active participation, and social interaction within singing games so fulfilling.
Singing games are complex learning experiences. In light of Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences, one can easily identify behaviors related to more than one intelligence. Musical intelligence is the obvious one, of course. Spatial intelligence, however, also comes into play as children interact in circles, lines, and partnerships as well as within the space of the classroom, maintaining appropriate distances and safe paths of movement. Linguistic intelligence is engaged as students sing lyrics and participate in short dialogues as part of or about the singing game experiences. In addition, singing games clearly involve bodily-kinesthetic intelligence as students move, and interpersonal intelligence as they interact with a partner or group. Finally, intrapersonal intelligence, especially when singing games are paired with reflective writing, is engaged and enhanced as children learn more about themselves, their abilities, and experiences.
Singing games are filled with curricular integration possibilities (explored in the examples included below). Here are some principles to remember when integrating singing games with other subjects.
1. Singing games are already integrated. As complex experiences, singing games include multiple domains of learning. In addition to music, the movement required for singing game participation is integral to the drama and dance core. Singing games also represent specific cultures and places; this, along with the social aspects of singing games, make them ideal for addressing competencies in social studies. And, some games are about another subject (for example, When I Was a Baby is about a life cycle).
2. Look for natural connections. Singing games include text in at least three forms: the lyrics, game dialogue, and reflection on the singing game experience. The lyrics are not "set in stone" and can either be used as text as they are, or changed for other purposes. In fact, singing games can become songs-that-teach. Games often involve dialogue in the form of standard questions and answers—all part of the game's rules. Games sometimes present problems that will need to be discussed and solved as a class. Finally, even though it's not integral to the game, children can be encouraged to reflect (speaking, listening, writing) on the game and the experience of playing the game.
3. Extend or adapt the games as needed. Singing games evolve and change naturally. So, there really is no right or wrong way to play a game. Of course, rules are an important part of the game, but rules can be changed. Song lyrics can be changed relative to the needs of other subjects, as can actions and movements. Some adaptations will need to be made for specific children or age groups according to their individual needs and capabilities. Be creative.
Explore more of the singing games on this website.