Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Transition Songs: Marking The Rhythm Of Our Days Together

A reader recently asked me about transitions, and specifically about the songs we use.

I've already written about how we prepare ourselves for transitions in a post entitled, What We Do Together, so here I'm only going to address the songs.

When I was twelve, I was the quarterback of my football team. For those who don't know, before each play starts, the quarterback, while under center, begins the play by calling out something like, "Down! Set! Hut one! Hut two! . . ." and the ball is hiked on a certain count. My coach then had me continue calling out the count, " . . . Hut three! Hut four! . . ." as the play ran its course. He said it was by way of creating a rhythm for the whole team, the way a drummer might for a band or a conductor for an orchestra.

I've never heard of any other football coaches teaching this technique, and Coach Donahue may have either been a genius or a nut, but I'm often reminded of those football days in my current role as preschool teacher where I find myself working to create a rhythm for our day, with our transition songs being a central part of that.

After laying the ground work I described in that previous post (same link as above), I often then stand with my drum for a moment, often several minutes, allowing the children to find me holding it. Some of them always say, in anticipation, "Bang the drum!" This then attracts more children. Then I goof around a little, perhaps saying, "This isn't a drum . . . It's a banjo," then I pretend to "play" a little Dueling Banjos. "It's not a banjo, it's a trumpet," and I pretend to play a revelry the drum stick. I don't do this every time, but quite often, pretending it's a trombone, a tuba, a harp, a piano, until a critical mass of children has gathered around of their own according, most of whom are saying something like, "It's a drum!" or "Bang it!" Other times I might pretend I can't figure out how a drum works, missing my target, attempting to stir instead of hit, just generally clowning around until I have a crowd calling for the transition to begin.

You see, the kids know what's next because this is simply what we do together and most of them are on board with it, especially since we've given them the agency to take part in how it works. Every now and then a child will object, but when they see their friends preparing for it, calling for it, even demanding it, they tend to set their objections aside.

The reader who wrote me, worried that she didn't have a particular large repertoire of songs, but I've come to understand that it's actually better that way. These songs, along with helping to create a rhythm for our day, also become a sort of tradition or ritual that bonds us together, especially in these times of transition. We really only have three transition songs, and we only need two, I just keep the extra one around, I guess, out of sentiment or habit.

This one is the classic "clean up" song we all know, I use this in our 2's class:

As you can tell, one needn't be a particular good singer to do this. This next one, is the clean up song I use in our other classes. I learned it from my daughter's kindergarten teacher:

As I did on my pee wee football team, I usually continue singing these songs throughout the time it takes to make the transition, sticking with the tune, while vamping on the lyrics. I might insert silly rhymes such as:

Clean up, clean up
Everybody, everywhere
Clean up, clean up
Everybody is a bear (jump in the air, do it with flair, sit and stare, etc.)

Other times I insert informative or descriptive commenting, while maintaining the tune:

Sally's picking up some blocks
And Andrew is hanging up the costumes.
Jane is really strong, I see.
And Franky is as well.

I don't worry about rhyming, as you can see, and it can make for some awkward phrasing, but no one cares but me. The kids just care about hearing their names in my song.

Our other transition song is used when I'm calling the group together for circle time. This is the basic "tune" (and I use that term loosely when referring to what I've recorded here):

The "checker board rug" is obviously where we sit together. I've developed a number of silly variations on this song as well, which I've previously written about in this post entitled, "Everybody Sit On Some Broken Glass."

Last year, the kids in our 4-5's class took this song over from me, rushing to take my place, all of them clutching together around my stool, arm in arm, singing this song to an empty rug, sounding like a classic hobo chorus:

Come on over to the checker board rug
Come on over to the checker board rug
Come on over to the checker board rug
And have a seat on the floor.

Over and over they sang it, most of whom had been hearing me sing it for the preceding three years as I marked the rhythm of our days together. Some days last year, singing that song together like this, was all we did for circle time.

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