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Game for a singalong

Songs and rhymes in the playground can boost pupils' creativity and self-esteem, writes John Dabell.Primary

What happens at break has an impact on lessons. How many teachers spend the first 10 minutes sorting issues dragged in from the playground? One idea that might be making a comeback is singing.

Playgrounds used to resonate with songs, rhymes and clapping games, but they have been neglected and displaced. Singing Playgrounds, a new project, aims to revitalise the oral tradition.

At Lawn Primary, my school in Derby, the place is alive with sounds such as Here comes Sally walking down the alley, A sailor went to sea, sea, sea, and Have you ever, ever, ever, in your long-legged life.

We are one of 24 schools taking part in the first year of a national project, run by Ex Cathedra, a Birmingham choir. Vocal tutors from the choir led an inspiring community-singing assembly and then visited each class. But the most important people are the song leaders - pupils trained by the Ex Cathedra tutors to lead the singing games in the playground. These youngsters visit the infants to share games with younger children in their playground.

"It's good to have the responsibility and the chance to teach the infants and show them what to do," says Daisy Allen, a Year 5 song leader.

Soon the children are bringing to school rhymes and actions suggested by parents and grandparents - The Grand Old Duke of York, Oranges and Lemons and The Farmer's in his Den.

My Year 4s have enjoyed practising some of the songs and rhymes in class. Children then go outside to develop the songs in groups by choreographing their own actions and routines.

Before you know it the playground is singing. Self-esteem is greatly improved as pupils shed inhibitions and find their voices

John Dabell teaches at Lawn Primary School in Derby For more information, visit



Book: Music Train: Listening to Music Elements, Age 7+ (A C Black pound;29.99). Helps children explore tunes from many eras and every continent.

CD Debussy: Children's Corner (many recordings available). Six piano pieces as vivid as when they were written 100 years ago. The sleeping elephant, the dancing snow and the jazzy cakewalk were written for Debussy's daughter but belong to all children.

Website: The Teletubbies Nursery Rhymes. TV's colourful quartet perform Humpty Dumpty, Hey Diddle Diddle, Pat-a-Cake and other favourites. Moving pictures match the sounds and links to other Cbeebies sites.


Book: Lifelines: Edexcel GCSE Music (Rhinegold, pound;9.50). Forgotten the main influences on Britpop? Can't remember the difference between a sitar and a sarod? A concise revision guide talks you through exam topics - helpful tables and bullet points.

Resource: Talking Timbuktu (World Circuit CD; on Amazon from pound;8). A classic recording featuring the late Ali Farka Toure from Mali and Ry Cooder from the US. Not just an unforgettable practical lesson in the links between West African music and the blues; a celebration of song and life itself too.

Website: BBC World Music site allows you to hear shows such as the pioneering Late Junction or Pathaan's Musical Rickshaw, forums for discussing beats, blues or bhangra, news and album reviews.


Book: Modernism in Focus by Lucien Jenkins (Rhinegold, pound;15). One of a fine new series to musical topics. Puts music of Stravinsky and Schoenberg beside the work of Joyce and Picasso et al. Illumination in both directions.

Resource: Thomas Ades: America, A Prophecy (EMI Classic CD). Written in 1999, but its warnings have inevitably taken on new meanings since 911. A fine introduction to the most dynamic of recent British composers.

Website: Magnificent encyclopaedic guide to 'classical art songs' arranged by both composer and poet. Who has set words by Auden? What are the words of Ravel's Mallarme poems and their English meaning? www.recmusic.orglieder

Tom Deveson is a schools music consultant.

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