Singing Games with Rhonda Davidson-Irwin, Part 2


Here is the Crescendo Music Education Podcast – Episode 46. I sometimes wonder whether I should sing this pre intro, but I don’t think I could put you through that. Here’s the second part of my chat with Rhonda Davidson-Irwin about how important singing games are for our children. If you didn’t hear part one, just go back one episode, back to 45. Have a listen to that first, I’m sure that you will love listening to what Rhonda has to say. 

About ‘Read the Episode’: Sometimes, we would rather skim visually than listen to a podcast! That’s a great way to learn too! The transcript of episode 046 of The Crescendo Music Education Podcast is below.

Episode 46 “Read the Episode” Transcript

The Importance of Clear Teaching

The other thing that we haven’t mentioned yet, is the actual teaching of the music concepts, the things that you teach through the repetition of the songs we’re developing, I think you did mention about developing singing voice and stuff, just the ability to match pitch and sing in tune, the more you hear, the more you participate, the better you get. 

The aural memory, the storing of the little motifs that you hear over and over again, you’re building your musical vocabulary. You’re doing so many things musically, through playing a game, I am reminded of a little story when I taught Do re mi classes, little tiny kids classes. So I had a, I might say a three year old group. And that’s when you do the songs and rhymes and games with the parents joining in.

It’s all very lovely. And it was going very well. After, I don’t know, six months, one of the parents came up to me very nice, very supportive, and just said, Look, I love it. You know, my little fellow loves coming. And it’s great. But when are we going to learn some music? And I thought, that actually changed me a bit. I’ll tell you how that changed me a bit because I thought, oh my goodness, like she was waiting to learn to see, I guess, something more like a traditional piano lesson or a, you know, whatever.

Whereas what she was seeing was a rich early childhood music program, which is of course, rhymes, songs, games, playing a few instruments, you know. So what I tried to do after that, when I had parents in the room, is I would just put in a quick sentence or two every now and then to explain to the parents what I’m doing.

Rhonda Davidson-Irwin
Yeah. And that’s why you can, it’s exactly what we talked spoke about in the open classroom, which is actually what I did.  I would say mums and dads, if you don’t mind getting up, let’s have a go and see if you can do this. And of course, many of them couldn’t. Because it’s extremely difficult because one of the other great things about this is the multitasking, having to do something where you’re singing, moving your feet, having to do this at a certain time.

And then if you actually explain a little bit what we’re doing in that lesson, which is what you did and what what I would do in the open classroom, again, it can’t have the expectation that people actually understand what you’re doing. Right, we need to explain just about everything that we do, which is sad. But that’s the bottom line. 

Yeah.  But you’re right. We keep it short, though, keep it really short and just say, Oh, by the way, we’re actually, while we do this, we’re doing blah, blah, blah. And then off you go, just so that, you know, and it was back in the earlier times that it really struck me that I thought just because I know what I’m doing and why. No, it’s actually they knew what I was doing. They didn’t know why I was doing it. So yeah, I agree. Let’s sneak that in.

COVID-19 and the Changes in Child Development

Rhonda Davidson-Irwin
I think that’s really, really important. I also want to talk a little bit about post COVID children while we’re talking about singing games, because at the moment we’ve had, we’re gonna get number of children coming into our schools, who for two to three years, didn’t see another soul, were in their homes. We didn’t have a lot of socialisation, babies who were only seeing people with masks who didn’t see facial expressions, eye contact, all of this stuff that we’re learning through a music game and through music.

And also, it appears that unfortunately, we’re seeing a huge level, an increase of stress and anxiety and depression in our children. And I think that going back to the basics, and really doing music games, like we’ve done previously, is one way.  Again, I always talk about bringing the joy back to our teaching lives, our children’s lives, potentially our parents lives when we can educate them to do some simple games at home.

And I think that the emotional aspects of doing, it’s great for kids to be happy and be I think open minds and wanting to learn because the endorphins are there, but it’s also that anxious child or the shy child who starts to develop with the repetition, which is what made me want to say this, after the three or four or fifth time that we’ve played the game, it’s that little person going, I think I can do that.

And watching, you watching, and sometimes maybe the teacher I mean, not you, gently pushing that child forward to have a go. Yeah, I think that’s that’s been wonderful to see the shy children really come out of their skin, because it’s a game. Remember, they keep coming back, it’s a game and you’re a kid, right? You’ll do anything, because it’s fun. 

And I also want to let you know, I know that everybody has their own structures of how they teach. But I always start my lesson off with a game. And I always finish my lesson off with a game. They’re always known games. So it’s part of my revision, part of my lesson planning. It could be two games at the beginning and two at the end. But the children know that everything that’s going on in the middle, new songs, new development, writing, reading, singing Solfa, writing Solfa, they also know that we’re going to always get to our game at the end of the lesson, which has enabled me to get an awful lot done, people have commented of how much I get done in a 30 minute lesson.

And that’s because of that behavioural management, being able to use the game. Okay, look, we’ve got just got a couple more minutes, I’m sure you can get this done now. That’s it, pop it down, you’ve got it, so that we can then help them. And because I have seen many teachers teach in my lifetime. And I have seen many, many teachers get bogged down with our reading and writing. Now it’s so important that we read and write, but it’s going to be so much better if the kids have an open fun mind before they started by doing the music game.

So it’s something to definitely consider and I think going back to that, the stress and anxiety, I think we’re going to find more kids coming into our schools and which is going to make this even more important and to cherish the music games that we have so that we can use them, it’s incredible.  To me, it’s the magic bullet of teaching.

I also say to general teachers as well, or people who are just starting out, if you’re not sure of music, games, look up any of your traditional repertoire, you know, look up your resources, like tune in, those who are music teachers look up, there’s so much you know, some wonderful games and repertoire in the curriculum. You know, look at get the favourites, make sure you know it really well before you teach it. Because some of them are really tricky. And you’ve got to practice it to figure out what the heck you’re doing. And yeah, I think it really is going to be so important for our future.

I think that everybody out there is going Yes. Like, how can you how can you not agree? I think this is so important. Singing games are so important. And you know, that I’m gonna have one more little question of you before we go. Because always, always I have to ask, I think there are people out there thinking, I wonder what games Rhonda likes to use in her classroom. And it is a bit like saying, you know, pick your favourite child so I’m not going to say pick your favourite game. Because it’s too hard.

And, you know, I have different favourites for different year levels, for different cohorts. There are some times a year level will, I say year level, you know, as you know, I’m just doing say teaching grade three all of this game, and they’ll grab this game, and they will just be obsessed by it. And I will think Well, that’s interesting. We didn’t hate it last year. But this year, for some reason these kids have just taken to it. So I do think favourites can change. So I’m not going to ask you your favourites. That was a really long way of me saying I’m not asking you your favourites.

Repetition is Practice

Rhonda Davidson-Irwin
Can I just say about the repetition? How we know that repetition is a fancy word for practice?


Rhonda Davidson-Irwin
It is, it’s not rocket science, right? We need to practice our instrument, practice our music, practice our voice. And I think that that’s really, really important. I believe that like a favourite book, there are some children that will want you to read a book to them 100 times and they won’t get sick of it. And same thing with music games and also may I also make a comment that it’s your attitude how you approach a music game is whether the kids are going to like it or not.

So I’ve even done very sort of lower level games, like 1,2,3 games with my fives and sixes but because of the way I approached it, and the speed I did it and how I did it. So your attitude and how you approach the game is really, really important is what I’m trying to say. I think one of my claims to fame was getting on a ship, I do a lot of writing on the P&O cruise ships, all the repertoire and a lot of what I do is what we’re talking about. It’s game based.

To get the kids we have about 300 to 400 children on the ship. And we often get about 100 kids in you know, we have dance parties and all sorts of cool stuff. And we do lots of art and crafts. But I can remember once getting 100 kids in this huge room on the ship, and we were all doing Obwisana. 

Oh wow. 

Rhonda Davidson-Irwin
It was incredible. And then that went down so well but then I did A Qua Qua, which is one of my favourite sort of upper school but then I’ve again I’ve done it with 16 year olds, like these were probably 13 to 17 year olds and yeah, and it was like 100 kids so it was really cool because we just kept getting another circle, then another circle, then another circle and I was bit nervous because that’s a lot of kids I had people that were helping me I had the youth activities people there, personnel, but again it was though they were ready for fun they were ready for the game and the game itself was cool.

So I’ve already laid out one of my secrets and those of you know me know that I love A Qua Qua and I always had a lot of people go Yeah, that’s that’s, I always when I think of A Qua Qua I think of Rhonda. 

Really, oh there you go.

Excellent Singing Games for Children

Rhonda Davidson-Irwin
I love Alice the Camel. Do you know what I mean by Alice the Camel has 5 humps, good old Alice the Camel. I mean how much fun is that? Another favourite is Father William. Father William had seven sons, a great little one that you can do standing up or seated. Which is always fun because you can vary it. I still love you know Sailing on the Ocean, The Tide Rolls High. And I still also love, now I’ve had a mental blank. A Sailor went to Sea, Sea, Sea. Yep. So there’s a lot of sailor songs there but I do enjoy them all.

Although that works well with P&O doesn’t it.

Rhonda Davidson-Irwin
It does.  Great Big House in New Orleans. Fantastic. Really enjoy that one.

Most of the ones, Chick-a-Li-Lee-O, la, la, la, Chick-a-Li-Lee-O. And I also am a bit of a passionate, I call this a music game. I love doing story songs like Old Roger is Dead and songs like Oh, Soldier, Soldier, Won’t you Marry Me and There was an Old Woman who Swallowed a Fly. They’re the sort of song books, where they’ve begun as a picture song book, but they can also be acted out.

And I have simple little props that the kids use to sing the song, particular when there’s like eight verses or something like that, right? That makes it fun. And the kids are desperate to have a go, you know, to hold  the hat for this or the cane for that or whatever. So I suppose that’s a couple bit listen, I mean, a Kangaroo, Skippy Roo, London Bridge. Like I can just go on forever. One, Two, Three O’leary, yeah.

I haven’t done that one for a while.

How to Teach Singing Games

Rhonda Davidson-Irwin
There’s so many of them. And I also like to vary them, like, don’t feel like, you can do the structured game that’s written out. But you can also do it. Just as acting out the words or some of the songs are so complicated. I think this is something I really should have said earlier, that I never do a game and a song straight up, I always teach the song first, and then revise the song the next week, and potentially maybe do a little bit of the game or do some simple actions with the song. It depends on how complex it is. But I will vary it.

The analogy I give is not giving out all the lollies at once or all the fruit at once. It’s about building it. If you just do all the game at once and learn all the song and learn all the verses, it’s just, it can take the entire lesson to be frank. So it’s nice to layer it like that danish pastry and just learn the song. And the kids don’t even know there’s a game.

Then the next week, you’ll revise the song. And you might add a couple more verses and then do some simple actions with it. And then the next week, this is week three I’m talking about, it’s really staggering it out there. That’s when you might do half the game. And then the week after that the whole game and then it turns into a revision game.

Because the children know what it is. And they know what it’s like, like Charlie Over the Ocean, another fantastic one, and Cut the Cake. I do love Cut the Cake for so many reasons. Yes. So some songs can just be acted out, like The Bear Went Over the Mountain can just be acted out and sitting down with your big bear actions and your claws just learning the song. And then later down the track you come up with the wow, it’s like when you have find a great orchestral version of a song. You’re not going to necessarily play that straightaway.

It’s part of the gravy, part of the cake, the icing on the cake down the track. And then they recognise them because like oh my goodness, that’s Frere Jacques. Wow, that’s beautiful, you know, and they they recognise it in the melody as opposed to just bringing it all out, you’re so keen to bring out all the goodies at once because it’s so cool. But you know, it’s not to spread them out so the kids can really appreciate and that same with games as well. So that’s some of them. I’ve given you a few more than two. Sorry.

Oh just a few more. Yes. 

Rhonda Davidson-Irwin

Oh, look, that’s wonderful. I love singing games. I know you love singing games and I have heard you before say you start and finish with singing games. So I thought you were the best person to get on to have a chat about singing games.

Singing Games Teach Transferable Skills

Rhonda Davidson-Irwin
So I guess to just sort of conclude some of the things that we do.  What we’re doing it’s language acquisition, learning how to speak open our mouth clearly, our musical memory, it’s listening, learning to listen and comprehend every song I do I always explain the historical, why are we drawing a bucket of water?
And in fact what is drawing a bucket of water? 
Why couldn’t they just go down and turn the tap on?
Right? So we’re learning historically about the sun.

We talk about the bucket, the drawing, and I go, well have we got the sugar at the end?
Why are we shaking up the sugar pot to make the cup of tea?

So so we’re learning about language, we’re learning about history, we’re learning about understanding impulse control, that child that you were referring to.  We’re not just running around carrying on, we want to be part of the game, that child has to learn to control their impulses, so they can be part of the game. We’re problem solving, oh, oh, do we get run this way? Or that way? Oh, hang on, do we pick this up, who’s got the button in Button You Must Wander. So we’re problem solving the skills that we’re doing, we’re thinking abstractly, we’re thinking out of the square, we’re imagining that there’s a well of water there, the abstract thinking, I think, is so important.

And of course, the other thing is just the development of our reading skills, eventually, you know, reading the words, reading and matching when we start our reading and writing. So it’s just one of the most, I just say, it’s one of the best things you can do for your kids is not only sing to them. Remember, we still got 30% of the country don’t have music teachers.

So just remember that. So if you’re not a music teacher, and you’re listening to this somewhere, and you’re you’re going I can’t do all of this, all you have to do is sing some of songs from your own childhood, for that matter, are traditional songs like do you know, Twinkle, Twinkle?  Do you know Drunken Sailor?  Anything that you can do to sing to your kids, and then look at some of the games that are out there. 

There’s a lot of stuff when you Google, you’ll find some great stuff there. And of course, as I said, to our music teachers, we’ve got a wonderful plethora of music games, just make sure if it’s, if it takes too long to teach, it’s too difficult. That’s your best benchmark. If it’s taking, you know, longer than a two or three minutes to go over our arms. And we’re teaching a song and I’m trying to show you.

Yes I can see it.

Rhonda Davidson-Irwin
Put your arms across your body and it’s taking 20 minutes for the children to do that, you know, developmentally, it’s too hard. They’re 5 and trying to do that, you know, you’ll realise that’s a bit too tricky. And I might try it with my seven year olds and all of a sudden, they can do it. Right? 


Rhonda Davidson-Irwin
So going across their body, sorry, I keep forgetting this is not video. So you know, make sure it doesn’t take, we don’t want the kids frustrated, we want it to be easy learning, and them having fun. And that means that it’s got to be developmentally appropriate for that age level,

Yes and like you said, to, to break it down and scaffold as needed.

Rhonda Davidson-Irwin

And yet, like, you have also just said, make sure it’s not too difficult. But that’s, that’s the art of teaching and good pedagogy, isn’t it? But for those people who are new, or want to try something, you just choose something, ask around. Ask the people who’ve done it before and say, Does this sound like it might work with this age group? And then just try it. Because once you’ve tried it, and you’ve got that one under your belt, and you feel comfortable, then you add another one? And you know, Bob’s your uncle, before you know it, you have a whole repetoire.

Rhonda Davidson-Irwin
Is he your uncle as well?

(Laughs) I think Bob’s everyones uncle.

Rhonda Davidson-Irwin
You can change the world by singing and doing some music games every day. Deb, what do you reckon?

Yeah, I think we should . All right. Well, yeah, I think we should go now.  Guys, Rhonda and I have to go, we’re going to change the world. Okay.

Rhonda Davidson-Irwin
We are.

As we’re marching off to change the world with singing games. We would like you to join the march with us. So help us change the world with singing games.

Rhonda Davidson-Irwin
Sounds fabulous.

Sign Off

This podcast is brought to you by Crescendo Music Education, connecting, supporting, and inspiring music educators. You’ll find links to Crescendo’s social media platforms in the show notes. Please connect with me and be part of the Crescendo community. You might consider becoming a Crescendo member. You can access hundreds of files, worksheets, printables workbooks, repeat workshops, and webinars for a low annual fee and receive great discounts on events. So come and connect with me, Debbie O’Shea. See you in the socials.

Just for Laughs

As we know, laughter relieves stress. Don’t lose sight of the funny side of life.

Why don’t crabs donate to any charities?

Because they’re just shellfish.

Links Mentioned in the Episode

Previous Podcast Episodes with Rhonda Davidson-Irwin:

Where to find me:

Posted in

Leave a Comment

Subscribe To Our Blog

For the latest tips and tricks from Crescendo Music Education, fill out your details below and hit Subscribe... you will happy you did!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Choral Series: Connecting with Music, with Claire Preston (CMEP096: Read the Episode)
Introduction Hello, Debbie O'Shea here at the Crescendo Music Education...
The Wellbeing Series with Beth Duhon: Vocal Health (CMEP087: Read the Episode)
Introduction Here is the Crescendo Music Education Podcast - Episode...
The Wellbeing Series with Beth Duhon: Fuel Your Body with Food (CMEP086: Read the Episode)
Introduction Here is the Crescendo Music Education Podcast - Episode...