S'more Songs, Please
Camp songs are essentially group songs grounded in companionship. Host your own backyard camp by inviting your kids' friends over for snacks and singing.
Your Banjo on Your Knee
Many camp songs are simple, repetitive and have a steady beat. You can find most old camp songs in several versions online in video form or as lyrics with chords. If you can bring along some kind of musical instrument to your own campfire sing-along, do it. It doesn't really matter what, just something that can help keep the rhythm and melody on the right track. A guitar is ideal, but a ukulele, a portable keyboard, anything you can play while singing at the same time, will do. If you can't bring an instrument, never fear. Your own voice and rhythmic motions will do the trick. Don't underestimate the power of a spatula used as a conductor's baton, either.
Play It Again, Mom
Children catch on quickly when the song relies on a few repeated lines. A song like "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore" is a good sing-along because the verses are repetitive, with identical first and second lines. If the children don't get the first line, they'll chime in for the next. And the kids will enjoy singing all those "hallejulahs."
Whooping It Up
Kids like to whoop and holler, and they love songs with explosive moments that they can anticipate with glee. The golden oldie "Old MacDonald Had a Farm_"_ never loses its charm for new generations of kids. It's reassuringly repetitive, with the added fun of an opportunity to shout out animal sounds. At some point in the song, the children themselves may yell out the next animal on Old MacDonald's list. Just pause after the line "and on his farm he had some . . ." to see if anyone is going to add an animal. If no one sings out, go ahead and prompt them yourself, but give them a chance to play around with the animal noises. And choose some unexpected animals, like alligators and lions, to have fun with.
A Round Around the Circle
Rounds are fun because they're simple songs that offer an interesting challenge. Once the children master the timing, they'll enjoy both the intermingling of melodic lines and showing off their own choral prowess. Divide the kids into three groups. One child can be a "group" if that's how many children you're singing with. Try "Row Row Row Your Boat" as a good beginner's round. Explain how the three groups will work together to create a special song, then sing it through a couple of times. Use a hand to "slash" the points where the second and third groups will join in. When the children are ready to try it out, point to the groups at the exact second they should enter into the song. You are the conductor, and the children are your mini-orchestra.
My Baby Does the Hokey Pokey
"The Hokey Pokey" is an action song that is especially useful if the kids get over-excited or just need the chance to move around a bit. First, sing the song and demonstrate the actions ("put your right foot in, put your right foot out" and so on). Hang loose and make it playful. The kids will be eager to try it, especially the "shake it all about" part. They may not match words to actions precisely, but that's okay as long as they're having fun.
This Land Is Your Land
The great folksinger Pete Seeger often performed a rousing rendition of his friend Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land." He'd strum his banjo and encourage his audience to sing along. You can introduce this American classic to your kids using Pete's method of "call and response." He'd pace the song so there was a short pause before each line, giving him just enough time to shout it out quickly, and the audience could follow along. It's a technique that seems a bit awkward at first, but practice makes perfect. There are several verses to the song, but you might want to stop with the third or fourth as the children might be getting tired of keeping up at that point. Still, it's a beloved song every child should know.
Singing camp songs is one of the first communal experiences a kid can have, and one of the most joyous. It doesn't matter if everyone is a little off-key or if someone puts his left foot out when he's supposed to put it in. The point is to share this experience, preferably under an open sky.
Judith loves cats, books, and road trips with her husband. She was born in rural Indiana, studied English Literature at the University of Chicago, and has lived in Chicago, Boston, Deerfield, MA and now Louisville, KY. She owned a bookstore for several years and is a past-president of the Mass. & RI Antiquarian Booksellers. She edits novels and stories, and makes pictures which have been shown in galleries and juried shows. She loves to write, and her motto is "stay curious."