Frequently children learn something perfectly. The route home from the bus stop or the grocery store. The sequence of the colors in the rainbow. They hear a new song and want to listen to it a hundred times until they master it and know every word. It is an accomplishment that conjures an immense sense of pride. And not just in children - you are sure to know all the words to a song, or two, or ten thousand. Even songs you wish you could forget...
…So what if we encourage children also to invent new words, or add new parts? Suddenly, a song isn’t on repeat for a hundred times. Instead, it’s reborn a thousand different ways. We still congratulate our brains for memorizing, but we also start to understand our power to change things, to create new things, and to accept ideas that may be different than what we thought or what we learned. We learned something, and then we took that knowledge, and made something new.
When we provide opportunities for our children to invent and reinvent, we celebrate diversity, encourage innovation, promote acceptance and demonstrate healthy coping strategies.
One of our favorite Yo Re Mi group activities is “What Do You See In The Sea?” For each verse, one child will pick an ocean creature, and we’ll create movements together. To punctuate the verses, the chorus remains the same. Children delight in selecting whales, dolphins, mermaids and sharks. Some invent a new sea creature with it’s own special yoga pose. There is lots of excitement to see what is coming up in the next friend's turn. Having exhausted ourselves in the ocean with a spectacular array of sea life, we often finish this song resting in starfish pose.
If we do the song again the next week, the children are often excited to see how it might be completely different. This video clip is just one of limitless ways to sing this song:
This kind of invention recalls the folk tradition: take something, spin it around, make it reflect your reality and your interests. Groups of people have been making stories and songs this way for thousands of years. And don’t think that “folk” means acoustic music, or soft songs, or any of that. “Folk” just means “People”, and people do things all kinds of ways.
Like devotees of the classic 80’s “Choose Your Own Adventure” books and audiences at immersive theatre projects like “Sleep No More,” children are more invested when they are active participants in their learning. Embrace open-minded learning and invention at home or in your classroom: Take an old song, and make some new words. Turn the rainbow (or the world map) upside down. And if a child says, “Nooo! It doesn’t go like that!,” remind them that there are lots of ways to get somewhere, and today you’d like to try walking home a new way.
Dan Costello is the co-Founder and Creative Director of Yo Re Mi.