When I taught music full time I would greet each group with a hello song. This served several purposes. The first was to refresh my memory of each child’s name. You can imagine that in an elementary school of 200 plus children that it was easy to forget names of children that I saw for a half hour twice a week at most. The second was to gauge the room. to see who was eager and who was laying back. The children were seated on the floor in a circle (campfire style) with me as part of the circle and the song had as many verses as there were people in the room. Hearing or saying your name in a song is important. It is an affirmation that you matter. You exist. You are famous! I would include aides and If there were visitors in the room I would include them as well. It was all very Pete Seeger!

The song I used most of the time was a little ditty I made up called : “J’aime Mon Nom” Which translates to “I Love My Name”. The children would “patsch” (clap thighs and hands on alternating beats) and we’d all sing: “J’aime mon nom, J’aime mon nom, J’aime mon nom, J’aime mon nom” And then I’d sing and gesture to a child “Je m’appelle….” and the person chosen sang their name. This is a very effective way to read the room and get even the slightest effort and engagement from even the non-engaging students.

in the higher grades I would try and drop this because I already knew their names, and I had lots to stuff into the half hour together, but the children would ask for it, being lovers of routine. It didn’t hurt.

Teachable moments would arise from this according to the situation. On Hallowe’en I’d ask for the name of the character they were disguised as. Several times a child would say that they didn’t like their name so we’d change it to “Je N’aime pas mon nom”. We could use it to access different activities such as: your favourite hockey player’s name, your “girl/boyfriend” (imagine the giggles and/or horror), favourite breakfast, favourite teacher, etc. The opportunities for expression were only limited by the imagination, so, in my case, limitless.

One day, as a grade three class entered, I happened to have a rubber rat on my piano which piqued their curiosity. The reason I own a rubber rat is another short story which I will try to synopsize here.

Before teaching at the School Board I had worked for a decade as a music therapist with children with Autism, PDD, etc. Our Music Therapy room was in a basement of our school in Westmount. We were two therapists who usually worked together with small groups of children and their “shadows” (educators). One day my co-therapist wordlessly gave me the hand sign that she needed to use “the facilities” down the hall and I understood. When she returned, she was stammering and utterly speechless. I eventually made out through her gesturing the words “rat” and “dans la toilette”. She was utterly freaked out! I went down the hall and there was a small rat swimming in the toilet. I flushed, and it disappeared back into the sewers. Bye bye rat. We got some maintenance workers to install mesh and the problem was solved.

Until I saw a Hallowe’en toy at the dollar store…. A life size black rat with red eyes and a squeaker inside. OF COURSE I HAD TO HAVE IT. I bought it and when I got to work, I put it in my co-worker’s desk drawer. I was not in the room when she opened her drawer. I was upstairs, but I still heard her scream…. I got to the room and Marianne was standing outside the room making similar gestures to several days previous. I got the rat and showed her that it was a prank. The horror switched to anger and I was chopped liver for the rest of the day. The next day we were back to normal and she could laugh about her reactions. All was fine until a month later when the rubber rat “appeared” on the piano as Marianne was sitting down to play. This actually went on for months…. I even snuck it into her car!

So, that was the rat story. Back to the story at hand. The rat went into a box and followed me around to several schools and stayed in the box until I put it on my desk with the intention of “naming” it in a song.

I sat in the circle with the kids and said “I have a rat. The poor rat doesn’t have a name. Can we think up a name for a rat that has never been used before?” I sang: ” j’aime mon rat….” I named him something like “zgworrrdndillybop mc wa wa” as an example. I asked the children if they thought that name had ever been used before. As the song (and the rat)went around the circle, names like “Blackie” and “Ratty” were tried. I would ask the class if they thought those names had ever been used before. Most agreed they were not original. As we got further there were many creative examples: “George” , “Matilda”, ” Queen Rat” etc. Not original. Some children tried names in foreign tongues I would poll the class after every try and most agreed that there was a strong possibility that somewhere on earth at some point in time there was a rat that had received this name before. One kid tried “Ratatouille” and another said that was Disney’s imagination which set off even more discussion. It was all very educational and creative and fun. I then had an idea. I asked the class if they had ever heard the story of Rumpelstiltskin? To my amazement (and horror) none of them had!!!!!!!! I said “We are out of time, but I will read it to you next time. As fate would have it, I was reminded by a student that it was a double period that day as I was doing a favour to their teacher who had an appointment and it was a prep period for me. Woo Hoo!

I love stories! I love reading stories aloud to children. I was read to, I read to my own children and my nieces and nephews. I could not believe that by third grade, these children had not been exposed to this wonderful story.

I read it to them off the internet complete with “interjected lies” such as: “then they grabbed a burger at Harvey’s” just to see how attentive they were. I fielded questions throughout and I used all sorts of funny voices for the King, the girl, the imp, etc. The kids were rapt.

Their teacher arrived to take them back to their class and the kids all groaned. They told me that the story was amazing, the best class ever One boy asked where to get that story and told me that I “made the words come alive” and they never realized old stories could be so much fun. I was elated that it went so well, I saw little light bulbs lit.

Almost totally unplanned, yet hugely successful. My elation of having done a good job was tempered by a sadness that many of these kids did not have the same nurturing and opportunity and privilege that I enjoyed growing up.

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