As an itinerant teacher I have had the opportunity to work in many schools. One thing I’ve noticed in my travels is that not all schools keep with the tradition of singing O Canada every morning to start their day. Some just on Mondays, some at the teacher’s discretion, most with a recording (…some good, some not so much!) WHY? As a music teacher I am especially aware of this seemingly unimportant detail in the myriad of start of the day routines within a school.
Here are 8 reasons why I think it’s important for us (yes, ALL of us) to sing O Canada with our students every day:
1) Transitions – The more I teach and the more I parent, the more I am cognizant of the importance of transitions. What better way to transition our students from their morning routines at home, playing on the playground and jostling into line-up at their school entrance door to a full day of learning in the classroom than by taking a moment to stand still with their classmates, breathe, and ‘trigger’ the next part of their day.
2) Routines – All kids thrive on routine. If a kinesthetic element can be a part of that routine, all the better. Yes, you have other start of the day tasks but singing O Canada is a great physical (and cognitive) precursor to the onslaught of instructions, administrative tasks and the day-mapping that are inevitably involved as students begin their day.
3) Posture – Didn’t our mothers always tell us to stop slouching and sit up straight?! Having great posture is imperative to good ergonomics and consequently, good health. Standing at attention to sing O Canada is a perfect daily reminder for our bodies (and minds too) to lengthen and straighten our spine from our tailbone right up to the crown of our head. Think of it as a mini-yoga session to start your day and a great habit to instil in our students.
4) Breathing – Good posture and deep breathing go hand in hand. Both are essential to good health and both can be employed through singing! Singing full phrases in our national anthem (if you make a point to do so) forces the body to breathe deeply from the diaphragm, engaging the whole body in the process. You NEED to take a deep breath in order to sing through a full line. What better way to begin a day’s learning than by infusing the brain and body with a healthy dose of oxygen.
5) Practising Self-Expression in Class – Don’t we as teachers wish for ALL of our students to be able to express themselves in class? Singing O Canada together doesn’t necessarily mean that children will be more willing to take a risk during class discussions or even to approach a teacher with a question but it sure is a good way to practise that skill and a good first step towards getting there. Yes, it is a bit of a risk to sing with your classmates to begin with but if we train our students from an early age and if we model taking that risk ourselves who’s to say we wouldn’t have grade 8 boys, for example, singing their hearts out til the last ‘on guard for thee’? I say we capitalize on the current resurgence of singing in our pop culture and make it OK to SING again in school (and not just in music class).
6) Citizenship & National Pride – And what about the fact that it is our national anthem? I bet this issue wouldn’t even hit the radar in the US! Have you been to a sporting event lately and looked around at the beginning of the game? Who IS singing the national anthem along with the guest singer (…who is likely ornamenting it so much you can’t even find the melody!)? Look around. It is the older generation singing and I would venture to say that many of our younger generation are unsure of the words if they are even singing at all! I think that’s a pretty sad statement on our national pride. As teachers it’s our job to teach our students citizenship and part of that learning should include our national anthem. It’s not just something to dust off in Olympic years!
And while we’re on citizenship and national pride, how about taking the opportunity to include both of our nation’s official languages? My first experience with the french language was when my grade 3 teacher made an effort to have us learn O Canada in french. What about showing our new immigrant students what it is truly like to be Canadian? Singing O Canada IS an important part of our national identity and if our students can’t do it before they leave elementary school then shame on us!
7) Community – Focusing on doing something together as a class can help create that ‘community’ atmosphere that offers a great springboard for learning. Have you ever sung in a choir? Being apart of something where EVERY voice is integral to the whole is an amazing experience. How validating for our students! Why wouldn’t we offer them that opportunity to feel apart of a classroom community? Learning is a social endeavour. I would argue that the more a student feels connected the more they will feel safe to be themselves, to risk, to learn. By feeling connected they are more likely to contribute. Isn’t that what we would wish our classrooms to be? A place where students feel connected to one another and where everyone’s contribution raises the group as a whole?
8) The JOY of Singing – Have you seen kids singing at the top of their lungs just for the pure pleasure of doing so? It feels good to sing. Not just physically, but mentally too. It takes focused attention to sing O Canada and I would argue that focusing our attention on the act of singing puts our worries and to-dos on the shelf for a few minutes while we’re busy engaging fully in that activity. What a tremendous gift we could give our students at the start of every day!:) And what a great introduction to mindfulness, stress relief techniques and the possibility of discovering a life-long leisure pursuit in music in the process.
“But I can’t sing.” YES, you CAN! Ok, not everyone finds singing a joyful experience but shouldn’t we at least offer our students the opportunity to develop that possibility? Shouldn’t we offer our kids the chance to experience that joy at least once during their day?
Everyone can sing. As a choir director I have worked with tentative young high school boys (and whose voices are more ‘fragile’ than that?) helping them learn the basics of varying the pitch of their voice to having them singing three and four part harmony by the end of the year. I have worked with budding young actors, who were more at home on the football field than in the music room, prepare for and succeed in their roles in musical productions. I have even sat beside my young son at the piano helping him find a comfortable range and sing on pitch rather than shout. Singing is a learned activity and something kids gravitate to at a young age. There’s a reason why we sing lullabies to our babies and learn our ABCs through song. When did you forget? When was your voice stifled? Perhaps when the rest of your class (or your teacher) didn’t sing O Canada along with you?
Let’s give our students a chance to find their voice, some practise at expressing themselves and a vehicle for creating community in our classrooms. Let’s teach our students that we value their voice in our classroom and give them an opportunity to maybe even find a little joy through music at the start of every day. Can singing O Canada together every morning really do all that? Only if we consciously choose to let it.