We started HooteNanny in the fall of 2006 to share our favorite childhood songs with other families. We started with our top 25 songs, but of course, as we progressed we added songs the participating parents suggested; we wrote some of our own; we kept digging from our own childhood, asking, “What did we love? What do we remember?” We now have nine separate, seasonal curricula that we’ve developed for HooteNanny, plus a special tenth curriculum for the winter holidays.
Each class is limited to 12 families. To start, we sit in a circle and begin with a greeting song:
Good morning, Sunshine
How did you sleep last night?
I’m so glad to see you
Now everything is right.
We then go around in a circle and replace “Sunshine” with the names of everyone in the class. Next, we play “As big as a…” (a game we learned from Lui Collins of Music Together) asking the verbal kids to suggest things (animals, plants, vehicles, younger brothers) in order to demonstrate their size with our outstretched arms. We drum on the floor and hum as we bring our arms up to be as big as a giraffe. (Giraffes are a popular choice in HooteNanny.) Giraffes tend to be one arm extended as high as we can reach and then chewing on the leaves of a tree up there. We then make the sound of a giraffe. (Elephants are noisier.) This game invites the kids to join the musical play that will continue for the rest of class. We know, because parents tell us and also because our own kids do it, that the children often wake up with their idea of what to be As Big As that day. We know that the Kids like to be part of the show.
For the songs in our classes, we include many that are ripe for spontaneous additions from the kids. Sometimes there are limitations: When we sing “Aikendrum,” we are looking only for food ideas; when we sing “Organic Farm” we are looking only for animal additions. But when we play “As Big As,” there are no limitations, no rules. We know one particular boy whose favorite way to play was to come up with a description so long that we the teachers would have a hard time remembering it. “As Big As a guitar being played upside down while it is riding on a float in a parade in the rain.”
We play together for forty-five minutes, employing percussive sticks, jingle bells, scarves for waving around and dancing with, plastic eggs to shake, and a whole tub of mini-percussion instruments for a play along. In some classes, we also use a parachute which the parents hold and wave up and down for the kids to dance under. We sing songs with small hand movements, and some others with bigger full-body movements. We include old favorites like “If I Had a Hammer” and end with fairy dust (where we “dust” the children with a flicker of notes from a small xylophone), a lullaby, and a “Bye Bye” song (“Sweet Rosyanne”) in which we say goodbye to each child and parent by name, in ¾ time.
Over the course of the last five years, HooteNanny has grown from two classes a week to seven. Families are hungry for this kind of music and this kind of interaction with other families. The kids can be absolutely silent for the entire ten weeks, but parents inevitably report that once in the car, or the bathtub, they begin to sing the songs, dance around the house, engage with the music, as they instinctively know it’s theirs.