We had a lot of fun in our Ends of the Earth theme in 2016. Ends of the Earth was about the North and South Poles, and a large part of our time in music class was spent on Inuit throat singing. (I learned throat-singing from a family friend who used to live among the Inuit.)
Did you know that throat singing is meant to be done as a competition between two people? They stand facing each other, grasping each other’s forearms, and improvise vocal rhythms, using various techniques that mimic the sounds of the Arctic. The first one to mess up the rhythm, break eye contact, or burst out laughing is the loser. A whole tradition of folk music grew out of what might be described as a musical staring contest!
Here is an adorable video of two young throat singers performing at Justin Trudeau’s swearing-in ceremony in 2015. When they burst out laughing, they are not messing up – laughter is the way most throat-songs come to an end.
The next theme was Dr. Seuss, and the music class started learning and enjoying songs from the Cat in the Hat Songbook. One song, called The No Laugh Race, also challenges kids to make and keep eye contact whilst wiggling their ears, wiggling their eyebrows, and trying to make each other laugh.
Making and keeping eye contact comes naturally to some kids, but for others it can be difficult. It’s not optional, though – without eye contact, kids won’t have access to important information conveyed in facial expressions. They’ll miss out on nonverbal cues and find themselves left out of social interactions.
Rainforest Learning Centre recommends daily reinforcement of eye contact as a social skill. This includes requiring that they “look you in the eye” when they ask for something, when they say “please” or “thank you” or “goodbye,” or when you’re telling them something important. It also includes playing eye-contact games. Check out Rainforest’s recommendations here, or give The No Laugh Race a try!
Also, if you’re interested in learning more about Inuit throat-singing, and might like to try it with your kids, here is an excellent video to get you started.
Vanessa Farkas is a writer, musician, educator, and lifetime learner who worked at the Phoenix Education Foundation as a music teacher from 2010-2018 and has left to retrain and pursue a new career as a legal assistant. Her eight years at Phoenix have left her enriched with experiences and stories, and this series blends those stories and experiences with practical advice and perspectives on helping children develop social skills. Names have been changed.