Teaching the Theme
1) Make a circle by all holding hands. This speeds up circle making. "Everyone hold hands with someone near you to make a circle." Once we’re all holding hands we “drop hands” and face the middle.
2) I teach how to sing the song and the basic melody. I don’t take for granted that they all know it. I have a lot of kids who are new to the country and haven’t sung it before. Older grades are usually okay with the melody, but with younger kids I take the time to sing it through a couple times.
3) The birthday kid grabs some “birthday sprinkles” (pixie sticks) and stands in the middle of the circle and can eat them while we sing.
4) In my version we sing “Happy Birthday to…” and when we sing “YOU” we point one hand at the birthday person in the middle and point one straight at the ceiling. No bent elbows while you “Twinkle your fingers!” until you sing again at the start of the next phrase. Also, no “cha cha cha” in this version. Some kids try to sneak it in, but that ruins the effect. In that version it goes, "Happy Birthday to you, Cha cha cha" but I want them to learn the held note at the end of each phrase (because sometimes sustaining a note like that can be awkward and hard). Leaving the "cha cha cha" out gives you good practice to work on holding the note at the end of the phrase.
5) We practice this procedure a few times and then we sing the song for the kid who has been patiently waiting in the middle of the room. I’ve prerecorded the birthday song on my digital piano so that I can come and stand and join the kids while the music plays and we all sing. This is a handy little trick.
You’ve learned the theme, now for the variations
We sing the song “cowboy style.” I start giving directions in a southern accent as I show them how to mount their horses and grab the reigns. We swing our lassos as we sing “Happy Birthday to…” and then we throw our lassos trying to “catch” the person in the middle as we sing “you!” We repeat this as we sing through the song. The piano recording for this one has a meandering and swung “Bum-ba-di-da” pattern that was made famous by Roy Rogers in his show-closing song, “Happy Trails.” All you need are three notes from each chord’s scale: the root, fifth, and the sixth. Play them back and forth, over and over. Again, try and lasso the kid in the middle each time you sing “YOU.”
We sing “robot style.” Have the kids turn to their right and put their arms in an L shape like a Rock-em Sock-em toy and freeze and look like robots. This time I sing each syllable and stop in-between. “Ha. Ppy. Bir. Thday. To. You.” And the whole thing is staccato. The kids move like robots in a circle around the kid in the middle and whenever they sing “You” they stop and face the birthday kid and don’t move until the music starts again with the next phrase. This time the whole recording is staccato with big pauses so that kids can stay frozen like robots for a while. They like this and the kid in the middle usually giggles when they all turn to freeze like robots looking at them.
We sing “monster style” and growl like monsters (usually ditching our singing voice for this one). We’ll often turn off the lights and the piano will play in a minor key. My only rule for this one is that kids CAN turn and make monster faces and monster arms at the b-day kid but they CANNOT advance upon them. Meaning they cannot move any closer to the birthday kid, their feet are frozen. Otherwise you’ll have 20 kids moving towards your b-day and they’ll freak.
You could go on forever with this. Here are a list of other styles I’ve tried in the past.
Baby voice style – piano plays very high
Gangnam Style (just kidding)
Quiet Mouse style
And on and on and on...
You don’t have to do all or any of these variations. This gives you a chance to pick and choose. The birthday kid can even be chosen to pick and choose which variations they want to sing/hear. It really depends on how much time you want to devote to the activity. Maybe you only have two minutes. Then do the theme and one variation. Next time you can do more variations. If you do the theme and at least one variation each time, you can refer to the process when you actually teach theme and variations and you’re done. The kids have done it enough to know what it is so it doesn’t need much explaining. Even if you never go back and identify it as theme and variations, the kids still love the activity.
Check it out! --------------------->
Or, you can follow me on Facebook! Woo hoo! Then you get notifications when I update any part of my blog: classroom ideas, content, or decor!!