This song tells a story in little steps. Fair warning: you might not want to let tender ears hear all the verses.
Same and Different
Students will quickly be ready to sing the "yadadada" part of the song. Guide students to notice that there are two different "yadadada" phrases. They have contrasting melodic contour, which is a great opportunity to talk about high and low pitches. Students may visualize the melodic contour through use of pipe cleaners, movement, drawing, or other well-documented teaching tools.
Students will also notice a pattern in the words-based phrases. Which phrases are the same? Which are different? Students may represent the patterns with shapes, a great way to make learning visible and begin to discuss elements of form.
Comparison skills, same vs. different, patterns, and shapes all help strengthen students' logic and early mathematical reasoning skills.
Singing About Process
This song communicates a sequential process. Historically, this could have been a process that was relevant to children's lives. Today, there are many processes students learn about early in life. Could a class adapt this song to sing about getting ready in the morning? How to have a fire drill? How to make a sandwich? A teacher could even create verses of the song to introduce and later review classroom routines.
As students are beginning to think sequentially about routines in their own lives, we also encourage them to begin thinking sequentially about literature. Asking what happened next? helps children identify main ideas and summarize a plot. A class can collaborate to create an original set of verses to summarize the plot of a piece of literature. For example:
Jack has a bean...
Plants the bean...
What's worth saving in the historical record? John A. Lomax traveled the American South in 1939 to document folk songs. In Livingston, Alabama, he met Celina Lewis, the singer of this song. Upon introducing herself to the Lomaxes, she quipped, "I'm fifty-five years old, an' ef I live to see the fo'th Sat'day in next June, I'll be seventy." In his field notes, Lomax notes, "She sang three spirituals, but she was finally coaxed along into singing some reels and game songs which are her forte; not that she herself considers such songs sinful she merely thought them too insignificant to put on permanent record." These songs were clearly near to Ms. Lewis's heart, but she didn't consider them significant. Luckily, they were captured and preserved so we can continue to support childrens' musical and literary development with them today.
Hettie Godfrey's Version
In 1940, John Lomax recorded Hettie Godfrey's version of "Peep Squirrel." Though the recording seems lost, his notes offer a great way to bring this melody into the classroom - without all the carnivorous violence of Celina Lewis's version.
For more reading, check out this blog from Teaching with the Library of Congress.