8 Reasons to Teach Camp Songs in Music Class

Church Camp and Girl Scout Camp were a VERY important part of my life growing up. The camp songs and musical experiences I had there played a role in guiding me toward music as a career.

Today, I would like to introduce you to a very accomplished teacher, musician, and guest blogger, Zach VanderGraaff. In addition to attending summer camps, Zach served as a camp counselor. I have a feeling that his early musical experiences at camps may have played a pivotal role in his choice to become a K-5 music teacher as well.

8 Reasons to Use Camp Songs in the Elementary Music Classroom

Thank you Zach for your insight and expertise.

8 Reasons to Teach Camp Songs in Music Class

by Zach VanderGraaff          

In my younger days as a student, I went to camps of various sorts. I didn’t go to many compared to some, but one of my personal favorite parts of the camp experience was the camp songs.

During undergrad, I worked summers as a camp counselor, and I heard and enjoyed even more camp songs. As I got more into elementary music, I started to wonder why I couldn’t use these songs in my classroom.

Turns out I’m not the only one. Many music teachers use them in their classrooms.

You may wonder:

Why do we use camp songs? Are they really that helpful?

I think so, and here are the 8 reasons I use camp songs in music.

8 Reasons to Use Camp Songs in the Elementary Music Classroom

#1 High Energy Songs

I believe the main element of our job as music teachers is to provide a positive musical experience and encourage the appreciation of music throughout the students’ whole lives.

To me, this means we need to balance and integrate learning with fun and high energy songs and games. Camp songs fit this part of your lesson and curriculum perfectly.

Camp songs are typically meant to get campers excited for the day or week and to come together. To make this happen, they need to be fun and energetic.

Whenever I have a piece of my lesson meant to be fun and break kids out of their shells, I consider using a camp song.

#2 Camp Songs Often Include Movement

We all know the importance of engaging the students in movement, but not every song will do the job. Camp songs often include movements to help with the words or just wake up the body.

Why pass over this chance to use these movement-focused songs in our classrooms?

I won’t pass over this resource which is why you’ll often find a movement break including a camp song in my music lessons.

#3 Easy Music Concepts To Teach

Camps songs don’t have to be just for fun though. They often contain simple musical concepts you may use to teach or transition into another song or learning activity.

The rhythms are often simple, the melody can have elements to isolate for reading pitch, or you may want to point out the stylistic elements such as tempo, dynamics, or form.

For example:

Take the song, Baby Shark (no reminders needed, I’m sure!).

The song by itself is fun and silly with good movements. But you may reinforce the idea of tempo by pointing out how the “swim away” portion goes faster than the rest.

An extension of this concept could be to ask students to create new lyrics and assign them a slow, medium, or fast tempo. Then, they can perform their variation of the song and experience tempo in a creative and applicable way.

#4 Engaging And Silly

Some music teachers are scared of being a little silly in their lessons. But I think this silliness is important, especially with older elementary students.

Allowing kids to be silly (while still being under control and appropriate) actually may help them feel safer in your room. Engaging and getting outside their shells without being judged helps students feel more confident in themselves and who they are.

If you, as the teacher, get into the silliness too, your students will trust you a lot more and be more willing to stay engaged.

Camp songs often have an element of goofiness to them, and they make a fun choice of activity to use for this purpose.

8 Reasons to Teach Camp Songs in the Elementary Music Classroom

#5 Connects With Strong Traditions

Camp songs are one of the traditions unique to America. Dr. Shelley Posen, folk song expert, spoke at an International Camping Congress in 1987.

He spoke about how the camp song phenomenon came into being. The outdoor appreciation movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s as well as the formation of official parks sparked the camp movement for kids.

There was also a strong tradition of singing simple call and response songs a capella to get listeners and groups energetic and motivated at the time.

It wasn’t a big surprise then that the two traditions merged to create camp songs.

Continuing with camp songs in your music room is another way to stay in touch with the traditions of our parks culture. 

#6 Encourages Singing

I’m often asked by new music teachers: “How do I get my older elementary kids to sing?”

First, I tell them that this is a struggle we all have, and they’re not alone.

Then, I suggest we trick them into singing by using songs that are simple, fun, and low pressure. Wouldn’t you know it? Camp songs fit the bill perfectly. 

#7 Demonstrates Variations and Acceptance

One of the things about folk songs I find most fascinating is the number of variations which exist for different songs. These perfectly demonstrate the oral nature of our existence as humans.

Using camp songs in music class drives this point home with kids as well. Many kids go to a camp of some kind in summer and may have heard these songs before.

Even if they haven’t, most kids will know some camp songs which have gained mainstream popularity such as Baby Shark or Herman the Worm.

I love engaging in such discussions and working together with kids to answer some following questions in regard to variations:

  • Where have you heard this before?
  • How are the two versions of the song the same?
  • How are they different? (Throw in a Venn diagram and your admin will love it!)
  • Why are there differences in these songs?
  • Which do you prefer and why?
  • Is any one version actually any better than the other?

#8 Camp Songs Build Community

There are many reasons every culture in the history of mankind has used music to some degree. One of the most impactful ones is how songs shared by groups of people build a community.

Think about a university fight song or Alma Mater. Think about groups of protestors singing together. Imagine how everyone feels when they sing the National Anthem together.

We can build a powerful community with our schools when we all share the same songs, and camp songs are one of those which will bring the kids together.

I sing Down by the Bay with every class I see at some point. This is one of the fun camp songs which keeps on giving.

At the end of the year, one of my schools will circle up around the flagpole before dismissal, and we sing this song (along with others) together.

The kids, parents, and community come together in a powerful experience built around a simple and silly song. 

Where Can I Find Camp Songs?

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you how useful and important camp songs can be. But where can you find them?

Since you probably don’t want to go work camps in the summers, you need to find them elsewhere.

One place I’d check are organized camp websites around your area and beyond. These websites often have the camp songs they sing posted around their websites.

At the very least, email or call the camps. I’m sure they’d be willing to help.

There are also a number of resources you may find come from different Teacher Pay Teacher sellers.

8 Reasons to Teach Camp Songs in the Elementary Music Classroom

One of the reasons I chose to write this post for FrauMusik.com is because Terri has a great TpT product all about camp songs with Orff-estrations ready to go for you. CLICK HERE to preview these no-prep lessons. This makes using camp songs simple and effective.


These reasons for using camp songs are exactly why I’ve been using them as a piece of my curriculum and why I’ll continue using them for the rest of my career.

I hope you’ll consider using camp songs too and see the positive impact they can have on your classroom.

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher at Bay City Public Schools and writer for Dynamic Music Room. He also serves as Past-President of Michigan Kodaly Educators and current Executive Secretary of the Midwest Kodály Music Educators Association.  

Zach VanderGraaff, writer for Dynamic Music Room

3 thoughts on “8 Reasons to Teach Camp Songs in Music Class

  1. Good points & well said, Zach. I would also add that the echo response as well as a variety of call & response sections set up the listen-sing response that is so necessary for matching pitch. Camp songs are golden!

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