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Did you ever wake up with them bullfrogs on your mind? Helping children to understand their emotions and to learn English, with help from Rory Gallagher and Canned Heat!

Date posted: Friday 22nd November 2013

Did you ever wake up with them bullfrogs on your mind?

Bullfrog Blues by Canned Heat (often performed as an encore by Rory Gallagher).

I’ve never woken up thinking about bullfrogs, but I do spend time thinking about some of the experiences I have had teaching other people’s children over the past 30 or so years. Teaching is a very demanding job, but of all the jobs in the whole world it’s probably the one where you can have most influence on children’s lives. And having 30 children thrust together for five days a week, as they grow and try out new things, can sometimes lead to a particular kind of heady intensity developing between them. Teachers know this and develop strategies for helping children get on together. However there are some things that you just can’t bargain for.

I’m thinking in particular of a very fraught emotional experience I became entangled in as a Year 4 teacher. This is my favourite year group to teach, as the children begin to cast off early childhood and start to look towards being the oldest children in primary school. The child involved was a girl called Katie, who can only be described as ‘very sweet and kind and hard-working’ (and I really do mean that in the nicest possible way.) One day I had a visit from Katie’s parents, who were looking very anxious and uncomfortable: “Mr Jones, please can you have a word with Katie for us? She hasn’t been sleeping well, has become quite moody and is off her food. To be quite frank her problems all seem to have started when George arrived in your class. Because of George, Katie has completely fallen out with Rebecca: which is terrible, because the girls have known each other since they were babies and Rebecca’s mum and dad are our best friends. Is there any chance that George could be moved to another class, or even sent to another school?”

This came as a bit of a shock, as I had always thought of Katie’s parents as being very tolerant and liberal. However I had noticed that little Katie, who was normally very enthusiastic about class work, had been spending a lot of time looking in George’s direction during lessons. She had even drawn a picture of George on the inside cover of her maths book and written ‘Katie loves George’. I decided to have a gentle chat with Katie and try and get to the bottom of what was going on between her George and Rebecca, (who incidentally had also drawn a picture of George, though hers was stuck on the fridge at home, which seemed more appropriate to me.)

I had my little chat with Katie during lunchtime. “I’ve noticed that you and Rebecca haven’t been getting on very well recently…” That was enough to open the floodgates:

“I hate Rebecca. Sometimes I feel like whacking her round the face, especially when she goes near George. And I just can’t bear her touching him. It’s terrible. I don’t know why I feel like this. I felt so bad when George stayed at Rebecca’s house at half-term, and he even slept in her bedroom! When I’m not with George I think about him all the time, and worry that he might be lonely and need me. I’ve never felt like this before. Is there something wrong with me, Mr Jones?”

Well what would you have said to an eight-year-old girl in the grip such powerful emotions? Would you have handled it like I did?

“Katie, I think you are in love with George. It’s quite normal. Lots of teenagers and grownups feel like this about each other. I’m sure that George loves you too. What you are feeling towards Rebecca is called jealousy. We sometimes feel like this when we think that the person we love likes someone else, or when we think someone else is trying to take our loved one away from us. But can you try and share George with Rebecca? After all, she is your best friend and she needs to feel love too. I’m sure that George would be very pleased to know that he has two girls who like him as much as you both do. And if you both stroke him and care for him together then I’m sure he will be very happy. After all, I’ve read that guinea pigs like to have more than one person caring for them.”

Well Katie cried a bit and I tried to quell the lump rising in my throat, as this little girl, who was normally so placid, struggled with her very powerful feelings. Up to that point I hadn’t fully appreciated that animals can provoke such intense emotions in the people who care for them. Luckily for us all, our school educational psychologist lent me probably the greatest book you will find to explore emotions with children: Feelings, by Aliki. (Click here for more information about this excellent book). This proved to be an invaluable resource, as unfortunately guinea pigs are vulnerable to illness, and the page about Whiskers the Mouse helped us prepare emotionally for the terrible day when we would find out how it feels to be bereaved. Luckily this didn’t happen in Katie’s time.

The legendary Rory Gallagher and his band in their prime, performing Bullfrog Blues live for the German TV show Rockpalats

This story illustrates the important part that animals can play in children’s lives. It’s no coincidence that most picture books for young children are either about European farm animals or African wild animals. I often think that to help all children in the UK really get ready for literacy we need to teach them about animals and the noises that they make. If you add in motorised transport then you have almost the entire canon of reading material in early years.

How much children know about animals, and how much they want to talk about them, was brought home to me when I was supporting an early years setting, in my role as consultant for the Every Child a Talker (ECaT) project. Many of the children in the day nursery were from Poland, and in the very early stages of learning English. Our challenge was to involve the children in activities that were deeply absorbing, and to engage them in conversations that would be meaningful, in order to maximise their English learning. You can read in detail about what we did by clicking here.

Our guiding principle was that children will talk most about what they know already. If they are confident in their prior knowledge then they will be confident to talk about what they know, and to join in with activities involving these subjects; e.g. farm animals. I chose to base our activities around Cock-A-Moo-Moo by Juliet Dallas-Conte: a great picture book about a rooster who wakes up in the morning and forgets how to shout Cock-a-doodle-doo. He visits all the animals in turn, but can only make the noises that they make. As well as being a parable about having a language difficulty, it helps children to think about how important it is to know lots of languages. It’s one of my favourite stories. (Unfortunately it was to get me into a whole lot of trouble in another nursery school, but that’s a completely different story…)

We got the children really involved by the adults learning 10 farm animal names in Polish, and using these, with their English equivalents and corresponding MAKATON signs, throughout the story and activities. What I hadn’t bargained for is that not only do people from other countries speak different languages, but so do the animals!! So even though I had learned the Polish for rooster, the story didn’t really make much sense until one of the children told me what noise Polish roosters make…and pigs, and cows and sheep and donkeys. This created a lot of laughter as we compared animal noises.

One bonus of this activity, which by the way was very successful and became part of the setting’s daily practice, was that I learned some Polish from the children. I have it on good authority from Marek that Niebezpieczne lis means dangerous fox. It sounded so exciting to me that I have remembered the phrase to this day. (This surely demonstrates the importance of involving children and adults in exciting activities that make sense, and using exciting language at the same time.)

Here’s a quiz for you to try. Can you identify which country the following rooster sounds come from? Answers are at the bottom of the post (courtesy of Derek Abbott at the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Adelaide. I’m not entirely sure why he has put together this vital information for adults working with young children, but I’m glad he has. Click here to learn how to make animals obey you in different languages too!)

  1. kykyliky
  2. kukeleku
  3. cock-a-doodle-doo
  4. kukko kiekuu
  5. cocorico
  6. kikeriki
  7. kikiriku/ kikiriki
  8. coo-koo-ri-koo
  9. kukuriku
  10. chicchirichí
  11. ko-ke-kok-ko-o
  12. cucurucu
  13. kukareku
  14. quiquiriquí/kikiriki
  15. kuckeliku
  16. kuk-kurri-kuuu/ u uru uuu (pron: oo-oore-oo)
  17. kuklooku
  18. kukuryku

By the way, Katie and Rebecca were fine in the end: once Katie understood that it was OK to have such strong feelings. She never whacked Rebecca. They both cared for George together and took him home at weekends. We never found out whether George woke up with them girls on his mind, though I wouldn’t be surprised, as he always made gui-gui * noises whenever he saw them. (*He was South American, after all. French guinea pigs say oui-oui.)

And here’s Canned Heat, the creators and purveyors of excellent boogies, and whose Bob ‘The Bear’ Hite gave us Bullfrog Blues. Ribit Ribit.

The little red rooster told the little brown hen/Meet me at the barn at half past ten/Come on let’s boogie. Canned Heat at Woodstock (and if you look closely you can see Janis Joplin and Grace Slick having a chat at the side of the stage!)

Take care out there


1 Danish; 2 Dutch; 3 English; 4 Finnish;5 French; 6 German; 7 Greek; 8 Hebrew;

9 Hungarian; 10 Italian; 11 Japanese; 12 Portuguese; 13 Russian; 14 Spanish; 15 Swedish; 16 Turkish; 17 Urdu; 18 Polish

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7 responses to “Did you ever wake up with them bullfrogs on your mind? Helping children to understand their emotions and to learn English, with help from Rory Gallagher and Canned Heat!”

  1. What a lovely story. You had me picturing George as a boy for the longest time. Your storytelling skills match you analysis of childhood and language.

    Interesting Rory facts. His guitar: legendarily worn and stripped of most of it’s paint . Allegedly, according to Donal, his brother, manager and and keeper of his physical and spiritual legacy… The paint peeled off because Rory’s bloodtype gave him particularly acidic sweat which stripped the paint…He did play and sweat a lot so it may well be true.
    Other great Rory fact: Jimi Hendix was asked what it was like to be the best guitarist in the world. He replied (again allegedly)”I don’t know man, you should ask Rory Gallagher” I believe it and I believe he wasn’t being ironic.

    • Michael Jones says:

      Thanks Tim! I saw Rory’s guitar in a glass case at the Kilburn Tricycle Theatre premiere of the lost film of his Irish Tour in the 1970s. No one else would play in Belfast, but Rory insisted.
      He was extremely popular as a live player. I used to dress like him: checked shirt, baseball boots, blue jeans and waistcoat. It was a real sadness that he passed away.
      I still haven’t answered your question about children with a diagnosis and selective mutism, but will do so.
      Very best wishes
      PS this weekend’s post is about stammering.

  2. Carol Adams says:

    The stage at Woodstock was in a very interesting condition; can you imagine bands being allowed to play on that stage today. The Health and Safety fairies would have a field day but have they made things any safer? Saw The Stereophonics at Brighton on Thursday – they had a carpet put down before their performance!

    • Michael Jones says:

      Hi Carol
      It’s amazing to think that Woodstock was over 40 years ago. As a teenager I was totally fascinated by the whole Woodstock idea. The bands were uppermost in my mind, but the vision of thousands of colourful people all heading in one direction was what really caught my imagination. If it was now I’d be thinking abut the toilets and where I could have a wash and clean my teeth!
      I went to the Windsor Free Festival in 1974 and there were no facilities at all! Everyone was horrified, and the festival was eventually broken up by the police after nine days.
      Happy days?

  3. No probs re reply. I love your blogs for their own sake. They are the only interwebbing /networking thing I do apart from read my friend Paul’s tweets.

    Rock music “events” were basically a shambles compared to the corporate smoothness of today. Did some of it’s soul get lost in the mud of the Weeley festival? I’m not sure I care, as part of the joy for me has always been it’s disposability.

    Rory Gallaghers 1974 tour of Ireland crops up on Sky Arts TV regularly and give or take a few guitar-based continuity errors is an absolute stormer of a film. (Going to my hometown/hometown blues on the mandolin is pretty epic)

    Donal lets guitarists come and play Rory’s guitars. Search Johnny Marr playing that Stratocaster on youtube. Or don’t; it’s maybe a bit too guitar-nerdy. But it does combine two of your guitar heroes in one easy hit.

    Memories and films of the cultural currency of (rock) music from the 70’s are a heady brew aren’t they especially for gentlemen and ladies of a certain age. You sort of remember them not quite in black and white, but in a sort of developing sepia with spots of colour bleeding through. Suffused with the smell of a damp afghan coat,the feel of itchy lambswool sweaters, the chafing of uncomfortable loon pants and the faint whiff of patchouli oil.

    I too rocked the Rory look and cling to aspects of it today I suspect. (Check shirts and double denim)We invented perpetual teenage so we can do what the hell we like with it. A friend of mine who is a couple of years older than me once remarked that he thinks his /our generation will be marked out by a strange crew of little old people who have a marked preference for sitting on the floor.

    It all becomes a bit complicated with the tribes, generations, genres and sub genres all overlaying on peoples cultural reference points doesn’t it: E.G. Strange for us maybe to observe the nostalgic memories of the rave generation and the Stone Roses Spike Island Epiphany(weirdly apparently still a ca change.)

    Looking forward to the next blog. I’m predicting an apearance from Roger Daltrey

  4. John Rice says:

    So much of what you say chimes with my own experiences. Year 4 is absolutely the best year to teach – they arrive as small children and leave with a massively developed maturity. Your George story had me hoodwinked!

    So I need to investigate Rory Gallagher. A new name for me but I suspect nobody will come close to Igor Presnyakov whose playing has reinterpreted what it is to be a guitarist.

    • Michael Jones says:

      Hi John!
      Yes, I had completely underestimated the impact that a guinea pig can have on young children’s developing emotions. I’m going to look at Igor Presnyakov right now. However you may like to look at Rodrigo and Gabriela as well.
      Best wishes

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