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May Day – music, dance and drama

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By Judith HarriesEarly Years teacher and writer

Explore three creative activities inspired by May Day using music, dance and drama ideas.


In the merry month of May

What you need:
  • Garden wire, bells, bottle tops, pink tissue
  • Tambourines, drums, tin lids, plastic trays, beaters
  • A big drum
Group sizes:
  • Small groups to make garlands
  • Whole group for singing and instrument work

Areas of learning:
EAD: Exploring and using media and materials – Children sing songs and make music and dance, and experiment with ways of changing them.


  1. Nuts in May
    Learn this traditional May time rhyme and sing to the tune of ‘Here we go round the mulberry bush:
    Here we go gathering nuts in May,
    Nuts in May, nuts in May.
    Here we go gathering nuts in May,
    So early in the morning.
    The nuts referred to in the song were most likely ‘earthnuts’ which are tasty tubers loved by pigs and snuffled out of the ground by them. Another interpretation is that the rhyme should read ‘knots’ in May and refer to hawthorn blossoms.
  2. Blossom garlands
    Make small garlands of blossoms for the children to use as they sing. Use circles of garden wire and attach twists of pink tissue, metal bells or bottle tops to create musical garlands. Ask the children to shake these and pass them around the circle as they sing the song together.


There are lots of traditions associated with May Day in the UK. Show the children images on the internet of May Day parades, maypole and Morris dancing. Listen to the Padstow May Day song recorded by Steeleye Span and encourage the children to sing along.

Watch films of the Obby Oss dance that takes place on May Day in Padstow to celebrate the coming of summer. Explain to the children that they are going to play some music to accompany the dance.

  1. Keeping the beat
    Ask the children to listen to the Padstow song or other folk music with a strong beat. Invite them to stand in a circle. Can they tap their feet in time to the beat? Help them to emphasise the accented first beat of each four beats. Try using body percussion ideas, for example: stamp clap clap clap or clap click click click.
  2. Tambourines and drums
    Provide a selection of tambourines and drums. Use homemade drums such as biscuit tin lids or plastic trays if there are not enough musical instruments. Sit the children in a circle and place an instrument in front of each child. Use signals to stop and start the sounds such as open hands to start sounds, close fists to stop sounds. Keep the beat on a bigger drum and ask the children to play along with you.
    Show them the accents in 4/4 music by accenting the first beat of the bar, or beat 1. Can they play the first beat of each bar slightly louder or accented? Now try accenting beats 1 and 3. Try playing along with the Padstow song or other folk songs with a strong beat.

May Day ribbon

Dancing in May

What you need:
  • Maypole and ribbons (if available)
  • Pairs of claves or dowelling sticks
  • Handkerchiefs or scarves

Group size: Whole class for circle dances.

Areas of learning:
EAD: Exploring and using media and materials – Children sing songs and make music and dance, and experiment with ways of changing them.

Starter Go to and listen to some samples of maypole music with the children. These short excerpts can be used when the children try out some Morris dance moves.


These two dance ideas celebrate two important May traditions – maypole and Morris dancing.

  1. Around the maypole
    Learn this chant and ask children to stand in a circle as they sing this song to the tune of ‘A sailor went to sea’. Invite them to move round in a circle holding hands and follow the movement instructions. If you have a maypole let the children try dancing round as they sing this song or use some maypole music.
    Around the maypole hop, hop, hop,
    Threading the ribbons we have got.
    Dressed in flowers, garlands too,
    Bow to your partner, how do you do.
    Around the maypole skip, skip, skip,
    Take a care that you don’t trip.
    Listen to the music, stamp your feet,
    Try to move in time to the beat.
    Around the maypole, jump, jump, jump,
    Into your partner, try not to bump.
    Now that the weather in May is fine
    Let’s dance together til the end of time.
  2. Morris pairs
    Watch some examples of Morris dancing on the internet. Talk about what the children can see the Morris dancers are wearing and using as they dance. Explain that the sticks crash together to scare away evil spirits; the ringing bells welcome the Spring; the waving handkerchiefs mimic court dancers from the seventeenth century.
    Ask the children to sit facing a partner. Provide them with a pair of claves or dowelling. Invite them to tap each other’s claves in time to the beat of the Morris dance music. Ask them to stand up and stamp their feet in time to the beat as they tap their claves. Now try stepping from side to side or stepping forward toward your partner and then stepping back. Let some of the children wear bells around their wrists or ankles. Replace the claves with handkerchiefs or silk scarves and help children to swish them up and down as they move forwards and backwards.

Obby oss

May Day horse
Image by Andy F, via Wikimedia Commons

What you need: Red and blue hoola hoops, crepe paper, boxes, paint, string, sticky tape.

Group sizes:
  • Small groups to create the costumes
  • Whole class for Obby oss drama

Areas of learning:
PD: Experiments with different ways of moving. Negotiates space successfully when playing racing and chasing games with other children, adjusting speed or changing direction to avoid obstacles.
CL: Speaking – Children use language to imagine and recreate roles and experiences in play situations.


  1. Remind the children of the Obby oss dance that takes place on May day in Padstow, Cornwall. Explain that the two ‘osses’ or Hobby horses, dance around the streets and gardens of the town accompanied by music and followed by people dressed in white wearing red or blue sashes. Talk about how the obby osses are dressed.
  2. Play ‘Follow my leader’ games. Ask for a volunteer to lead the other children around your setting. Invite them to copy the different ways the leader moves such as walking, hopping, walking backwards, running, on tiptoes, leaping, creeping, and so on. Try the Obby oss version: walking, high stepping, trotting, circling, cantering, galloping, and so on.
  3. Try a ‘Follow my leader’ race game. Use two leaders and two lines of children. How carefully can they lead their lines in and out of each other, avoiding any collisions? Set up a course of equipment for the lines to follow. Which line can get to the finish post first?


Explain to the children that you are going to re-enact the Obby oss May day parade that welcomes the coming of Summer. Divide the children into two groups representing the red (traditional) oss and the blue (peace) oss.

  1. Oss costumes
    Work in groups to design the obby oss skirt using a large hoola hoop, paper, paint, string, sticky tape, and so on. Paint a cardboard box to create a scary face mask with staring eyes and sharp teeth for the obby oss to wear. Choose a child from each team to wear the obby oss costume. Help them to move around in their fancy costumes. Let all the children in each team wear a coloured sash in the right colour.
  2. On parade
    Encourage the obby osses to lead the children in their team around the setting, inside or outside. Ask some of the children to use the music from ‘In the merry month of May’ to accompany the parade.
  3. Teasing the osses
    Ask for a volunteer from each team to challenge and tease the other oss by pulling faces, dancing around, trying to trip them up, spinning them around, etc. Film the children dancing and teasing the osses.
  4. Dramatic events
    Ask the children to think of any dramatic events that could happen during the parade and act them out. Try some of these: the oss could knock over something or someone important; the oss could fall over and not be able to get up, or be injured; a fight may break out between the rival teams; the weather changes for the worse; the two osses meet and perform a special dance.



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