Folk Songs

AmblesideOnline Folk Song Rotation Schedule

AO's Terms:
* Term 1: Sep-Nov
** Term 2: Jan-Mar
*** Term 3: Apr-Jun

We encourage AmblesideOnline members to follow the schedule as a group for Artists, Composers, Plutarch, Shakespeare, Folk Songs, Hymns, and Nature Study. Staying on schedule together for these subjects enriches our studies as we share resources and experiences.

Tips for Using the Folk Songs Rotation:

Click song title for info. Click asterisks for video of song.

You may prefer to use a service that limits YouTube's display to make it more family friendly, such as Quietube, ViewPure, or SafeShareTV -- but those services may be designed for computers rather than devices. We have had reports of ViewPure giving pop-ups that look like viruses, or worse, when used on a phone.

We love these music lessons focused on participation provided by an AO mom with a music teaching background: Children of the Open Air. Included are Solfa lessons for musical literacy and basic singing lessons.

A talented AO mom has been recording folk songs and hymns -- they are beautiful, simple, and joyful. You can view them on her YouTube channel. This dot ∘ in place of an asterisk marks YouTube links to her channel.

2021-2022 School Year

Lyrics and background information on these songs is on the Advisory blog. Wendi's YouTube playlist is here.

September: The Jam on Gerry's Rocks * * * * (Related: film about Woodsmen and River Drivers) ($mp3)
October: The Wellerman * * * * * ($mp3)
November: There is a Time for Us to Wander * * * * mp3
During your Christmas break, try a carol you may be less familiar with:
He Is Born, The Heav'nly Child/Il est ne, le divin enfant and/or O Come, O Come Emmanuel
January Land of the Silver Birch * * * * * * * * ($mp3)
February: Haul on the Bowline * * ($mp3)
March: Revolutionary Tea * * * * ($mp3)
April: Farewell to Nova Scotia * * * ** * * ($mp3)
May: Ballad of New Scotland * * ($mp3)
June: Day-O, The Banana Boat Song * * * * * * * * ($mp3)

Bonus: I Know Moonlight, I Know Starlight * * *

More folk songs will be added to round out the 2022-2023 year. We generally finalize these close to the beginning of the school year.

2022-2023 School Year

September(subj. to change) Waltzing Matilda (Australia's unofficial national anthem) * *
During your Christmas break, try a carol you may be less familiar with:
The Wexford Carol and/or O Holy Night
January (subj. to change) Tall Men Riding: *
April (subj. to change) Botany Bay, version 2 *

2023-2024 School Year

September: Aiken Drum (info) * (Scottish version: * with lyrics and the Aiken Drum folk tale)
October: The Ash Grove * * * image of ash trees
November: The Lion Sleeps Tonight * *
During your Christmas break, try a carol you may be less familiar with:
Sleep, Sleep, Sleep My Little Child and/or O Little Town Of Bethlehem
January: Carrickfergus * ("the water is wide...") ** *
February: Now is the Hour * (In Maori and English)
March: Log Driver's Waltz * *
April: A Man's A Man for A'That (info) * ("Should'a been Scotland's national anthem...") **
May: Simple Gifts (info) * *
June: Click Go the Shears *

2024-2025 School Year

Kathy Livingston's YouTube Playlist
September: Gypsy Rover * *
October: Early One Morning * *
November: I's the B'y *
During your Christmas break, try a carol you may be less familiar with:
Sussex Carol and/or Silent Night
January: Keys to Canterbury * *
February: Mairi's Wedding * * *
March: All Through the Night * * * * * (A Welsh lullaby)
April: Maggie (When You And I Were Young, Maggie) * * *
May: The Wild Colonial Boy * * *
June: Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen * * * *

2025-2026 School Year

(YouTube Playlists: Kathy Livingston; Jeanne Webb)
September: The Three Ravens * * * *
October: On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at - This is a fun Yorkshire song about the dangers of not wearing a hat: "You'll catch your death of cold, we shall have to bury thee, the worms will come and eat thee up, the ducks will come and eat the worms, then we'll eat the ducks, and we'll have eaten thee." - * * * Also: a local all-star version that includes a rap section; one with a Les Mis flair
November: Rose of Tralee * * History of the song here
During your Christmas break, try a carol you may be less familiar with:
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day and/or We Three Kings of Orient Are
January: Battle of Otterburn * * Lyrics History
February: Wade in the Water * * *
March: Down in the Valley * * *
April: Scarborough Fair * * (Simon and Garfunkel's iconic version)
May: The Rising of the Moon * *
June: I'll Tell Me Ma * *

2026-2027 School Year

(YouTube Playlists: Wendi C.; Jeanne Webb; csosborne)
September: The Bold Grenadier *
October: Along the Road to Gundagai * *
November: Home on the Range *
During your Christmas break, try a carol you may be less familiar with:
Angels We Have Heard On High and/or Angels From The Realms Of Glory
January: My Grandfather's Clock *
February: When the Iceworm Nests Again * * OR Young Man from Canada *
March: Down by the Salley Gardens * *
April: I've Been Working On the Railroad *
May: Tom Dooley *
June: Skye Boat Song * *

2027-2028 School Year

(YouTube Playlists: Wendi C. Jeanne Webb)
September: Blow the Man Down * *
October: Loch Lomond * * * *
November: Let Us Sing Together * *
During your Christmas break, try a carol you may be less familiar with:
Ditchling Carol and/or The First Noel
January: The Fish of the Sea (Windy Old Weather) * *
February: There's a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea * *
March: With My Swag All on My Shoulder ** *
April: Rhyme of the Chivalrous Shark * *
May: Greensleeves * * *
June: Will Ye Go Lassie Go ** * *

2028-2029 School Year

(YouTube Playlists: Jeanne Webb; Kathy L.)
September: Barbara Allen * * *
OctoberBilly Boy (American version) (English version) * (Take care when searching for versions of this song on YouTube)
November: Lord Randall * * * (This version shows that Billy Boy and Lord Randall come from the same traditional song.)
During your Christmas break, try a carol you may be less familiar with:
Once in Royal David's City * and/or The Holly and the Ivy * * * (Note: The version of this carol that we are familiar with today was first published by Cecil Sharp. The Holly and the Ivy is thought to have Pagan origins and could therefore date back over 1000 years. It is most unusual for a carol like the Holly and the Ivy to have survived over the years, especially during the strict Protestant period of the 17th century.)
January: I'm Seventeen Come Sunday (Some later versions are bawdier, so screen lyrics.) * * * *
February: The Keeper * * * *
March: Yellow Rose of Texas History * * (Mitch Miller's version uses more modern wording that omits any reference to race. Other renditions may use older lyrics that contain racially tinged language. Please preview.)
April: Cherry Ripe * *
May: Pick a Bale of Cotton * * (Note: It would be good to teach this song in the context of African Slavery, so as not to demean the history of African Americans. Please check that the version of the song you choose does not contain racist language.)
June: Kookaburra * * (Aussie kids sing many parodies of this song. This page has some fun ones, but some are crude. Parents vet first!)

2029-2030 School Year

Wendi's YouTube Playlist of this year's folk songs *
September: The Outlandish Knight *
October: Nice Field of Turnips
November: An Acre of Land; also here. * * *
During your Christmas break, try a carol you may be less familiar with:
In The Bleak Midwinter and/or God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen *
January: Funiculi * * Wikipedia
February: The Riddle Song * * *
March: Camptown Races *
April: Billy Barlow * * *
May English Country Garden *
June Over the Hills and Far Away *

2030-2031 School Year

Wendi's YouTube Playlist

September: Cockles and Mussels/Molly Malone * *
October: Freight Train * *
November: The Green Grass Grew All Around *
During your Christmas break, try a carol you may be less familiar with:
Good Christian Men Rejoice and/or Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
January: Minstrel Boy * * *
February: Walk That Lonesome Valley *
March: Leatherwing Bat *
April: Star of the County Down * *
May: Robin Hood and the Tanner *
June: Come Lads and Lasses *

2031-2032 School Year

Wendi's YouTube Playlist
September: The Happy Wanderer * *
October: Go Get the Ax * *
November: The Foolish Boy (or The Swapping Song) * *
During your Christmas break, try a carol you may be less familiar with:
Lo, How a Rose e'er Blooming and/or It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
January: Tenting Tonight on the Old Campground * *
February: Shake Sugaree * *
March: Health to the Company * *
April: Little Brown Dog (Autumn to May) * *
May: Arkansas Traveler * *
June: How Many Miles to London Town (or How Many Miles to Babylon) [Link] *

2032-2033 School Year

Wendi's YouTube Playlist
September: The Drinking Gourd *
October: The Golden Vanity * *
November: Down by the Bay *
During your Christmas break, try a carol you may be less familiar with:
The Coventry Carol and/or O Come, All Ye Faithful
January: The Cruel War * *
February: The Alberta Homesteader (or Starving to Death on My Government Claim) * *
March: Michael Row the Boat Ashore * * *
April: Brown Girl in the Ring * * *
May: King John and the Abbot of Canterbury * * *
June: The Saucy Sailor * * *

Notes and Resources for Folk Songs

Folksongs Unplugged by Lynn Bruce
Information, including reasons why folk songs are important
Contemplator Tunebook Contemplator Folksongs
8notes Folk Songs from Digital Tradition
The Golden Book of Favorite Songs: A Treasury of the Best Songs of our People, 1915
Music for Little People Catalog (very new age)
Listening Resources (not a comprehensive list):
The Homestead Pickers recorded a 2-CD set of 36 of these songs
American Folk Songs for Children, by Mike and Peggy Seeger (a long time favorite; there are two bloodthirsty ones which we skip). ($amzn) ($mp3)
Wee Sing series
"Give Me Elbow Room," by Bonnie Rideout
Michael Card's "Star Kindlers" album utilizes very old Celtic tunes.
Music lessons focused on participation provided by an AO mom with a music teaching background: Children of the Open Air. Included are Solfa lessons for musical literacy and basic singing lessons.

Ideas for Using Folk Songs

These are suggestions. You may find something that works better for your family. We hope you will want to share your ideas with the list so that we all may benefit as we continue to improve the curriculum.

You can go to the websites listed, gather your family around the computer and have an old-fashioned family sing, 21st century style. This is surprisingly enjoyable.

You can copy the lyrics onto a word processing file and print them out, creating your own family song book. You could put these in peechee folders (cardboard folders with three prongs in the center). This makes the activity more portable. You could have sing alongs in the car, on camping trips, and cuddled up on Mom's bed. Of course, you'd have to first gain some familiarity with the tunes to do this, but folk songs generally have pretty memorable melodies.

You can save the midi files to disk. There are instructions on the Contemplator's website for doing this with some computers. If you have a Mac then you would need to find somebody else to help you, or you may be able to be the helper.

Try to sing the tune for each term at least three times a week. Daily is ideal, but we cannot all be ideal.

The above tunes are chosen as a service to you, our users. They are not meant to be definitive. We chose them as we did so that each family could be on the same page in music, no matter how widespread the ages of the children. In choosing songs, we strove to include folk songs of America, Canada, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Australia, songs that would be of general interest, and tunes that were not too difficult to sing.

This list falls short of a Charlotte Mason Education. Miss Mason used more than one folk song per term. She also coordinated the folk songs with history and geography study. There are many wonderful songs that would enhance our history studies. It would be a shame, for example, to study Bonnie Prince Charlie and his fight for the throne without also learning songs like "Speed Bonnie Boat..."

We encourage those of you who are able to use the websites given above to find folk songs that correspond with your history studies each term. Feel free to share these on the list, so the rest of us may benefit from your research as well. As we understand it, Miss Mason used three folk songs per term, so you could add two more folk songs to the above list each term. You could spend about four weeks on each song if you do this. You could even include folk songs in your exams.=)

In addition to using folk songs in history and geography studies, Miss Mason used them in language studies. While studying French, for example, her students would also learn a traditional folk song of France--in French, not an English translation. is one resource you might use for adding foreign language folk songs to your studies. None of us have had time to give this a comprehensive look, but it does appear useful. We would like to hear of any other resources or materials.

Keep the above websites handy. There are some fascinating songs about various historical battles, and they would so enrich the lessons. There's a very funny one about Lord Peter Parker getting his pants shot off in, iirc, one of the Revolutionary battles. Apparently, this is quite literal, he did. I can just picture hoards of little boys singing this one with glee and wanting to know more about that battle. As we go through each term, we hope that we can all work together to find folk songs that fit with each year's course of study (there are many songs about Robin Hood, for example, that would be fun for those reading Howard Pyle's Robin Hood). We'd like to have around three folk songs per term. These are, of course, optional. It's not our intent to burden homeschooling moms, but to add a little joy and life to their studies. We hope the songs are fun.

What Is The Value Of Folk Songs?

In response to the question, "What is the value of folk songs?" I offer the following ideas (sorry for the delay!)

The easy answer is that AmblesideOnline's foremost goal is to be as representative of Charlotte Mason's ideas, philosophies, and practices as possible. This is what defines us. Note, please, that doesn't mean we've ever thought we arrived, or were somehow superior to everybody else, or were the Charlotte Mason experts. Somebody will always know more than we do, and we hope never to stop learning.=) But that's our goal, to set forth a program that shows what a CM education might actually look like if it were as close as possible to what CM did--not because we idolize her, but because we think that's the fairest test of her methods. Miss Mason used folk songs in her programs, so AmblesideOnline, in an effort to give those methods the fullest and fairest demonstration, has folk songs as well.

But that's not all there is to say about folk songs. There is a wealth of rich material in folk songs. There are songs about historical and mythical characters, there are songs that go with the history we study in school, there are songs that, like the poetry of the day, give the feel and flavor of the time or culture--a very important goal in a CM education. Folk songs do this in a unique and special way.

I've mentioned before that when reading about CM, I find it helpful to take about three steps--the first one is simply to ascertain exactly what CM said or did--just the facts, ma'am, just the facts. Only after I am quite sure I know the bare bones facts, I think about why, the principles involved.

In this case, I think it's helpful to remember that what we call a 'CM' education is really just a 'liberal education' (liberal, meaning generous, wide, extensive, broad, bountiful, rich). It is not educating for utilitarian purposes (utilitarian meaning limited to what we might need to know to perform a job for income). We are educating our children for themselves, for their entire lives, to enrich every area of their lives, to give them broad vistas, to enrich their lives as adults in many areas.

Folk songs are one part of a liberal education. Besides giving us some feel for the time and culture they represent, they are fun to sing. Developed by the people for the people, they are singable, useful for delight and enrichment in the bathtub, in the shower, while rocking a baby to sleep, traveling in a car, washing dishes, cleaning out the car. They are accessible to all of us--no externals necessary (no instruments, no lessons, no accompaniment required). More of us should sing, and if we start this when our children are young, then when they are grown, they will feel comfortable with their own voices.

Which brings me to the next step I find helpful--after figuring out the principle behind the fact, I can think about how I might follow that same principle today. In this case, folk songs are folk songs. I don't think modern children's songs are a substitute, because then we'd miss the historical aspect. However, the folk songs listed in the curriculum are there as a service, not a requirement. Other folk songs may freely be substituted to accomplish the same thing.

I know I could say much more about the fun and joy and lasting personal benefits of singing folk songs, but that's all I have time for this morning. Hope this was helpful,


This is Lorraine's response to the same question, "What is the value of folk songs?"

In a world which is becoming increasingly focused on being entertained, singing folk songs together can help people to realize the richness of simply singing together as a community.

Singing hymns can do this, but it can lead one to think of music as purely spiritual, instead of being an expression of joy and peace and contentment in the heart and soul (or an expression of grief as need be - there is a time and season for both emotional experiences, thus there is a time and season for both types of music, and a gamut of other musical expressions as well).

The historical look into African American folk songs can help people understand the feelings of the African American issues more poignantly than even stories. Music goes deep to the soul.

The historical look into the struggles in old England (or any other country), the joys, the cautions taught via music, the silly tales told for fun and/or to teach the heart or mind . . . these help us to realize how people used to think.

Old war songs teach so much more than any textbook and sometimes can quickly teach ideas which just about can't even be expressed in the great HEO/AO selections.

Considering why the colonies made up their own words to The British Grenadier, and considering why the South made up new words to "Northern" songs also gives one moment to pause and catch a glimpse into hearts.

You might look at this fun song; it can show you one song used as a funny 'lesson' sort of song.

You might check out various folksong books from your library system (if you are blessed as we are) and read through them as a living book.

You might be touched and surprised at what brings tears, teaches more depth to history, makes you laugh out loud, makes you want to sing, and so on.

And better than that, you can share those experiences with your family via the shared, expressive art of singing together.

The need to listen to each other in order to end a song more slowly at the end, or to markedly cut off a given word to make a 'marcato' emphasis, or etc. teaches attention to each other's voices.

Listening to each other can be more of a focus more readily when depth of theology isn't the bigger point . . . at least, from my experience. Not that it isn't valuable to transfer that skill over to worship music.

That's not an exhaustive list of reasons, but perhaps it might be enough to help you take the plunge.

Children's songs do include folk music, but folk music is much more rich than children's music overall.

Okay, here's one last example: If you were to play a simple guitar accompaniment (or a simple accompaniment using some other stringed instrument), you might be struck with a depth of awe at the intense beauty of a simple children's song . . . assuming here, that it is a classic folk song quality song.

If you take away the simplicity of the words, the music says so much more than we realize, and often, we don't give the music credit and respect for its lovely power and beauty, much as we assume a child is not old enough to access rich ideas. So we don't sing a song that we think is too simple in such a way that its richness and depth can touch us to the core.

But if you really slow down and sing together, feeling a song that can be sung loudly and on the march, but then feeling that same song in a quiet way . . . ? Such an experience can teach so much, and hymns can do that sort of thing, but folk songs are typically more accessible for that sort of experience.

Then, taking that same experience, and singing a hymn in various 'moods' and 'timbres' . . . It's utterly shocking.

If one goes through some of the psalms set as poetry (psalter readings), such as those here and listens/sings that text to various hymn settings, one can be yet again astonished at the power that a change in melody can make on the emphasis of heart behind each given singing/setting of the given psalm.

Again, it is experienced easily enough via hymns, but doing so with folk songs has a richness of its own.

(whose 10 yo son was busy singing The British Grenadier to himself this weekend while we were playing Yahtzee in an absent-minded sort of way out on the porch of a cabin set out in the woods . . . - yes, he was thoroughly enjoying the song for himself - and then he was mildly aware that I was listening, and so he was enjoying that I enjoyed his singing - and yet he was enjoying that I didn't sing with him this time, but that I would again another time . . . )

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