A group of primary school children from the east end of Glasgow have become internet sensations after their Gaelic musical version of ‘Going on a Bear Hunt’ went viral on YouTube.
Views of the film, which features youngsters from Caledonia Primary enacting the story in their school grounds in Baillieston, have climbed to nearly 2.2 million.
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The film, made with the help of the Grounds for Learning charity, is just under five minutes long and shows the pupils from P1 and 2 ‘hunting’ for a bear. Dressed in oilskins and wellies, they go splashing through the mud and creeping through concrete tunnels, while they sing the words to Tha Sinn a’ Dol a Shireadh Mathan, a Gaelic version of the kids classic story by Michael Rosen.
The story was shortened slightly and put to the tune of Drunken Sailor by the then depute head of Caledonia Primary, Jackie Mullen. Jackie, who now works with the national Gaelic resource agency Stòrlann as a Gaelic trainer, is also a member of the band Folky MacFolk Face.
The film was made by a media crew working for Grounds for Learning back in 2013, when Jackie was teaching full-time and teaching Gaelic to the pupils at Baillieston.
She had been looking for some stories and songs to bring the lessons to life and chose Tha Sinn a’ Dol a Shireadh Mathan, which had been published by Gaelic educational books organisation Stòrlann.
The film was then shown at the annual Grounds for Learning conference on outdoor learning as an example of how teachers could use their school grounds for lessons.
The charity put it on YouTube but recently it began gathering an amazing number of hits. When it passed a million views in June, Grounds for Learning shared it again on their Facebook page, saying: “We have a hit on our hands! Watch, enjoy and share…”
At that stage, it was getting between 40,000 and 60,000 hits a day.
The comments on YouTube show that people are watching it from far and wide.
One music teacher from Iceland said: “This is absolutely wonderful! I can’t stop smiling (the terrible bear!) and I really look forward to ‘playing’ this book with my Icelandic pre-schoolers… It would be nice to make an Icelandic version of it.”
Another woman said: “Wow, this is so cool. My daughter was randomly watching it and now she knows the whole song and watches it every day. We don’t even live in Scotland, we live in Leicester.”
Jackie said: “Honestly, it’s incredible. I had no idea when I rejigged the script that it would end up this internet phenomenon that it’s been. Over two million is just incredible.
“When we made it we had no idea who would be watching it but somebody is. It’ll be really interesting to find out who all these people are. I’d say it’ll be at three million before we know it which is great for the language because it’s out there, big scale.”
Jackie stressed: “These are not Gaelic Medium Education pupils. They are Gaelic learners in primary one and two. I think that’s really important. it would be so easy to look at them and think that they’re Gaelic Medium.”
Instead, they had been learning a little of it through a programme of classroom resources for Gaelic learners created by Stòrlann, called Go! Gaelic.
Stòrlann chief executive Donald W Morrison said it was “a terrific achievement”, adding: “As I engage with this heartwarming performance, I can only marvel at the power of the word, the wonder of the story, and the excitement of sharing a common experience.
“I am not alone, it seems that over two million others have joined with the children of Caledonia Primary as they swish and swash their way through an intrepid Gaelic quest for this big, elusive, bear.
“Stòrlann is extremely proud to have played its part in the facilitation of this remarkable and epic Gaelic adventure.”
Alison Motion, Grounds for Learning Scotland director, said: “It has dwarfed anything else that we have ever put out. On any media.
“We went looking to see why it had been picked up – and it appears that a children’s programme in the States either made some reference or added it to the ‘you might like to watch this now’ buttons at the side of their website. When something is picked up like that, particularly in different nations, You Tube promotes it and it is more likely to appear on feeds. We did have one very entertaining day watching the view numbers rack up.”
The idea of using the school grounds as the setting had come from the children themselves. It was filmed on a freezing cold day in January and the school janitor had to pour boiling water onto the hard ground to ‘melt’ it so the children would have some mud to splosh around in.
They needed a river, too, and a piece of blue fabric did that job. The best prop has to be the bear, though — the school’s teddy bear mascot, ‘Cal’.
Jackie said: “He was very happy to cooperate and be a scary bear in the concrete tunnel.”
Head teacher Shona Allen said of the film: “We’re really proud of it and we’re so excited when we hear about more views on YouTube.
“It was such a good time for us because Grounds For Learning were using us and Jackie was really promoting Gaelic. It’s a lovely piece of our history; something that’s just had ripple effects.
“I just think it’s brilliant. I’m not surprised (at the number of views) because it was so well done.”
She added: “The children still watch it. Sometimes we put it on in assembly — the P6 and P7 children who were in it still love watching it and they can still recite all of it.”
Grounds For Learning said their closest second to this film, which currently has 2.179 million views, is the ‘Natural playgrounds’ film with around 47,000 views.
Director Alison said: “We’re delighted with the success of the Bear Hunt. It’s great to see our Gaelic resource take off in this way. For us the key part of this is that the kids explored outside while doing the poem.
“Outdoor learning is now part of Learning for Sustainability. Children have an entitlement to be outdoors on a daily basis, in nature. There’s plenty of research to show that being outside enhances your mental health and wellbeing.”