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Monday, December 5, 2016

Music as a Parenting Tool

I'm sharing one of my favorite tools from my parenting toolbox today: music. It seems fitting, as a music teacher, for me to use music all the time as a parent, but to be honest I don't use it as often as I'd like. I have found music to be a great way to teach time management, deal with tantrums and arguments, ease morning wakeups, and spend quality time together as a family, so today I'm sharing how I use music as a parenting tool in all of these areas!

1. Teach time management

One of the biggest causes of stress and arguments in our house is time management. I am that person who shows up early for everything because I hate to be late, but getting 2 preschoolers to get anywhere on time can be a serious challenge! I often end up standing over them, nagging them to hurry up, which doesn't help them AT ALL.

The other time management issue that often comes up for us is ending a fun activity. When we're at the park, or even doing an especially fun activity at home, telling them that they have 2 minutes left and then they need to stop doesn't always help them emotionally prepare for leaving since they still don't have the best concept of time. The worst time for this? Bed time, of course! No matter how many warnings I give them of their approaching bed time, I am so often met with whining, pleading, and bargaining when bed time arrives.

I have found music so effective for these situations! When we're trying to get ready to go somewhere, I turn on an upbeat song and tell them we have until the end of this song to get dressed. Then instead of us getting frustrated, we are all singing and smiling as we hurry to "beat the song"! The same thing works for ending an activity, including ending play time to go to bed. I turn on a familiar song and tell them that we are done at the end of the song. Now we are literally ending on a good note (ba dum ch!) and the kids can anticipate the ending time better because they know how the song goes and when the end of the song is approaching!

2. Deal with tantrums/ arguments

I think this technique is probably most effective for toddlers, preschoolers, and maybe lower elementary age kids, but could be used with older kids as well depending on their personality. I find music a very effective tool to use when my kids are stuck in a bad mood or have painted themselves into a metaphorical corner with an argument and are feeling trapped. You know, those times when you know the only reason they're saying whatever ridiculous thing they're saying because they are cranky and/or don't want to admit they're wrong, but telling them that just makes it worse? I've heard before about using distraction in these situations, which works with really young toddlers, but the older they get the less likely they are to be happy about me pulling out a favorite toy or talking about an upcoming holiday, and the more likely they are to just dig in their heels even harder!

With my daughters at least, music seems to be a good way to break the mood and give us all a chance to reset. I stop and tell them I am turning on a song. In this case, I usually turn on something calm but positive. Then we just sit and listen to the music. It gives us all a chance to have some space without sending anyone to time out. By the end of the song, usually everyone has had a chance to gather their thoughts so that we can have a more rational conversation about what happened.

3. Ease morning wakeups

I have one daughter who wakes up easily, and one who does not. As a morning person myself, I've had to learn that when I'm waking said daughter up for school in the morning, I can't just expect her to jump out of bed and be immediately chipper. No matter how gently I try to wake her up, it's hard to avoid making her angry for having woken her up!While I still sometimes get an evil glare or two, music has definitely helped with waking her up more smoothly. After nudging her a little bit, I turn on some quiet music and just sit back and wait. I find this is a much more peaceful way to help her gradually wake up, and it puts the blame for waking her up on the music instead of me ;)

4. Spend quality time together

Of course, music is also just a great way to have fun together! It's easy to get caught up in the business of life and realize that we're all just running around completing tasks instead of enjoying each other's company. We sing songs together in the car, play instruments together at home, or have our own dance parties in our living room. Besides just being a good way to have fun in general, making and enjoying music together helps us build up a list of songs that we all know well, which I can then in turn use for other parenting situations I already mentioned!

If you are curious to see which songs I use, especially for upbeat music, here's my kid-friendly dance party playlist ;)

Do you use music as a parenting tool? I know I need to remember to use it more often at home- so often I look back and realize I could have handled a situation so much better if I had just turned on a song! I'd love to hear your ideas for using music as a parent- leave your thoughts in the comments.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

My Favorite Nutcracker Music Lesson Ideas

For many music teachers, December in the music room means The Nutcracker! Today I want to share some of my favorite lesson ideas using The Nutcracker that I love doing with my elementary students, and I'm also including a link-up at the end of the post for other bloggers to share their favorite Nutcracker lessons, so be sure to check those out as well!

1. Movement

I've shared this before but it is still my favorite Nutcracker lesson. I created these movements to go with the March, Trepak (Russian), and Sugar Plum Fairy music a few years ago. Not only are they great because they are active, but they are a great way to reinforce the form in each movement as well as other musical elements like articulation.

2. Play-along

This one is great for reinforcing form as well, but it's also the perfect way to practice steady beat and rhythm and break out those instruments! This play-along video by Denise Gagne shows rhythms and steady beat sections for students to play on instruments to go with the Nutcracker Overture.

3. Arrangements

For upper elementary students, I like to introduce the concept of arranging with these examples of totally different versions of the Sugar Plum Fairy. First we watch each of the videos, and discuss what elements were the same and which were different (what things can you change without changing the song itself?). Afterwards, I have students create an arrangement of a simple song (like Jingle Bells) in small groups to perform for the class. Besides introducing students to the concept of arranging, it's also a great way to review music vocabulary through the discussion of musical elements.

"original" with traditional ballet dancer:

On wine glasses:

Electrohouse/ Dubstep:

a capella:

What are some of your favorite lessons using The Nutcracker? If you're a blogger, please link up your (non-product heavy) posts below, and I'd love to hear everyone's favorite ideas in the comments! 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Leftovers with an Asian Twist

Today I'm sharing some of my favorite ways to give leftovers new life, all in Asian-style food (yes, I know that is a broad category... it's intentionally vague because none of this is exactly "authentic"). If you're looking for some different ways to use up the food in your fridge, you might want to give some of these ideas a try- I always love the results! 

There are two kinds of leftovers that I always end up with in my house: left over prepared meals, and extra meat and produce that I didn't use in my meals. Because it's just me and two preschoolers, it's not uncommon for me to end up with half a bell pepper, half a can of corn, or one extra chicken thigh that we didn't use. and with the unpredictable eating patterns of 4-year-old's, I can often end up with way more left over food than I want to eat in my packed lunches. To avoid wasting all of that food, I often throw everything into one of these recipes for a quick meal that makes the food taste completely different!

1. Instant ramen

I know what you're thinking....... instant ramen?!? Yep. I certainly don't recommend doing this all the time, but for a quick (and cheap) meal it's hard to beat! I get these packages of spicy ramen at my grocery store to keep in my pantry- the red chili flavor is not overwhelmingly spicy but it is enough to give it a little kick. I throw left over (cooked) meat and produce in it and end up with a not-too-unhealthy meal that is really comforting on a cold day- my favorite combination is slaw mix, bell peppers, one scrambled egg, and chicken with a slice of cheese melted on top (I got that from my time in Seoul), but you can honestly put in almost anything. Chop any meat or produce up into small, bite-size pieces and throw it in the pot once the noodles are cooked. 

2. Yakisoba

OK, this one is pretty similar to the first idea but it's worth mentioning. If you've never had it before, yakisoba is basically a Japanese pan-fried noodle dish, and it's another one that you can throw almost anything in. I have found imitation yakisoba at the grocery store, but the best flavor (in my opinion) is this brand from Japan, which I've always been able to find at Asian markets. The cooking directions are the same- throw in any cooked meat and produce you want after the noodles are cooked- the only difference is that the yakisoba won't have any broth (and the seasoning will be different). 

3. Fried rice

Whenever I make rice for dinner, I often make an extra cup of rice to save for fried rice. Fried rice with fresh rice is just.... not the same. This is my favorite way to use up extra meat that is still uncooked, because to make the rice you cook the meat and produce first, but it's also my favorite way to use leftover fish. Cook any meat, then stir fry the vegetables in. Put the leftover rice in with some seasoning- I'm personally fond of this Japanese kind (surprise) but really any kind will do- and cook until well-combined. The last step is to make a hole in the middle of the pan by pushing the rice to the edges of the pan and scramble an egg or two in the middle, then mix it all back together. 

4. Stir fry

Nothing fancy about this idea- just stir fry any combination of meat and/or vegetables together! The key is the sauce. For Japanese flavor, I like this teriyaki sauce, and for spicy / Thai flavor, this red chili garlic sauce is my new favorite (be warned: this stuff is not bland)!

I hope this gives you some new ideas for using up the leftover food in your fridge! How many of these have you tried, and what are your favorite ways to use leftovers?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

November Favorites

The turkey has been eaten, Christmas lights are going up around the neighborhood.... November must be ending! I'm back to chat about some of the things I enjoyed this month, but this month's "favorites" post is special- there's a giveaway involved (and not a lot of time to enter)! Be sure to read to the end for your chance to win some fun stuff, and don't miss one other special announcement...

First let's talk about "a few of my favorite things"!

1. New Christmas planner supplies

I found some super cute Christmas sticky notes and washi tape on sale a couple of weeks ago and was so excited! I can't wait to use them next month (sorry I didn't get a picture of the washi tape- I'll share on Instagram soon!):

2. My 5th and 6th grade chorus

Is it weird to say one of the ensembles I conduct is a "favorite"? I teach 2 choral groups: a 3rd/4th grade chorus and a 5th/6th grade chorus. This year my 5th and 6th grade chorus has been blowing my mind every week and I just can't stand it. I literally thank them at the end of every rehearsal. They're singing in 3-part harmony at one point and I could just cry. I can't wait for the concert in a few weeks (seriously)! I always enjoy my chorus groups but for some reason I have just been amazed with what this group has done this year.

3. Ramen

Yes, ramen. Yes, the "instant" kind. I found these packages of spicy ramen at my grocery store recently and it has been my go-to meal when I'm sick and tired (which has been basically this whole month). Don't judge me- remember I've spent most of my life in East Asia. It's comfort food! If you want to see how I fancy up my ramen, be sure to read my post tomorrow..... :)

4. Blog posts

I found some awesome music education blog posts this month! If you aren't already, follow my page on Facebook. I share my favorite blog posts every Friday. Click on the pictures below to see each post- they really are worth the read!


Taking Care of Your Voice: Elementary Music Edition, Vocal health tips for the music teacher

And now for the giveaway!!!

I'm giving away some of my favorite Christmas sticky notes from Target, some red and green pens, and a $10 TPT gift card! Why the gift card? Because TeachersPayTeachers is having a site-wide sale Monday, November 28th, and Tuesday, November 29th! Everything in my store will be 28% off with the code CYBER2016 !!

This will be a quick giveaway so that the winner can use their gift card in the sale ;) The giveaway will close at midnight EST, Monday the 28th, and I will email the gift card code to the winner on Tuesday morning bright and early. There are a few ways to enter- the more times you enter, the better your chances will be! If you are subscribed to my newsletter, be sure to use your secret code that I sent just for you for an extra entry (and if you're not, make sure you subscribe at the bottom of this post so you don't miss any more goodness)!

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

#WhyITeachMusic : Stories to Motivate and Inspire

Last week I shared the things that motivate and inspire me to teach music and invited you to share your #whyiteachmusic stories as well. I absolutely loved reading the responses! I hope you will take the time to read the other blog posts (linked at the bottom of this post), and the comments, sometime this week. It has been the perfect way to get ready for Thanksgiving here in the US.

I've got the giveaway winners to announce at the end of this post, but first I want to share some of my favorite comments shared by all of YOU about why we do what we do:

"Music has been one of the most constant things in my life. When nothing else was going right, music is what I always turned too. Although I never in a million years thought I would teach elementary music, seeing those cute little kids get excited when the instruments are in the front of the room or when I start playing their favorite Christmas songs on the piano keeps me going, despite a very rough and overwhelming schedule." 

"The excitement in their faces when they discover that ANYONE can make music. The relationships that build in the music classroom among peers and teacher-student. When students get to the point when they realize and understand that the music classroom is a safe place for expression, imagination, and creativity" 

"I was motivated to teach music many years ago by a fabulous teacher! She was patient and passionate about music and continues to share that love with so many in her church and community. As a music teacher (this is my second time being the elementary music teacher in my district), I love hearing my students say, "can we do that again?" (I'm not sure, but do you think algebra and chemistry teachers hear that often?--sorry if I offended any of my high school teacher friends...)"

There were so many more wonderful posts- I could go on an on for days- but thank you everyone for sharing your words of inspiration. I am walking around with a bit of a "glow" from reading them all!

On to the winners...

The winner of my Concert and Performance Planner is Michaela Gibbons! Check your email for a message from me :)

 There were seven other winners too! If you see your name below, check your email (the one you used to enter) for a message about your prize!
O for Tuna Orff: Christy Gibson 
Music with Mrs. Tanenblatt: Dan Leopold 
Floating Down the River: Jenny Trites
Sing to Kids: Becca Fiscus
Sing Play Creatively: Brooke Chamberlain 
Music Teaching and Parenting: Blanca InezSuzanne Fleischmann Bishop
Sally's Sea of Songs: Erin Scharman Middelhoven

I hope you have found some fresh energy to keep you motivated this week and through the busy holiday season. I'm so grateful to have this community of music educators to support each other!

Monday, November 21, 2016

24 Christmas Activities for Preschoolers

A few years ago I made an advent calendar (see my post on how I made in here) with an activity for my daughters and I to do together each day leading up to Christmas. It has been a great way to cross off everything on our holiday bucket list, be intentional about spending time together as a family, and get all of those little tasks (like decorating, shopping, and cooking) done without them feeling too much like chores. Every year I change my list based on whatever stage the girls are in developmentally, so this year (now that the girls are almost 5) the list has changed again. Today I wanted to share my list with you, and hopefully give you some ideas of low-key, fun things you can do with your young children to enjoy the season together!

First, here's my list (in no particular order):

1. Put up the Christmas tree
2. Put out the nativity scenes
3. Put up (and decorate) the felt Christmas tree
4. Put up Christmas lights around the house and on the tree
5. Hang ornaments on the Christmas tree
6. Make a wreath to hang on the front door
7. Bake Christmas (sugar) cookies
8. Make a gingerbread house
9. Hang the stockings
10. Make Christmas cards
11. Deliver Christmas cards (in the mail and in person)
12. Shop for presents
13. Wrap presents
14. Take family pictures
15. Call family and friends to wish them a Merry Christmas
16. Make paper snowflakes and hang them up around the house
17. Color/decorate a paper gingerbread man
18. Go see Santa
19. Sing as many Christmas carols in a row as we can
20. Watch a Christmas movie in our pajamas
21. Read Christmas books (including one new one)
22. Eat candy canes
23. Drink hot chocolate with all the fixings
24. Drive through the local light display to see the Christmas lights

Here's my list from last year, and the one from 2 years ago, if you're interested!

The supplies I'm gathering now so I don't have to scramble in the middle of December:
1. wrapping paper (and ribbon/tape/gift tags) - I get ours at the Dollar Tree every year
2. sugar cookie ingredients (here's a good recipe)
3. gingerbread house kit (I got this one last year and will again)
4. a new Christmas book (I'm getting this one this year)
5. candy canes
6. hot chocolate ingredients (here's my favorite crockpot recipe)

If you're interested, here are some things I'll be bringing out again that I've bought in past years:
1. Books: This is the Stable (my all-time favorite), The Night Before Christmas (classic)
2. Felt Christmas tree (I got something like this at Target a few years ago)

What are some of your favorite Christmas activities to share with your family? I absolutely love this time of year and would love to hear what you all are doing!

Thursday, November 17, 2016


Today's post is a special one. All week long music education bloggers are sharing their stories of #whyiteachmusic to help us all remember, in the midst of what for many of us is a very stressful time, why we do what we do. I hope you enjoy reading my post, and that you'll help to spread some inspiration, encouragement, and positivity by sharing your own thoughts. There's even a giveaway full of items to help lighten your load and bring a smile to your face (so stick around to the end of the post)!

When things get tough, it's easy to start wondering why we work so hard to (seemingly) accomplish so little. Colleagues and administrators question the importance of music as a subject or doubt your validity as a "real" teacher, students blow off your class or treat you with disrespect, or you find out that you're supposed to have your kindergarteners ready to perform a concert in two weeks, but they'll be taking a standardized test during the next two music classes (by the way, you're in charge of proctoring the exam so the homeroom teachers can have their planning time)... So let's stop for a minute a breath- let me tell you how I got started as a music teacher.

I've said a few times on this blog that I am a teacher first and musician second, and that's true. When I was in high school, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I didn't settle on music until my senior year. That doesn't mean I didn't always know I would keep music in my life. I moved around a lot as a child. When I was in 3rd grade, my family moved (back) to Japan and threw me into the local public school. All I knew how to say was my name and birth date. Long story short, music quickly became my favorite class in those first few months while I struggled to (re-)learn the language. I could communicate, I could participate- I felt I was a member of that classroom community when we made music together. I've never been much of a performer- I cried after pretty much every recital, even in college- but I knew teaching music was my passion when I had my first experience teaching a group of kindergarteners as part of my practicum hours. Seeing their faces as they sang, listened to music, and danced, even those students who didn't speak much English or were timid when I walked in, I was hooked.

Remembering the difference my class can make in kids' lives is what keeps me going. I believe strongly in the power of music class to bring all students together into community with each other. I've seen it happen over and over again: students who feel like they're different or weird, who don't speak English, who are too shy to talk at school, who struggle in every other subject area, come into music class and find their place. Do my students always behave like little angels and leave my class smiling every time? Absolutely not. But just when I start thinking I must be the worst teacher in the world, nobody appreciates the work I do, and my students have all decided they hate music, something happens to remind me that what I do is life-changing for so many students.

A few practical things that keep me going too: getting enough sleep, creating a long-range plan ahead of time to make lesson planning easier, staying hydrated, enjoying music outside of school (listening to the radio in the car, playing at my church etc), and sitting down to eat lunch and talk with colleagues. I don't think I fully appreciated the importance of sleep and hydration until I had newborn twins and found out what it's like when you are severely lacking in both. I used to eat lunch in my classroom most of the time while I rushed around checking emails and setting up for my next class, but I've found that taking a few minutes to have an adult conversation and actually eat my food makes a huge difference in my stamina! You can read more about how I do my long-range planning in this blog post (I believe so strongly in the benefits of doing this!), and I think enjoying music outside of school helps me remember the joy of music, and what I hope my students will learn from me!

Music class made a huge difference in my life. It has the power to make students of all walks of life feel safe and included, and gives students with no other voice a chance to express themselves. I'm teaming up with some other music education bloggers to spread the love this week, and I'd love for you to join in! I know many of you are stressed right now for a lot of reasons, so we want to encourage music teachers to remember why we do what we do. To sweeten the pot, we're hosting a giveaway too, full of goodies that will make your life easier or bring a smile to your face.

You can enter the giveaway (and help spread the love) two ways: commenting on our blog posts (links in the giveaway below) all week- there will be one or two of us posting each day- and sharing your own inspiration on social media with the hashtag #whyiteachmusic. Don't forget to include a link to this blog post so others can enter the giveaway too! You can share every day until Monday 11/21 and earn more entries (and spread more positivity)!

Each of us is giving away something different, so there will be plenty of winners! My prize is a copy of my concert and performance planner (if you win and you already own it, you can choose something else of similar value from my store). Having these organizers has made concert season so much less stressful for me, and I hope it makes these next few months a little bit easier for you as well! Click on the picture below if you want to see what it is.

Other prizes include a recorder book, a book full of North American hand clapping songs, a music journal, vocal exploration microphones, and so much more!

Good luck! I can't wait to read your own stories of why YOU teach music- thanks for helping us encourage each other as music teachers this week! Find links to the other blogs sharing their #whyiteachmusic below as they are published (you'll also find links listed in the giveaway entries):

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O for Tuna Orff
Music with Mrs. Tanenblatt
Floating Down the River
Sing to Kids
Sing Play Creatively
Music Teaching and Parenting
Sally's Sea of Songs