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Monday, September 26, 2016

Easy, Healthy, Kid-Friendly Lunchbox Meal Ideas

Now that school is in full swing, I thought this would be a good time to share a few of the lunches I have been packing for my preschool-age daughters over the past few weeks. Anyone who has experience packing lunches for young children knows that it can be really hard sometimes to come up with good lunch ideas, so hopefully you will find some inspiration to make your life a little easier, and your lunchboxes a little healthier and more exciting!

In my daughters' school, I have several guidelines to keep in mind when I'm packing lunches:
1. No nuts
2. No pretzels, popcorn, or candy
3. Hot dogs and grapes must be cut length-wise
4. Nothing that needs to be heated up for more than a minute or so

In addition to the school's guidelines, I am trying to pack lunches that:
1. Are filling
2. Contain lots of fruits and veggies plus some protein, since most of their snacks at school are crackers and other carbs/grains
3. Are enticing enough for the girls to actually eat (which, in my case, means they need to be colorful, and non-repetitive)
4. Can be prepared/packed quickly

I know most parents in the United States are working with similar guidelines, and it can be tricky to come up with new ideas for lunches (because we all know how young children feel about eating the same lunch that they just had, like, last week!). Here are some of the lunches I've been packing so far (please excuse the poor lighting- I pack the lunches in the wee hours of the morning when it's still dark outside!);

Amongst all of them, though, my favorite trick is the "rainbow lunch":

This is not the only menu with which you can do the rainbow colors, obviously. I usually don't plan these things out in advance to be rainbow, but occasionally when I start pulling things out for lunch I realize that I have all of the colors and a rainbow lunch is born ;)

Of course one of the factors that makes packing these types of lunches easier is the lunchbox itself. You really need lots of different compartments or containers for young kids' lunches- we all know how atrocious it is for most kids if different foods touch each other (gasp!). I use these lunchboxes, which I love, but you could use any bento-style lunchbox, or even different tupperware containers or baggies, and get the same effect.

The other thing that makes it easier for me to pack the lunches is my menu board. I put together a list of foods that I can easily pack and separated them up into categories. Each week when I make my grocery shopping list, I check off a few items from each category to add to my list, avoiding the things I bought the week before. You can download a free copy of my menu board (in 2 different designs) to print for yourself here.

I actually took all of these lunchbox photos straight from my Instagram account. If you want to get more lunch inspiration, head over there to follow me! I've been posting my lunchbox creations once or twice a week (along with plenty of other photos from random snippets of my life).

What are your favorite simple and healthy lunchbox meals? Share your ideas below so we can all get some fresh inspiration!
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Friday, September 23, 2016

September favorites!

Time for another monthly favorites post! This month has flown by for sure, and I have had plenty of moments of feeling completely overwhelmed, but it has been good to start settling back into the groove of things.

My first favorite of the month is the new sticker books that came out recently at Michaels:

I can't even, you guys. They came out with new books for fall, Thanksgiving, Halloween, winter, and Christmas. Several of them are reboots of my favorites from last year, but there were a bunch of new ones as well- the picture above is of what I got after MUCH restraint. If you want to see how I'm already using them in my planner, head on over to my Instagram account. If you're interested in seeing more planner stuff (and lots of other random-ness), then be sure to follow! I post most of my planner spreads over there.

My next favorite this month is my new monthly lesson planning routine. Many of you know that I started sending out an overview of the skills and concepts I am covering in each K-6 grade for the upcoming month as a freebie in my monthly newsletter this year (click here if you want to sign up). I've been mapping my yearly plans for each grade for years (read more about that process here), but I've never really typed anything up formally in advance in a way that is understandable to others before. Besides the newsletter overview, I've also been typing up more detailed plans for all of the lesson activities I'll be doing, with accompanying visuals, worksheets, and resources, in my store as well.

I know I sound like a commercial right now but what I'm trying to say is this process of typing everything up and creating all of the visuals and printables in advance has been amazing for my teaching! My weekly lesson planning is a breeze now, because everything I need is organized in one place. I'm so glad I've started doing this, and I am happy to have this resource that I can continue to add to and modify each year as well. I highly recommend blocking out some time each month to do this- it's a lot of work but it pays off in the day-to-day big time! Check out my curriculum bundle here to see how I've been putting everything together:

Another favorite: my TOMS! I know I'm a little late to the party but I got my first pair last spring when they came out with the rainbow glittery music ones. They are seriously my perfect shoe in every way imaginable. So when they had a big sale recently I got myself another (more grown-up looking) pair, and they are my go-to shoes for teaching and pretty much everything else! They are so comfy and I love the fun patterns :)

Time for some of my favorite music education blog posts! There were a lot of great ones this month! Check out the posts by clicking on the pictures below:

I hope you all have had a wonderful September and are looking forward to a wonderful October! It's fall y'all! :) What things have you been enjoying this past month? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below :)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Elementary Music Center Activities

I started incorporating centers into my elementary general music classes about 3 years ago and have loved using them. My favorite way to use them is as an incentive for classes to earn for their behavior- you can read more about how I use centers to give students something to look forward to, while also continuing their learning and incorporating a broad range of learning styles and interests, in this post. Today I wanted to share some of my favorite center activities to hopefully give you some fresh ideas to incorporate into your own classroom!

1. iPad apps

Of course the iPad is always a fun and easy way to incorporate skill practice and composition in a way that students enjoy. My favorites include Rhythm Cat, Music Tutor, Monster Chorus, and The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. You can read more about tons of different awesome iPad apps for elementary music on the website Midnight Music.

2. Music books

I keep a small milk crate full of reading material related to music. It includes everything from a music encyclopedia to Music Express magazines and storybooks related to music. This center is a favorite of my quieter students, but everyone seems to enjoy the change of pace! I keep some pillows nearby for students to use while they read as well, and it creates a nice, cozy space for students to relax.

3. Boomwhacker mystery songs

This one is simple: I give the students a melody to play with color-coded notes and they practice playing it together on the boomwhackers. There are a few different ways I give them the music depending on their age. For the youngest ones I just use circles or dashes with the matching colors. I have made my own with colored markers and have also used these from the Elementary Music Methods blog (I just have them look at it on the computer or project it on the screen for them). For older students I print out a song that is notated in standard notation and color the noteheads with markers. I've also used pre-made ones online on the computer for this.

4. Kaboom sticks

I use this game for rhythms, note names, and music vocabulary, and the kids LOVE it. Basically they draw a stick, answer the question, and if they get it right they keep the stick. You can read more about this game in my blog post here (which also has some other fun letter name center ideas).

5. Card and board games

There are so many options here, and they are all fantastic fun for students! I've made my own cards for matching games (like find the staff note that matches the letter, or the picture that matches the instrument name), and found tons of great card and board game printables on TeachersPayTeachers as well. I'm also working on a few new centers using regular board games that I am modifying for music, like Twister and Jenga. You can read more about how to use traditional board games as music games in my blog post on things to make for the music room.

6. Seasonal rapping rhythms

The basic idea here is to have students use manipulatives, like little erasers or foam cutouts, to create rhythm patterns. Find a collection of items that fit a particular season or holiday that have different numbers of syllables in their names (like the hearts and cupcakes in the picture above). Students line them up in whatever order they choose, then "rap" the words by saying each name on a steady beat. You can also have students then clap the rhythms of the names instead of saying them out loud! Read more about using manipulatives for composition (and where to find them) in this blog post.

7. Dancing

This one is simple- put on a playlist of fun songs and give students the space to dance! Click on the picture above to see some of my favorite dance songs that are school-appropriate but not boring :)

8. Draw with music symbols

I have found this to be a great one for students to be able to practice writing music notation. I wrote out several different music symbols, including different clefs, articulation and dynamic symbols, and music notes, on different cards, then I give the students a blank sheet of paper. They are allowed to copy any of the music symbols on their paper to create their own picture. Many of them make a face (by using the fermata symbol for the eyes and a crescendo for the nose, etc), or just doodle different symbols randomly on the page, but they all really enjoy this activity!

There are, of course, many other center ideas that I like but these are some of my favorites. I hope you found some new ideas in this list! What are some of your favorite center activities? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below (and I'm sure other readers would benefit from your ideas too)! You can find more ideas for centers to practice rhythms here, and centers to practice note letter names here. Stay tuned for more new center ideas too- I'm working on some new ones that I'm excited to share once we've had a chance to test them out!

Thinking about using centers in your music classes for the first time? You might want to check out my post on organizing the logistics of centers for more ideas on how to manage the process and set things up to make things as smooth as possible for you and your students. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Preparing for the Winter Holidays

OK, I know some of you are going to hate me, but today I'm talking about getting organized for the holiday season. Yes, it is September. Yes, I also cringe when I go to the stores and see Halloween and Christmas stuff already out. But friends, we all know the holiday season gets crazy FAST. By getting some of that initial prep work out of the way early, we'll all save ourselves some headaches later. Trust me!

Here are some of the things I like to work on early to start preparing for the holiday season:

1. Draw names for Secret Santa gift exchanges

The adults in my family switched over to "secret santa"-style gift exchanging a few years ago and I've grown to love it. None of us is, you know, very wealthy, so being able to pool our resources into getting one nice gift has been nice. The challenge has always been that we live far apart, so it was hard to draw names to figure out who was assigned to who. Also, someone would draw their own name, and people wanted to have someone other than their spouse, so we would end up drawing 5 times and pretty much knowing who had who by the time we were done.

Last year I found this website and it made the whole process so much easier for us (I swear I have no affiliation with this company nor am I being compensated for mentioning them- I know I sound a bit like a commercial right now): My family just drew names this past week and I was reminded again of how awesome it was. You can tell it who each person should not draw, ask your assigned person questions anonymously, add wishlists, and anything else you could think of that you wish a digital name drawing program could do.

2. Set up my holiday calendar

As a music teacher, mom, friend, and church musician I get a lot of last-minute invitations to parties and requests to provide music for events as the holiday season gets closer, and I find I am too stressed / busy to figure out what I can and cannot realistically do. So usually I end up saying no to almost everything, to be honest. I try to go through now and map out all of the concerts, travel dates, family gatherings, and other major events in my calendar now so that when other parties and small events come up, I can more easily look and see if I am actually available or not. If you need a calendar, I have a free one you can download here so you can print off just the months you need.

3. Start making gift idea lists

I mean gift ideas for myself and for people I am buying for! Honestly I tend to have a much easier time coming up with gift ideas for other people than I do for myself. By starting these lists now, I can add things to them when I come across something or think of a great gift idea, and I can wait and watch for sales so I get the best deal on them as well. This is especially helpful for filling my girls' stockings- I try to pick up a few random items here and there (stickers, little dollar toys, fun socks etc) so that I don't have to go scrambling around right before Christmas. I use the gift planning pages from my holiday planner for this and it has been so helpful!

4. Select all of my holiday concert repertoire

This one obviously only applies to the music teachers here, but it is a huge part of my holiday prep. I always make sure I have all of my programs and concert repertoire selected by the end of September so that I have time to work out the logistics, rehearse my groups, and have everything prepared without having to rush right before the performances! With so many different programs happening around the same time it is impossible for me to keep track of everything otherwise. I use the rehearsal notes and concert planning pages from this performance planner set for this and boy, does it make my life easier!

5. Make my holiday bucket list / advent calendar

Each year I make a list of small but fun holiday-related things for my daughters and I to do each day of December leading up to Christmas. In the past I've waited until November to do this and I found I was a little overwhelmed, so this year I'm getting started with my list now! You can find my list for 2-3 year olds here, and my list for 3-4 year olds here. Trust me, I keep my list SUPER simple so there's little work for me, but it is a lot of fun! If you're curious about the DIY advent calendar I use to hold the list of activities for each day, you can read about that in my blog post here.

OK, I think that about covers it! I know some people want to savor the end of summer and beginning of fall as long as possible and would hate to think about the winter holidays at this time of year- that's fine! Whenever you are ready to start preparing for the holidays, I hope you find this list helpful as you start to get organized.

What are your favorite tips for preparing for the holidays? Which things do you try to get done first to get ready? Leave a comment! :)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

My Favorite Steady Beat and Rhythm Lesson Activity

Today I am introducing you to one of my most dearly beloved lesson activities for practicing steady beat, differentiating between beat and rhythm, discovering new rhythms, and practicing rhythms. I use it with every grade K-6, all year long- in fact I used it in 13 different lessons last week (yes, I did count). This is the perfect activity to incorporate into your lessons at the beginning of the year in particular, as you review rhythmic and other concepts from previous years and work on introducing new, basic concepts as well.

I give you: The Beat Walk.

Now, if this is something you already do in your classes, you may think this is one of those "duh" ideas. For a long time I did as well- I honestly can't even tell you where the idea came from- it's just something I do. But I have come to realize that this is not something that all music teachers have embedded into their DNA, so for those of you who haven't heard of this, you MUST try it!

The basic idea is simple. Any time students are learning a song for the purpose of experiencing a rhythmic element or concept, have them go through the following steps:

1. Sing the song while walking around the room on the steady beat (my rules: walking feet only, no touching any person or thing).

2. Stand in place (wherever they were when they finished walking) and sing while clapping the rhythm ("with the words"). If there are notes that last 2 beats or more, have them pretend they have bubblegum on their hands and stretch out the bubblegum over the length of the note.

3. Sing the song while walking around the room on the steady beat and clapping with the rhythm (start walking first, then on your cue, add in the singing/clapping).

4. Walk around the room on the steady beat while clapping the rhythm.

Once you have done this a few times, you won't even have to give many directions- it will just become a part of the routine that they go through these steps when they learn a new song.

The benefits of this simple activity are quite profound. Obviously for kinesthetic learners (which, honestly, who isn't at least partly a kinesthetic learner in elementary school?) it is probably the most effective way for students to experience rhythm. Moving with the steady beat ensures that students are maintaining the pulse as they perform the rhythms. And using their feet for the beat and their hands for the rhythm every time really helps students distinguish between the two concepts in my experience (I'm sure you all agree that we have a huge vocabulary problem in this area these days, with people talking about "awesome beats" and "sampling beats" when they are referring to rhythm patterns). 

When students are learning new rhythms for the first time, it makes it much easier for them to understand it conceptually when they experience it kinesthetically before they see or name it. And it is much easier for them to remember how many beats (or fraction of a beat) a note occupies when they can remember how many steps they took for that note (or how many times they clapped within one step). I find students, when I am reviewing rhythms and ask them how many beats are in a dotted half note, often start lightly tapping their feet on the beat and clapping the rhythm to remember what it "felt" like!

The "bubblegum note" trick is my favorite. Students think it is hilarious to imagine gum stuck to their hands, especially when we all make a grossed out face while doing it! And they instantly understand the length of the longer notes. 

Want more lesson ideas? After getting many requests to make my concept sequencing and lesson plans available, I've finally put together two ways to share those with you! Sign up for my free monthly newsletter here to get an overview of the skills and concepts I'll be covering for each grade K-6 for the upcoming month. Or, if you want detailed descriptions of all of the main lesson activities I'll be using, PLUS the accompanying resources you need to teach them, you can get all of it in this bundle (I have also made each grade and each month available separately- links in the bundle's description):

Do you have a favorite lesson activity for introducing new rhythms? Leave a comment!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Monthly Tasks: a sanity-saving routine

One of my first answers to the question, "How do you do it all?" is ROUTINES. I find it so much easier to get things done when it is incorporated into my routine. So today I wanted to share my monthly routines- things that I do at the end of each month to prepare for the upcoming month- that help keep things running smoothly.

Because my daughters go to visit their dad every other weekend, I usually try to set aside some time on the last weekend I have alone before the end of the month to go through these tasks. It really helps me feel more confident and organized approaching each month to go through this routine!

1. Pay the bills

Towards the end of each month, I go through my list of bills- the ones that aren't already set up for automatic payment- and pay them. Right now the HOA fees for my condo and my daughters' preschool tuition both require a physical check (all of my other bills are automatically paid online) so I take care of those at the same time at the end of each month. Combining tasks that need to be done around the same time helps me remember to do them- since the two tasks are linked in my mind, I only have to remember to do one combined task instead of two separate ones! I also make sure there are no unpaid medical expenses etc that I need to pay at the end of each month.

2. Balance the checkbook

OK so I don't actually balance an actual checkbook (which my parents still do by hand- if you're able to keep up with that, more power to you- I know some people have done it for years and they have spotted mistakes that their bank made that way). But I do go through and write out my monthly expenses and income for certain categories that I need to track: I keep track of monthly expenses and income for my online business, make sure I've written down anything I have purchased for my classroom, and write down all the educational and medical expenses I paid for my daughters to send to their dad (he is responsible for reimbursing a portion of those each month). I track all of it in my planner each month and it really helps when tax season comes around!

3. Merge all of the calendars

Although I always go through and write down major events from my personal calendar, family events, work calendar, and my daughters' school calendar in my planner, things always change and new things come up. Each month I sit down and make sure I have everything written down on my monthly calendar in my planner. This really helps me make sure we haven't accidentally double-booked or forgotten something. Often in the shuffling around of schedules I forget that I had scheduled a doctor's appointment, or that there was an extra staff meeting. Putting it all together in one place helps me get a good picture of the month and anticipate any scheduling conflicts so I can take care of them.

After I've had a chance to wrap my head around everything myself, I also sit down with my daughters and we make our family calendar (read more about that in this post) for the upcoming month. Since I've already had a chance to go through everything, I can talk to the girls about the things that will affect their lives to put on the family calendar for them (this is really helpful if you, like me, have one or more children who struggle with the unexpected).

4. Clean something

OK, so everyone has their one chore that they hate, right? Some can't stand doing laundry, others dread doing dishes, and some despise cooking. For me it's cleaning. The other stuff I really don't mind, but I will come up with every possible excuse under the sun to avoid cleaning. Honestly. But I have been able to make it a part of my monthly "get ready routine" to pick one thing to clean a little more than the usual upkeep each month- sometimes that's cleaning the stovetop, or the bathtub, or maybe putting away the piles that I've accumulated on my bedroom floor. This way I at least know I am not a complete slob.

5. Throw away old artwork

There are always a couple of piles of pictures the girls have drawn at preschool that accumulates over the month, and it drives me crazy. Both of them love to draw, so they usually have a LOT of artwork to bring home. Of course we keep and display the best ones, but a lot of them are just drawings that clearly took no more than 30 seconds for them to scribble. Sometimes they will let me take it straight to the recycle bin (after the obligatory oo's and ah's) but usually they don't want to part with it. So I let it sit there for a while. If they come back to get it, ask to hang it up somewhere, or add more to the picture, then we keep it. Otherwise, it all gets thrown out at the end of the month. So far they haven't said anything about it. I'm sure one day this is going to come back to haunt me.

That about covers all of the tasks that I do each and every month to get organized for the month ahead. What is on your monthly to-do list? I'd love to hear what else you would include in the comments below! :)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Seating Chart Hacks

Besides my planner, I'd say my most important teacher tool is my clipboard with my seating charts. I use my seating charts to record a lot more than where each student sits in the room! Today I'm sharing my favorite "seating chart hacks" to get your seating charts working harder for you.

Before we talk about the seating charts themselves, let's talk about the humble clipboard on which most teachers keep their seating charts. You can make your clipboard more functional with a few simple hacks too! Check out this post to see how I upgraded my clipboard:

OK, now let's talk about the seating charts! I use different seating arrangements for different classes because I teach a wide age range (K-6). My kindergarteners usually sit on the floor in a circle, and my older students sit in chairs in rows. I color code my seating in both the circle and the chairs (read more about that in this post) so I have color-coded my seating charts to match as well. It makes it much easier to see which way is up when you're looking at the chart!


Besides seating arrangements, the next biggest function of my seating charts is grading / assessment data. I have little squares under each name where I can write a little check, plus, or minus sign. This is especially useful when we're doing a performance assessment that I need to be able to record data for as I see/hear it (which is, let's face it, most of the assessment in general music!). I've actually stopped using a grade book altogether- I used to use one to keep track of written assessments and record their semester grades, but there really wasn't much point- now I record all of their grades on the seating chart (and the semester grades are recorded in our grading software so I don't worry about it).


As you can see in the picture above, I keep track of a lot of other little things on my seating charts as well. I write down the name of the class and the days I see them, which especially makes it easier for substitutes to find the right seating charts but also helps me when I'm looking for the next class. I also have a "key" for the assessment data- I write down the date and the skill being assessed in the corresponding box so that I know what which grade was for. Last year I also put in the piano keys so that I could keep track of where each class was on the behavior chart (see this post) by marking which piano key they were on. I also have a "notes" section where I can write down things I need to remember about that class (like classes that have a specific line order their homeroom teacher likes to use when they line up after class, or an activity that I promised they could do sometime when we had extra class time, etc).


I've made a short video to explain how I add those to my chart before printing:

After getting several questions and requests, I've added the "extras" as images that you can simply drag and insert onto your seating chart into my seating chart set. If you already own the set, just go to "my purchases", find the seating charts, and download- the update will be there for you free! If you don't, you can get the set for yourself here.

Curious about the rest of the stuff on my music stand? You can read about that in this post ;)

There are so many ways to make your seating chart work harder for you! What are some other ways you use your seating chart? I'd love to hear your ideas!