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Monday, May 29, 2017

How I Cut Back My Phone Use

I'd like to think that I spend less time in front of a screen than most people my age- I don't even own a television, I rarely have my computer out when the kids are around, and I've always tried to be conscious of how much time I spend on my phone. But the reality is I still spend more time on my phone than I'd like. Thanks to (one of) my 5-year-old's, I've finally found something that has helped me significantly cut down on the number of times I check my phone!

It was probably a year or so ago that I realized I had fallen into the habit of checking my phone whenever I was bored for more than 10 seconds. As someone who prides myself on enjoying spending time with my thoughts, it was shocking to realize that I was that addicted to my phone. But, much as I would like to just shut off my phone, get rid of a bunch of apps, or even get rid of the phone entirely, there are some legitimate reasons for needing to have my phone around pretty regularly- social media for Organized Chaos, texts and emails from my daughters' teachers or dad, taking videos and pictures of my girls.....

I tried lots of strategies to try to cut back on how much I checked my phone. I tried putting it in one central location where I would hear it if someone called or texted but not have it nearby. I tried getting rid of notifications so I only got a visual or aural notice of texts and phone calls, and nothing else. I tried getting rid of all unnecessary apps. Nothing seemed to make much of a difference.

Then, for my birthday, my daughter gave me a wrist watch. And of course, just like any other accessories I get from my girls, I started wearing it every day.

What I soon realized was that for me, the biggest reason I would end up getting sucked into my phone was taking out my phone to check the time, and then inevitably deciding I might as well quickly check to see if there are any new emails or social media notifications while I'm on my phone anyway. Once I started using my watch to check the time instead of my phone, I stopped needing to take out my phone in the first place.

I'm not going to tell you that I have completely stopped checking my phone unnecessarily. I'm still working on breaking the habit of pulling out my phone to check the time- sometimes I'll wonder what time it is and pull my phone out of my pocket and forget that I have my watch right there on my arm! But it has made the single biggest difference in my phone use, and I can see how as I get used to having the watch, I'm spending less and less time with my phone in my hand.

Do any of you wear a watch? I stopped wearing one years ago because I don't like having extra accessories to wear, but I'm so glad I started wearing one again- it's worth it! What strategies have you found that help you spend less time on your phone? I'd love to hear what has worked (and what hasn't) for you in the comments below!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

May Favorites 2017

Another month has flown by, and this one I'm not to sad to see go. May is always so crazy with events, concerts, changing weather, getting ready for summer, and everything in between! Still there were quite a few fun moments too, and plenty of things to love, so today I'm sharing my favorites from this past month. All of the photos below are taken straight from Instagram, so if you want to keep up with me more regularly come follow me over there! ;)

1. Giant inflatable dice

I was so excited when I saw these at the Target Dollar Spot- how cool are they?!? This time of year, anything that can mix things up and keep things fresh and interesting is a win, and these definitely hit the mark! I am using them in my classes mostly to review dynamics and tempi- I put a chart up on the board that shows which number means which dynamic and another set that shows which number means which tempo marking (so the red 1 means allegro, blue 2 means forte etc) and then having kids take turns rolling 2 dice at a time to see what they get. They choose from a list of favorite songs and have to sing with with their team using whatever dynamics and tempo they rolled. So much fun!

I shared a bunch of review games like this one in a recent blog post. Read that post here if you're still hanging in there for a few more weeks like I am!

2. Smoothies

With things being so busy lately, smoothies have been my go-to breakfast lately. I put some vanilla yogurt and one banana into the blender before the girls wake up, and then they take turns picking out the frozen fruit they want to add for our smoothie of the day. Lately I've had blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and peaches on hand in the freezer, and I think at this point we've tried every combination you can think of (including all 4 together). They're all delicious. Side benefit for us is that one of my girls takes a powder medicine every morning, so I can easily mix that in with the smoothie! I made a breakfast planner board last summer- you can get it for free here along with organizers for lunchboxes and tips for meal planning :)

3. Mother's Day

Of course we can't talk about May without mentioning Mother's Day! I love these "all about my mom" sheets that the girls make at school every year. This year most of their answers were super accurate- they both got my exact age, and described a lot of my favorite things pretty well! My favorite answer has to be, "I love my mom more than: anything".

4. Blog posts

I love finding new awesome blog posts each Friday to share on Facebook! Here are all of the posts I found this month- click on the picture to go read each post. Trust me, you won't be disappointed!

I hope you found some new inspiration here! What are the things you've been enjoying this month? I'd love to hear about them in the comments! If you want to keep up with me, be sure you're subscribed to my email newsletter- I've got lots of awesome stuff planned for this summer!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Dance Playlist: 2017 edition

Last year I shared my favorite kid-friendly, school appropriate songs to use for dance parties that are also cool enough for older kids. My students in kindergarten through 6th grade were all happy with those songs every time I used the playlist! I'm back again with more upbeat dance songs that are cool but also kid-friendly (without being edited): use these in your dancing games, slideshows, celebrations, or just put them on at home to lift your mood! This year I've included more "oldies but goodies" that my students all love (and my older students don't complain that it's out of date).

Any time of year is a good time for a dance break! For more music to get everyone up and dancing, check out last year's playlist. What are your favorite school-appropriate songs to use for dance parties? Let's hear them in the comments!

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Books to Help Little Kids with Big Emotions

While there are many things I absolutely love about 3-5 year olds, the overwhelming bursts of emotion they go through on a daily basis can often be.... well.... challenging to deal with. Similar to puberty, kids this age usually to go through a phase where their emotions are often more than they're equipped to handle. Today I wanted to share a few books I've found that I think have really helped my girls to better process, understand, verbalize, and respond to their emotions.

Happy Hippo, Angry Duck

I pretty much love every book Sandra Boynton has ever written, and this one is no exception. This one is great for the younger crowd. I found it really helpful for developing the girls' emotional vocabulary and helping them understand that having different feelings throughout the day is normal. Here it is on Amazon if you want to check it out.

Today I Feel Silly: And Other Moods That Make My Day

My girls adore this book. It is written from the perspective of a young girl- probably 5 or 6- responding to different events and triggers and talking about how she feels. It touches on everything from not liking her curly hair, to friendship problems, to family dynamics, school, and so much more in a totally relatable way. My girls really got into this one around 4, but I think they will continue to love it for the next few years. The best part is the little spinner at the back that lets kids change the main character's facial expressions. It's a great way to start identifying the facial expressions that match different feelings, which is perfect for developing empathy. Here is the book on Amazon. 

My Many Colored Days

This is great for slightly older (school-age) kids. Each feeling is described with a color and an animal (like "On bright red days how good it feels To be a horse and kick my heels!"). It provides a slightly more concrete way for kids to verbalize and describe more complex, nuanced feelings. I also love the emphasis the book has on how our emotions can vary from day-to-day and accepting each feeling- whether positive or negative or neutral- as a normal part of life. Here is the book on Amazon (the hardcover version is totally worth it for the illustrations!). I actually use this book in a music lesson for kindergarten as well- here's my post on that lesson.

Two Homes

This one is specific to children dealing with separated parents but it has been so beneficial for my girls! The book is written from the child's perspective as he describes some things that are the same and different at each of his two homes (mom's house and dad's house) and ends with the conclusion that no matter where he is, he is always loved by both parents. My girls ask for this book over and over again and I know they are absorbing the message! Get the book on Amazon here.

Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus

This is another "special issue" book that talks about a preschool-age-ish girl who gets twin siblings and feels jealous about all of the attention that the babies are getting. But even though my girls haven't had that experience, they still got a lot out of this book- one of the things I love is the way the book describes the adults reacting to the main character's emotions and how they all adapt. Also a nice bonus that it features characters from Africa! Here is a link to the book on Amazon. 

I hope you find some new books to love on this list! Do you have any other favorite books to help kids learn about their emotions? Share them in the comments!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review Games for the End of the School Year

As the end of the school year approaches, everyone starts to switch into vacation / party mode. With everyone's brains partially switched off, it's hard to get students motivated to do any kind of standard "class work". But it's also really important to review the concepts you covered this year so that they will remember them more quickly in the fall! Here are some of my favorite review games that I love using at the end of the school year.

1. Hula Hoop Conductor: instrument classifications and playing techniques review

I've written about this game before but it's one worth mentioning again! Lay out several hula hoops on the floor and have the students sit on the floor facing the hula hoops. Assign each hula hoop to a group of instruments (woods/metals/scrapers/shakers/etc) and tell students to only play when you step into their hula hoop. Proceed to make a fool of yourself by running back and forth between the hoops, stepping in 2 at once, leaning over and putting your hands in the others, jumping over hoops to trick them, etc. Try stomping in one then tip-toeing in the other and get them to follow you by playing at different dynamics/speeds etc.

Then choose a student to be the conductor in your place. When you pick the next conductor, have the first conductor take the next one's instruments so that they start switching around. Add more hoops and make the classifications more specific, or make the new ones another set of groupings, like one for all boys and another for all girls, so that they have to watch 2 hoops. The variations are endless and it's a great way to get them focused and attentive and review different instrument classifications.

2. Rhythm Chairs: meter and rhythm review

Set up a row of 4 chairs at the front of the room. Show (on the projector or with a flashcard etc) a 4-beat rhythm (such as ta, ta, ti-ti, ta) and have them replicate it in the chairs, telling them the chairs represent beats and they represent notes. Help them out on the first one by making sure they end up with 1 person sitting in the first 2 and last chair, and 2 people sitting together in the 3rd chair (I usually tell them they can stand behind and touch the chair to count as sitting as well if they're uncomfortable sharing a chair). Now split up into 2 teams, each team having their own row of chairs, put up a new rhythm, and see which team can get the right people in the right chairs first (be sure to throw in some longer notes, so students have to lay across multiple chairs- hilarious!). Mix it up (and review meter) by adding in some rhythms with different numbers of beats- they'll have to think outside the box to figure out they need to add or remove chairs!

Read more about the Rhythm Chairs and other rhythm practice games in this post.

3. Note Races: letter names and solfege review

Split the class up into teams and have each team get into a line. Give the person at the front of each line a dry erase board and marker. For letter names review (in any clef), say a word that can be spelled with note letter names (like BEEF or CABBAGE) and have them spell the word with music notes. For solfege, sing a short phrase on solfege and have them notate it (having established beforehand where do is). The first one to correctly write the notes and hold it up to show you wins a point for their team. Have them pass off the board to the next person and go to the back of the line after each round.

There are TONS of great games I love to use for reviewing notes names! Here's a whole post full of some of my other favorites.

4. Dry Erase Dice: music expression vocabulary review

I picked up a few dice with dry erase boards in each side at the Dollar Tree this fall (I still see them in stores- run to your local dollar store if you can to see if they have some!) and I use them for all kinds of games, but my favorite is to put a different dynamic marking on each side of one and a different tempo marking on each side of another and have students take turns rolling both at once. Then they choose a song (sometimes they draw one out of a hat, or they choose from a list, or I let them pick their own) to perform with whatever tempo and dynamic they roll. If they do it correctly they win a point for their team.

5. Truth or Dare: any and all concept review

This is a simple concept but the students go NUTS for this game! I made one deck of "truth" cards and another deck of "dare" cards. The truth cards have trivia questions, like "name a woodwind instrument" or "what does forte mean". The dare cards have tasks, like "clap this rhythm while stomping on the beat" or "do the alphabet song in a whisper voice". On their turn, students pick a card from one deck or the other (each set is a different color) and try to answer the question or complete the task. If they do, they get a point. If they don't, the first person/group to yell "steal" gets a turn to try to do it correctly to take the point!

This can be done as a simple card game like I just described, or you can use them with other games like Jenga. Here's the blog post I wrote explaining how to use them, with a link to the printable cards I made if you want those :)

6. Twister: vocabulary review

I've seen review games with Twister boards on Pinterest before, usually with quarter notes drawn on all the blue circles, eighth notes on the red circles, etc. So the person spinning the spinner calls out the name of the note instead of the color and the players have to know where to put their hand/foot. This is a great way to review vocabulary because the words get repeated over and over again and the students physically connect the word with the symbol. But I didn't want to have just one set of vocabulary that I could review with the game- that would make it less effective to use with multiple grades. So instead of drawing the symbols directly on the Twister mat, I drew them on clear contact paper and then stuck them on the circles. Now I have a whole set that I can change out for whatever I want them to review! I have a set with dynamic markings, tempo words, lots of music notes and rests, and even whole notes on different lines/spaces in treble and bass clef. For the dynamics, notes/rests, and notes on the staff, the person with the spinner calls out the name or letter of the symbol (if they're doing it in a center and a student is doing the spinner, I give that person a "cheat sheet" that tells them what to call the symbols on each color). For tempo words, the spinner calls out the meaning of the word ("fast", "walking speed", etc). This is another one where the possibilities are endless! I'm pretty happy I came up with this solution so that I can use different symbols without buying 10 different Twister games ;)

I hope these ideas help you keep your students engaged without throwing all learning out the window! What are your favorite games to use for reviewing at the end of the year? Leave a comment! If you're looking for more lesson ideas to keep students engaged at the end of the school year, here is a post on end of year lesson ideas, and here is another post on longer "units" for the end of the year.

Looking for more teaching ideas? See my full curriculum here.

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Favorite Crockpot Recipes for the Busy Spring Season

Crockpots tend to get a lot of attention in the fall and winter, because it's a great way to simmer up warm and cozy stews, soups, curries, and more. But honestly my favorite time of year to pull out the crockpot is in the spring when, you know, everything in life seems to happen at once and my brain is in a constant state of overload. Here are some of my favorite recipes to simplify meal prep during this crazy time of year!

The nice thing about crockpot cooking is that you can throw stuff together in the morning and not have to slave over the stove when you come home exhausted in the evening. If it's a warm day, you won't be heating up your kitchen with the stove or oven either! 

Click on the pictures to go see the original recipes:

1. Salsa Chicken

This recipe is absolutely as simple as it sounds, and it's so versatile. You literally put some chicken in the crockpot, cover it with salsa, and cook it on low for 6-8 hours. That's it. When it's ready, I like to use it for a simple taco night (pull out some tortillas, shredded cheese, and canned corn and beans, chop up some cilantro and whatever other veggies you have in the fridge and let everyone make their own soft tacos) or add it on top of a simple salad for a quick lunch to take to work, but you could also use it as filling in a casserole, add it to some one-pot pasta, or use it as enchilada filling.... you get the idea. 

2. Honey Garlic Chicken

This another recipe where you throw in some chicken and a few ingredients to marinade and you're done. I do it with chicken thighs because I prefer it but it would work with breasts as well. When I come home, I throw some rice in the rice cooker and steam some broccoli, asparagus, green beans, or some other veggie and dinner is served! Everyone that tastes this chicken LOVES it- it's super yummy.

3. Baked Potatoes

This is the perfect example of something you don't want to make on a busy warm evening because it takes a long time to cook and it heats up the kitchen, but you can eliminate those two problems with the crockpot! Wrap the potatoes in foil, throw the in the crockpot, and let them slowly cook while you're at work without heating up your house. When it's time to eat, I pull out whatever toppings I have on hand: maybe some leftover cooked broccoli, bacon bits, shredded cheese, butter, canned beans, etc, and add some chopped cold vegetables like bell peppers or carrots or pull out a bagged salad. Done! And I always make a couple of extras to take to work for lunches.

Those are my top favorite recipes to make in the spring: all of them are easy to throw together in the morning, but aren't going to feel too warm and stuffy for a sunny spring day. For more crockpot recipes (I'm a huge fan), here's my crockpot Pinterest board :)

What are your favorite ways to save time in the kitchen this time of year? Share your tips in the comments below!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Two Words That Transformed My Behavior Management

I teach in a fairly challenging environment for "behavior management". As a result, I've devoted a lot of time and energy to refining my teaching to better manage the behaviors in my classroom and help to foster my students' emotional and social well-being. This has been an evolving process, but recently I've learned the power of one simple, two-word question in handling difficult situations and restoring a positive classroom climate.

I've written a lot about behavior management strategies over the years- if you'd like to read through those I've compiled those ideas and strategies in this blog post. If you follow my progression, you'll see that over the last few years I've moved away from superficial, extrinsically motivating systems to routines and processes that foster positive character development, relationships, and classroom environment. Some of that progression came from my own reflections on what was going on in my classroom, and some of it came out of some very specific (and quite extensive) training that I've been working through on positive school climate and Restorative Practices. 

Although there are a lot of things that have come out of that training that I'd like to discuss further, today I want to share one simple strategy that I learned that any teacher can easily implement in their classroom tomorrow: the question, "what happened?". 

It seems simple enough, and when I first encountered the idea, I thought it was something I already did. But when I started paying attention to what I was choosing to say first to an upset or misbehaving child, I found that I often either led with a statement, like "you're (insert inappropriate behavior here)", or some other question, like "why would you do that?". An upset child will generally either just get more upset or be unable to answer when faced with those statements or questions.

What I have found does work is to ask the child what happened and then wait and listen. Children may not know why they misbehaved, why someone else did something to them, what they're thinking in that moment, or what series of events got them into the bad situation they now find themselves, but they can start to recount events, at least from their point of view, when asked what happened.

And I've also found that, at least for the majority of my students, one of their most fundamental and basic needs is to be heard. I've found they're a lot more willing to accept responsibility for their actions and a lot more perceptive of what is going wrong and what needs to change when they know that they are actually being heard.

Two words: "what happened?". That's it. Stop. Wait. Listen.

As the end of the school year approaches, emotions can run the gamut and tension can often rise. Why not test the strategy and see what happens? To learn more about Restorative Practices, you can find some basic information on this website. As I explore further how this philosophy plays out in the elementary specialist context, I'll continue to share my thoughts on the subject. If any of you have explored Restorative Practices, I'd love to hear from you as well! I hope this question helps you and your students to maintain a positive spirit through the end of the school year and beyond.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Looking Ahead to Summer Break

Although I make it a point not to count down to vacations, there is still definitely a certain amount of planning that has to happen as summer break approaches! One simple tool I use that helps us to think ahead as a family is our summer bucket list. It's an easy trick but it can really help you feel more prepared going into summer vacation, and it can help the whole break go more smoothly as well!

Before I started writing down a summer bucket list, I frequently found myself wondering where the time went at the end of summer vacation. I usually had a long list of things that I had planned to do- little things like going on a picnic with a certain friend, or getting ice cream at the new place we heard about, and bigger things like new materials I had planned to make for my classes or that room I had intended to paint- that I had never gotten around to. How had I "not had the time"?!?!? There were so many days when I felt like I had nothing to do!!! ..... Anyone else find themselves in this position? Surely it's not just me. ;)

The simple act of writing down and displaying a summer bucket list has helped to eliminate a lot of the feelings of missed opportunities that I had before. It's always around this time of year that my daughters and I start daydreaming about things we'll do when we have more time in the summer, making nebulous plans with friends to get together more often, and making arrangements for travel and activities. Now, any time something comes up, I write it down on the bucket list:

I laminated the printout (I'm using the one included in my summer organizer) so that I could use dry erase markers on it- any dry erase surface will work (here's a post I wrote a long time ago on DIY dry erase boards). I do this so that as I firm up plans, whether it's booking a trip or setting a firm time with a friend, or actually complete the item, I can erase it from the bucket list (and move it into my planner or calendar). If we change our minds or think of new ideas, we can easily change or add to our list throughout the summer.

Having a visible, written list (ours is on our fridge) is helpful for a few reasons. It's a daily reminder of the goals we have, so we don't forget about them in the busyness of life. It's also a quick place to look on those days when we're feeling bored or just need a change of pace. Try it- I think you'll be surprised at how such a simple trick can help you get more out of your summer vacation!

Looking for more tips to get ready for summer? This blog post has a lot more ideas to help you plan ahead without over-structuring your vacation :)

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Planner Setup: printing, binding, and organizing

I'm back to talk about planners today and I couldn't be more thrilled! Today we're talking about how to put together your actual planner. If you want to know more about how to get a digital file ready to print, check out yesterday's post. Now that your file is set up exactly the way you want it, it's time to put the actual planner together!!!

1. Printing

The first step is of course to print your pages. In yesterday's post on setting up your file for printing, I talked about how to check your printer settings to make sure it prints properly. Whether you're printing at home yourself or sending it to a printing service, you'll want to check the size and margins, and make sure you're printing double-sided.

You'll also want to print on slightly thicker paper to make the planner pages more durable and keep the ink from bleeding through if you're writing with pen/markers. 24lb to 28lb is a good thickness, like this paper.

I am super excited about my newest home printing discovery this past school year: HP Instant Ink! If you haven't heard of this service, it's a really affordable monthly subscription plan that allows you to print in full-color for a very low cost, and they send you a new ink cartridge whenever they notice your printer's cartridge running low. It's incredibly affordable, so I'm now actually able to print my entire planner at home! Here's some more information on the program if you're interested (and no, I'm not being sponsored or anything!). You obviously have to have an HP printer to use the service- I have this one and have loved it so far. 

Of course sending it to a printing service is a great alternative if you don't have good/affordable printing options at home. Until I found this ink program, I always had my planner printed at Staples

2. Binding

There are several great options for binding your planner. If you send it to a printing service, or have a machine at home or at school, you can add a spiral or comb binding. That will work fine if you know you don't need to add or remove pages throughout the year and want an affordable option. Binders are another affordable option- the only downside is that they can get bulky.

I have been using disc binding for many years now and love it. It offers the convenience of being able to add and remove pages without the bulkiness of binders. I have been using the Arc brand of discs from Staples for years, and used this notebook with the discs and clear cover until this year- it holds up very well and is very affordable. This year I upgraded to the Martha Stewart binder, which is also from Staples. It has a hard, thick cover that makes it hold up much better in my purse with all of the heavy use I put it through! It's a bit more of a splurge but worth it for me. I also upgraded to larger discs so that I could keep all of the pages for the entire school year in my planner at once. For any discbound system you'll need a hole punch, and you can use any discbound hole punch pretty much interchangeably- I use this punch from Levenger but you can also find them at Staples, Michaels, and many other places.

3. Organizing

The last step to putting together your planner is organizing everything. The first part of that process is deciding in what order to put your pages together and divide it up into sections. I use these adhesive tabs to mark my sections: curriculum, month, week, school, tpt/blog, and home.

I actually laminated the tabs on one side to make them more durable, so they last all year.

I also mark the week I'm on within my "week" section for easy access with a magnetic clip:

You can see it on the middle of the right edge of the page in the picture above. The ones I got happened to be on clearance at Walmart many years ago, but these from the container store are very similar. 

The other part of organizing your planner is accessories to help you store relevant papers and items that aren't included in your planner. On the inside of the front cover, I have a big secretarial pocket where I keep my monthly lesson plans so I can reference them when I'm lesson planning.

Just inside the front cover, I have a zippered pouch where I store some postage stamps, blank cards, and a pen, in case I need to write a last-minute card (this has saved me on more than one occasion!). I can also throw things in there that I want to refer to later but don't have time to go through right away.

Behind the zippered pocket is my old clear plastic cover, which protects the inside pages from getting dented.

In the back of my planner I have some blank notebook paper (which actually came with the binder) and a folder. The folder is another place to stick things quickly to reference later, and I also keep my choir music there so I have it for rehearsal planning as well.

And of course a pen loop of some kind is a must- I keep a pencil there, actually, mostly because it fits well in the loop to be honest. It is really handy to have it right there whenever I need to jot something down.

My final (and probably favorite) accessory is my dashboard, where I keep my sticky notes. It also serves as a bookmark for the current month, because the top sticks up above the pages.

I made it myself over a year ago and it was quite simple. Here's my tutorial if you want to make one yourself. 

I love my planner more and more every year, and I'm so excited to share it with you! I hope you found some useful new tips to use in your own planner. If you have any questions or ideas, let's hear them in the comments- I love hearing from you!

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Monday, May 1, 2017

Planner Setup: getting your printables ready to print!

Watch out guys, it's about to get super planner-y up in here this week! :)

It's that time of year when all the new teacher planners come out and everyone starts looking ahead to get organized for next year. Many of you know that I create printable planners designed specifically for music teachers (check them out here). As I start setting up my 2017-2018 planner (squeeee!), I wanted to share how I go about getting the digital file for my planner set up the way I want it so it's ready for printing. It's not as hard as you may think!

If you're just beginning to explore the world of printable planners, I hope this makes them a little less intimidating. Having a file that you can customize yourself makes it so much easier to set up your planner exactly the way you want it, which will in turn make you much more likely to use it to its full potential! If you're ready for the next step, check out my post on printing, binding, and organizing your printed planner.

If you didn't know this about me, I'm a bit planner obsessed :) To see all of my posts on planner topics, including DIY's, resources, supplies, organizational and productivity tips, and more, click here.

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

April Favorites

April is a special month because it holds my birthday! I also had my spring break in April this year, so overall it was a fun month. I'm sharing some of my latest favorites from the past month below- I hope you'll share some of your favorites in the comments as well! It's fun to celebrate the small joys in life together, especially at this time of year when things tend to get a little hectic!

1. Birthday love

I had such a lovely birthday this year! So many wonderful, thoughtful gifts, a whole day with my family hanging out, making crafts together, and eating yummy food (including that delicious birthday cake you see above)... it was really special :)

2. Kid art

I've said this before but I love this age! My daughters are 5 right now and their artwork and creations just blow me away. On the left is a painting one of the girls made at school, and on the right is an epic public part scene that the girls and I put together with legos. So much fun!

3. Spring flowers

Having grown up in Japan, I always associate this time of year with sakura. This year did not disappoint! I got to see some wonderful cherry blossoms this year, and lots of other trees around here are blooming too. Ah, spring! :)

4. Blog posts

I search every week for new blog posts to share with you from around the internet, and I was so happy to find these this month! Click on the picture to go read each post- you're sure to learn something new, and you may even find a new site to follow!

So much to love this month! :) I hope you found some new favorites- now it's your turn! Share your favorites, whether it's a memory, lesson idea, craft supply, recipe, or anything in between, in the comments below. Share the love! Happy-Almost-May everyone!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Substitute Aftermath Mysteries

10 real questions (to which I will never have an answer) I have asked myself after coming back from having a sub:

"How did those bingo chips get under the bass metallophone?" - especially since they weren't playing bingo...

"Where did they get those extra strips of green and purple duct tape that magically appeared on the music stand rack?" - it's the same duct tape I use to mark my floors and writing supplies but none seems to be missing...

"How did the dry erase marker cap end up on the floor outside the art room?" - the marker was still in its place on the far side of my classroom and there were no dry erase markers used in the lesson... and yes, it's the one from my marker, the art room doesn't have any like these....

"Why is there a microphone stuck inside the monkey puppet?" - the microphone was in the back of my storage closet when I left.

"Why are there Starburst candy wrappers all over the floor?" - enough said.

"How did that kid's recorder end up inside the xylophone?" - I mean really.

"Why is my piano bench missing a leg?" - yep, I walked in and the piano bench was sitting in its normal spot but with one corner on the floor instead of a leg...

"Who snapped all of those pencils in half?" - at least they put all of the pieces neatly back into the correct caddies afterwards...

"Where did all of these extra pencils come from?" - ...and these sweatshirts, hair clips, books...

"Why are all the triangle beaters inside the bongos?" - and why are the bongos on my desk instead of on the shelf with the other instruments?

**Note: I'm not trying to bash any of my substitute teachers here- I hope we can all laugh together about the struggles of having someone else using "your space" when they don't know all of the systems and procedures you have in place! If you want some solutions to minimize these struggles, you can read about how I set up my sub plan materials in this post. But yes, I still find bingo chips inside my metallophones.

What are your most puzzling substitute aftermath mysteries?

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Top Games for Young Kids the Whole Family Will Enjoy

Family game night is a great way to spend quality time together having fun as a family, but finding games that the youngest family members can enjoy, without boring the rest of the family, can be a challenge! I've found some gems over the last couple of years that will keep everyone happy though, so if you have young children at home like me (ages 3 and up), grab a couple of these and get playing! :)

I'm listing these in order from the games accessible to the youngest kids (from around age 2 or 3 depending on the child) to those that are best for preschool age and up.

1. Busytown

This board game is awesome because nobody is playing against each other but it's still competitive- all of the players work together to try to race the pigs! It's also a game where, if they have a keen eye and a little patience, the younger kids can often outperform the grownups ;) And of course it doesn't hurt to have Richard Scarry's illustrations and characters! You can get it here on Amazon. 

2. Old Maid

This classic is a great first card game for little ones. I bought my deck of Old Maid cards at the Target dollar spot last year, but you can find them in lots of stores or get a deck online here

3. Go Fish

I found this card game was a little bit harder than Old Maid for my girls at first, but once they got the hang of it they loved it! You can use a regular deck of cards to play (just take out some of the numbers to limit the number of cards each player starts with), or get a deck here.

5. Uno

I was surprised at how quickly my girls picked up this game, and how much they love it! When we first started playing, we all put our cards out on the floor instead of hiding them so I could help them figure out what to play. When they were younger I had to remind them what the special cards did (reverse, draw two, skip etc) but they still figured out pretty quickly how to find a card to play next by matching the color or symbol (great practice in identification!). This is another game available pretty readily, but here's the classic card deck on Amazon if you want to buy online.


These card holders are SUPER helpful when you're playing card games with young kids! It makes it so much easier for kids to hold a set of cards without showing everyone else what they have. My parents bought these for the girls, but I've seen them at Walmart, Walgreens, and a few other places. Here's the same thing on Amazon.

6. Dominoes

There are so many games you can play with dominoes, but when we first started playing (when the girls were 3.5 years old I think?) we would just split up all of the dominoes amongst the players and then take turns adding onto the starting domino in the middle by matching the numbers (another great way to practice identification!), adding on to any open side on any domino. Once the got the hang of it, we started playing more standard domino games, which they love too! This set on Amazon has colored dominoes like mine, which I found was really helpful in the beginning when the girls were first learning how to match the numbers.

7. Quirkle

This one works the same way as my made-up domino game by matching shapes and colors, but requires a little more strategy! This is a great game because young kids can get the hang of the rules pretty quickly but older players can enjoy the strategy that goes into getting a high score. Here's where I got ours.

8. Bananagrams

I know what you're thinking- this can't possibly work with young kids! But trust me, if they are starting to work on beginning CVC words (consonant-vowel-consonant), they will love this (simplified) game! Basically we use the letter tiles to take turns making words. We each start with 7 tiles and lay them out so everyone can see, then on each person's turn they try to spell the best word they can think of. Usually I will tell them a word they can spell and they try to figure out how to spell it with their tiles. When they're a little older, we'll start working on connecting the words together like the traditional game. Here it is on Amazon, but this is another game I see in stores a lot.

9. Whoonu

This one is fun to play with the whole family because it reinforces everyone's unique personality. The only adaptation for pre-readers is that you'll obviously have to read the cards for them, but otherwise it's easy to learn and fun to play for any age! Here it is on Amazon, but check around and see if you can find it used somewhere. 

I hope you find some new games to enjoy with the whole family on this list! Have fun!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Best Strategies for Teaching Rhythm

Rhythm is one of those fundamental concepts that gets infused into so many of our lessons, especially in elementary general music. Is there ever such a thing as "too many rhythm teaching ideas"? I doubt it, but it can definitely be hard to keep track of all of those great ideas so we can most effectively implement them in a properly sequenced way in our classrooms. I've written quite a bit about various aspects of teaching rhythm, including most of the month of March this year, so today I want to share some over-arching thoughts on teaching rhythm in general and also round up some of my top strategies from previous blog posts in one place to make it easier to find everything you need for your lesson planning!

1. Start the year right

I start each school year introducing any new rhythm and pitch concepts in each grade level right from the beginning. I like getting those concepts out there as early as I can so I can spend the rest of the year coming back to those every chance I get and solidifying them in students' minds. Of course the first lesson or two of the school year we review the concepts from the year before as a way of leading into the new ones, but I try to get into the new stuff as quickly as possible- if I've done my job the year before, the review part won't take too long or be too painful and they'll be ready for new stuff right away!

Of course which grade should be learning which rhythm concept is a whole separate conversation, but an important one to have in order to sequence out your curriculum in a way that allows students to grasp the material. Read my post on long-range planning here, my post on lesson planning based on the National Core Arts Standards (USA) here, see my templates that I use to create my scope and sequence for each grade here, and see my complete K-6 curriculum here.

2. Build in focused review time

Once I've set each grade up with the new rhythm concepts at the beginning of the year, I try to make sure I include those rhythm concepts anywhere I can throughout the year so that we keep coming back to it over and over again to practice. But I learned in my first couple of years of teaching that just having a general plan to include those concepts throughout the year is not enough- I get too easily distracted my shiny new lesson ideas, concert preparations, and more and those concepts can get lost in the shuffle! 

To make sure I am giving the students some good, concentrated, reviewing and practicing time, I build in some focused time in January (right after the winter/holiday break) and March (as part of Music In Our Schools Month) to specifically review the new rhythmic concepts with each grade as well. In January I focus on keeping students engaged by using movement, instruments, and composition activities to review rhythms. In March, students have an opportunity to really drill those rhythms with a school-wide competition I run called the Rhythm Battle. Read more about my activities for Music In Our Schools Month in this blog post, or get the materials for the Rhythm Battle here. Of course I also include some review of all of the new concepts they've learned throughout the year at the end of each school year as well.

3. Make drilling fun

Drill practice has gotten a bad rap but there's a lot to be said for focused, repetitive practice of certain fundamental concepts. To me, rhythm is one of those areas that begs for it. But drilling doesn't have to be boring- in fact it can be pretty exciting! One of the easiest ways to do this with rhythm is to throw some 1-measure (usually in 4/4) rhythms on the board, with actual flash cards you may actually have, hand-drawn rhythms on the whiteboard, or projected slides like this:

I have volunteers (or students that get "volunteered" by me!) speak each rhythm individually, then the class speaks and claps it together. Once we've practiced each rhythm separately, I give each student an instrument. Even something as simple as rhythm sticks will keep students motivated! The key, though, is to put those individual measures together in different combinations. I always make a big deal about what a big challenge it is to do them all in a row, then we try doing them in different orders- sometimes I'll even label each measure with a letter of the alphabet and we spell words by performing the measures in the order of the letters (like measure B, measure A, then measure D to spell BAD). That's all it takes to keep a class motivated to practice those rhythms over and over again!

Of course there are a million ways to practice new rhythms- here are some of my other favorites:

4. Check for understanding in small groups

Of course it's always easier to perform and read rhythms with the whole class than it is to do it independently. I use centers to do some informal assessments and check to see how students are doing (and sometimes I'm shocked by what I find!). Here are some of my favorite rhythm centers:

5. Work towards mastery with composition 

Just like with any written language, the best way to know if students truly understand a rhythmic concept is to see if they can use it in music writing- composition. But composition doesn't have to take a lot of time or be a drudgery for those students that groan at the sight of a pencil and paper! I try to include several opportunities for students to create rhythms using manipulatives throughout the year, do some written composition in small groups to practice, and culminate with some kind of individual written composition before the end of the year. Read more about how I use manipulatives for composition (as well as what I use and where I get them) in this post, see the composition worksheets I use for written compositions here, and read more tips for incorporating composition in elementary music in these posts:

6. My top lessons and resources

Now that we've talked about some general strategies for teaching rhythm, here are some of my favorite lesson plans and resources for teaching rhythm! First, here are all of the lesson plans I shared this past March for teaching specific rhythm concepts:

If you're looking for lesson plans for other rhythm concepts, like sixteenth notes, syncopation, compound meter and more, have no fear! I collaborated with tons of other music education bloggers this spring to put together an ebook with all of our top tips and strategies for teaching rhythm! There are SO many awesome ideas for teaching rhythm packed in this ebook, and the best part is you don't have to worry about losing track of all of those awesome ideas- you can just save the PDF on your computer and have everything easily accessible whenever you need it! Click below to visit the new Music Ed Blogs Resource Library and download this free rhythm teaching ebook:

I hope you found this post helpful for you! Looking for more teaching ideas? See my full curriculum here.

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