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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

5 Ways to Introduce a New Song

Teaching young students a new song can be tricky. They really need to hear it a few times before they try to sing it themselves, but what child wants to sit and listen for that long, and how much do they really pay attention when they do? And how can you get them to learn all the words without everyone getting a headache? Today I want to share a few of my favorite ways to introduce a new song to elementary age students that are engaging and effective.


1. Hand motions

This is my go-to for sure. I introduce new songs by first having them mirror my hand motions while I sing the song. Usually we'll practice doing this twice (reminding the students to keep their voices off) before I start having them echo me one line at a time to learn the song. Not only does this provide an engaging way for students to hear the song sung, but the motions also serve as a memory aid and help students focus on and remember the words. I wrote an entire post on this- here it is if you want to read more about how I use sign language for this purpose.

2. Movements

This one is similar to the last but often neglected- have students learn some type of full-body movement or dance while you introduce the song. This could be as simple as walking around in a circle on the beat, or you could get into complete choreography. A lot of times as music teachers I think we automatically teach the song first and then the dance/ movement, but actually in many cases it is more effective to teach the movements first and have them get familiar with the structure of the song that way, then have them learn the singing part afterwards. 

3. Pictures

I don't use this strategy as often but it's a great way to mix things up. I will put pictures that represent the words to the song up on the board (or hold them up on pieces of paper) and have students guess what the song is about before I sing it to them to "find out if they were right". This is a great way to get students to really focus on the lyrics when they hear the song for the first time! 

So for example, if I was introducing the song "Mary Had a Little Lamb", I might have a picture of a girl, a lamb, and a snowflake. Without knowing the song, students might assume that it has something to do with winter- when they hear the song, they'll discover that actually the snow reference is just to talk about the lamb's white wool! 

4. Ostinati / accompaniment parts

This is another one that I think most of us would teach after students learn the song, but can effectively be used in reverse order! Start by teaching students a simple accompaniment or ostinato part on instruments, body percussion, etc. Then once they can do that independently, sing the melody for them while they perform the accompaniment part. A great challenge for older elementary students is to ask them to listen to hear what the song is about while performing the accompaniment. It's a real challenge for their brains to focus on hearing the words without losing track of their part!

5. Play it first

My final suggestion works best along with the movement suggestions from the first 2 points here: play the melody on an instrument (live or from a recording). I most commonly use this strategy while also having students move with the meter- if it's in triple meter, they can do a basic waltz step around the room, or students could do a simple clapping pattern with a partner that fits the meter. Once they can do the movement with the song, then go back and teach the melody and have them perform the movements while singing. 

These are just a few of my favorite strategies- it's fun to mix it up and try something different to keep all of us on our toes! What are some of your favorite ways to introduce a new song? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments section!

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Monday, December 4, 2017

Awesome Gifts That Aren't Things: classes

I've hit that point in my life when I look around at all the toys, books, clothes, trinkets, and just... well... stuff, and I question the meaning of life. I mean honestly, it's not that we have an exorbitant amount of playthings, clothes, or household items, and the things we do have are all good, but how much do we really need? With that thought in mind, I've come up with some ideas for gifts that aren't "things" that kids will still be excited to receive!


I'm going to be sharing a few different categories of ideas over the next few weeks. Today I'm focusing on classes (or clubs, teams, groups, etc). Classes are a great way to give kids something they can get excited about because you can focus on a specific area of interest, whether it's music, sports, or anything else you can think of! Here are a few examples to consider:

*Private or group music lessons
*Community choir or orchestra
*Theater/ drama classes
*Art classes
*Chess lessons
*Foreign language classes/ tutors
*Sports teams
*Martial arts classes
*Hiking clubs
*Girl / Boy Scouts 
*Book clubs

Obviously I'm stretching the term "classes" to fit the general concept of specific, interest-oriented activities that kids can attend on a regular basis. The great thing is in many cases, these gifts don't cost any money- they simply require a time and energy commitment from you as a parent. Libraries and schools will often have classes, clubs, and teams that are free or very cheap.

I love this gift idea because it not only gives kids the gift of learning, but it shows that you care about their interests, and it is also giving them the gift of your time, whether you're doing the class with them, observing the lessons, or even just serving as their chauffeur. 

There are a couple of ways you can present this gift to kids: one way is to wrap up a paper or flyer that explains the class (but that probably won't get them very excited when they open it), and another is to give them something that they'll use in the class. Sometimes that might be a uniform or something else they can wear, supplies they'll need, or maybe a pass or badge that shows their membership. Whatever you use, having something physical to open (without adding to the clutter, which is what we're trying to avoid in the first place) can help make the experience more tangible and exciting (especially for younger children). 

I'd love to know your thoughts on this. Is anyone else looking for ways to give gifts without becoming overwhelmed with clutter? What have been your favorite gift ideas for this? I'd love to hear them in the comments below!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Bring Winter to the Music Room

One of the easiest ways to make class more engaging, especially in those challenging months when students are preoccupied with upcoming vacations, is to incorporate the very thing they're thinking about into the lesson itself! This time of year, referencing winter themes can be a great way to engage students without worrying about excluding anyone with a specific holiday.


1. Snowball Fights

Such an easy way to practice/ review vocabulary, notation, or facts! Write words, notes, definitions, questions, or other prompts on pieces of paper and crumple them up into snowballs. Split the class into 2 sides and give each side a set of snowballs. Each side could even make barricades with chairs. Each side throws the "snowballs" at the other side. Any snowballs that hit the other team (or get past the barricade or line on the floor etc), the other side has to open and answer.

You could do this to review letter names by writing notes on a staff and having students identify them by letter, write musical terminology like dynamic and tempo words and have students give the definition, put pictures of instruments and have students identify the correct instrument family.... so many ways to go with this game!

2. Manipulatives

I love using manipulatives for composition (read this post for what I use and how), and this time of year I love pulling out winter shapes like snowflakes, snowmen, mittens, and hats. I've found little sticker shapes, mini erasers, and foam cutouts in these shapes and they're so easy to use! You can also use little cotton balls as manipulatives and call them snowballs :)

3. Winter Stories

I have a few books that I love to use for music lessons, especially with my Kindergarten students, that refer to winter. Click on the pictures to see my detailed plans for each of the books below- they are seriously some of my favorite lessons to teach!



4. Winter Songs and Music

Of course one of the best ways to incorporate winter is to use music with a winter theme! Here are some lesson ideas to go with Sleigh Ride and The Nutcracker, here are some ideas for Vivaldi's Winter, and here are some for Frosty Weather.

I hope this gives you some ideas for easy ways to bring the season to your classroom without too much extra effort- it always makes school a little more fun for the students and for me when I change things up a little to fit with the season! I also wrote a similar post with ideas for incorporating summer themes if you're reading this by the pool (luck you!):


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Monday, November 27, 2017

Top 3 Teacher Gift Ideas

I think it's so important for kids to show their appreciation for their teachers, but I also know how incredibly time-consuming it can be to put them together (especially when you're including all the specialist teachers etc, which come on, of COURSE!). Today I want to share some of my favorite gift ideas for teachers that are inexpensive, not too hard to put together, and will still be appreciated by the teachers.


1. Handmade card

Seriously, this is the best gift you could ever give a teacher in my opinion (and in the opinion of pretty much every other teacher I've ever talked to about this), and it costs no money. Have the kids make a card for each of their teachers. Pre-K and Kindergarten- age kids for whom writing is either not possible or extremely time- and energy-consuming can just draw a picture or, depending on their age/ability, they could write "Love, (name)" or even "thank you (teacher name)"- there doesn't have to be a long, heartfelt message, especially from the littles, for it to be truly meaningful. And I can tell you from my own experience that those gifts have a much higher likelihood of being saved and enjoyed for years and years. 

2. Edible treats

... with a handmade card ;) Teachers always appreciate edible treats, and they're another idea that's inexpensive. Coffee/tea pods for the school keurig, a chocolate bar, cookies, a candy cane... they don't have to be fancy or big to be a great little pick-me-up! And these are an easy thing to stick inside a handmade card or add a little note to- the kids could even write directly on a candy wrapper, or you can stick a piece of paper on or around it for them to write their note on.....

3. Containers 

.... with a handmade card (do you see where I'm going with this?). Teachers can always use more containers to contain all the random STUFF we have to organize and keep track of. This year we gave coffee cups, last year we did little tupperware containers from the dollar store, other containers could be a simple basket or box, pencil pouch, or even a mason jar. Trust me, teachers never have enough containers! Add a handmade note or card to it, and you can even take it up one more notch by filling the container with some of those edible treats, or desk supplies (paper clips, erasers, push pins, pencils, pens... all things teachers can always use more of and are readily available in bulk at the dollar store). 

Have I made my point clear enough that the best gift you can give a teacher is a handmade card from the child (and that the card doesn't have to be that involved)? :) There's no better way to make a teacher's day and make them feel appreciated than to remind them that their student(s) care about them! 

What are some of your favorite easy and cheap teacher gift ideas? I'd love to hear them in the comments! 

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Sunday, November 26, 2017

November Favorites 2017

At the end of each month I like to share some of the things that made my heart happy, made my life easier, or that I just thought were cool. This month I've got a favorite first grade music lesson, a fun breakfast idea, an easy but awesome teacher gift idea, and teaching ideas for ukulele, middle school choir, sub plans, and more!


1. Animal toast



I am officially obsessed, you guys. Aside from the bunnies above, I've also made owls, bears, monkeys, and foxes (which I also shared on Instagram). They're so easy to throw together in the morning and when we're all feeling a little less than enthusiastic about getting to school in the morning, it's a great way to get my kids excited for the day! :) The bunnies were made with carrots, raisins, blueberries, bananas, and cream cheese on bread.

2. Teacher gifts



I figured since I was going to be seeing all of my daughters' teachers for conferences anyway, we could go ahead and give them a little thank you gift instead of waiting for Christmas. I think this needs to be a thing. It was a perfect way to get in the Thanksgiving spirit, and I had a lot more energy to help the girls put them together since it wasn't crazy holiday/concert season yet. We made some hot peppermint hot chocolate mix (got the recipe from The Domestic Geek here) and put them in baggies inside these travel mugs we got at Target Dollar Spot. The teachers loved them, it was relatively cheap, and didn't take too long to put together. The girls wrote personal notes to each teacher on the back of the recipe cards :)

3. Mortimer



I love doing my Mortimer lessons in November with my 1st graders! If you haven't seen it already, here's my post with everything I do with this story- it is honestly one of my all-time favorites.

4. Music education blog posts








So many things to love this month- what were some of your favorites? If you haven't already, be sure to sign up for my newsletter. I have something extra special coming in the next one! Plus I always share timely ideas and resources that you're sure to find useful ;)




Tuesday, November 21, 2017

DIY Composition Manipulatives

Composition can be a daunting task for elementary students, but manipulatives can make the task a lot less intimidating and also help students better comprehend what they're doing visually, kinesthetically, and spatially. Today I wanted to share a relatively simple composition manipulative that I use primarily with my upper elementary students that I've found very successful.

This post contains affiliate links.

I've talked extensively about the power of manipulatives in a previous post- you can click here to read more about that topic and get more ideas for different things you can use as manipulatives- but the 2 biggest advantages in my mind are that you can 1) visually represent musical concepts more clearly, and 2) you are taking out the writing process altogether, allowing students to focus on the process of creating music itself. Many young students struggle to write down a rhythm or melody on a piece of paper because their brain has to focus on the actual writing itself, hindering their thinking about creating, or because the plain black and white lines and dots all start to become a blur and they get lost and confused. Manipulatives ease both of those common struggles.

I'm a huge fan of manipulatives in general, but this has got to be one of the simplest: I happened to find these foam sheets at Walmart a little over a year ago and thought, "For that price on that amount of sturdy material in that many colors, surely I can do something useful with it!" and into my cart it went. I paid under $5 for this set of 50 sheets (here is the same thing on Amazon, but not nearly as cheap):


Eventually I decided I could use them for rhythm composition. First I cut each sheet in half long-ways to make two longer rectangles. I assigned one color to be whole notes and made those full rectangles each 1 whole note, writing the note on each card with a permanent marker. From there, I cut the rectangles into different sizes to correspond with the number of beats- for quarter notes I cut each one into 4, for half notes I cut them in half etc- with each different note being a different color. I also made cards for the rests in the appropriate lengths, but kept them all the same color:


It may seem like a simple idea but the results have been pretty powerful: I use these for a wide range of games and composition tasks with lots of ages, because they're easy to pull out whenever I need them, but I particularly spent focused time using these with my 4th graders last year, who I found were really struggling with understanding how to properly fill a measure with the correct number of beats. This year as 5th graders, I was shocked at how easily they were able to write out a rhythm, including all different lengths of notes, even in September. I really think these cards made a difference! 

Of course with my older students especially, I will have them transfer their compositions to a piece of paper after working with the manipulatives. That allows them to focus on one thing at a time- first creating, then writing- and makes the whole thing much smoother. When we're working with multiple measures, I hand out popsicle sticks to use as bar lines. Easy!

The great thing about these, compared to printed cards, is that they are colorful, they are durable, and they are fun for the kids to touch (they're a little bit squishy!). I used these heavily last year and they still look almost brand new. And I have plenty more foam sheets I can quickly cut up if I ever need to replace some or add to my collection ;)

Do you use manipulatives like these for composition in your classroom? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments below! And if you want to stay in the loop with timely and helpful ideas and resources from me, be sure to sign up for the newsletter below:




Monday, November 20, 2017

24 Easy Christmas Activities for the Whole Family

With Thanksgiving coming up in just a few days, that means Christmas is just around the corner! Each year since my daughters were almost 3, I've put together an advent calendar (see how I made the calendar itself here- super easy) with a different, small Christmas activity for us to do as a family each day in December leading up to Christmas. As the girls have gotten older, I've changed some of the activities we do, but I've definitely kept the low-key spirit up- no music teacher has time for fussy projects or glitter all over the house in December! Today I wanted to share my list of easy Christmas activities I'll be starting next week with my almost-6-year-old girls.


There are a few things I look for when I'm thinking about what to put on our list: 1) things that we're going to do anyway, like putting up a Christmas tree or wrapping presents, 2) things that are quick and easy but are still Christmasy, like eating a candy cane or singing a Christmas carol, and 3) things that I don't want to forget to do as a family that could easily get lost in the craziness of December, like making cookies or going to see a lights display. So here's my list for this year (in no particular order):

1. Put up the Christmas tree
2. Put out the nativity scenes
3. Put (electric) candles in the windows
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. Decorate Christmas (sugar) cookies
9. Make an advent wreath
10. Make Christmas cards
11. Deliver Christmas cards (in the mail and in person)
12. Shop for/ make 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. Make a gingerbread house
18. Go on a train ride with Santa
19. Hang the stockings
20. Watch a Christmas movie in our pajamas
21. Read Christmas books (including one new one)
22. Put out cookies and carrots for Santa and the reindeer
23. Drink hot chocolate with all the fixings
24. Drive through the local light display to see the Christmas lights

Here's last year's list for 5 year olds, my list for 4 year olds, and the one for 3 year olds, if you're interested in more ideas for the littles. I love putting the calendar together each year because it relieves the pressure I would otherwise feel to make sure I'm taking the time to enjoy the holiday with my girls, and doing small things each day makes the whole month more fun without anything getting overwhelming!

What holiday traditions do you have with your family? I'd love to hear them in the comments below! Happy Holidays, everyone! :)

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

6 Ways to Add Challenge to Music for Young Musicians

So you're 4 weeks away from the concert but your students have already learned and memorized all of their music. Or you're looking for some repertoire for the next performance and find a song that's really great but way too easy for your students. Last week I shared my favorite ways to simplify a piece of music to fit your students' needs, and today I'm sharing some ways to do just the opposite by increasing the difficulty level to appropriately challenge your students!


One of the keys to putting together a successful performance with young musicians is making sure the difficulty level of the material is right in that "zone of proximal development". Obviously it won't work if the music is too hard, but I get just as nervous if the music is too easy! Students lose focus and interest so quickly when they learn the music too far in advance of the performance or feel the music is "beneath them". Here are some easy ways I like to add a little extra challenge to a piece to keep students engaged and add to their learning!

1. Add a harmony part

It doesn't have to be the whole song, but adding a harmony (or counter-melody) line to a piece is a great way to up the ante. In a standard verse-chorus song, adding a harmony part to the chorus section is a great way to add a short harmony part that the students can repeat throughout the song.

2. Add instrumental accompaniment

If you're working on a vocal piece, adding instruments is a great way to increase the difficulty and interest! Simple ostinati on unpitched percussion are always a safe bet, but if you can have some students play a counter melody on recorders or a band or string instrument, even better!

3. Add body percussion

This is similar to the last one, but even without instruments you can add accompaniment parts using body percussion! I love adding body percussion patterns if my choir is singing a song with an instrumental interlude in the middle- that way I don't lose their attention while they're not singing, and it keeps the audience more engaged as well. But you can also add body percussion ostinati while a group is singing to add more accompaniment without having to mess with instruments.

4. Split up into sections

If your vocal or instrumental group is not quite ready for harmony or other accompaniment parts but you want to increase the challenge a little bit, splitting one line up between different groups can be a great way to introduce students to partwork. Have half of the students sing the first line, then the other half sing the second line, and work on following the conductor's cues. I am always surprised at how this simple change can add just enough challenge to refocus the group and keep them on their toes!

5. Add more expressive contrast

Hopefully you're already working on changing up dynamics, timbre, and articulation to fit the mood of the piece, but you can make a piece more challenging by really focusing on those expressive elements and adding more dramatic contrast to the piece. Tell students you're going to change it up each time and force them to really respond to your conducting cues by asking for different dynamics etc each time you perform the song!

6. Add props, dance, or dramatic elements

You may have noticed that "add motions" is not on my list- that's because in my opinion, for young musicians, adding motions actually makes the piece easier (here's a post I wrote on that)! However, there are other things you can add to the performance to increase the difficulty, like props (think paper plates, flashlights, scarves, etc) or stage movement/ acting (have some students silently act out the story of the song in front of the ensemble as it is being performed, move around the stage with the music like a very simplified marching band, or even choreograph a full-out dance routine).

There are plenty more ways to "up the ante" and make the material more difficult for young musicians, but those are some of my favorites. What are your favorite tricks for adding extra challenge to performance music? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments below!

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Spiced Milk Steamers

After an unusually warm October, the weather here has gotten chilly the last few weeks- and that has me craving a hot mug of something cozy all day every day! My 5-year-olds like to get in on the coziness too, but most of the kid-friendly warm drinks, like hot chocolate or hot apple cider, are so sugary. Today I've got another option for a kid-friendly, non-caffeinated warm drink that has a lot less sugar: milk steamers!


I hope I'm not the last person on earth to discover these things.... I have gotten steamed milk for my daughters a couple of times at Starbucks when we went together, but I didn't know it was an actual thing until recently. I started making them for myself on cold winter evenings last year and this year I've loved trying some new flavor combinations!

The basic idea is simple: add some spices and/or sweeteners to some milk and heat it up. Done. I have this latte maker which can froth and heat milk, so I use that, but you can easily make it in a saucepan- just heat everything together on medium low heat, stirring occasionally with a whisk.

Obviously the sky's the limit in terms of flavor combinations- if you aren't worried about the sugar you can do it like Starbucks and just add a little flavored syrup- but here are some of my favorite things to add to my milk steamers:

Sweeteners: honey, molasses
Spices: cinnamon, cardamom, ginger
Extracts: vanilla, peppermint

My absolute favorite combination right now is a little cardamom and molasses. So cozy!

Have you ever tried milk steamers before? What are some of your favorite ways to flavor them? If you've never had one before, give it a shot- it's a really great way to mix up your tea/ coffee/ hot chocolate routine and unwind on a cold evening :)

If you want more hot drink ideas, don't miss my chai tea recipe and my ideas for spicing up your coffee at home:






Tuesday, November 7, 2017

6 Ways to Simplify Music for Young Musicians

You're 4 rehearsals away from the concert and your choir is nowhere near ready to perform. Or you find a really great piece for your ensemble that would fit perfectly with your theme and you know your students would love, but it's too difficult. I often find myself adapting music to my students' ability levels- sometimes making a piece more challenging, and other times simplifying- and it gives me a lot more flexibility in choosing repertoire and preparing for performances! Today I want to share some easy ways to simplify a piece of music for your students.


1. Leave out parallel harmony (or other tricky harmony) parts

This is an easy one, especially if you're still in the stage of selecting repertoire and haven't begun rehearsing yet! You can remove the harmony parts completely and have everyone sing in unison, or you can leave in just a few notes or phrases if you think your students are up for a little bit of a challenge- it often works out well to have students split into parts at the end of a phrase or section.

2. Repeat lyrics instead of learning all the verses

Obviously this one is specifically for singers: if the song has multiple verses, you can have them repeat the same lyrics for consecutive verses to give them fewer words to learn and memorize. This is a go-to for me if I feel like we're getting too close to a performance and the students aren't on track to finish learning a song in time!

3. Simplify rhythms

I don't like to do this very often but sometimes it can make a big difference in what a group can perform if you simplify the rhythms, particularly if there is a lot of syncopation, shifting meters, rests on downbeats, and other difficult rhythms. I rarely do this with a melody, but I have done it a few times with a harmony or ostinato part to make it easier for students to hear how the parts line up with each other and stay together as an ensemble.

4. Turn a section into a solo/ small ensemble feature

Rather than changing the music itself, you can also just reduce the number of students that have to learn that tricky phrase or memorize that 4th verse! This is a great strategy if you have mixed levels in a larger ensemble (don't we all?!?). Bonus: it's a great way to give those high achievers a little extra challenge while still making the music accessible for the group as a whole.

5. Adjust the key signature

I'm surprised at how many times I've found a piece that was perfect for my students in every way except for the range! If I'm lucky, it's simply a matter of lowering or raising the key to put it in a more comfortable range for the students' voices.

6. Narrow the range

If simply changing the key of the entire song isn't enough to make the music appropriate for your students, you can also narrow the overall range of each part. You'll need a pretty good understanding of chord structure/ melodic contour etc to do this, but even with the most recognizable melodies it can work just fine to lower those high notes to the next chord tone (or vice versa)- it's just a planned way of improvising on the original melody! ;)

There are plenty of other ways to simplify music depending on the piece of music and the students' abilities, but those are some of the easiest and most common strategies I use in my teaching. I hope this opens up new possibilities as you explore repertoire for your students, and eases your mind as you plan ahead to make sure students are ready for their performances!

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Monday, November 6, 2017

DIY Tea Box

It's been a while since I shared a quick and easy DIY project, so I'm excited to have another fun one to share today that's perfect now that the weather is getting cooler: a DIY tea box! Even better, this is a simple way to upcycle something you would otherwise throw away, so it's a great way to do a little planet saving too :)


I am a hot drink lover. Whether it's hot chocolate, coffee, or tea, I love it all! So naturally I have a bit of a tea collection in my pantry. That's all well and good when it's just me, but when I have guests over it can be pretty cumbersome (and overwhelming) to pull out 10 different boxes just to offer them a drink! This tea box solves that problem.

Another thing I love are those "cracker cuts"- cheese that is pre-cut into squares. They are so easy to pack in lunches and they're great to put out as a no-fuss appetizer or a quick snack after school. So I started accumulating these nifty long, rectangular plastic boxes that the cheese came in- I knew there had to be a way to reuse them!

Turns out, they are a great size for tea bags:


Besides the nice shape, these boxes also have a pretty good seal on the lid, so I can keep some of those tea bags that aren't individually packaged in there too- I just cut out a piece of the box so I know what type of tea it is, and stuck a few of each tea behind the cutout.

Honestly if you don't care about aesthetics, you could just rinse out the box, flip it over, and throw some tea bags in there. But of course I wanted mine to look a little more fun, so I cleaned off the original label and stuck some washi tape around the outside and on the lid. I put a few stickers on the top to write the word "tea" on the lid, and that's it!

I'm happy to have this little box on hand for the next time I have people over! Now to find some people to invite...... ;)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

An Organized Music Teacher Computer: Projector / Whiteboard Visuals

One of the biggest organizational struggles of the modern music teacher has to be digital organization. It's one of those problems that's great to have- with so many amazing online and digital resources out there, it's easy to accumulate way too many wonderful files on your work computer that would make your teaching so much better..... if you could just find them. Obviously there are a lot of aspects to digital organization that will help streamline and organize your files, but today I want to share a simple solution that I came up with this year that has streamlined my computer files significantly!


I've been using some form of projected images, whether it's PowerPoints on a pull-down screen or Smart Notebook files on an interactive whiteboard, for many years now. The first year I started using projected visuals, I would have a folder for each grade / class I taught, and I would save the file for each lesson in that folder and label it with the date. I figured then I could just reuse those same files the following year. What ended up happening in reality was that I wanted to change the order I was teaching, or update a lesson, or just update the visuals, and I ended up creating a whole new folder for every grade each year. And because I couldn't remember exactly when I taught certain lessons, I would have to search through tons of files to try to find the visuals that I wanted to use for my lesson- I probably could have just remade them in the time it was taking me to search for them.

So then I got smarter and started labeling the files with a word or two about the lesson or concept I was teaching in that file. This made it easier to find visuals from the previous year to reuse from year to year, but I was still creating an entire new folder every year and accumulating hundreds, maybe thousands, of files of the same repetitive material year after year. I couldn't figure out how to save my visuals so I wasn't starting from scratch each year without continuing this endless accumulation of files!

Enter my monthly lesson banks. If you haven't already, be sure to read this post on how I started organizing and pre-planning my lesson materials by month for each class- this simple change in my long-range planning has been seriously life changing. One aspect of this monthly planning strategy that I didn't realize would be a benefit was the organization of my PowerPoints for each lesson! Last year, when I was creating my monthly lesson banks, I created all of the projector visuals to go with those lessons at the same time and saved all of the visuals for each grade by month in a single file.

This year, I started off doing the same thing I've always done for my PowerPoints- I would copy and paste the slides I was going to use for the next lesson out of the monthly file for that grade, and save it with the date and concepts taught. Then it hit me: there was no reason for me to do that because I already have all of the visuals organized by grade and by month!

Now, instead of having those folders full of hundreds of files of duplicated, hard to search visuals, I have my "master folder" labeled "curriculum". Inside that folder is a folder for each grade, and within each grade I have a folder for each month, containing all of my plans, printables/ worksheets, and projector visuals for that month. Then I have ONE FILE for each grade / class saved to my desktop. When I am getting the visuals ready for each lesson, I delete the previous lesson's slides and save the new slides to that file, so the files on my desktop always have the current lesson's visuals saved and easily accessible.


See those boxes with purple headers? They are a free download from The Yellow Brick Road- grab them here if you want to organize your desktop by categories!

This has made my life so much easier, and my computer so much more streamlined. And when I do create or modify a slide for this school year, I just add the new slide to the monthly "master file" so I have it for next year.  Yessssssss!

This system will work for any software you're using for visuals- the PowerPoints I made are image files on each slide so they are easy to copy into different programs! Last year I used Smart Notebook. This year I'm trying to use PowerPoint, but if I get a new interactive whiteboard with its own software, I know I can always copy and paste the slides into that software.

How do you organize all of your visuals on your computer? Organization is a very personal thing because whatever we use has to make sense to us for it to really work- I'd love to hear about any other systems others are using to streamline their digital files in the comments section!

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Making Chores Work: the Power of Choice

My daughters have been doing small chores around the house since they were about 3 years old, as a part of their growing responsibilities as a family member. As they've grown the chores they do have changed, and this summer as the girls prepared to start kindergarten we revisited the family chore chart again. Today I want to talk about one aspect of how we do chores that I think makes them less of a burden and more of an expected part of life: choice.


Over a year ago I shared our family chore chart system in this post- I still love the idea of having my household responsibilities as the parent right there on the chore chart with the kids' chores- I think it makes it much clearer that we are all contributing! 

After using the same weekly chores for a year and a half, we revisited them this past summer. In the past, I had given them just a few options to choose from for which chores they did, but this time (now that they are 5.5 years old) I gave them the option to choose whatever chores they were most interested in doing. I was pleasantly surprised with their choices!


I've written before about how my girls have been cooking dinner together once a week for a few years now. One of my daughters loves it, but the novelty had worn off for the other one. So now just one of them cooks once a week, and the other chose things like sweeping and vacuuming. 

Unless they are really involved in doing something that they don't want to leave, I honestly never have trouble getting the girls to take care of their "jobs"- none of them are very time consuming, and since they picked them out themselves, it feels even less like they are being forced to do something. That's a win for everyone!

I'm sure eventually the girls will find out that there's this thing called allowance and realize they're being scammed, but I'm holding onto this sense of shared responsibility as a natural part of daily life for as long as I can! And I'm hoping that, even when they do start to be more resistant, that having this foundation at an early age will serve them well in the long run.

How do you handle chores in your family? What did you do as a child yourself? I know there is a wide spectrum when it comes to chores- I'd love to hear your thoughts, opinions, and stories in the comments below! 

If you want to read about the specific chores my girls have been doing at different ages, here are my past posts:




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Friday, October 27, 2017

October Favorites 2017

Another month has flown by, and I can't wait to share some of my highlights with you! And don't miss the fun announcements at the end of the post...


1. Annual "Faerie Village" visit



I can't believe I forgot to add this to my fall family bucket list this year, because it is seriously the highlight of the season for us! This is our 3rd year visiting the "faerie village" that is set up every October and it is so much fun. Different artists (including some students from local schools) make fairy houses centered around a different theme each year and they're set up all around the grounds. Visitors get a map with an explanation of each house and a small item to look for in each house, which is the best part for the kids (some are really hard to find)! My daughters love getting dressed up in fairy costumes every year, and this year we were lucky enough to have beautifully warm weather, which made for the perfect fall outing.

2. Floral planner spread



I wish I had a better picture of it but I am just obsessed with this weekly planner spread from a couple of weeks ago. Normally I'm pretty minimalist with my planner decorating, but I was flipping through some paper pads and was just awestruck by these gorgeous florals! It took a little time to cut them out but it was so worth it.

3. Q&A sessions!



I can't tell you how much fun I had putting together the Q&A blog posts and videos this month. I've never done Q&A sessions before and it was so great to hear your questions and just chat about things we're all interested in! If you missed them, I did a Q&A post on home questions, one with planner questions, and two posts on teacher questions- click here to see them.

4. Music education blog posts

I love reading all of the fantastic ideas from other music teaching blogs each week! Here are some highlights from October:





5. Newsletter fun!

And now for the first fun announcement I mentioned...

I'll be sending out my next monthly newsletter on Sunday, and I'll be including an exclusive seasonal calendar for 2018 in the email just for my subscribers! Be sure to sign up below so you don't miss out on this and other goodies coming your way! If you missed it this time, don't worry- you can still get the "plain and simple" 2018 calendar in my store right here- but be sure to sign up below for my newsletter so you don't miss out on future resources! I always include exclusive, timely content in each and every email, and it's a great way for me to stay connected with you without all of the extra "noise" on social media :)




6. More monthly favorites inspiration!

My second fun announcement: Jennifer from The Yellow Brick Road is joining in on the "monthly favorites" fun! Check out her first post below- she is a lot nerdier than I am, in the most adorable way possible, and it definitely shows in her favorites list this month ;)


That does it for my October Favorites- now it's your turn! I'd love to hear about what you enjoyed this month! And if you want to see my everyday "favorites" in real time, be sure to go follow me over on Instagram- all of my favorites photos above are pulled straight from my feed ;)