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Monday, December 11, 2017

Awesome Gifts that Aren't Things: quality time

I'm working on a series this month focused on sharing gift ideas that kids will love that aren't actual things, but instead are more intangible items. The idea is to focus on people and relationships over "stuff", and to decrease the amount of clutter that can easily take over the house when holidays and birthdays come around. Last week I focused on classes, clubs, and other recurring interest-based activities (read here). Today I want to focus on quality time with you (the gift giver)!


The ideas I shared last week are meaningful gifts because you are giving up part of your week to focus on an activity they want to do. There can definitely be a side benefit of shared experiences and quality time together, depending on the activity, but the main point is the activity in which they get to participate- not who they do it with.

But you can also give the gift of quality time with you! The idea is to make a specific commitment or plan to spend time focused on being together in a way that you normally wouldn't. You can present this in a few different ways to make it fun for the receiver:

*Give "coupon(s)" for specific activities that the receiver can redeem when they choose
*Give certificate(s) for a specific time and place, detailing the plans you have already arranged
*Give "coupon(s)" for a specific block of time and let the receiver choose the activity/location
*Give a certificate for a recurring "appointment", whether weekly or monthly, for a specific activity

There are so many fun ways to spend quality time with children! Pick something that you may not normally do, at least not just the two of you, but allows you to interact with each other:

*Go to the playground or library
*Go to a restaurant, ice cream parlor, or cafe
*Plan a game night, spa night, or craft time at home
*Go to a candy, toy, or book store (even just to browse)
*Go get your nails or hair done together
*Go camping, hiking, or boating, or go to the beach
*Go play basketball, other sports, or exercise together at a gym or pool

The great thing about this gift is that anyone can give it- even kids themselves. I've written before about how my daughters give the gift of a specific outing to their extended family for Christmas and birthdays now (honestly the most sought-after gift of all)- you can read about that in this post.

I hope this sparks some fun gift ideas that will not only reduce the clutter at home but bring you all closer together! Have you ever given this type of gift before? How did you present it? I'd love to hear your experiences and ideas in the comments!

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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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