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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Teacher Tuesday: teaching letter names of notes on the staff (part 2)

If you missed last week's Teacher Tuesday post, I talked about my favorite full-class activities for teaching the letter names of notes on the staff in any clef. You can read that post here. Today, as promised, I'm back to talk about my favorite activities to teach letter names in small groups. I use these activities primarily in centers, where students are rotating through the different activities to practice the letter names. Whenever I introduce a new clef (I push treble clef in 3rd and bass clef in 5th grade), I usually plan one class period of full-class activities to practice the letter names, and then one class period of centers, where students can get more practice. As with most center activities, the students need to have some grasp of the concept (or have a place to find that correct information) in order to successfully complete the activity independently.

1. Music Tutor (iPad)
This iPad app comes in a free and paid version. The free version has ads, but the paid version is just $1.99 so it's probably worth the investment. I love this app because you can customize it to treble, bass, or both clefs, you can customize the range of notes it displays- you can set it to use ledger line notes or just the line and space notes, and you can choose the amount of time on timer. I like to use the 1 minute timer so that it keeps the fast pace. There are plenty of other great iPad apps, both free and paid, for practicing letter names on the staff- this is just one example- but I do like this one because it is simple, straight-forward, and fast-paced. Here are some other great iPad apps for practicing note names.

2. Card Matching Game
I print off a picture of each note on the staff (one of each letter name) and one of each of the letters A-G, and put them on construction paper (I've done it where all the cards were the same color, or where the notes were on one color and the letters were another- two different levels of difficulty depending on what you do). The rest is just like memory matching except you are matching the note to the correct letter. I like having this center because it is a bit more low-pressure than some of the others.

3. Note Spelling Game
There are a lot of ways to do this but my favorite method (because it is the most low-maintenance) is this: I have words spelled with note letters (like CABBAGE or FADE) on folded pieces of paper in a cup, and enough dry erase boards and markers for each student. On "go", each student opens the paper they picked from the cup and races to write whatever word they got on the staff. Whenever they finish writing they yell "done" and the other students check their answer. If it's wrong, the game continues.

(Other variations could include using tokens or other small manipulatives on a staff or having all the students write the same word. I like dry erase because I don't have to keep up with a bunch of little manipulatives, and I like doing different words for each student because it adds that element of luck and unpredictability that feels more like a game for kids.)

3. Kaboom Sticks
This idea has been making its way around Pinterest for a while under a few different names (including Fiddle Sticks and Busted), but whatever you call it, it's definitely a kid favorite! I use this for rhythms as well. I'll let the guy that I took the idea from explain (see video below), but for my version I write the notes on the staff on the sticks and the student has to identify the letter name.

4. Swat the Note
If you've been paying attention you know that this was on my list for full-class activities as well. I use it for both. Basically one person says a letter name and the other students race to touch the note on the staff. What's fun about doing it as a small group activity is that I have the students take turns being the judge and caller. They LOVE getting to do that after doing it as a whole class beforehand. I've set it up for small groups by writing on a regular whiteboard or showing a projected image, and having them use fly swatters to swat the note or just hitting it with their hands. 

Well, there you have it: my favorite small group activities for practicing note letter names. I hope you found these ideas helpful!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Mommy Monday:10 Foods for Busy Moms to Keep On Hand

I have very high standards when it comes to how low-maintenance a recipe must be for it to be added to my cooking repertoire. I use a menu planner to plan out my meals, and I always plan meals that I can have ready to serve within 15 minutes of getting home on week nights. On weekends and holidays? Maybe 30 minutes-worth of work. Max. But even then, there are days when I just don't want to go with the plan. Some days I don't want to (or can't, because some people decide to wake up at an ungodly hour and insist on throwing tantrums) spend 10 minutes putting ingredients into a crock pot in the morning. Some days I find out that my kids just ate the very thing we were going to have for dinner for lunch at the nanny's house. Some days I just plain don't feel like it. Some days I go to get an ingredient and it has gone bad. Some days.... OK you get the idea.

When that happens, I have a few things that I always keep in my fridge or pantry so I know I have things I can whip up quickly, while still appealing to the toddler palates and maintaining a certain level of healthy eating. Here are some of my favorite things that I keep on hand for me and my two 3-year-olds to eat when things go off the rails.

1. Frozen Peas
I've had a bag of frozen peas in my freezer at all times for the last 2 years I think. My girls will eat them straight out of the freezer, or I can heat them up in the microwave in 30 seconds flat. I also add them sometimes to casseroles, pasta, or even tuna. If they finish their meal and they're still hungry, peas are often my go-to option to offer the girls as backup. They're also an easy food to take on the go- I throw some in a ziploc bag for each of them to eat in the car, at a picnic, or on a play date. No matter what state of frozen-ness they are in, the girls love them!

2. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are the best. They're so yummy and so healthy. I haven't met a toddler yet who doesn't like sweet potatoes. And, if you don't know this yet, you can cook them in the microwave in 4-5 minutes (depending on the size). I try to buy the long, skinny ones because they cook faster- poke a few holes in it, wrap it in a paper towel, cook on high for 2.5 minutes, turn over, and cook for another 2 minutes or so. And it's the perfect on-the-go food- it even comes in its own packaging! We take it on picnics still in the paper towel, and put the peel in the paper towels to throw away or take home more easily. For meals at home I usually peel and cut them into smaller pieces. And because they keep longer than other produce, they're a great thing to keep stocked.

3. Boxed Mac and Cheese
I know, this is totally a stereotypical thing to feed small children. But really, every now and then it's a great comfort food. It's my go-to food when the girls are sick, or we're feeling out of sorts. It's also easy to add things to it, like ground meat, spinach, bacon bits, or hmm, peas! When I'm totally stumped and don't want to put up with any complaints about what's for dinner, mac and cheese has never let me down. Our favorites are Back to Nature and Annie's brands. I feel less guilty giving them pasta out of a box when I use those, plus they come in cute shapes :) 

4. Bananas
Another easy food to take on-the-go, prepackaged by nature :) Also a good addition to smoothies (my favorite way to use up veggies that are about to go bad). When I'm feeling fancy, we make "banana splits"- I cut a banana length-wise, spread with peanut butter, put it back together, and cut it into slices. My kids are going to kill me when they find out what a real banana split is. Oh well.

5. Canned Beans and Corn
I hate really don't care for other canned vegetables, like green beans, because they're soggy and taste weird, but canned black beans and corn have become a pantry staple. They're both good to add to casseroles, pasta, tuna etc, and my girls love them straight out of the can too. Plus if I have some chicken, cheese, and tortillas, we've got ourselves a pretty nice taco dinner. 

6. Eggs
I don't know why it took me as long as it did to figure out that fried egg sandwiches were an excellent dinner option. It was one of my girls' favorite breakfast for a while before I had my epiphany. Now it's my go-to emergency meal. If I have ham on hand, our favorite way to make them is to crack the egg in the pan, flip it, put a slice of ham on top, flip it back, and when the ham and egg are both cooked, turn off the heat and add a slice of cheese on top. The girls like them without bread, but I like to put mine on a bagel or piece of toast and maybe even put some salsa on top. Yum.

7. Cheese
I have a confession to make: I LOVE cheese. I don't know how or why, because I grew up in Japan where cheese and other dairy products really aren't that big. But it's true. I usually have some kind of shredded cheese, cheese slices, and cheese sticks in my fridge at all times. Cheese is great for thrown-together meals (like casseroles, pasta, or fried egg sandwiches), and the cheese sticks are a great quick snack.

8. Frozen Salmon
I know not all kids love salmon like mine do, but boy do my girls love salmon. They will chow down on that stuff like nobody's business. I love it too, so that works out. Plus it's quick to defrost, and quick to cook. I usually pan fry it and throw on a little teriyaki sauce at the end. Done. 

9. Frozen Chicken
Chicken is just so versatile. It's also probably the #1 kid-friendly meat because it's so mild. I recently discovered that my girls LOVE pan fried chicken thighs with a little salt. That's it. I can't believe I've been spending all this time seasoning and cooking my chicken different ways when they love it just plain like that. Obviously there are a million different easy ways to use chicken too, but I'm adding that to my emergency meal plan options now. I have also found quite a few crock pot recipes that let me throw in the chicken still frozen in the morning, and I come home to dinner. Awesome.

10. Yogurt
Another versatile food that's great at home or on-the-go. I put some in pouches (read more about my reusable pouches here) to take in the car, add them to smoothies, or just eat it. One of the beauties of yogurt is the variety. I think the girls get excited about the different colors and flavors. Right now they usually eat greek yogurt, which comes in so many different flavors it's astounding. 

Alright, I'm still thinking of more things that I always keep stocked in my fridge or pantry, but I'd better stop there. Those are definitely the "biggest hits" in my house. What are yours? Leave a comment! :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Teacher Tuesday: teaching letter names of notes on the staff (part 1)

Teaching students the letter names of notes on the staff is an important part of music literacy. I think of letter names and rhythm notation like multiplication facts and sight words for elementary homeroom teachers- they are fundamental skills that students need to practice over and over again. And, like learning times tables, it can be boring. Over the years, though, I've developed a pretty large and varied "bag of tricks" to practice pitch letter names without letting things get too stale. I will be sharing my favorite whole-class activities today, and small group activities (for centers or extra help) next week. All of these can be used for treble or bass clef, and incorporate a wide variety of learning styles.

1. King of the Mountain (aka Around the World)
I've heard this game called both names, but the rules are the same: two students, usually at the end of a row, stand up and try to be the first to identify the pitch that you show them on the staff. Whoever gets it right first moves to stand next to the next student while the loser sits down. The goal is for someone to make it "around the world", or beat every other student, but most of the time I just set a time and when that time is up, whoever beat the most people consecutively wins. You can do this with simple flash cards, but I like to show it up on the screen with this website. It's always better when you can blame the computer for picking the notes!

A few tips, based on my experience: 1) Tell students they can only say one answer. If neither one gets it right, go again, but if you let them give unlimited answers until they get it right, someone will start just saying the alphabet as fast as they can. Trust me. 2) If it's close, call a do-over. This game can get pretty competitive pretty fast! 3) If you see a student giving up too easily, or you know in advance that competition doesn't work well for them, have them be a co-judge with you. They'll still have to figure out the note names but it takes the pressure off of them.

2. Floor Staff Races
I have 5 long lines of tape on my floor. I split the class up into teams, and each team gets in a line behind the bottom line. The first person from each team races to stand on the correct line or space for the letter I call. 

Tips: 1) Make sure the lines are far enough apart for a reasonably-sized shoe to fit in between. You don't want any confusion over whether they were trying to stand on the line or space just because their shoes don't fit. 2) On a related note, tell them in advance that if it's unclear where they're standing you won't count it. They must have both feet centered on the line or space for their answer to count. 

3. Swat the Note
You can do this on a projected image, or with flash cards taped to the wall. Call a letter name and have 2 students race to touch/swat the correct note. You can either have them hit it with their hand or use fly swatters. 

Tips: 1) Fly swatters are fun, but they can also be dangerous and distracting. I've found that, if you spread out the notes enough on the board, it's just as much fun to hit it with your hand and one less hassle to deal with. 2) Tell them they can only swat one note- if they both get it wrong call a do-over but you don't want anyone running up and randomly hitting a bunch of notes hoping to get it right. 

4. Videos
If you haven't seen these already, you are missing out. I tell my students in advance that they are cheesy and that takes care of the kids who try to act like they're "too cool" for it. Seriously though, they do help a lot because they get stuck in your head! These videos are parodies of popular songs to teach the letter names of the treble and bass clefs.

5. Xylophone Relay
For this one you need 2-4 xylophones (depending on class size) and flash cards with the notes written on the staff (one set for each group). Divide the class up into equal groups, and have them line up behind a xylophone. The person at the front of each line should have one mallet. Set a stack of flash cards next to each instrument, facing down. When you say go, the first student in each group turns over the flash card and tries to play the correct pitch on the xylophone. If it's correct you say "OK". Once they get the ok, they pass the mallet to the next person and go to the back of the line. The next person turns over the next card. The first team to successfully get through their stack of flash cards wins.

Tips: 1) If you are doing all of the lines and spaces (and no notes outside the staff), try to get your teams as close to 9 each without going over so that each person has one turn. 2) Make sure you are standing where you can see everyone's cards and see what they are playing. The job of judge takes quite a bit of focus on this one!

6. Hand Staff
This is a simple activity but I use it to continue reviewing after we do our "big push" so that students don't forget the letter names. It's also a great tool for students to use independently when they are reading notes on their own. Tell everyone to hold up one hand in front of them, turned to the side. Point to the bottom finger and say the letter names of each line as you point to each finger. Then go back to the space between your two bottom fingers and do the same for the spaces.

I hope you found some new and fun ideas on this list to try in your own classroom- now what are your ideas? Share your favorite whole-class activities in the comments below!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Mommy Monday: 3 ways IKEA Trones can be your home organization hero

So, a few months ago, I came across these little things called Trones at IKEA:

TRONES Shoe/storage cabinet IKEA
They are plastic shoe storage cabinets and come in sets of 3, but they are each separate so you can arrange them vertically or horizontally to fit your space. OR so you can use just one at a time instead of all 3 together. Once I saw this thing I immediately thought of this space in my girls' bedroom:

I'm almost too embarrassed to even show you this picture, but there it is- I had been keeping their pajamas in a pile on the floor because I hadn't found a good place to put them! All of their other clothes are in a hallway closet, but since they get ready for bed in their bedroom, I didn't want to put the PJ's in there, and their bedroom is pretty small so I hadn't found an easy place to put them. A little plastic cabinet that easily pulls out and could be wall-mounted sounded perfect! Anything that clears space on the floor or counters is a win for me. 

But wait a minute... what about the other 2? Once I started thinking about ways I could use the 3 cabinets in the set, my mind was spinning. It is quite possible that I will soon be going back for another set, because I have a few other places I would LOVE to put these! But for now, here are the 3 ways I have used the Trones cabinets in my home and fallen in love!

1. Pajamas and books in kid's bedroom

Remember that pile of pajamas?

Here's that space now:

I love that there's a little lip around the top so you can use it as a shelf! It is the perfect height for the girls to reach inside the cabinet, and it's also the perfect spot to keep a few of their favorite potty time books! :) The girls love it too- it's like a magic box. 

2. Toilet paper

So, I was able to solve another never-ending organization dilemma: toilet paper storage! My problem is that most toilet paper storage is too easily accessible for curious little hands, and I wanted to avoid that all-too-familiar scene with 5 rolls of paper stuffed in the toilet and 1 very guilty looking toddler. Until now, I had been keeping extra paper in my storage closet. You can imagine the awkward scenes that sometimes ensued when I was on the toilet without paper in reach, or worse, a guest! Enter the Trones:

Doesn't it just fit right in with the bathroom? And bonus: I am keeping my deodorizing spray on the shelf as well. Inside the cabinet I was able to fit all of my extra toilet paper:

Pretty sure I'm set for a while! *sigh* Isn't it wonderful?!?

3. Fruit basket/bread box/pantry

So this one was a great way to get rid of some random little things that were annoyingly taking up space on my kitchen counters, and put some of the things I use regularly from my pantry (which is around the corner from my kitchen) within reach.

Before, I had my bread and bagels over in the corner of my kitchen counter:

Not only does it take up premium space, but it looks cluttered and messy. Then there was my fruit. I had thought about getting a fruit basket for a while, but the wall-mounted ones were a lot more expensive than I wanted. So my bananas and avocados just rolled around on my kitchen counters too:

Enter my Trones, mounted on the wall next to my command center:

In addition to putting my produce on top and bread inside, I was able to get my potatoes from the pantry and move them in here too. I was a little worried they would be too heavy but so far (a few weeks in) the cabinet seems very secure!

And guys, these things are $39.99 for a set of 3. That's under $14 per cabinet. Not bad, huh? 

Of course I have a lot of ideas for making them pretty, but for now I am enjoying the freedom they have brought to my floors and countertops, and the white blends in so well with my white "rental space" walls that I may leave them plain for a while. I still hear choir angels since every time I catch sight of them! 

How would you use a Tronet cabinet in your house? Have you used one already? Leave a comment!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Teacher Tuesday: Color-Coding Revisited

Back in August I shared my new color-coding system for my classroom, and it turned out to be a popular topic. If you're new to these parts, you can catch up on the topic here:

Today I want to give you an update on how the system has been working, and how I have expanded the system further since my last post on the topic.

First of all, the duct tape on the floor:

The tape has held up really well. I was worried that the students would constantly be picking at it when they were sitting at the circle spots, but after the first couple of weeks they have mostly left it alone. I had to replace 1 circle spot but all the rest of the lines and spots are still the same ones from the summer. Having the colors for their seating has been incredibly helpful! It is so easy to be able to call students by color group when we are transitioning, or point out groups that are doing well as positive reinforcement. Having the circle spots makes it much easier to form a circle for dances and games much more quickly, and having the colors gives them just enough choice on where to sit without allowing too much room for disagreements. I LOVE it.

Then, of course, there is the behavior management board aspect:

The behavior management aspect of the system has been expanded quite a bit so I will come back to that, but suffice it to say that it has been going well. The students even help keep me accountable when I forget to move the minion magnet (to indicate line leaders) and are always keeping track of which team is winning in points!

The instrument color-coding had mixed results for me:

Having the xylophones color coded has been great. It makes it much easier and faster to go to instruments when the students have limited options, and the students are much more accepting of the idea that they will be sharing an instrument with their classmates when I explain that it is their "team instrument" (who woulda thunk?). However, color coding the mallets did NOT work for me. First of all, passing out mallets took longer, not less time, because I had to hunt to find the right color. Second, the tape would not stay on! I had the washi tape on the top of the rubber handles, and they just kept sliding off. It was a good idea but not worth it for me in the end. 

The writing supplies have been another huge WIN:

I don't have students turn in work by teams normally, because that just adds more time to clean up and grading, but on the rare occasion  that they are in the middle of a writing activity and need to save it for the next class period, I have them put their papers in the color coded folders. That way they can get their own papers again without me having to pass them out again, which saves us time.

Ah, the pencils. One of the BEST THINGS EVER to come from this system! I am happy to report that I have not lost a single pencil since the start of the school year. I can't even believe it. The difference is incredible. Last year I went through boxes and boxes of pencils because they just kept disappearing. This year I have only had to stop and look for a stray pencil a couple of times, and I have always been able to catch it before the class leaves because I can quickly count up each team's pencils. WHAT A DIFFERENCE! The students have been much more careful with the erasers on the pencils too, because they know that they are going to be the ones using those same pencils again next time.

OK, so that's my update on how things have been working for me. Now let's talk about the expansion of my color coding kingdom!

This is the bulletin board (a work in progress) that the art teacher put up in the front lobby of our school. That's right folks, the color coding has left the music room and spread across the entire school! We have had a very difficult school year with behavior issues as a school, and the principal came to the staff around October asking for ideas to combat the lack of motivation among the students and staff. This was mine. Basically we took the color teams in my room and implemented it school-wide in a PBIS (positive behavioral interventions and support), Harry Potter-style house system. Let me try to briefly describe what we have done so far (and we already have plans to expand this for next school year after seeing the positive results!):
  • We made little tickets that say "house point" on them and put them in the hands of every single adult in the building. Adults can give tickets to students for positive behavior using whatever scale or system they see fit, and each homeroom has a folder where the students deposit tickets for their color team. Each week those point are tallied in each homeroom and the school-wide totals are posted on this board. At the end of the month, the team with the most points wins a prize (ice cream in the cafeteria, hat day etc).
  • We have started having assemblies once a month as sort of "pep rallies". We do some games, some contests where they can win points as a team, and at the end we announce last month's winners. The art teacher ran a contest to design a mascot for each team, and I had the students write chants/cheers for their teams, so now we use those in our assemblies as well (the mascots are going to be added to the board once we get those copied). 
  • We are doing some special events where students can earn tickets for their team by participating, like "role model day", when they dress up as their role model, or "timely ticket", when everyone who is in their seat on time gets a ticket (we've struggled with tardiness). 
  • Future plans include using the color teams for field day, electing house captains in student government fashion, and meeting by teams for team-building activities and bringing in guest presenters to talk about different careers etc.
This system has been a huge success school-wide. Students are much more motivated, and they cheer on their teammates when they do well. It also helps us as adults focus on more of the positive behaviors as well, and it has improved the relationships between the students and the adults too I think.

I hope this update was helpful for you- have you used a color-coding system in your classroom? Has your school ever tried a house system for behavior management? Share your experiences and ideas in the comments!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Mommy Monday: 3 steps for organizing new toys

Well, we've successfully survived the entire holiday season, and even made it through (for most of us) the first week back in school- for your kids and/or for you as a teacher! After that big push of madness fun, I'm now entering the hangover stage: you know, that moment when you look around at all the new presents that are sitting haphazardly in a corner because you have no place to put them, the Christmas decorations still up, and the mountain of cardboard boxes and wrapping paper that needs to be recycled and you know you have to deal with it but it's just so cold outside and you're so tired and... hmmm maybe a cup of hot chocolate first? For me I have an added bonus: my girls turned 3 last Tuesday. Yep, they have an early January birthday, which means double the festivities, double the presents, double the fun, and double the chaos.

So today I wanted to share some of the things I am doing to take the first step towards normalcy: getting all the new toys under control!

1. Out With the Old

I think we've all heard this one by now but it bears repeating: if you haven't already purged old toys and playthings before the holidays, now is the time to do so. I had a hard time getting rid of as much stuff as I needed to before the holidays, because the girls still get out (and enjoy) all of the toys they have from time to time. I got rid of some stuff, but I knew it wasn't enough. After seeing the girls playing with their new, age-appropriate (or slightly beyond their years) toys though, it's become a little bit easier to get rid of the stuff they got 2 years ago. As much as they enjoy them, they don't stimulate their curiosity or teach them new skills like the new ones do.

I throw everything into trash bags and take them to the local Salvation Army or Goodwill store. I used to try to sell things, either on Craigslist or at a resale store, but I've come to realize that it's not worth the time or the energy to get that little bit of money back in my pockets. Plus, since I don't have time to do a lot of community service, I like the idea that I'm donating to a good cause. Whatever you do, just get the stuff out of your house!

2. Consolidate

Have you noticed that a lot of toys and playthings are bigger than they need to be in their original storage? The girls got several new games this year, and they each came in a big box. While some thing don't waste any space in their boxes, a lot of them did. The card matching game I took out of the box and put it into a plastic baggie. So that I wouldn't completely lose the cute cover on the box (which the girls liked), I cut out part of the front (just enough to fit inside the box) and threw away the rest.

The blocks game was simple. Since it only had 7 pieces and they were each big enough to not worry about getting lost from each other, I just stuck them in one of the (newly emptied) bins in the girls' toy storage, along with the ziploc bag of cards, and got rid of the box altogether. So much smaller, and a lot easier for the girls to access themselves too!

3. In With the New

Now that you have some empty storage space left by the removal of old toys and you've consolidated everything to be as streamlined as possible, it's time to put everything away. Before sticking everything into the empty spots, though, I like to take stock of what I have where and see if there are better ways I could be storing and organizing them. Sometimes things that made sense a year ago don't make sense any more, now that the kids are taller and more independent, and the types of toys they have are changing.

I had, for example, been storing the play dough with the art supplies, but I realized that they don't really use the play dough with markers or paper. They use it with the kitchen toys like the rolling pin and the knives. So I moved the play dough over to a box near the kitchen supplies, and now it makes a lot more sense!

You may also be able to adjust the categories you use for storing toys- I got rid of some old puzzles but got several board games, which we haven't had before, so maybe the couple of puzzles I kept should be stored with the board games in a category of "games"? I'm still figuring that one out, but it's good to be thinking about which storage systems work and what is outdated.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Teacher Tuesday: fresh start 2015 {freebie}

Raise your hand if you went back to work yesterday! Oh my, by half-way through the day I was completely exhausted. Getting back into the swing of things is rough. I have a freebie for you today that I hope will help with that- click on the picture to download for free!

This is a checklist of things you can do to clean up, organize, purge, and freshen up your classroom, office, and teaching practice. There is space for you to add in your own items under each category as well (teacher area, student area, walls, instruments and manipulatives, planning, and digital). And if you want to do the same thing at home, go check out yesterday's post- there is a fresh start checklist for home that you can download too! 

My big project right now is finally putting together an inventory of everything in my classroom. When I started this job a year and a half ago, I took over for a teacher who had been in that position for 6 years, and the person before had been there for over a decade. When I started going through the closet, I found stuff from when the person 2 teachers before me had started! I did some major purging at the end of last school year and now I need to document what I have and where it is- there was no inventory list whatsoever before now, as far as I can tell. I made this excel document to help me organize all that information- you can find that file here if you're interested. 

P.S. I have 2 chances for you to get more free stuff going on right now- I am going to be sending out an exclusive freebie to all of my TpT followers when I reach 200 (and I'm stuck at 199 right now, so the next person will be the lucky one to get in on the freebie with us!), and I have a $10 store credit giveaway going on all week for everyone here! Don't forget to go enter the giveaway, and make sure you're following me on TpT to take advantage of all the goodies! :)

Monday, January 5, 2015

Mommy Monday: fresh start 2015 {freebie}

It's a new year- Happy 2015! For those of you who don't know, I spent most of my childhood in rural Japan, and New Year's is kindof a big deal in Japan. One of the things we do, called 大掃除, is like the American "spring cleaning"- the literal translation is "big cleanup". Everyone in the family helps clean the house from top to bottom. With small children, a big part of cleaning up is getting rid of stuff we aren't using. About a week ago I went through the closets and toys and donated or threw away a bunch of stuff- it felt so good! I also went through and organized and purged my digital life as well. I think this is the first time I've done it but wow, what a difference! I had so many old files, old contacts, unused apps on my phone, out-of-date pins on Pinterest, email subscriptions I don't even like, etc....

To help me keep track of everything I want to do to get a fresh start this year, I made a checklist of things around the house and my digital devices that need cleaning/organizing/refreshing. You're welcome to use the checklist yourself to get your own fresh start- I've left some blank space for you to add your own items depending on your own home situation. Just click on the picture to download the file.

The thing I love about this is that it's a little bit of everything- cleaning, organizing, purging, doing something new- but it's all focused on giving myself a fresh start. I will probably be doing this again- it doesn't even have to be a New Year's thing! Plus the little birdie makes me happy :) 

I hope this helps you feel good about the new year! I'd love to hear from you if you use it! Let me know if you're unclear about any of the items on the list.

Follower & Feedback Frenzy

Big news! Several of the up-and-coming music teacher sellers on TeachersPayTeachers have joined forces for an awesome giveaway!


There are lots of ways you can enter my giveaway, and you can come back and do many of them once a day if you want more entries! And don't forget to follow the links to enter the giveaways in the other stores as well- you could walk away with a TON of free stuff at the end of this week! The winner of my giveaway will get $10 worth of products from my store- just peruse my items and let me know which ones you want- and if it's something over $10 you can get $10 off the item.

We are hosting this giveaway because, as newer sellers, it can be hard to get the word out about our stores and blogs. I believe very strongly in the quality of my blog post ideas and store products, and the whole point of taking the time to post them on the internet is to share those ideas and products with other people! 

Here's a little bit about why I am asking for your follows and feedback:

TeachersPayTeachers: When you follow my store, I can communicate with you more easily. I send out notes with exclusive freebies as well as news about new and updated products. A lot of people don't see when products they have purchased have been updated- that's an important piece of information for you because you can re-download for free and get an improved or expanded product! 

When you leave feedback, not only does it help me understand how my products are being received, but it also gives future buyers helpful information and gives you credits towards your own future purchases! So that one is a no-brainer! But please, if you have a question or have a problem, contact the seller before you leave feedback (you can do this in the Q&A section). Unlike Amazon and other similar online stores, TpT encourages sellers to update products (which buyers can then re-download for free). Give the seller a chance to improve (or point you in the right direction if it's a technical issue) before marking them down! 

Pinterest: I love Pinterest. It is often my first stop when I am trying to spread the word about a new blog post or product in my store, and it is definitely my go-to for saving, searching for, and sharing other ideas I find for home, teaching, and everything else! By following me on Pinterest you will see the ideas and products I pin- not just my own stuff but the other great stuff I find. I consider myself a thoughtful pinner- I don't pin stuff without knowing that it's good- so you won't find any spam or fluffy pins from me.

Facebook: Ah Facebook. I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. I hate that Facebook decides what I want to see when, but I love that I can keep in touch with so many people from all over the world in one place! For a quick place to share links, Facebook is definitely my go-to, and I do occasional quick deals that you won't see anywhere else. Facebook has the most up-to-date information because it is by the minute. If you "like" my page on Facebook, please make sure you go to the "liked" button and click "get notifications". If I want you to see the information I post on my page I have 2 options: hope that you selected "get notifications" or post stuff A LOT. I'd rather only share stuff that I think you'll be interested in than spam your newsfeed! I may be interesting but I'm not THAT interesting LOL!

Blog: My blog is my favorite. I love the opportunity to be creative, to write, to share my ideas, and connect with other moms and music teachers. It has been a fantastic journey. I am going against the general blogging wisdom by writing about two pretty broad topics- parenting/home and music teaching- but I love both so much! I hope you will help me spread the word about my blog by sharing my blog posts or following my blog because it helps me connect with more people.

And now for the giveaway! Thank you for your support, and don't forget to go show your love to the other music sellers by visiting their links as well. I bet you will discover a new seller or two (or three...) that you love!

**The links to all my pages are at the top of my blog- just click on the icon in the top right corner.**

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you are a music blogger and want to join the Giveaway Linky party, here are the directions:

1.) Save the Giveaway picture above and include it in your blog post, with a link to this blog post.
2.) Blog about why feedback and followers are important to you.

3.) Plan your giveaway for $10 credit to your store.
4.) Click the button below and add your information!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

And the Award Goes To.....

Jennifer from The Yellow Brick Road and Michelle from Music With Miss W both recently nominated me and my blog for the Liebster award! I love both of their blogs, so I was thrilled to receive the mentions. The Liebster award is awarded by bloggers to blogs with growing audiences.

At the end of this post, you'll find the bloggers that I've chosen to nominate. The following rules have been set for me, as well as for the bloggers I nominate. I am nominating just a few blogs (the award seems to have made it's rounds through many of the blogs I follow!), but my nominees could nominate up to 11 blogs.

1. In your post, link back to the blogger who nominated you as a thank you and a 'shout out'.2. Answer the questions that the tagger set for you, plus create 11 questions for the people you've tagged to answer (please use the set questions I've answered).3. Nominate up to 11 people, (blogs with less than 200 followers) and link them in your post. 4. Let your nominees know and provide them with a link back to your post (so they can see the rules)5. No nominating the person who nominated you, however you may send them a thank you.

1. Why and how long ago did you start blogging? 
I started blogging in 2009 with a little family blog. I started because I was living on, quite literally, the other side of the planet from most of my family. It was especially nice to have when I was pregnant and after the girls were first born, but it quickly died when the Chaos-with-a-capital-C of newborn twins set in, and became unnecessary when I moved to the States closer to my family. I started this blog this past July (2014) to participate in the great idea exchange that I saw in the online parenting and music teacher communities. It is a great creative outlet for me and a nice change of pace to sit down and reflect on what I do as both a parent and a teacher.
2. What one word sums up the heart of your blog and why?
Chaos. I want to celebrate chaos (at least the semi-managed kind) as a positive thing. Chaos is what tends to happen when you allow people (and children in particular) the freedom to do things their way. As long as we are all working to support each other, and as long as we have things in place to organize it, I think chaos is something we should all strive for both at home and in the classroom! I try to communicate that in my blog posts by sharing ideas that have helped me (a "type-A" personality, for sure) give my children and my students more of that independence and freedom to create organized chaos :)
3. Is there something you learned late in your blogging journey you wished you knew before?
Well, I wouldn't really say I am late in my blogging journey to begin with, but I have learned that picture are important. I don't think I realized how much time and effort those "top bloggers"  put into taking quality photos, editing them, watermarking them, and on and on... I certainly don't take the time to go that far but I have become more conscious of how I can use pictures to capture attention and communicate ideas more clearly and effectively.
4. What is your favorite past time other than blogging?
Oh my goodness, do you really expect me to pick just one?!? My mind is racing with all the things I want to say but if I really had to pick, I would probably say my time that I have each morning with my latte and Bible reading. I wake up around 4am just so I can have enough time to sit by myself in silence before the girls wake up. And for my birthday last year I got a latte machine so now I can enjoy a home-made latte with very little effort each morning.... Aaaah.
5. How many hours per week do you dedicate to your blog?
Hmm. It depends, but.... probably about an hour total. Woops.
6. What category of blog posts do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy a pretty wide range- which is partly why my blog also has a wide range of categories! I like any post that expresses thoughtful ideas eloquently and gracefully.
7. Where does your blog inspiration come from?
Life. I think my favorite part of blogging has been allowing myself to notice and reflect on the things that I do well at work and at home!
8. Which post that you've written are you most proud of?
Hmm. Two posts that I really put a lot of heart into come to mind: this one on how I try to talk to my daughters and students, and this one on world music that I wrote as a guest post on The Yellow Brick Road (hi Jennifer!). 
9. Is there any post you have been planning to do, but have been postponing for a while now?
I have been planning to do a Mommy Monday post on my entry way (or lack thereof), but I keep putting it off for other ideas that I think are more timely. I'll get around to it soon because I love what I have ended up with! :)
10. What's your favorite aspect of blogging?
I already mentioned this in another answer, but my favorite aspect has been having an excuse to notice and reflect on the things I do well at work and at home. As a single mother and a teacher I don't get a lot of positive reinforcement for either one on a regular basis, and it's easy for me to start focusing on things that go wrong rather than things that go right. Blogging has been a wonderful antidote for that negative thinking cycle!
11. Which recipe, project, or idea on my blog would you be most likely to try yourself?
I love many of the teaching and technology ideas on Jennifer's blog, but I have already done a few, including the headphone splitters she mentioned in her post on "Music Center Gadgets and Tools". I really love the binder stands she mentioned in that same post, so I will probably be getting those soon too! I have been wanting to stock up on some of Michelle's "color by music symbol" worksheets for my sub lessons for a while, so that is definitely something I want to try soon!

With that, here are my nominees!
 I Heart Teaching Music - love her website layout and design, and she has some great tech tips for teachers!
Mrs. Kuchta's Corner - lots of great Kodaly-inspired resources!
Floating Down the River - so many great resources. I loved her Nutcracker lesson ideas!
The Munchkins - single mothers of twin girls unite!