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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

My Favorite Nutcracker Music Lesson Ideas

For many music teachers, December in the music room means The Nutcracker! Today I want to share some of my favorite lesson ideas using The Nutcracker that I love doing with my elementary students, and I'm also including a link-up at the end of the post for other bloggers to share their favorite Nutcracker lessons, so be sure to check those out as well!

1. Movement

I've shared this before but it is still my favorite Nutcracker lesson. I created these movements to go with the March, Trepak (Russian), and Sugar Plum Fairy music a few years ago. Not only are they great because they are active, but they are a great way to reinforce the form in each movement as well as other musical elements like articulation. The idea for the Sugar Plum Fairy is a painter- first painting dots, then painting swirls and turning the canvas to see which way it should go, then back to painting dots.

2. Play-along

This one is great for reinforcing form as well, but it's also the perfect way to practice steady beat and rhythm and break out those instruments! This play-along video by Denise Gagne shows rhythms and steady beat sections for students to play on instruments to go with the Nutcracker Overture.

3. Arrangements

For upper elementary students, I like to introduce the concept of arranging with these examples of totally different versions of the Sugar Plum Fairy. First we watch each of the videos, and discuss what elements were the same and which were different (what things can you change without changing the song itself?). Afterwards, I have students create an arrangement of a simple song (like Jingle Bells) in small groups to perform for the class. Besides introducing students to the concept of arranging, it's also a great way to review music vocabulary through the discussion of musical elements.

"original" with traditional ballet dancer:

On wine glasses:

Electrohouse/ Dubstep:

Asian folk metal:

a capella:

What are some of your favorite lessons using The Nutcracker? If you're a blogger, please link up your (non-product heavy) posts below, and I'd love to hear everyone's favorite ideas in the comments!

Want more? Sign up here for the Organized Chaos Newsletter to get ideas and resources sent straight to your inbox. You can also check out my complete general music curriculum resources here!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Leftovers with an Asian Twist

Today I'm sharing some of my favorite ways to give leftovers new life, all in Asian-style food (yes, I know that is a broad category... it's intentionally vague because none of this is exactly "authentic"). If you're looking for some different ways to use up the food in your fridge, you might want to give some of these ideas a try- I always love the results!

*this post contains affiliate links*

There are two kinds of leftovers that I always end up with in my house: left over prepared meals, and extra meat and produce that I didn't use in my meals. Because it's just me and two preschoolers, it's not uncommon for me to end up with half a bell pepper, half a can of corn, or one extra chicken thigh that we didn't use. and with the unpredictable eating patterns of 4-year-old's, I can often end up with way more left over food than I want to eat in my packed lunches. To avoid wasting all of that food, I often throw everything into one of these recipes for a quick meal that makes the food taste completely different!

1. Instant ramen

I know what you're thinking....... instant ramen?!? Yep. I certainly don't recommend doing this all the time, but for a quick (and cheap) meal it's hard to beat! I get these packages of spicy ramen at my grocery store to keep in my pantry- the red chili flavor is not overwhelmingly spicy but it is enough to give it a little kick. I throw left over (cooked) meat and produce in it and end up with a not-too-unhealthy meal that is really comforting on a cold day- my favorite combination is slaw mix, bell peppers, one scrambled egg, and chicken with a slice of cheese melted on top (I got that from my time in Seoul), but you can honestly put in almost anything. Chop any meat or produce up into small, bite-size pieces and throw it in the pot once the noodles are cooked. 

2. Yakisoba

OK, this one is pretty similar to the first idea but it's worth mentioning. If you've never had it before, yakisoba is basically a Japanese pan-fried noodle dish, and it's another one that you can throw almost anything in. I have found imitation yakisoba at the grocery store, but the best flavor (in my opinion) is this brand from Japan, which I've always been able to find at Asian markets. The cooking directions are the same- throw in any cooked meat and produce you want after the noodles are cooked- the only difference is that the yakisoba won't have any broth (and the seasoning will be different). 

3. Fried rice

Whenever I make rice for dinner, I often make an extra cup of rice to save for fried rice. Fried rice with fresh rice is just.... not the same. This is my favorite way to use up extra meat that is still uncooked, because to make the rice you cook the meat and produce first, but it's also my favorite way to use leftover fish. Cook any meat, then stir fry the vegetables in. Put the leftover rice in with some seasoning- I'm personally fond of this Japanese kind (surprise) but really any kind will do- and cook until well-combined. The last step is to make a hole in the middle of the pan by pushing the rice to the edges of the pan and scramble an egg or two in the middle, then mix it all back together. 

4. Stir fry

Nothing fancy about this idea- just stir fry any combination of meat and/or vegetables together! The key is the sauce. For Japanese flavor, I like this teriyaki sauce, and for spicy / Thai flavor, this red chili garlic sauce is my new favorite (be warned: this stuff is not bland)!

I hope this gives you some new ideas for using up the leftover food in your fridge! How many of these have you tried, and what are your favorite ways to use leftovers? Leave a comment below!

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

November Favorites 2016

The turkey has been eaten, Christmas lights are going up around the neighborhood.... November must be ending! I'm back to chat about some of the things I enjoyed this month, but this month's "favorites" post is special- there's a giveaway involved (and not a lot of time to enter)! Be sure to read to the end for your chance to win some fun stuff, and don't miss one other special announcement...

First let's talk about "a few of my favorite things"!

1. New Christmas planner supplies

I found some super cute Christmas sticky notes and washi tape on sale a couple of weeks ago and was so excited! I can't wait to use them next month (sorry I didn't get a picture of the washi tape- I'll share on Instagram soon!):

2. My 5th and 6th grade chorus

Is it weird to say one of the ensembles I conduct is a "favorite"? I teach 2 choral groups: a 3rd/4th grade chorus and a 5th/6th grade chorus. This year my 5th and 6th grade chorus has been blowing my mind every week and I just can't stand it. I literally thank them at the end of every rehearsal. They're singing in 3-part harmony at one point and I could just cry. I can't wait for the concert in a few weeks (seriously)! I always enjoy my chorus groups but for some reason I have just been amazed with what this group has done this year.

3. Ramen

Yes, ramen. Yes, the "instant" kind. I found these packages of spicy ramen at my grocery store recently and it has been my go-to meal when I'm sick and tired (which has been basically this whole month). Don't judge me- remember I've spent most of my life in East Asia. It's comfort food! If you want to see how I fancy up my ramen, be sure to read my post tomorrow..... :)

4. Blog posts

I found some awesome music education blog posts this month! If you aren't already, follow my page on Facebook. I share my favorite blog posts every Friday. Click on the pictures below to see each post- they really are worth the read!


Taking Care of Your Voice: Elementary Music Edition, Vocal health tips for the music teacher

And now for the giveaway!!!

I'm giving away some of my favorite Christmas sticky notes from Target, some red and green pens, and a $10 TPT gift card! Why the gift card? Because TeachersPayTeachers is having a site-wide sale Monday, November 28th, and Tuesday, November 29th! Everything in my store will be 28% off with the code CYBER2016 !!

This will be a quick giveaway so that the winner can use their gift card in the sale ;) The giveaway will close at midnight EST, Monday the 28th, and I will email the gift card code to the winner on Tuesday morning bright and early. There are a few ways to enter- the more times you enter, the better your chances will be! If you are subscribed to my newsletter, be sure to use your secret code that I sent just for you for an extra entry (and if you're not, make sure you subscribe right here so you don't miss any more goodness)!

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

#WhyITeachMusic : Stories to Motivate and Inspire

Last week I shared the things that motivate and inspire me to teach music and invited you to share your #whyiteachmusic stories as well. I absolutely loved reading the responses! I hope you will take the time to read the other blog posts (linked at the bottom of this post), and the comments, sometime this week. It has been the perfect way to get ready for Thanksgiving here in the US.

I've got the giveaway winners to announce at the end of this post, but first I want to share some of my favorite comments shared by all of YOU about why we do what we do:

"Music has been one of the most constant things in my life. When nothing else was going right, music is what I always turned too. Although I never in a million years thought I would teach elementary music, seeing those cute little kids get excited when the instruments are in the front of the room or when I start playing their favorite Christmas songs on the piano keeps me going, despite a very rough and overwhelming schedule." 

"The excitement in their faces when they discover that ANYONE can make music. The relationships that build in the music classroom among peers and teacher-student. When students get to the point when they realize and understand that the music classroom is a safe place for expression, imagination, and creativity" 

"I was motivated to teach music many years ago by a fabulous teacher! She was patient and passionate about music and continues to share that love with so many in her church and community. As a music teacher (this is my second time being the elementary music teacher in my district), I love hearing my students say, "can we do that again?" (I'm not sure, but do you think algebra and chemistry teachers hear that often?--sorry if I offended any of my high school teacher friends...)"

There were so many more wonderful posts- I could go on an on for days- but thank you everyone for sharing your words of inspiration. I am walking around with a bit of a "glow" from reading them all!

On to the winners...

The winner of my Concert and Performance Planner is Michaela Gibbons! Check your email for a message from me :)

There were seven other winners too! If you see your name below, check your email (the one you used to enter) for a message about your prize!
O for Tuna Orff: Christy Gibson 
Music with Mrs. Tanenblatt: Dan Leopold 
Floating Down the River: Jenny Trites
Sing to Kids: Becca Fiscus
Sing Play Creatively: Brooke Chamberlain 
Music Teaching and Parenting: Blanca InezSuzanne Fleischmann Bishop
Sally's Sea of Songs: Erin Scharman Middelhoven

I hope you have found some fresh energy to keep you motivated this week and through the busy holiday season. I'm so grateful to have this community of music educators to support each other!

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Monday, November 21, 2016

24 Christmas Activities for Preschoolers

A few years ago I made an advent calendar (see my post on how I made in here) with an activity for my daughters and I to do together each day leading up to Christmas. It has been a great way to cross off everything on our holiday bucket list, be intentional about spending time together as a family, and get all of those little tasks (like decorating, shopping, and cooking) done without them feeling too much like chores. Every year I change my list based on whatever stage the girls are in developmentally, so this year (now that the girls are almost 5) the list has changed again. Today I wanted to share my list with you, and hopefully give you some ideas of low-key, fun things you can do with your young children to enjoy the season together!

*this post contains affiliate links*

First, here's my list (in no particular order):

1. Put up the Christmas tree
2. Put out the nativity scenes
3. Put up (and decorate) the felt Christmas tree
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. Make a gingerbread house
9. Hang the stockings
10. Make Christmas cards
11. Deliver Christmas cards (in the mail and in person)
12. Shop for 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. Color/decorate a paper gingerbread man
18. Go see Santa
19. Sing as many Christmas carols in a row as we can
20. Watch a Christmas movie in our pajamas
21. Read Christmas books (including one new one)
22. Eat candy canes
23. Drink hot chocolate with all the fixings
24. Drive through the local light display to see the Christmas lights

Here's my list from last year, and the one from 2 years ago, if you're interested!

The supplies I'm gathering now so I don't have to scramble in the middle of December:
1. wrapping paper (and ribbon/tape/gift tags) - I get ours at the Dollar Tree every year
2. sugar cookie ingredients (here's a good recipe)
3. gingerbread house kit (I got this one last year and will again)
4. a new Christmas book (I'm getting this one this year)
5. candy canes
6. hot chocolate ingredients (here's my favorite crockpot recipe)

If you're interested, here are some things I'll be bringing out again that I've bought in past years:
1. Books: This is the Stable (my all-time favorite), The Night Before Christmas (classic)
2. Felt Christmas tree (I got something like this at Target a few years ago)

What are some of your favorite Christmas activities to share with your family? I absolutely love this time of year and would love to hear what you all are doing!

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Thursday, November 17, 2016


Today's post is a special one. All week long music education bloggers are sharing their stories of #whyiteachmusic to help us all remember, in the midst of what for many of us is a very stressful time, why we do what we do. I hope you enjoy reading my post, and that you'll help to spread some inspiration, encouragement, and positivity by sharing your own thoughts. There's even a giveaway full of items to help lighten your load and bring a smile to your face (so stick around to the end of the post)!

When things get tough, it's easy to start wondering why we work so hard to (seemingly) accomplish so little. Colleagues and administrators question the importance of music as a subject or doubt your validity as a "real" teacher, students blow off your class or treat you with disrespect, or you find out that you're supposed to have your kindergarteners ready to perform a concert in two weeks, but they'll be taking a standardized test during the next two music classes (by the way, you're in charge of proctoring the exam so the homeroom teachers can have their planning time)... So let's stop for a minute a breath- let me tell you how I got started as a music teacher.

I've said a few times on this blog that I am a teacher first and musician second, and that's true. When I was in high school, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I didn't settle on music until my senior year. That doesn't mean I didn't always know I would keep music in my life. I moved around a lot as a child. When I was in 3rd grade, my family moved (back) to Japan and threw me into the local public school. All I knew how to say was my name and birth date. Long story short, music quickly became my favorite class in those first few months while I struggled to (re-)learn the language. I could communicate, I could participate- I felt I was a member of that classroom community when we made music together. I've never been much of a performer- I cried after pretty much every recital, even in college- but I knew teaching music was my passion when I had my first experience teaching a group of kindergarteners as part of my practicum hours. Seeing their faces as they sang, listened to music, and danced, even those students who didn't speak much English or were timid when I walked in, I was hooked.

Remembering the difference my class can make in kids' lives is what keeps me going. I believe strongly in the power of music class to bring all students together into community with each other. I've seen it happen over and over again: students who feel like they're different or weird, who don't speak English, who are too shy to talk at school, who struggle in every other subject area, come into music class and find their place. Do my students always behave like little angels and leave my class smiling every time? Absolutely not. But just when I start thinking I must be the worst teacher in the world, nobody appreciates the work I do, and my students have all decided they hate music, something happens to remind me that what I do is life-changing for so many students.

A few practical things that keep me going too: getting enough sleep, creating a long-range plan ahead of time to make lesson planning easier, staying hydrated, enjoying music outside of school (listening to the radio in the car, playing at my church etc), and sitting down to eat lunch and talk with colleagues. I don't think I fully appreciated the importance of sleep and hydration until I had newborn twins and found out what it's like when you are severely lacking in both. I used to eat lunch in my classroom most of the time while I rushed around checking emails and setting up for my next class, but I've found that taking a few minutes to have an adult conversation and actually eat my food makes a huge difference in my stamina! You can read more about how I do my long-range planning in this blog post (I believe so strongly in the benefits of doing this!), and I think enjoying music outside of school helps me remember the joy of music, and what I hope my students will learn from me!

Music class made a huge difference in my life. It has the power to make students of all walks of life feel safe and included, and gives students with no other voice a chance to express themselves. I'm teaming up with some other music education bloggers to spread the love this week, and I'd love for you to join in! I know many of you are stressed right now for a lot of reasons, so we want to encourage music teachers to remember why we do what we do. To sweeten the pot, we're hosting a giveaway too, full of goodies that will make your life easier or bring a smile to your face.

You can enter the giveaway (and help spread the love) two ways: commenting on our blog posts (links in the giveaway below) all week- there will be one or two of us posting each day- and sharing your own inspiration on social media with the hashtag #whyiteachmusic. Don't forget to include a link to this blog post so others can enter the giveaway too! You can share every day until Monday 11/21 and earn more entries (and spread more positivity)!

Each of us is giving away something different, so there will be plenty of winners! My prize is a copy of my concert and performance planner (if you win and you already own it, you can choose something else of similar value from my store). Having these organizers has made concert season so much less stressful for me, and I hope it makes these next few months a little bit easier for you as well! Click on the picture below if you want to see what it is.

Other prizes include a recorder book, a book full of North American hand clapping songs, a music journal, vocal exploration microphones, and so much more!

Good luck! I can't wait to read your own stories of why YOU teach music- thanks for helping us encourage each other as music teachers this week! Find links to the other blogs sharing their #whyiteachmusic below as they are published (you'll also find links listed in the giveaway entries):

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O for Tuna Orff
Music with Mrs. Tanenblatt
Floating Down the River
Sing to Kids
Sing Play Creatively
Music Teaching and Parenting
Sally's Sea of Songs

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Truth or Dare Music Jenga

I've been mulling over some new center ideas since this summer, and I'm excited to share one of those with you today: Truth or Dare Music Jenga! The game has been a hit with my students in every grade, and it has been a great way to throw in some review and practice for important skills, concepts, and vocabulary that we've been working on in class.

*this post contains affiliate links*

First I'll explain how the game works and then I'll talk about how I put it together (it honestly wasn't as complicated or time-consuming as it may seem). To play, students take turns taking a block out of the jenga tower. Before they can place the block on top of the tower to complete their turn, they have to complete a task. If they pull out a red block, they draw a card from the red "dare" pile, and if they pull out a blue block, they draw one from the blue "truth" pile. If they can't complete their task, the next player gets to "steal" their block by completing the task and adding the block to the top of the tower. If they complete it, they set the block on top of the tower. The person who makes the block tower fall over loses, and/or the person with the most cards when the tower falls over or the cards are all gone wins.

This idea all started when I came across these mini jenga blocks this summer. I had heard that the Dollar Tree had some, but hadn't had any luck at my local stores, so I was excited when I found these online (even though they were a little more expensive)! I toyed around with some different ideas for ways to use them in music class, and ended up with this "truth or dare" idea.

The first step in putting the game together was to color the blocks. I know some teachers have dyed the blocks, and you can also buy blocks that are already colored, but I took the easy way out and just colored the outside edges with sharpies (it took me about 15 minutes while I sat through another meeting on analyzing student test score data from standardized math tests).

The next step was to make the cards. The "dare" cards have different performance tasks, like clapping rhythms, dancing, singing, or conducting. The "truth" cards have trivia questions, like identifying different music symbols, naming instruments within an instrument family, or defining music vocabulary. I made a bunch of cards to cover skills and concepts for different grade levels- if you want a copy of the cards I made (with blank versions where you can add your own text) you can get them here, or you can certainly make your own with whatever concepts you want to cover.

After that, all I had to do was print, cut, and assemble. I mounted each card with a little piece of double-sided tape on some construction paper, both to color-code them and so you can't see the printed text from the other side of the card, then laminated them so they'll last longer.

I'm actually really excited about the possibilities with these "truth or dare" cards- my head has been spinning with other applications for them! I can pull them out for a simple card game, where teams choose a card and then complete the task, or I could use it as an added step for other games besides Jenga- I could use it with tic-tac-toe, where the students have to complete a card before filling in a spot on the board, or with some sort of board game, where certain spots on the board require players to draw a red or blue card before advancing.....

What other ideas do you have for using "truth or dare" cards to review and practice music skills in a fun way? I'm sure there are lots more- leave your ideas in the comments! If you want to see some of my other favorite center activities, here's a post I wrote with some of my favorite ideas.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Kids' Hair Accessories Storage Solution

I'm back with one of those simple organization tips that I love, this time for my daughters' hair ties and clips! If you have little girls (or boys) who care about what goes in their hair, you'll know what I mean when I say that those tiny little clips and elastics can create an organizational nightmare in the bathroom. I've had several different storage / organization solutions over the last few years, but this new system has been really helpful for our current stage, now that the girls have more specific opinions about what they want and like to be able to get things out by themselves.

*this post contains affiliate links*

So there are a few reasons for my need to organize the girls' hair accessories:
1. with two girls in the house, we have quite a few bits and bobs to store,
2. the two of them were getting into arguments over who the pink clip belonged to, and who had left the coveted purple bow at school yesterday etc,
3. at almost 5, they have very specific ideas about what color hair tie or clip they want to wear, and
4. they like to get out their stuff themselves.

When the girls were younger, I kept all of the hair ties in one place and it was great- it saved a lot of time and space and I could quickly get what they wanted for them. I just used a pill box from the dollar store to keep all of the colors separated:

I was finding, though, that the girls had trouble getting those little boxes open and closed without spilling little elastics all over the bathroom. It worked fine when I was using it, but it was not good for little preschooler hands.

Then the Dollar Tree came through yet again when I found these little organizers:

They have tiny little compartments, they come in different colors (so I can get a different one for each child), and the lids are easy to open and close! The clear tops make it easier for the girls to see what they have and find what they need before they open it too! I was even able to separate out the hair ties by individual colors so that they can still pick out exactly what they want.

The organizers fit nicely in our bathroom cabinet, and I put the bigger clips and bows in a ziploc bag for each of them:

*sigh* It makes me so happy to see everything in its place :) We've had this system for a few weeks now and so far the girls have kept everything organized on their own. I'm sure when the girls get older our needs will change again, but for this stage that we're in right now, I am thrilled with these little organizers! If you have littles in the same stage at your home, see if you can find these at your local dollar store or drugstore- they have worked perfectly for us! Here's a link to a similar item on the Dollar Tree website, and here's a similar item on Amazon if you can't find it in stores.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

My Favorite Thanksgiving Music Lessons

November is here and for U.S. Americans that means Thanksgiving is coming! For music teachers this time of year often gets swallowed up with winter holiday music, as we get our students ready for their performances, but sometimes it's nice to throw in a turkey song or two to keep ourselves from losing our minds! Here are a few Thanksgiving-related music lessons I like to use in my elementary general music classes.

To be honest, I don't incorporate seasonal / holiday-related material in my music lessons as often as many of my colleagues. I'm more focused on skills and concepts that I want to teach, and if I happen to have seasonal material that will teach those skills, great, if not, oh well (read about how I plan by skill/concept in this blog post, and get my K-6 lesson plans for November here). With that said, I have come across a few Thanksgiving songs that I have enjoyed using with my younger students especially (and fit in with the skills I want to teach) that I wanted to highlight today.

1. Gobble Gobble

This is a great song for practicing steady beat and sol-mi singing and notation. I have students sing the song while walking around like a turkey (interpret that as bizarrely or literally as you want!) on the steady beat. I also use it to discuss the higher and lower notes in the song, identify them as sol and mi, and practice singing parts of the song on solfege and/or using Curwen hand signs. My first graders notate the first line on the staff using manipulatives (see this post for what I use)- it's a great way to practice notation since it has an easily identifiable melodic pattern. Find the song here.

2. Five Little Turkeys

This is a great one for Kindergarten classes with hesitant singers / generally shy performers. First we all sing the song together with hand motions, then I sing the song and have the students all sing just the parts that the turkeys say together. Once they know the song really well, I pick 5 students to stand in a line and assign them each to one turkey part, and they say their "line" by themselves, with the 5 of them singing the last line together. I start with the class clowns and make sure to get the silliest kid to be the one that says "I wanna get fat" and really ham it up- once we're all laughing the other students are much more likely to do their own part. I find this is a good time of year to try to push those shy students a little- they've had enough time to get comfortable with me and with their classmates, but it hasn't been long enough to build up anxiety about performing. Hear a recording of the song here.

3. Native American music

I actually do the majority of my Native American music in the spring as a focused study of Native American music/culture with Kindergarten, but this is a great time of year to incorporate some of these songs as well. I wrote a whole blog post on my favorite songs and activities to use with Native American music- you can find that post here.

4. Sub/Filler activities

This time of year can get crazy for music teachers with extra rehearsals, sickness, random days off, and general holiday antsiness. If you're looking for Thanksgiving activities to use more as sub lessons or "filler" lessons (that still reinforce music skills and concepts) leading up to the holiday (we all have those days!), my friends on TeachersPayTeachers have some great ones (I promise, none of these people asked me to mention these, or even know I'm mentioning them- I know and trust these teachers and I picked out the activities that are easy to implement with a sub and/or with little prep):

What are your favorite Thanksgiving songs and activities to use in your music classes? Or do you even bother teaching anything Thanksgiving-related? I'd love to hear what you do in the comments below! You can see all of my lesson plans and get all of the materials to teach them in my November curriculum.

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Monday, November 7, 2016

Favorite Gifts for Preschool / Kindergarten Age Kids

Now that November is here, it's time to start getting ready for the holiday season! One of the tasks I really want to take care of this month is shopping for my daughters. With their birthday falling at the beginning of January, right after Christmas, I need a pretty good list! Today I want to share with you some of the things I am considering for presents this year, along with the top hits from last year, to help give you some inspiration for the 4-6 year olds in your life :)

*this post contains affiliate links*

Practical but fun

Although these are "practical" gifts, my girls really enjoyed getting them last year and I know will be excited again this year to find some of the same things in their Christmas stockings :)

1. Fun socks (like these, but you can find them almost anywhere)
Socks come in so many fun designs! One of my girls loves knee highs because she can see the design better (she wears them over her pants), and I like them because it keeps them warm AND lets them get away with wearing pants that are too short.
2. Chapstick (like these)
Chapstick is another thing that comes in lots of designs (and flavors), which is a big part of the appeal for preschoolers looking for independence- give them options and they feel empowered!
3. Umbrella (like this one)
Seriously, this was quite possibly the most popular gift I got them last year. These umbrellas are nice because they are designed to be easier for kids to open and close.
4. Gloves (like these)
When they're younger they pretty much have to wear mittens- gloves just aren't worth the time you have to spend getting and keeping them on! But this is a good age to get them their first pair of gloves, and they're perfect for active play.

Arts and crafts

1. Washi tape (like these, but seriously just go to the dollar store and find the cheap stuff)
Washi tape (or colorful masking tape) is great for this age because it comes in lots of fun patterns and colors and it's easy for little hands to manipulate.
2. Pencils (find fun ones like these almost anywhere)
At this age kids are getting better at gripping skinnier writing utensils, and this is a great age to practice handwriting too! My girls think pencils are so "grown up" (unlike markers and crayons).
3. Scissors (like these)
If your kids (4 and up) don't have scissors yet, this is the perfect age! My daughters spend a lot of time practicing cutting at school too- it's a great way to develop fine motor and hand-eye coordination skills.
4. Activity books (like these, but again you can find these almost anywhere)
My girls are starting to get into mazes, word searches, and other simple games that come in coloring and activity books. I love throwing these in my purse when we're going to be waiting somewhere, and the girls like to pull them out while I'm getting dinner ready.


1. Pretend play props
Pretending is a huge part of play at this age! The girls still love this school set they got last year, and this cash register is a great way to learn about money while playing shopping. Costumes are another great idea for pretend play- I love costumes like these that let them pretend to do different jobs.
2. Games
This giant board game has been a family favorite for a couple of years now. and the girls love playing basic card games too now (we have a set of all the basics, like this one, and UNO too). 
3. Building kits (like this one)
Of course legos, magnet blocks, and other basic building sets are awesome gifts too, but I'm excited about getting the girls some building kits that include some more specific things (like bicycles, benches, and people) to help them use their imagination even more.
4. Bicycle (like this one) or Balance bike (like this one)
My parents got the girls some balance bikes (basically bicycles with no pedals so the kids balance on it and push themselves with their feet) and I've been very impressed with how they're learning to balance on the bikes! The time is coming when they'll be ready for regular bicycles soon, so I'm looking at some for their birthday.
5. Books
Now that my girls are just starting to read for themselves, I've been looking for easy readers that are actually easy. I finally came across this blog post and found some great ones! I'm excited for them to have some books that they can read all the way through without any help.

Of course I could go on and on, but these are some of the things I am looking at right now that I know my daughters will love! Are you looking for presents for your preschooler or kindergartner? What are your top picks? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Small Goals: November 2016

I seriously cannot believe it's November already! I'm linking up with Jennifer from The Yellow Brick Road to share my monthly "small goals"- be sure to head on over to her post to read about what she's up to as well, and if you'd like, link up a post of your own or share your goals in the comments!

First a look back at last month's goals: 
1. Reconnect with a few friends
2. Enjoy Halloween with my daughters
3. Start teaching ukulele for the first time

Done, done and done! :) I was able to connect with all of the friends I had in mind, and it was great! My daughters ended up dressing up as Princess Sophia and Ariel, and they both thoroughly enjoyed trick-or-treating. Even the jack-o-lantern carving went well! And the ukuleles have been great too, although I'm getting tired of hearing my students whining about how their fingers hurt...

So on with this month's goals!

1. Get some Christmas shopping done

I'm not going to go crazy and think I will get all of my shopping done, but I would like to get started with at least a couple of things that I already know I want to get. That way I can focus on figuring out the presents I haven't decided on, and check one more thing off the always-too-long holiday list! If you're shopping for your kids like I am, you might like this holiday shopping guide from Modern Parents Messy Kids. I found it a couple of years ago and I always get a few great ideas from them!

2. Survive report card writing and parent conferences

These have got to be two of my least favorite teacher tasks, and they'll both be happening this month! Perseverance is all I ask for.

3. Make an update list for next year's teacher planners

Believe it or not, this is the time of year when I start making my list of revisions and updates I want to make for the next school year's planners! If you don't know, I have a bunch of teacher/home/life planners in my store here, and I update them (for free) every school year. If you own one of the planners and you have ideas/suggestions, come join my planner group on Facebook and let me know what you'd like to see! :)

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Organizing Your Teacher Closet On a Budget (part 2: sheet music)

This past summer I was forced to take a long, hard look at my classroom closet because they had to re-do the floors. One of the biggest projects I tackled was re-organizing my choral music collection. Although it doesn't look very pretty or even new and shiny, I am happy with the organizational system I came up with- it has been very functional and I spent $0 on it! If you have a collection of sheet music and a small budget, you can take these principles and apply them to the materials you have on hand to get everything organized!

When I came to this school, I had a very difficult time finding any sheet music to use for my choir concerts the first year. All I could find were haphazard piles of dusty old 60's pop song arrangements, so I survived my first year creating my own arrangements of songs I found or knew. Which brings me to my first point:

organizing sheet music is important because if you don't, you won't use it, and that is money down the drain!

If you don't know what you have, or can't find the type of music you need when you need it, you'll never use the stuff you have (no matter how good the material is).

The first step when I went through the sheet music this summer was to get rid of decades-old photocopies of outdated music, duplicate copies of trendy/pop music from more than 10 years ago, and other materials that were just in too bad of shape or too out of date to be useful for me or any teacher after me. Although I was tempted to throw away much more, I am always aware that what I think is too cheesy or in poor taste may be something another teacher will value-

don't throw things away based on personal taste. Sift through the collection based on physical condition, educational value, and stylistic variety.

As I went through all of the sheet music to throw away things I didn't need, I also started sorting it all into categories. I based my categories on what I will need to search for when I'm looking for new material for my choir groups.

Organize sheet music based on the elements you need to search for (genre, difficulty, voicing, theme etc) for your ensemble(s). 

For me, this meant primarily organizing by theme. I currently have two choral groups at my school: one for 3rd and 4th grade and one for 5th and 6th. Although I obviously need more challenging music for the older students, for the most part the voicing and difficulty I need are similar for those two groups. However, I currently do 2 concerts a year (I know, it's OK to be shocked): one in December which is generally centered around the winter holidays (without being overly religious) and one in the spring, which has for the last several years been centered on the theme of "around the world". This means I am most often looking for winter/holiday music and music from cultures around the world. I started with those categories and then separated everything else into thematic/genre groupings as well.

Once I had everything in categories, I used a combination of old magazine holders and giant manila envelopes to hold everything within their groups, making sure to label each category. For the categories that didn't have as many pieces, I put them together in one magazine holder, with each category having its own envelope. You can't see the titles from the spines of most sheet music like you can with books, so you're going to have to take things off of the shelf to look at it anyway.

The last step was to add one box that I labeled "current". I use this space to hold music that I've done in previous concerts that I liked (in case I want to re-use them in a few years) and music that I've found that I've considered but haven't used yet. Obviously the music I am currently teaching to my choirs is out with my other teaching materials, but this makes it a whole lot easier when I'm looking for material for the next concert: I already have stuff pulled out that I liked before to look at that fits the themes of my 2 concerts.

Create a separate place to store music you've done in the past with current groups, and music you'd like to consider for future concerts, so you can find new material for your ensembles more quickly.

How do you organize your sheet music? I know many people have much larger collections and juggle a lot more different ensembles and performances, but I hope the ideas behind my organizational system will help you to think through your own systems as well! If you have other ideas that have worked for you, please share them in the comments :)

This post is "part 2" in my series on organizing your classroom closet. If you want to see my first post, which was on organizing small items like composition manipulatives, click below:

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