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Sunday, April 30, 2017

April Favorites 2017

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

1. Birthday love

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

2. Kid art

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

3. Spring flowers

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

4. Blog posts

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

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

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Substitute Aftermath Mysteries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your most puzzling substitute aftermath mysteries?

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Top Games for Young Kids the Whole Family Will Enjoy

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

*this post contains affiliate links*

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

1. Busytown

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

2. Old Maid

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

3. Go Fish

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

5. Uno

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


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

6. Dominoes

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

7. Quirkle

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

8. Bananagrams

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

9. Whoonu

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

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

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Best Strategies for Teaching Rhythm

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

1. Start the year right

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

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

2. Build in focused review time

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

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

3. Make drilling fun

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

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

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

4. Check for understanding in small groups

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

5. Work towards mastery with composition 

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

6. My top lessons and resources

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

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

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

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Lego Storage Idea

This past Christmas, my 5-year-old daughters graduated from duplos to legos, and they have absolutely loved their new lego sets! With all of these new legos, though, comes the inevitable storage issue. After a few months of having them laying around my living room, here's my storage solution!

*this post contains affiliate links*

First of all yes, I am aware that I am a crazy person, and not everyone wants to sort their legos by color. But let me explain myself. See, along with a wonderfully large set of basic lego blocks in tons of different colors, shapes, and sizes, I got my girls this set for creating a ballet studio and this set for creating a city park (both of which I HIGHLY recommend, by the way), and they also got this book of lego building ideas. The themed sets are great because they come with step-by-step directions for creating every last detail of the set:

I'm sure once the girls are older and get used to the legos, they will do more experimenting and start creating their own things from their imagination, and they are already doing a little bit of that, but they really love the idea of being able to see a picture of something to make and then find out exactly how to create it for themselves, and following along with the directions has been a really great way for them to develop their spatial reasoning (score!).

The problem: any time you're following a specific plan like these, you have to be able to go through and find very specific blocks to create each item. When we had everything dumped into one big bin, that got pretty frustrating! We were spending more time combing through hundreds of blocks looking for one tiny lego in a certain shade of green than we were actually building! Not to mention I was the one doing most of the searching- the girls were getting too frustrated trying to look through all those legos- so they weren't able to work on it independently.

Now that I've attempted to justify my insanity, let me explain my storage solution! :)

It's pretty simple, actually. I found these photo box storage cases on clearance at Michael's and sorted each color into its own case:

The nice thing about this system is that, when the girls decide to make something, they can pull out just the colors they want and look through those boxes to find the blocks they need. It makes it so much easier to find the exact lego they're looking for! And bonus for me: the clean up pretty neatly in those storage cases:

I'm actually thinking about leaving the individual boxes out of the storage cases most of the time. I think when they're put away like that the girls aren't as likely to reach for them on the spur of the moment. But even if I do that, I know I'll be able to use those storage cases for something else, and if we want to tuck them away or take them with us, it's easy to pack them up into the cases!

I know lego storage is a perennial problem, and this is one of those organization challenges that I'm sure I'll be revisiting as our needs change, but for now I'm pretty happy with our solution! What do you do with your legos? Do you attempt to sort them at all or do you dump them all in one spot? Let me know in the comments!

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

My Top Tips for Teaching Ukulele in General Music

This year I taught ukulele for the first time, and it has been a blast! Until this school year, I had never even played the ukulele myself, so it was a whole new adventure. Today I'm sharing some of my top tips for any other music teachers who are just getting started teaching ukulele in a general music setting.

1. Know your purpose

I'm a huge proponent of concept-based curriculum. Basically what that means (because I'm pretty sure I just made that term up) is I don't teach things for the sole purpose of the thing- I choose things to teach based on what overarching skill or concept I want my students to learn. So although there is some benefit inherently in knowing how to play the ukulele, it's important for me to have more of a reason for teaching ukulele than just wanting students to learn to play the ukulele for its own sake.

I chose to introduce ukulele to my 6th graders because I want my students to understand the concepts of chords, chord progressions, and chord functionality (at a very basic level). I've been teaching a unit on songwriting based in basic chord progressions for years now (here are the materials I use, which now include ukulele resources). When I first created the unit, I had students perform chords using familiar instruments that I already had on hand- boomwhackers, xylophones, singing voices, and a website called Jam Studio (really cool if you've never checked it out!). A couple of years ago when I started teaching my 5th graders about keyboard instruments (read about that in this post), I switched to using keyboards to teach chords, which was slightly more effective, but still there was a certain awkwardness in using any of these instruments for teaching chords, because playing multiples notes together did not come easily for my students.

Ukulele, on the other hand, is created for playing chords! Besides the fact that it is physically easier to play chords on the ukulele compared to other instruments I used in the past, somehow the concept of chords itself seems to make more sense to students when they use a chordal instrument to play them! My point is, don't just decide to teach your students ukulele because it would be fun. Think through the purpose of learning ukulele for your students and how it will fit into your curriculum.

2. Find resources that fit your purpose

Once you know what your goals are for your ukulele instruction, it will make it easier to choose the resources you need to help your students reach those goals most effectively. I admit I haven't done extensive research or scoured the internet for all of the best resources out there, but here are some that I found that I have loved using!

There are several great resources available for free online that will help you and your students get a good foundation, especially if you're aiming to primarily teach chords through the instrument like I am. Bernadette Teaches Music has an awesome YouTube channel that walks you through each of the basic chords, along with other ukulele basics like tuning, strumming, and more. Midnight Music has free ukulele chord diagrams you can download to project on a screen or print and use as posters. And once your students have got the hang of a few basic chords, this website has tutorials for several popular songs that can be played with just 4 chords. My students loved learning the songs I picked from this list!

You can get by with just those free resources and get pretty far, but if you want something a little more put together for use in the classroom, I personally purchased the Sing and Strum Intro and One-Chord Songs set by Sing to Kids. It has some great teaching slides that make it easy to take students through the basics, especially with practicing strumming patterns. For a more in-depth curriculum (more for those who want to teach more note-reading and/or instrumental technique through ukulele study), the Rainbow Ukulele set by Pitch Publications is a great one.

3. Get your instruments

Of course any time you're getting started teaching ukuleles you're going to need instruments! I highly recommend this post by Shelley from Pitch Publications if you're looking at which ones to purchase. After watching her demonstration videos and reading about the comparisons, I settled on the Mahalo Rainbow ukuleles.

I was able to get enough ukuleles for a class set, which I highly recommend. You could certainly make it work with half a class set, with students trading off, but they really aren't that expensive (relatively speaking) and there are a lot of options for getting funding! Ukuleles are pretty popular right now so I found I had little trouble getting them funded through DonorsChoose, which I highly recommend for purchases like these. You can get more ideas for finding funding in this excellent post by Jennifer from Sing to Kids, or this one by David from Make Moments Matter. Don't let a small budget stop you from giving students the opportunity to learn ukulele if you feel it will be beneficial for them!

4. Keep instruments accessible

As you can see in the picture above, I have my ukuleles hung on the wall where students can easily get them and put them back themselves. I highly recommend this system if you have the wall space! As with any instrument students use regularly, I think it's important for students to learn how to handle them properly, and for them to be able to quickly and easily get them on their own. This is especially helpful when they use them later for composition projects or other activities where not all students are using ukuleles- they are always there and available if a student needs one. For tons of ideas on ways to store ukuleles in the music classroom, check out this post from Pitch Publications.

The other thing I did was get different colored ukuleles to match my color group seating arrangement (those of you who know me are, I'm sure, not surprised at all!). Even if you don't have your entire classroom rainbow-ed out, having several different colors of ukuleles can be very helpful. Besides the fact that it's more fun (and looks pretty if they're stored in a visible location), it's easier for having small groups of students play for you ("all of the green ukuleles play this time"), or get out and put away their instruments ("all the red ukuleles can go back on the shelf").

5. The tuning question

Of course one of the biggest annoyances with teaching string instruments, especially with younger students, is the issue of tuning. I know a lot of teachers invest in tuners to make it faster and easier to tune. Since I was less concerned with teaching students the finer points of ukulele technique, I decided I was not going to teach my students how to tune at all- in fact, I told them they were not allowed to even touch the tuning pegs! I found that after the new instruments' strings settled in, it took me about 10 minutes to tune the class set of ukuleles.

I also hand-picked a small group of students, most of whom had experience with other string instruments already, and trained them to be my Tuning Experts- we spent a few recess times practicing tuning the ukuleles properly, and after that, if I needed an instrument tuned during class (which was rare) and I couldn't do it myself, I had a few students who I knew I could trust to do it correctly without snapping any strings!

My students and I have thoroughly enjoyed learning the ukulele this year, and I think it is a real asset to my students' overall music learning! Have any of you started teaching ukuleles in the general music setting? I'd love to hear your top tips as well!

Now get strumming! ;)

Looking for more teaching ideas? See my full curriculum here. You can also see my tips and lesson ideas for teaching other classroom instruments, like recorders, boomwhackers, keyboards, xylophones, and more in this post:

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Monday, April 10, 2017

How I Finally Quit My Coffeeshop Habit

I have been a coffee fan for a long time, and I know that many other moms and teachers are too. Who else here has to have a cup of coffee in the morning? I like it in all forms too, from a good cup of plain black drip coffee to a sweet, syrupy caramel macchiato. And although I have always made my own coffee at home, nothing I ever made was quite as good as whatever I ordered at coffee shops. After feeling guilty about the ridiculous amount of money I knew I was spending on coffee shop drinks for a while, I finally found something that combines the convenience and price tag of making my coffee at home with the great, consistent taste of coffee shop drinks! Knowing how many of you share my love of coffee, I thought some of you might like to hear about how I finally found a way to be so happy with my homemade coffee that I don't feel the need to go to coffee shops anymore!

*this post contains affiliate links*

The biggest factor in finally kicking my coffee shop habit is my coffee maker. I've tried a lot of home brewing systems, and the one that each person loves is largely a personal choice for sure, but I haven't heard a lot of people talk about the one I finally fell in love with:

It's called the Mr Coffee Cafe Latte and it is a genius product! It's basically a drip coffee maker with a milk frother built into the lid of the carafe, so it froths and heats the milk and brews the coffee at the same time, into the same pitcher. I've had mine for 3 years and it is still going strong! If you love lattes, cappuccinos, or any other similar drink that mixes some ratio of milk and coffee, I highly recommend it. Even though it's drip coffee instead of espresso, I've figured out how to make the drip coffee strong enough to taste basically the same.

**Update: the Mr. Coffee Cafe Latte machine seems to have been discontinued... here's the one I use now**

The second part of learning to make my own coffee was figuring out the recipes I liked. I can now very quickly and easily make pretty much all of my favorite coffee shop drinks: vanilla lattes, mochas, peppermint mochas, black tea lattes, chai lattes, and more! Even better, I know exactly what ingredients go into my drink. I admit I like a lot of sweet coffee drinks, but I can use coconut sugar instead of corn syrup and control the amount depending on my mood. If you want to see some of my recipes, here is a post I wrote on how to flavor coffee (you can use these with any drip coffee maker), and here is my recipe for the best chai tea ever (in my opinion)- I make a big batch of tea and then froth and heat it with milk in the latte machine.

I'm not saying I don't still enjoy coffee shops, but I rarely go anymore and when I do, it's either because I'm already out and can't go home or because I'm meeting someone and want to go out- I actually now prefer my own coffee most of the time! It makes me so happy to know that I can now make my own perfect cup of coffee at home. 

If any of you are coffee lovers who wish you could cut back on your Starbucks bill like me, give it a try- I think you'll be impressed with your own coffee making skills! And if you're ready to put away hot coffee in favor of the iced variety, here's my easy iced coffee routine :)

Happy Monday, everyone- go get 'em!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Small Goals: April 2017

I have found it to be such a wonderful practice to set small goals at the beginning of each month. It really helps me to feel motivated as I go into each new month, and helps me to focus on the most important parts of each aspect of my life. Thanks to Jennifer from The Yellow Brick Road for the prompt each month- be sure to check out her post if you want more inspiration to get you going this month!

Last month's goals

First a look back at last month's goals, which were to file my taxes, arrange at least one play date, and to practice even more grace and peace, particularly at school. I feel pretty good about all of those! I was able to file my taxes in one (albeit long) afternoon, arranged a pretty awesome playdate with 4 other girls (2 from each of the girls' classes) to go to a Michael's crafting class, and I have been very conscious about continuing to show grace and peace in my classroom (and I think it has helped!). So on with this month's goals!

1. Upload the 2017-2018 planners!!!

Just talking (or typing, rather) about planners makes me want to squeal with excitement! You guys, I am so close to having everything ready for the new school year's planners and I can't wait to share the new versions with you! If you want to see what I'm talking about, take a tour of my current planner here, or see the planners I have in my store (they get updated for free each school year around this time) here. And stay tuned- I'll most definitely be sharing my shiny new planner once it's ready!!!! :D If you're already a proud Organized Chaos planner owner, be sure to check your "my purchases" for updates in the next couple of weeks- I know many of you have been chomping at the bit like I am! ;)

2. Enjoy time with family

Spring break is starting up soon for me, and with my birthday happening this month as well, I'm looking forward to having some relaxing time with family. Hopefully the weather will cooperate so we can enjoy being out in the warm sunshine too- last month's weather was just awful!

3. Get ready for my spring concert

I can't believe it but there are just a few more rehearsals left with each of my choirs before our spring concert, and this time I'm pulling out all of the stops with some massive combined numbers that include all of the choral and instrumental groups. If I can pull it off, it will be amazing. If I don't, it will be sad. I want to make sure each of my groups feel very comfortable with their music this month, so that next month when we start combined rehearsals, we can focus on logistics and ensemble skills rather than the technicalities of individual parts. I'm excited to see it all come together!

That's it for me this month. April is my favorite month of the year, so I'm looking forward to great things! What are you most looking forward to this month? What are you hoping to accomplish? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Can We Please Stop the Countdowns?

So I am currently in the last week before spring break, which means I am hearing "____ more days until break!" a LOT right now. When we get back from break, it will be "____ more weeks until summer!", and no matter what time of year it is, there's always the classic, "it's almost Friday"! There is always something to look forward to, right?!? What may come as a surprise is that I very rarely hear these comments from students- it's almost always the adults who are counting down the days and weeks. And I'm over it. I'm done with the countdowns- I think those seemingly nonchalant statements are wreaking havoc on our school climate.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, because not only do I hear people counting down the days until their next day off at school, but I also see it a lot on social media- memes about teachers waiting for their next vacation, dreading going back to school on Sunday night, hanging onto their sanity for dear life before a break... I get it. Teaching is HARD. Like, really hard. And it's only getting worse. The demands put on us by politicians, administrators, and society in general are often just straight-up out of control. Budgets are tighter, and so are our schedules. And I know I'm not the first one to say that it seems like each kindergarten class that enters, the kids are a little less prepared for school, a little less respectful of authority, a little less caring about their success at school, and a little more able to make us lose our minds trying to get them to just. sit. still.

I get it. There have been days when I've closed the door to my classroom and just cried. Last year I ended a choir rehearsal early for the first time in my career to try to get the kids out before the tears started flowing. I didn't quite make it. There have been days this year when I've gotten so upset with a class that I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.

But here's the thing: I really think we need to change our mindset. Stop always telling ourselves that if we can just make it through a few more hours, we can get to the fun part of our lives. Stop telling ourselves that we just have to survive a few more weeks of torture and then we can relax. The more we find our comfort only in our lives outside of school, the less we find comfort within our walls. The more we tell ourselves to just survive a few more days, the less we expect of ourselves and our students in those days.

Don't we want to make our schools a place where students want to come? Then why would we publicly announce that we don't want to be there ourselves? And what are we communicating to our students about our relationship with them when we talk eagerly about our next time away from them? It seems to me we are presenting the subtle message that we don't enjoy being around them, and we in fact prefer our time away from them.

I'm a firm believer that words have power. When teachers and students always hear people talking about how much they look forward to leaving school, it changes our attitudes. Instead of counting down the days until the we can leave, I'd rather we spent more time talking about what's happening in the present moment, right there in our classrooms. And if we're talking about the future, let's look ahead to where we hope our students will be in 10 years. Let's find out what our students want to do when they graduate from college. Let's talk to our colleagues about how we can teach that unit in a more exciting way next year.

I'm not saying we shouldn't need time to decompress. I'm not saying that we shouldn't be able to vent our frustrations. But I am making a commitment to talk about what I love about school, about my classes, and about my students, not about all of the reasons I can't wait to leave the building, get away from my students, and take a break from my work. I think the more we can talk about reasons we want to be in school instead of out, the less trapped we'll all feel and the more we can actually look forward to coming to school each morning.

I hope you'll consider joining me. No more countdowns.

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Monday, April 3, 2017

Weekly Tasks to Stay Organized

One of my first answers to the question, "How do you do it all?" is ROUTINES. I find it so much easier to get things done when it is incorporated into my routine. I shared a while back the tasks that I do monthly to help me stay organized, and today I'm sharing the main things I do on a weekly basis to help keep me sane throughout the week.

1. Organize calendars

So I'm a bit of a freak when it comes to calendars. My excuse is that I have a lot of information to manage in my schedule, but really and truly it helps calm any anxiety I have over juggling too much information in my brain and I feel much more confident starting the week when I have everything written down!

I write down important appointments, school events, and other information I need to plan my day (outside of the classroom) in 2 places on a weekly basis: my weekly dry erase calendar that hangs on my wall in my command center, and my weekly planner pages. Writing it in my planner obviously helps me get all the information I need to plan around for my lessons and write down everything I need for the week in one place. I write down important appointments and events in my command center so that I see it each morning as I'm getting ready for the day, whether I have time to glance at my planner or not.

As I'm filling out my weekly calendars, I always check my monthly calendar in my planner, my school's calendar, my staff meeting schedule, and my children's school's schedule to make sure I have any information I need for that week added to my weekly calendar. It takes some time to go through each week, but it's well-worth it!

2. Laundry

I know not everyone has this luxury, but I learned quickly that it is worth it to me to buy enough clothes for me and for my daughters so that I only have to do laundry once a week. When the girls were babies I was doing laundry every few days, which was OK since I was not working then, but I cannot fathom trying to do laundry during the week right now, so having enough clothes to get us through the week keeps me sane. Unless something unusual happens, I always do my laundry on Saturday and/or Sunday and that's it for the week!

3. Weekly cleaning

Besides laundry, I've also tried to make it a part of my weekly routine to vacuum, water the plants, and clean the toilets each weekend. Getting in the habit of always doing it on the weekend makes it easier for me to remember to do these tasks that I otherwise would conveniently forget!

4. Lesson planning

As I new teacher I spent a lot more time planning my lessons on a daily basis, but now I try to have all of my lesson planning done for the week before Monday morning each week. The best thing I have done this year is to plan out my lesson plans in greater detail at the beginning of each month as well, so my weekly planning is mostly a matter of plugging in the next lesson and making sure I plan around any school events, class parties etc.

5. Sort through mail

I try to manage my mail as I go, but usually by the end of the week I have a pile of unopened mail that I stuck in my "in box" during the week. I try to take some time each weekend to go through the pile so that I can start each week with a clean box.

6. Meal planning

I have been doing weekly meal planning for about 4 years now and it is amazing. I rarely go to the grocery store more than once a week, and I don't have to scramble around on a week night trying to figure out what to make for dinner. If you aren't doing this already I highly recommend it- here is a post I wrote on my meal planners. Each weekend I plan out my meals after going through my schedule, so I know which nights we might need to eat out, or when I should plan to put something in the crockpot for a busy evening, plan out lunches for me and my daughters, and make a grocery list from those plans.

Those are all of my weekly routine tasks that help me stay on top of everything throughout the week. What about you? Which tasks are part of your weekly routine? Let's hear it in the comments!

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Saturday, April 1, 2017

March Favorites 2017

We made it through March! I say this every year, but March is one of those months that I love and hate at the same time- so many wonderful things happening but there are SO MANY THINGS! Haha. I'm going to be sharing my favorites this month with some of my photos from Instagram- I hope you find some new things to love and I'd love to hear your favorites in the comments below!

1. Music In Our Schools Month

I have to start my March favorites with Music In Our Schools Month! I brought back my annual Rhythm Battle and Disco Duel events, but both of them got facelifts this year and I loved it! I also added a new idea this year with my Song Suggestion Box, where teachers, students, and parents were invited to request their favorite songs to be played over the morning announcements each day in March- everyone loved it and I'll definitely be keeping it for next year! Read all about what I do to celebrate MIOSM in this blog post.

2. IKEA plush food

My daughters and I stopped in at IKEA a couple of weeks ago and picked up these plush food sets- what a perfect toy for snow day fun! Each of the girls made their own cooking show creating some pretty *cough* interesting concoctions. And fun bonus: these are great for school too! There are tons of fun songs, especially for kindergarten, that these would make great props for (think John the Rabbit)- and they even inspired Jennifer from SingToKids to make this cute singing game called All the Little Rabbits! Seriously, these things are so cute and perfect for spring (and they're cheap too!).

3. #31daysofrhythm

What an amazing collaboration. I joined up with over 20 other music education bloggers to share a new rhythm teaching tip each day this month, and it was amazing! To see all of the blog posts that were shared this month, head over to the Music Ed Blogs Community page on Facebook. We're also putting together a MASSIVE rhythm teaching resource including all of the posts from this event plus tons more resources, so be sure to stay tuned by following the Music Ed Blogs website. Seriously.

4. Blog Posts

Every Friday is Fermata Fridays on my Facebook and Pinterest pages- I "hold on" to a great blog post I find from all over the internet! Make sure to follow me so you don't miss my features each week- here are the ones I shared this past month (click the photo to visit the posts- trust me, you won't be disappointed!):

So much to love this month! :) I hope you enjoyed reading about some of the things that brought joy to my life this month- now it's your turn! What did you love this month? Favorite new food? New lesson idea? A fun moment with your family? Let's hear it in the comments! :)

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