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Monday, July 31, 2017

Craft Supplies for Home Decor: Washi Tape

Raise your hand if you've ever used craft supplies as home decor! I've found that many craft supplies are also perfect home decor items- they're generally cheaper than buying pre-decorated items, there are infinite color and pattern possibilities, and in most cases they're easy to change out if you're renting (or just flaky). Plus if you're like me and already have a craft supply obsession, this just gives you another excuse to buy more pretty things! ;) Today I'm kicking off a series on using craft supplies in the home with my favorite item: washi tape!

I've actually shared quite a few ideas for using washi tape in the home already, so I'll share those posts below for you to see more detailed ideas. But the applications are probably pretty obvious: washi tape is a great cheap and temporary way to add colors and patterns to almost any surface. And of course you can use it to attach things to other things, like hanging (light-weight) pictures on the wall. Click on the images below to see some of my favorite projects:

Disclaimer: some of these posts are OLD! No judging my beginner photo skills from years ago! ;)

Washi Tape Gallery Wall:

Mail Sorters:

I hope you found inspiration for some new home projects! How else have you used washi tape in your home? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments below!

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Sunday, July 30, 2017

July Favorites 2017

I hope you have all been enjoying this month- I know I have! I took my daughters on vacation, worked on plenty of projects for school and home, and spent plenty of time outside playing with my girls. This really was a month full of amazing things I loved, but here are some highlights from this past month.

1. Updated girls' bedroom

Believe it or not, my 5-year-old daughters have been sleeping in their same (converted) cribs until this summer! This month I finally got them new beds, and updated their room decor while I was at it. We went with a "fairy garden" theme, and I made most of the decorations myself- I'm so happy with the way everything turned out (and they love it too)! These flowers were one of my favorite parts. I'll share more details on this blog later this summer, but stay tuned next week for a new series on using craft supplies to decorate your home ;)

2. New triangle holders

This is, quite literally, a small thing, but I couldn't be more excited about my new triangle holders! I got these from Groth Music and I can't wait for the kids to see them when school starts. SO much easier to hold without the triangle spinning around every time they hit it, and much easier to get them out and put away without the holder falling off! 

3. Summer planner spreads

As much as I love my "regular" weekly lesson planning spreads during the school year, it's so much fun to have the space and time to play around with different decorating techniques and supplies. Space is always at a premium in my lesson planning spreads, so having room to use some bigger stickers, post-its, and other supplies feels like a luxury :) (If you're wondering where these weekly calendar templates came from, they're in the business planning section of my #PlanMyWholeLife planners- you can get that section separately here as well). 

4. Blog posts

Oh my goodness, there were so many awesome blog posts I read this month I don't even know how to narrow it down! If you aren't already, you NEED to go follow the MusicEd Blogs Community page on Facebook. Tons of bloggers share awesome, timely content every day- I am always so inspired reading the posts from all over the internet! Here are some highlights from this month:

I hope you found some new inspiration to help you get motivated for the new school year! If you want to see more of my "favorites", head on over to my Instagram page- I share my favorites from home, school, and more all the time there! What have you most enjoyed this month? What are you looking forward to for August? I'd love to hear from you in the comments! :)

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Elementary Music Teacher Wardrobe Essentials

I am pretty active in my classroom, as most elementary music teachers are. Within any given day, I need to have clothes that will allow me to dance, sit on the floor, interact with pre-teen boys, sing, conduct, play instruments (including some that go between my legs), and be comfortable in lots of different temperatures (because does anyone actually have a classroom where the temperature control is reliable???). For all you newer teachers looking to invest in some "professional" clothes, I wanted to share my tips for clothing that will work best in the demands of an elementary music teaching job.

Let me start by saying I am not a stylish person. If you want fashion tips to flatter your body, look good, or stay on top of the trends, you'll have to talk to someone else. But one thing I will say about my clothing choices: I am a very practical person. So please, take these recommendations and adapt them to your own style!

Here are some essentials that I think every elementary music teacher should have in their closet:

1. Layering Pieces

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, temperatures tend to fluctuate in my classroom. Different parts of the school building are also drastically different temperatures, and I usually have some lessons where I'm moving around a lot and others where I'm less active, so my body temperature fluctuates too. I think the most important thing teachers need in their wardrobe is layers! 

My 2 favorite types of layering pieces are camisoles and button-up sweaters. Camisoles are awesome because they add an extra layer under clothes that you otherwise may not be comfortable wearing to teach, like loose, low-neckline, or shorter length tops, and they don't add too much bulk if you want to add a layer without getting too hot. The best part about the camisoles that I have, though, is the length. 

Whatever you do, you need to have tops that are long enough when you teach music!

Inevitably you are going to need to raise your arms up over your head repeatedly as a music teacher, whether you're conducting, dancing, or just going up the solfege ladder. Long camisoles are great because they're relatively cheap, and then you don't have to worry as much about the length of your existing tops because you can always add a camisole underneath!

The sweaters are pretty self-explanatory but definitely equally important for a teacher's wardrobe in my mind. I seriously take my sweaters on and off multiple times on any given day because of the temperature fluctuations! Having something that buttons in the front is MUCH better than something you have to pull over your head, not only because you won't mess up your hair or get tangled up with your lanyard/jewelry, but also because you don't have to stop teaching to take it on or off. 

Sidenote: if you want to be able to layer effectively, you need to be able to mix and match clothes. But don't think you have to stick to just neutrals or a couple of colors to be able to mix and match everything! Just pick a color palette you like and stick to that RANGE of colors. That might be "earthy" tones, jewel tones, pastels, primary colors, etc. Like I said, I'm no style expert, but there's a little tip for you that helps me a lot when I'm thinking about how to layer different items together! ;)

2. Pants

There are 2 main reasons I think all elementary music teachers need pants, no matter how feminine your style normally might be: sitting on the floor and playing instruments that go between your legs. I've found some ways around needing pants to sit on the floor (see below), but if I'm leading a drumming circle (or playing another instrument like a cello), I absolutely think the only option is to wear pants. 

Because I think long tops are a must, like I mentioned before, I personally stick to skinny style pants that I think look better under long tops. Thankfully those are in style right now so that works in my favor- there are plenty of great options for where to get them! I try to have a few different colors in full-length pants and capris.

Another sidenote: yes, I know that a lot of my clothes look wrinkled.... I pulled a few out of storage or the laundry basket to take pictures, and some of them just don't lay flat on the floor.....

3. Skirts and Dresses

I used to hardly ever wear skirts or dresses to work because I didn't feel like I could move freely or comfortably sit on the floor, but I've figured out that with the right kind of skirt I can comfortably wear them for teaching too, which makes me so happy! For me, the key is to get fuller, knee-length skirts, preferably with pockets. Too short and you have obvious issues with sitting on the floor, too long and you can't move around as freely. Once I found a couple of options I liked, I bought them in at least 2 different colors because this combination is so hard to find! In any case though, I make sure to wear leggings underneath, so I guess another wardrobe essential for me is leggings in a few different lengths and weights (thicker and longer for winter, thinner capri length or shorter for warmer months). 

4. Shoes

Shoes. Probably the biggest dilemma for a lot of people, since we're on our feet so much! No, I don't have a magic answer for this. I will definitely say that flats are a must for me- I stopped wearing heels of all kinds years ago- and currently my favorite shoes are Toms because they are comfortable and breathe well, but the main thing I'll say about shoes is to experiment, find a pair of shoes that are really comfortable, and stock up on them in multiple colors. If you can find a pair of shoes that you love wearing, that is a magical thing that you'll want to hold onto as long as you can!

5. Tops

My favorite tops to wear to school with pants or skirts are 
1) loose-fitting enough to allow movement 
2) long enough so I can raise my arms over my head without showing off my midriff or can be worn over a camisole
3) short sleeves or long sleeves that can easily be pushed up if I need to
4) thin enough to be worn with layers over and/or under
5) not too low-cut of a neckline or can be worn over a camisole

I think my list is pretty self-explanatory based on the points I already talked about with layering pieces and bottoms, so I won't rehash those points here, but I will say that my current favorite type of top is the tunic top. They have 3/4 length sleeves that I can easily push up if I get hot, and they fit loosely so I can wear a camisole underneath and move freely.

6. Performance outfits

Most every music teacher is going to need some dressier clothes to wear for concerts and performances! I'm a traditionalist- I stick with all black most of the time for concerts. But the same general rules for work clothing apply to concerts too- I need layers, I need to be able to stand and sit in the clothes comfortably, and I need to be able to move freely and raise my arms up comfortably for conducting. I have a couple of black dresses, black pants, and a black top so I can have a bit of variety in what I wear to different performances.

Outfit examples

Now that I've talked a little about my teacher wardrobe essentials, here are some examples of some of my personal favorites to give you an idea of what I wear to school on a typical day:

I hope you found this post helpful- I feel weird talking about fashion but it took me a while to figure out what I could and couldn't practically wear to teach in as an elementary music teacher, so hopefully you found some useful tips to make it easier for you to find the right clothes for you. 

Now it's your turn: what are your elementary music teacher wardrobe essentials??? Leave a comment below!

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Home Organization Tips to Get Ready for Back to School

I know it's still a long ways off for many of us, but today I want to share some of my favorite tips to get organized and plan ahead now during summer break to get ready for back to school season, whether you're a parent or a teacher (or both). Once the beginning of the school year hits, I find it so much harder to sit down and figure out which way is up. These are things that help make that crazy fall season a little bit easier by taking some things off my plate!

1. Set up a meal planning system

Over the summer I tend to stop meal planning as carefully- after all, if I really need to, I can always run to the store in the middle of the day on a Tuesday and pick up a few things. But during the school year? Meal planning is my lifeline. As back to school season approaches I start meal planning again to get back into the rhythm again and update my menus and systems if I need to so I don't have to think about grocery shopping and cooking when school starts back.

If you're new to meal planning or want to upgrade your systems a little, get started right here and be sure to read all the other articles linked in this post:

2. Stock the freezer

I really started doing this last summer and it was SO AWESOME when school started last fall and I had a freezer full of pre-made meals! When summer starts to wind down, I start making big batches of meats and stews in the crockpot and freezing large portions of them in freezer bags. Then when I'm just too tired to cook, all I have to do is pull a bag out, reheat, and dinner is ready!

If you are looking for some easy crockpot recipes to make ahead, check out my crockpot dinners Pinterest board :)

3. Set up a command center / family calendar

I always need written reminders to get things done, but especially in the fall when I'm trying to get back into my school routine, I need constant reminders to keep track of everything! Besides my personal planner, my calendar that I have posted in my command center is so helpful. I can look at it as I'm cooking or getting ready in the morning, add a quick note when I need to, and keep track of the most important information I need to start each day.

Here's a post (from a LONG time ago) on my command center. I highly recommend some kind of dry erase family calendar at a minimum to keep track of everyone's schedules!

4. Set up your planner

If you've been around this blog for any length of time you know I am a HUGE fan of paper planners! Summer is a good time to make sure you have everything set up in your calendar/ planner for the upcoming school year. I sit down and go through all of the important holidays and important dates for school, doctor's appointments, and any other long-term dates I need to write down in my planner, and I put in reminders for bills I need to pay or errands I need to take care of for the first few months of school and write everything in. That way when school hits I don't have to worry about forgetting them!

If you're wondering what things to start writing in your planner now, here are a few posts to get you started:

5. Purge / organize / clean the house

My house always ends up a mess by the time the end of the school year rolls around! I try to get everything back in its place before the school year begins (so I have space to make a mess again). I also try to do a little more cleaning than I have time for during the school year, and look for anything I can purge to help de-clutter. If you want a checklist of things to do to get cleaned up, organized, and ready for the new year, here's a free one you can download!

I hope you found some helpful tips to get you ready for the start of school! Hopefully these strategies will help make your Back to School season a little less hectic.

Have your own organizing tips to share? What do you do over the summer to get your home life ready for back to school? Share your tips in the comments below!

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Mixed Methods Approach: how and why

Early in my teaching career, I felt a certain amount of pressure to choose a team to join- you know, the Orff team, the Kodaly team, the MLT team.... And everyone seemed to think their "team" was the best one, and considered it one of the primary sources of their identity. The conversation has shifted since then- most music teachers know that different teachers prefer different methodologies, and that there are many different equally-valid ways to teach music, but there still seems to be a sense among many music teachers that, to be an effective teacher, you need to pick a team. While I don't want to say that "picking a team" is a bad thing, I'd like to offer an additional perspective on the merits of a mixed methods approach to elementary general music teaching.

Why? Because many brains are better than one.

Having grown up crossing various disparate cultures and learning to adapt to different worldviews, I think it's so helpful to be able to learn from a variety of perspectives and adopt the best parts of each- there's something to be learned from almost everyone! I think it's the same in music teaching frameworks- there's something to be learned from each perspective, and by taking the best of each, I can create the best approach for me and my students.

Think about it: I don't think any of us would claim to have the answers for everything, even if it's a topic we've been researching for a very long time. I don't think Carl Orff, Zoltan Kodaly, or any of the other people responsible for developing the approaches to music education many of us use today, had all the right answers about everything either. We certainly can learn a lot from each of them though! And of course we know that different children learn in different ways, so there certainly can't be anything wrong with approaching our teaching from different perspectives, approaches, and techniques!

But how?

One of the arguments I hear often from teachers on the "pick a team" side is that, by picking and choosing bits and pieces from different approaches, you lose the cohesive, comprehensive framework that each approach provides on its own. That's true, if you don't have a sequential, comprehensive framework of your own.

The key to a mixed-methods approach is to have a solid understanding of musical skill development and to have a set of appropriate, sequenced standards into which you can incorporate the approaches, techniques, and philosophies of various frameworks. 

For me, that sequence comes from my training in general music, and the commonalities I found in studying a range of standards and curricula- I found that, while there are some key differences, most sequences are similar in how quickly and in what order they introduce key rhythm and pitch concepts, for example. By studying different sets of standards and curricula from textbooks, national curricula around the world, and different frameworks, and from seeing what works in my classroom, I have a solid starting point into which I can incorporate a variety of teaching approaches.

I don't think you have to study all of those curriculum documents to get a good starting point for a mixed methods approach though! Almost any well-respected music curriculum or approach can be used as a starting point- maybe it's a published textbook, your national/state standards, or the framework from training in Orff, MLT, Kodaly, or something else- the key is to have a starting point of some kind that gives you a framework of when to teach which fundamental musical concepts. How you teach those concepts can be adapted from lots of different approaches!

From the Orff approach, I've learned how to incorporate creative movement, improvisation, composition, and instrumental ensemble skills more effectively into my teaching. From Kodaly, I've adopted the framework of "prepare/present/practice" for introducing new skills most effectively, as well as the sequence for introducing new notes in the solfege scale. From Dalcroze, I've learned how to help students "feel" different meters and show musical elements through movement. These are just a few examples, and certainly the 3 approaches I've mentioned are multidimensional and have much more to offer than just the aspects I've pulled out here, but hopefully the examples help to explain how I incorporate different frameworks into one cohesive one.

If you want to read more about how I start with the standards as my framework and incorporate a wide range of approaches, here's a post I wrote on creating lesson plans based on the National Core Arts Standards. You can learn more about creating a sequenced curriculum from a variety of sources and streamlining your lesson planning in my free Lesson Planning Made Awesome email course.

If you want to see what my mixed methods approach looks like when the "rubber meets the road" take a look at my full curriculum, which includes all the plans and materials you need for K-6 general music classes from a skills-centered, mixed methods approach.

So what are your thoughts? Any other "mixed methods" music teachers out there? I know this approach isn't for everyone, but hopefully this perspective will help to enrich and add to the vibrant conversation on teaching frameworks for general music. I'd love to chat more with you in the comments section!

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Monday, July 17, 2017

Top Tips for Traveling with Young Children

Traveling with young children can be so frustrating but so much fun too! Having grown up traveling all over the world, and now having taken my 5-year-olds on several trips over the last few years, here are my top tips for staying sane and having fun on your next trip with your kids, whether it's on the road or in the air!

Planning for the trip:

Packing for air travel:

Packing for road trips:

Entertainment (for any type of travel!):

I hope you found some new ideas to make your next trip a lot smoother! What are your favorite tips for traveling with young kids? Leave a comment below to share your favorite tips! :)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Children's Literature in Elementary Music Lessons

I love using books in my elementary music lessons, especially for younger students! It's amazing how much more engaged they are when there's a story, and they retain the concepts much better when it's tied to a book. I've shared lots of favorites on this blog, so today I thought I would round them up in one central place. Click on the picture to visit my blog post with complete lesson plans and information on where to get the books as well. I hope you find some new ideas to inspire your lessons!

Bear Snores On

We're Going on a Bear Hunt


Too Much Noise

Froggy Gets Dressed

Niko Draws a Feeling

Mole Music / Song of Middle C / The Really Awful Musicians

My Family Plays Music

Allie All Along

Snake Alley Band

Max Found Two Sticks


Nine-In-One, Grr! Grr!

Those are some of my favorite books to use in elementary music lessons. What are some of yours? I'd love to get some new ideas from you- let's hear them in the comments below! 

Looking for more lesson ideas to last all year? My full curriculum includes all the plans and materials you need for K-6 general music classes.

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