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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Distance Music Lesson Ideas: Found Sound

If you haven't done a found sound lesson in this distance learning scenario, are you even a real music teacher?!? Just kidding, but seriously, found sound is a natural topic that's perfect to do at home. No need to save your own recycling for months, collect donations, or ask students to bring things in. And no matter what their home situation may be, they're sure to have something they can use to make music, even if it's just the floor or a stick! Here are some of my favorite lessons using found sound.

Online Teaching

There are so many amazing videos out there that are perfect for inspiring students and showing them the endless possibilities with found sound. Here are two favorites, but you can see several more in this playlist (I've shared this playlist with my students when I've done these lessons).

I also like demonstrating some different found sound ideas in my own video, just showing them how to find random objects around the house, whether it's a can of corn or a cardboard box or a spoon, and make lots of different sounds with those items. In my experience students have an easy time coming up with objects to use, but have a harder time thinking past the obvious to come up with different ways to use those objects. 

Once they have some ideas for how to create music with found objects around their home, there are lots of ways to frame it in a lesson!


Honestly my favorite assignment to do with found sound is just to encourage them to come up with a song, any song. No rules except they can't use any actual musical instruments or their singing voice. Depending on the platform you're using and your district's regulations, it's ideal if they can submit a video through something like Flipgrid or Seesaw. But they could also upload/ email an audio recording or simply describe what they used to make sounds and how, and even give their song a title.


One of my favorite ways to get students of all ages composing without notating is through soundscapes. Ask students to create the image of a particular scene, like a beach, or even a feeling like sadness, using found sounds. Another similar idea is to show them a picture- I grabbed an abstract painting from the internet- and ask them to create a piece that goes with the picture. You can read more details about how I use soundscapes in the regular classroom in this post for more ideas.

No Tech / Packets

If you're sending home packets of assignments rather than using an online platform, a lot of the lesson ideas for online learning will still work- students can still create their own songs or soundscapes using found sounds- they just won't be able to submit any recordings and you won't be able to directly share the videos with them unless you give them the directions to find them.

Of course my favorite idea for take home packets is a choice board! Here is a choice board for found sound that you are welcome to copy and share with your students:


Group Playing

In addition to the online options mentioned above, with live virtual music class sessions you could also use found sound to have students echo back patterns or take turns improvising 4-8 beat patterns. With the sound lag they won't be able to play things together as an ensemble, but anything where individuals take turns will work, and since you can see them in real time you can help encourage them to come up with new ways to make sounds using the same item as well!


One of my favorite ways to use found sound, especially with younger students, is to add sound effects to stories! Since there's no reason the timing has to line up perfectly, this is a great way to do something together as a class over live video. Assign individual students to different sounds in the story, and have them make their sound using whatever items they find as you read their part of the book. There are a million books that are great for this, but if you want to see some of my favorites here are some ideas:

I hope this gives you some ideas to use with your students in this confusing and difficult time! If you've come up with more great ideas using found sound through distance learning, please share them in the comments below. Don't forget, I'm compiling all of my posts for school closures into one page for easy access- head to that page for more ideas:

Monday, April 27, 2020

Surviving Quarantine with Kids

To be perfectly honest, last week was pretty rough for us. I think my 8 year old daughters and I all just hit a certain breaking point and there were lots of tears, tantrums, and arguments. No matter how hard we try as parents, there's no getting around how tough this situation is for everyone. Today I want to share some ideas I'm trying to make staying at home a little more bearable.

1. Find Holidays

I realized that our best days were the ones when we had something to celebrate, whether it was a holiday or birthday or school spirit day. It breaks up the monotony, helps inspire ideas for things to do when we're bored, and gives us something to look forward to. So I hopped on the internet and looked up what holidays were happening each day this week and picked out one for each day that I thought would be fun for us. For example this week I picked:

Mon 4/27: National Tell a Story Day
Tues 4/28: National Superhero Day
Wed 4/29: International Dance Day
Thurs 4/30: National Bubble Tea Day
Fri 5/1: School Principal's Day
Sat 5/2: National Fitness Day
Sun 5/3: National Two Different Colored Shoes Day

Of course some days there will be *actual* holidays, but having these frivolous holidays to look forward to has me excited already! We may not actually do anything with them every single day, but we can if we feel like it, and that is enough.

2. Lists

Of course it should come as no surprise to see list-making as a coping strategy from me! There are so many ways lists can help. I made lists for my daughters of all their assignments they have for distance learning, plus a list of activities to choose from to get them off the computer in between each assignments (you can get a copy of my lists and read more about how we do that in this post).

We've also started making lists, on days when we have more free time, of things we'd like to do. We sit down as a family and we compile all the ideas that each of us has. Some of mine are things we *should* do, like laundry, but the rest are things we've thought about that would be fun. This is something we did on occasion before quarantine and it's really helpful for avoiding the frustration that can come in the afternoon when young children realize they missed their chance to do something they had hoped to do but never voiced. Seeing the whole list and talking through possible ideas for the day prevents the "I'm bored" moments, encourages my daughters to communicate more proactively, and gives me the chance to help them manage their time so that we're all more likely to be able to do the things we're hoping before the end of the day.

3. Virtual Play Dates

Getting together with their friends has been one of the biggest things my daughters have been missing since schools closed! But the truth is, young children don't do very well with video or phone conversations. Most of the time it's just awkward silence! The key, I've found, is to have pre-planned group activities. Our most successful virtual play date so far has been a game night with another family. We played charades and scattergories, and the game where you have a collection of items in front of the camera, one side closes their eyes while the other side changes something, and then they have to guess what was changed. Of course there are other fun games that would work over video conferencing, but those all worked really well with our elementary age children!

This situation is not easy for any of us, but I hope these ideas help you find some inspiration and joy amidst the stress. I've written other posts already about managing online learning for children, setting up schedules, meal planning, and more- don't forget to check out my centralized page for all things closures both at home and as a teacher:

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Distance Music Lesson Ideas: Dance

One of the first messages I got from a student when we first started distance learning was a 4th grader telling me about how her whole family was dancing around the house singing along with the songs I had put together for her assignment. That image has been seared in my mind ever since. What's better for all of us right now than dancing? Today I want to share some ideas for getting students (and maybe their families too) dancing through distance learning.

1. Online Teaching

If you're teaching online, there are tons of ways to get students dancing! Share my dance playlist and encourage students to dance along. Of course there's nothing wrong with leaving it there and just encouraging students to have some musical fun, but there are also lots of musical concepts you can review at the same time:

Tell students to make their dance moves bigger and smaller to match the dynamics of the music- take the opportunity to review some vocabulary when you introduce the lesson!

Steady Beat/ Tempo
Give students some examples of moves that show the beat and moves that don't, then tell students to show the steady beat with their dance moves. If you pick out a few specific songs that are contrasting tempi, you can also ask students to identify the speed after they move with the beat.

One of my favorite concepts to practice with dance is form. Have students pick one dance move to use for each contrasting section- whenever the music changes, they change their dance move. Review the concept of form and ask them to identify the form with letters (ABA, etc) after dancing with the music.

2. No Tech

For situations where you're not relying on technology, dance is a perfect way to get students dancing! 

Hand Wash Dance
Tell students to choreograph their own dance, incorporating at least one of the hand washing techniques recommended by the WHO. Show this video as inspiration, then encourage them to make up their own!

Choice Board
Choice boards are always a great idea when you're sending something home and don't know what resources students will have available to them! Here's one you can save and use with your students, or use the ideas to make your own:

3. Virtual Teaching

If you're hosting live class sessions online in some way, of course you have more options of doing things more like we would in a regular classroom setting! Even if dance isn't the primary focus of a lesson, taking time for a "dance break" can really help lift everyone's mood and foster a sense of community. If you do choose to have everyone dancing together, keep in mind that there will be a delay with the audio and visual for each person's video. Make sure all of the students mute their audio, and tell everyone to just watch you and not follow each other or they'll get very confused! You may even want to show them how to "pin" your video to show as the big picture on the screen rather than watching everyone in a grid view, depending on the platform you're using.

I hope this gives you some ideas to use with your students in this confusing and difficult time! If you've come up with more great ideas to get kids dancing through distance learning, please share them in the comments below. Don't forget, I'm compiling all of my posts for school closures into one page for easy access- head to that page for more ideas:

Monday, April 20, 2020

Quarantine Cooking: Tips for Managing Meals

One of the biggest challenges with this whole stay at home situation is all the cooking! And as we try to avoid going out in public where we can, planning ahead to avoid frequent grocery store trips has become a necessity. This is also the perfect time to get the whole family more involved in the kitchen since everyone is at home! Here are my tips for planning out meals and minimizing shopping trips, and getting children- no matter their age- more involved in cooking.

1. Meal Planning

If you weren't a meal planner before I'm betting you are now! I've been meal planning for years now and it truly does not have to be complicated. The key is to have some reliable recipes on hand, know how to be realistic when you are choosing your meals, and getting organized before you go to the store (or order your groceries). Here are some specific tips for simplifying the meal planning process so you don't have to stress so much over what to cook or what to buy.

2. Family Cooking

There is no reason for one person to be shouldering all the cooking responsibility for the whole family when everyone is home, and this time while they're not at school is perfect for introducing some kitchen skills to kids! My daughters have been helping with cooking in some form or fashion since they were very young, and now they are each in charge of one dinner per week, from planning to cooking. Here are my tips for getting kids involved in the kitchen:

I also highly recommend getting everyone involved in the planning process for other meals, even if they aren't cooking. I don't have my daughters cook more than one meal a week, but I do have them pick out one breakfast each week as well. Half the battle for me is just coming up with ideas for what to eat- meal planning systems help a lot with that but having others share in the decision making is so helpful.

3. Use What You Have

One of the biggest epiphanies for me during this time at home has been the realization of how much food I have laying around. It's a little like looking at a full closet and lamenting having "nothing to wear"- I have all these staples that I keep on hand that I don't really count when I'm looking at what I have available for next week's meals. I've been trying to start limiting my grocery store trips to every 2 weeks instead of weekly, and it has been a lot easier than I thought! Here's what has worked for us to make this happen:

  • I still only plan 1 week's meals at a time. My brain can't handle that much decision-making at once right now to plan out 2 weeks of meals. So before my grocery store trip, I plan out the week's meals with my daughters and make a list of what I need for those meals like I normally would. 
  • When I go to the store, I pick up a couple of extra fruits and vegetables that will last longer, like sugar snap peas, potatoes, melons, etc. If we're getting close, I might grab an extra milk or carton of eggs. But otherwise I just buy for the 1 week we've planned.
  • For the 2nd week my daughters and I come up with meals using what we have left. It has been amazing to me to see how much we can make with the random stuff we have left in the pantry and fridge! The first time we did this I truly thought we would be eating scrambled eggs and mac and cheese all week, but actually we ate different meals every day and it wasn't that difficult to come up with ideas. 
  • I normally save leftovers from dinner to take as lunches to work. Now I freeze the leftovers instead. That gives me another dinner I can pull out in a couple weeks! 
I'm compiling all of my posts related to school closures/ stay at home social distancing for school and home in one place to make it easier to find. Be sure to head over there for more:

I hope these ideas make quarantine cooking a little less stressful! Stay safe and happy cooking :)

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Dance Playlist 2020

I love finding upbeat, school-appropriate, modern songs to use in my music classes for dance parties, slideshows, field day, and general merriment, and this year this feels especially important to share. I've been creating playlists on YouTube to share with my students during this time of distance learning to encourage them to dance and sing along with everyone in their household. It's a great way to encourage musicking and lift everyone's mood, and there are some easy ways to use it as an opportunity to review and practice music concepts (more on that another day). Here are my new picks for this year- be sure to check out my posts from previous years to find more awesome music my students and I love linked at the end of this post.

To make it easier to find all my dance party playlist songs in one place, I've put together a YouTube playlist with all of the songs from all of my previous year's lists including this one! Here's the link to the playlist.

If you've missed my playlists from previous years you can see those posts below! Happy dancing :)

Monday, April 13, 2020

Equity in Distance Music Education: Relationships

We're now a few weeks into this whole distance learning situation, with plenty more to come. While there are a million things we have to figure out as we restructure our entire profession, no question is more important right now than how we continue our equity work and re-imagine what social justice looks like in this new school environment. I certainly do not have any answers, but I wanted to share my initial thoughts to encourage us as a profession to have these conversations and work towards solutions.

I know I'm not alone in thinking about how far "behind" all of my students are going to be when we finally get back into our physical classrooms. It's bad enough trying to review everything when we come back from summer vacation- how much will my students remember when they've been away from me for this long?!? So then the question for me becomes, what are the most important things I need to do my best to maintain with my students during this distance learning time to make that transition back to school easier?

The answer I've arrived at for now is relationships. The most important thing I need to maintain is my relationship with my students. The #1 key to my students' ability to learn from me is our relationship- the stronger it is, the more they (and I) grow. Reading music notation, using proper vocabulary, demonstrating proper singing and instrument playing technique... they'll pick that all back up pretty quickly. But if I lose my relational foundation with my students? That will take much longer to recover.

But how can I maintain relationships with my students when I can't even see them? In my district, we aren't allowed to host any live video classes or conversations- we're only interacting online via google classroom. Here are some of the solutions I have come up with so far.

1. Classroom Interactions

Without the ability to have live conversations and interactions with students, I've realized just how important every interaction I have with each student is. I am making sure that I return every assignment and activity that students turn in with a private comment that includes a personal and positive note. In every video I make for my online lessons, I try to be conscious of looking at the camera to make "eye contact", and imagining the particular students the lesson is for in front of me and talking to them as if they were there- interjecting humor and keeping my energy level up. Every chance I get, I tell them how much I miss seeing their faces and how excited I am to hear from them. No matter how small, I respond to every single comment and submission- it's time consuming with hundreds of students, but I've realized this is the most important part of my job right now.

2. Watch My Language

This is always important but never more so than now: I have been very conscious of what I say in my videos for lessons and any text directions for assignments. If I'm talking to them about getting someone else to do something with them, like encouraging them to teach someone a song or game from class, I refer to "people in your house" rather than parents or family members. Not all of them are living with their parents and never have students been more acutely aware of this than when they're confined to their house! I also avoid saying things like, "most of you probably have ___", like if I'm talking about objects around their house that they could use for found sound. I don't have control over their learning environment right now nor am I fully aware of what that looks like for each student. Little comments like these can make students feel distanced and forgotten.

3. Individualize

I'm still working on this because it's such a HUGE adjustment for me, but I have been realizing how much more effective it is if I speak and write to one person rather than a group. So in my videos, I'm trying to switch from "Hi everyone" to "Hi there", from "OK everybody echo after me" to "OK my turn, then your turn". In my written directions and messages I'm trying to switch from "I miss you all" to "I miss you". From my perspective I'm speaking to the whole grade level, but from the students' perspective I'm speaking to them alone in front of a computer. These are hard habits to break- after 13 years of teaching to a group I still catch myself saying "everybody" a LOT- but it's important!

This hit home for me the first day my daughters started their online learning. They are in 2nd grade in another building in my same school district, and one of their homeroom teachers had recorded an opening video message for his students to watch first before starting their assignments. The video started with a shot of his desk at home, then he came into the frame, looked straight at the camera, and said, "Hey! I remember you! I haven't seen you in so long!". My daughter's face lit up. I started bawling. We have to remember that our students are now primarily interacting with us and our lessons as an individual, not as part of a classroom full of other kids. And that can be very powerful!

I know some teachers are using different distance learning platforms outside of the online teaching format I'm using, either sending out hard copy packets, or hosting live teaching sessions. If you're only able to send out packets, this endeavor is harder, but I think still possible. Include some form of contact information for families to get in touch with you in every packet if you can, and encourage students to reach out. Put a personal message at the beginning of each assignment, even if it's just to say "I miss you". Reach out to families whenever and however you can. If you're teaching live in one way or another, lucky you! Be sure to allow time for students to connect with you and with each other on a personal level, and advocate hard for access to those live sessions for all students by communicating with administration about families who aren't connecting. Find alternative ways to maintain communication with those who can't be involved in your live classes.

I hope this sparks some reflection and conversation for other music teachers as we continue to figure this stuff out. I'd love to hear your thoughts- please leave a comment below. Of course all of these thoughts are based on the understanding that you've been building positive relationships with your students before schools closed- here are some of my previous posts on creating a more equitable music classroom for all students:

I have been and will continue to share lesson ideas with tech and no-tech options, tips for managing life at home, and more here on my blog. I encourage you to check my closure page regularly for updates:

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Distance Music Lesson Ideas: Note Names

As we all fumble our way through this distance learning thing, I'm trying to keep my focus on lesson ideas that are fun, first and foremost, but I'm also thinking about the types of lessons that are best suited for our current learning environment. So rather than taking my normal lesson ideas and thinking about ways to translate them to distance learning, I'm thinking about, in the current situation of students receiving my content individually in their homes, what content and format makes the most sense. One aspect I want to take advantage of is the opportunity for self-paced skill development. Naming notes on the staff is something students actually benefit from practicing on their own rather than in a group, so here are some ideas to incorporate that into distance learning, both online and in no tech formats.

First of all no, I would never want my entire lesson for the week to be drilling note letter names! I'm not over here trying to shove "rigor" down people's throats! But when it's put in a game / competitive format this is something my students truly get excited about so I will be incorporating it as a short assignment but not the whole "lesson". I am currently teaching through Google Classroom and assigning one short lesson per week for each grade level, so I'll start these lessons with a video of me singing a fun song and/ or dancing and then lead into: "Oh, remember how we name the notes with letters? This song starts on the note G. Here's what all the notes on the lines/ spaces are, remember? OK here's your challenge: go do this game/ activity this week and see how many you can get/ how many ideas you can come up with".

Here are some ideas for activities students can do to practice letter names on- and off-line and have fun doing it!


MusicTheory.Net exercises: This is an easy way for students to practice note letter names and report a score. You can save specific exercises so students don't have to edit the settings themselves (so for example for 3rd grade I can set it up so they are practicing treble clef within the staff and with no accidentals). I love this one because I can tell them to do a certain number of notes, or spend a certain number of minutes on it, and then report their score to me, and because I use this on my board for in-class games they're already familiar with it.

Staff Wars: Another great way for students to practice letter names! It's fast-paced and the graphics are cool and videogame-esque. The only drawbacks of this one are that the fast pace can be frustrating for students who need more time to think, and it requires flash, which can be a problem for some devices.

No Tech

Challenge students to write a card/ letter/ poster with an encouraging message to put up somewhere or send to someone, using music notes and writing the letters underneath the notes. If they can, they can take a picture of their finished product to send to you! Here are some examples to share with students:

I hope this helps as you look for ways to engage students without overwhelming them during distance learning! If you have more no tech or online ideas for practicing note names in fun ways, please leave a comment to share! And to see all of my distance learning posts head to this page:

Monday, April 6, 2020

Suddenly Homeschool: parenting through online learning

I've officially completed my first full week of distance schooling as a parent and teacher simultaneously, and it definitely wasn't easy. I'm juggling zoom meetings, google classroom notifications, emails, phone calls, and text messages from work while trouble shooting tech problems, assisting with time management, and interacting with my daughters as they navigate online independent learning for the first time. As we all navigate this new normal as working parents from home, here are my tips for helping our children with their distance learning while managing our own remote work schedules as well.

When schools first closed, many of us parents did what we could to keep our children's minds, bodies, and imaginations engaged at home without much guidance from schools, while districts scrambled to completely redesign how we do school without physically being in school buildings. If you are still in this position and looking for free resources for children to explore at home in different subject areas, or tips for creating routines/ schedules for them, head to this previous post on parenting through closures.

Now that most districts are up and running with some form of distance learning plan that allows teachers to give more direct instruction/ assignments, we're faced with a whole new set of challenges trying to help our children manage their learning independently. Here is what is working for us so far.


I've found that specific schedules of when to do what no longer work for us with online learning. I'm not the one deciding what subjects they do each day and for how long anymore- their teachers are giving more guidance with that now- and since I am less involved in directly teaching/ leading their activities I can't predict how long each one will take, and there's no reason for them to sit around waiting for the imaginary bell to ring if they're done, or to feel like they have to rush to finish if they're taking longer.

Still, my daughters need support with making sure they complete everything, and they also need some structure to make sure they're taking regular breaks throughout the day instead of staring at a computer screen for hours on end. To help them do that, we came up with the idea of 2 to-do lists: one for their school subjects, and one for other important activities that we want to make sure they're doing each day.

The idea is that they pick something from list #1, then from #2, and alternate between lists until they're done. The subject areas in list 1 are based on what the girls are being assigned by their teachers- they have one weekly assignment from art, library, music, PE, social studies, science, and health, so the girls pick one from each of the 2 groups to do each day. For the music time on list 2 my daughters are practicing the instruments that they study privately, but if that's not something your children do it could be a dance break!


One of the biggest struggles we encountered when we first started this online learning model was making sure my children weren't spending too much time on one assignment- specifically, spending too long on their online math games, and getting engrossed in an online reading assignment. I don't want them staring at a screen longer than they need to, and neither do their teachers! But even with reminders from both of us on how much time to spend on each of those things, it was hard for them to keep track of time on their own (and I am so often tied up in virtual meetings etc that I can't stay on top of them myself). Timers have been very helpful for this. I got each of them one of these timers, and any time they're doing something that is timed, they set the timers themselves. This has helped so much with their independent time management!

Family Lunch

With all three of us involved in our separate online classrooms during the day we're not interacting as much even though we're in the same house. Taking a little time to all sit down together for lunch and turn off the computers has been wonderful! I'm still "on the clock" when we take our lunch so I keep my phone with me to answer student questions and respond to assignments, but even the short time to touch base with each other and get away from the computer has been really helpful for making it through the rest of the "school day".


Outside of the things on their lists, we're still cooking and cleaning. Each child makes dinner once a week, and we do one cleaning session in the morning before we get to our schoolwork, and another in the afternoon when we're done. Usually in the morning the girls wipe down the doorknobs, tables, and handrails with disinfectant, and in the afternoon they clean up the various messes they've made around the house. With the amount of time that we're spending in it, it's important for all of us to be contributing to keeping the house clean!

Get Outside

We've been pretty fortunate with the nice weather days we've had since schools closed! Whenever we can, we get outside. We've mostly been getting out the jump ropes, roller skates, and bikes, but sometimes we just pull out the picnic blanket and sit in the grass, or go for a walk around the neighborhood. Fresh air and sunshine make a world of difference!

I hope these suggestions are helpful as you figure out how to teach and parent from home. Have other questions about distance learning from a teacher or parent perspective? Leave a comment below! And don't forget to check out my page dedicated to school closure- related posts here: