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Monday, July 31, 2023

3 Fridge Organization Items

We're continuing the home organization projects with the fridge today- no, there are no clear stacking bins to color coordinate your produce like all the beautiful fridges I see on social media these days, but I do have a few super practical, inexpensive items I've added to my fridge that have made it so much easier for me to keep everything accessible and easy to find in my refrigerator! 

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1. Turntables

I saw these at IKEA and got so excited- rectangular lazy susans! Why didn't we think of this sooner?!? I've seen people use regular round lazy susans in their fridge to make it easier to reach and see things, but I never liked the way it wasted space in the corners- it's truly a round peg, square hole. But these have the same functionality of regular lazy susans with the added benefit of fitting the rectangular fridge shelves, leaving no empty corners. I know IKEA changes out their items pretty often, so if you can't find them there this one seems to be similar.

2. Hanging Drawers

Not only do these function as, essentially, an additional shelf, but because they are drawers they are perfect for the kinds of things that would normally roll around on a shelf. I usually keep a few rolls in a can on hand, and these drawers fit those perfectly. 

3. Egg Storage

OK this is probably the one thing on this list that is not entirely necessary, but I actually love it for multiple reasons:

  • I can easily grab the eggs I need without having to take out the entire carton
  • I can easily see how many eggs I have left without having to take out the entire carton to check every time I'm making my grocery list
  • It freed up shelf space

Here's a video to show you how each of them works:

They're nothing earth-shattering but they really have made my fridge so much more organized! If you want to see other organization tips and items for the rest of the kitchen, be sure to check out this post:

What do you use to organize your fridge? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

The #1 Thing We All Need This Year

Last school year was really hard in new ways I don't think any of us fully anticipated. And the years before that too. As I'm putting together my purchase orders and Amazon wish lists, reflecting on last school year and thinking ahead to next year, I have been thinking a lot about the main things my students need to be successful this year, and realizing the things they need are the same things my colleagues and I need as teachers as well. While there are a lot of things that play into it, there is one thing I keep coming back to that I think all of us- students and teachers- need most this year.

First of all yes, we still definitely need more funding- for supplies and for salaries- I'm not saying that we don't need the material things too! But truly solving the teacher shortage, the student behaviors, the mental health crisis... that will take more than anything money can buy. 


The number one word I have been reflecting on since the middle of last school year is agency. We all lost our sense of control over our own lives during the pandemic (which led to a lot of conflict over masking, vaccine mandates, etc) and we are all looking to regain some sense of control- of agency- over our situations. At the same time, students in particular experienced a different type of agency and control over their situation during distance learning. They could stay in their pajamas all day, eat and use the bathroom freely and, let's be honest, mute the teacher whenever they wanted. One of the advantages I saw in distance learning was the freedom for each student to say whatever they wanted whenever they wanted and be heard by the teacher. Whether it was on Zoom or asynchronous, students could type in the chat or comments without raising their hand, waiting for someone else to finish talking, or waiting for an opportune moment when the teacher found it convenient for them to speak. 

Similarly we as teachers have repeatedly joked about how nice it was to be able to mute students, but it's more than a joke- there were advantages to being able to finish my sentence without being interrupted, but still allow students to ask questions in the chat and be able to address them without stopping the flow of the lesson, and have students be able to say things to me without distracting the other students.

Last year I sensed a lot of pushback from students and adults looking for more agency. A lot of conflicts in the classroom and disruptive behaviors stemmed from students who weren't getting to do what they wanted when they wanted, who didn't want to be told what to do, who just wanted to have more snacks. And a huge part of the frustrations for teachers centered around not being able to teach because of the student behaviors disrupting the lesson, feeling powerless to properly hold students accountable for their behavior, being severely restricted in what books we are allowed to have in our rooms and what we can and cannot say because of politics. Teachers are leaving because they have lost their sense of agency.

There is a whole treatise of things to be said on this topic, and I am planning to flesh this out more in the future with concrete thoughts on how we can foster agency (and other things that contribute to a sense of agency) for students and for adults. And obviously the struggles we are facing are multifaceted- there are other major factors besides agency, I'm definitely not saying this is the one key to solving all of our problems, just that it is one of the central ones. But I needed to put this thought out into the world and would love to hear your thoughts on this- I really believe that if we are going to find our way through this, we need to find ways to foster agency for everyone. Please share your reactions, thoughts, and ideas in the comments below.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Visual Calendar for Preteens

I never thought I would still be using a visual calendar for my daughters when they were this age, but they're now 11 and we're still going strong! Between extracurriculars, parenting schedules of when they're with me or with their dad, and their class rotations at school, there's a lot to keep track of for each of them, and I want them to take part in keeping track of those things for themselves rather than me tracking it for them on a family calendar. I recently updated their magnetic visual calendar to be more tailored to the needs and tastes of my budding preteens- here's what it looks like now (and how we're using it)!

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I completely started over from scratch with their new visual calendar and now it is so much more geared to their needs and tastes! 

  • Changed the scrapbook paper to match their current style/ taste
  • Gave them each their own space for daily schedules
  • Updated the magnets to be more sophisticated
  • Added a space for self-expression

If you aren't familiar, I made a DIY magnetic visual calendar for my daughters 9 years ago (!!) when they were 2 years old. I used an oil drip pan as the "board", used scrapbook paper and stickers to mark off the different sections, and made magnets using these adhesive magnet sheets. In addition to their weekly calendar, I also had a chore chart for them- here's what it first looked like (click on the photo to see the original blog post where I explain in more detail):

When the girls were a little older and starting preschool, I adjusted the chore chart so they each kept track of their own chores they had done, and added a monthly calendar at the bottom (click on the photo for the blog post):

When they started Kindergarten I added magnets for their school classes, swapped their chore chart for dry erase checklists to keep track of homework etc, and added a spot to keep school papers and flyers:

The board pretty much stayed the same after that- I changed some of the magnets for new extracurriculars, but that was about it. It was definitely time for an upgrade! I decided it was time to start over completely- I took off all of the old scrapbook paper and stickers that marked the days, and the checklist papers, and decided to rethink the entire board. 

I wasn't even sure the girls still needed a visual calendar at all, but when I asked them they said they still wanted to have one to keep track of their own schedules. But I did rearrange it so they now each have their own sides for their individual schedules, and I made it dry erase by adding single-sided laminating sheets on top of the paper, since they can read and write now. We picked out scrapbook paper that each of them liked too, to fit each of their styles.

The monthly calendar stayed the same- they still draw their own pictures to add to the top and write in the major upcoming dates on the calendar each month (highly recommend as it has become a super fun tradition to look back at them all around new year's- here's the blog post about our calendar). But I also knew I wanted to add a way to encourage self-expression, have another way for us to communicate when they're hesitant to talk, and also encourage positive self-image. One of my daughters in particular is really into writing and poetry, so I got some poetry magnets to add to the bottom as well:

The pink container at the bottom holds the extra magnets, and I added some dry erase markers there so my daughters can write down things on their schedules. The magnets got a major update as well! The old clipart I had picked out years ago was too childish so we looked at clipart together and decided to go with a watercolor theme for all of their icons. They picked out their own clipart for their activities, and they're now so much prettier!

We're all really happy with this update- it's much more grownup looking and it fits their growing needs perfectly! I am so glad we've been able to use this still, all these years later.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

My Favorite Books for Each Grade in Elementary Music

Storybooks are such a great way to tap into young students' creativity and imagination, create cross-curricular and real world connections to musical concepts, and provide windows and mirrors into students' own identities and others' in elementary music. Here are some of my favorite books for each grade level (it's definitely hard to narrow it down) that I would recommend every elementary music teacher get for their classrooms- if you don't have these already, add them to your wish list!

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Kindergarten: Froggy Gets Dressed

No book gets my Kindergartners laughing more than this one! I love using this book to add instrument timbres- here is a full blog post I wrote with the lesson plans I use.

1st grade: Nine-in-One, Grr! Grr!

I love using this story with 1st grade to practice sol-mi singing and instrument playing, and it's a great way to introduce them to Hmong culture at the same time. The students love the story and go around singing the song for weeks afterwards! Here's the full lesson plan I use with the book.

2nd/ 3rd grade: My Family Plays Music

This book is absolutely amazing for exploring different genres in an active and engaging way, and the 2nd-3rd grade age is perfect for this book. I've used this as sub plans before as well and it works great for that, so this set of lessons is very versatile! Here's the blog post with my full lesson plans.

4th/ 5th grade: Because

This book is the perfect segue to songwriting, and/ or conversations about "why we musick", with upper elementary. Although students do a lot of composing in the younger grades, 4th and 5th graders really get into more melodic writing, so I love using this book to get students thinking of themselves as songwriters- reading and discussing the story first helps many of my students think more about creating truly musical melodies rather than just following a formula to put notes on a page (and it also happens to be a great way to quickly review orchestral instruments since they are pictured in the book). 

6th grade: The Roots of Rap

I don't read this book aloud to the class or anything, but I keep it in my classroom bookshelf and I *may or may not* strategically place it in a noticeable spot whenever my 6th graders are doing centers and picking books from the shelf- they never fail to get excited when they "discover" it and on multiple occasions I've had students run around the room showing it to their friends at other stations, and telling them to make sure to check it out when they get to the books. I also refer them to this book whenever they ask about a specific artist or a question about the history/ pillars of hip-hop, and I do pull it out to show them some specific pages with pictures of specific people etc when I am introducing our hip-hop unit. I have several children's books about hip-hop but this is the one my 6th graders love the most and don't find childish. Here is my blog post on my lessons to introduce hip-hop in elementary music.

Of course there are SO MANY more books, especially for the younger grades, that I feel terrible about not mentioning because my students and I love them so much too! I have a lot more books for K-2 grades, complete with accompanying lesson plans, in this post.

What are your favorite books to use with specific grade levels? I'd love to hear them in the comments, I'm always on the hunt for new ones to add to my list!

Monday, July 17, 2023

Family Craft Supply Storage

As the mother of two elementary-aged children and a crafter myself, one thing we have a lot of in my house is craft supplies! When we moved to our new house, one of my top priorities was the re-organize our craft supplies in a way that made sense for our family and how we use things, taking into account how much older (and therefore more capable and independent) my daughters are now at 11 years old. I still have more to do to get everything the way we want it, but today I'm sharing my progress so far- I'm really happy with our new setup!

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When we first moved in I was hoping to use our hallway closet- presumably intended to be used for linens- as our centralized craft storage closet. But once I started organizing everything I quickly realized there was no way everything would fit! So I shifted strategies to sort our craft supplies into categories: items only the kids would use, items we would all use, and items only I would use. The common items I kept in the hallway closet, the kids' items I put in the girls' shared play area closet, and my remaining items I'm not quite ready to share yet (mostly my planner stickers and washi tape) in my room. 

The kids' craft storage is actually half of the master bedroom closet. Our new house doesn't have a specific "play room" like we had with our old basement, so we designated the master bedroom to be half one daughter's bedroom and half shared play space. One side of the closet is my daughter's clothes closet, and the other side is now the storage for their toys and craft supplies:

The girls have a lot fewer toys now, so a lot of the bins in the bin organizer now hold craft supplies, and some of the spots in the hanging shoe organizer have additional craft supplies as well. The majority of the supplies, though, are stored in the IKEA bins on the rails that we attached to the back wall of the closet. I cut out pieces of clear contact paper and wrote on them with permanent marker to create simple labels for the bins that we can change out whenever we need:

The hallway closet has a lot of the specific categories or projects that we use together, like sewing tools and fabric, paint and glue, tie-dye, beads and jewelry making tools, and scrapbook paper. For categories (like paint and glue) or specific projects (like tie-dye) I grouped them in clear bins with labels on the front so we can all see what's inside and find what we need. 

As a scrapbooker I have a bit of a paper problem and had an absolutely ridiculous stack of paper pads that were getting bulky and difficult to sort through in the drawer I had them in before- I knew I needed a way to store them vertically to make it easier to look through everything, and I knew I wanted to consolidate everything by color and coordinating sets to make it easier to find what I want rather than flipping through every single paper pad, especially since I had a lot of pads that I had used up a lot of the sheets. These clear paper organizers have been a game changer! For the paper pads that have specific coordinating patterns I like to use together, I took out the remaining pages and put them in a bin together where I can more quickly see the paper inside. For the rest of the paper, I took everything out of the pads and reorganized them by color. It is so much easier to find what I need now, and for the girls to use it as well (this video shows a quick tour around both closet spaces, and a closer look at the paper organizers)!

There will definitely have to be a part 2 to share more of my craft storage- I still have more to do to set up my personal craft supplies in my bedroom/ office space as well- but I'm really happy with how things are coming together so far. Our new setup makes so much more sense for our family and how we use things now! 

Do you have any craft supply organization and storage ideas you love? Which supplies do you find most difficult to organize? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Things to Put on Your Elementary Music Amazon Wishlist

Have you ever thought about putting together an Amazon wishlist for your classroom but then just couldn't come up with what to ask for? It's silly because obviously there's tons of things we're lacking and can't get school funding for, but I find often in the moment it's hard to come up with stuff to ask for, especially as a music teacher, because usually the prices and selection for instruments and other elementary music specific things on Amazon are not as good as other vendors. But last summer I finally put together a list, not sure if anything would actually get purchased, and I was shocked to get everything I asked for! Here's a list of things to consider adding to your elementary music classroom Amazon wishlist.

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To keep this list at a manageable length I'm not including any books on this list- I'll share my recommendations for books I love using in my lessons in a future post. This list includes all the other things I've gotten on Amazon for my elementary music room that I love!

Carpet Spots 

These are the carpet spots I use to mark my circle spots- I highly recommend them because they lasted all school year without much sign of wear and tear, and the colors are bright and easily distinguishable (not the case with every set I found) and just the ones I need for my color teams.

Carpet Strips 

I used these when I had students socially distanced to mark where chairs were supposed to go. This set, like the carpet spots, has the right colors and holds up better than other ones I found (although for lines in front of chairs I find they don't last all year like the spots do). 

Loom Bands 

This set has all the colors I need for any sort of karate belt system for learning songs on instruments- I give students these to put on the bell of their recorder when they pass each level. It is so much cheaper and way easier than buying yarn, cutting pieces, and tying them onto the recorders like I did when I first started teaching! This set is the most cost-effective way I've found to get all the colors I need even though there are a few extra colors I don't use.

Triangle Holders 

I am a triangle holder snob. In my experience there is no competition here, this type is far superior to any other solution, hands down. And shockingly most music stores don't carry these. If you don't have them, get them. 

Skin Tone Bandaids Multipack 

Yes, our school nurse gives us bandaids to keep in our rooms each year, but these are far better quality (meaning I end up with fewer bandaids falling off or getting ripped off and landing on my floor... IYKYK) and I love having the different skin tones to choose from, especially for my older students. They will go out of their way to come to my room and ask for a bandaid rather than take one from their homeroom teacher or the nurse! I call that students feeling cared for.

Eggspert Buzzer Set 

This item is more expensive than the others on this list, and it's the only item I don't already have myself- it's on my own wishlist right now! But it's too cool not to include. I saw a presentation years ago (like over a decade ago) at TMEA where they showed how they use these for games in music class and I have had it in the back of my mind ever since- especially since, again, they match my color team colors, this would be perfect for having teams race to answer questions, name a note, etc.

Black Painter's Tape 

This may seem random but I use black painter's tape A LOT in my classroom. For most of my posters, I staple them to the wall and then put the black painter's tape around the edge. It looks a lot neater, makes them last longer, and helps them stand out against my white walls better. 


I got these from my Amazon wishlist last year and my students and I have loved them! Of course they match my color team colors, but because they are plastic they are much sturdier than the wooden ones I had before and any doodles and marks that end up on them are much easier to clean.

Discbound Planner Cover and Discs 

This is how I set up my teacher planner so I can add and remove pages and customize my cover- this set is super cost effective and comes with clear covers and discs so you can add your own cover inside and it will show through. These have held up well for me but it's nice to have the backups in this set (it comes with 3 sets of covers) so if a cover gets dirty or bent you can replace it.

Discbound Hole Punch

To add the pages inside the teacher planner with the discs and covers above, you'll need a hole punch. This one is the one I have and the price is amazing! I highly recommend this.

What else do you have on your wishlists? I need some more ideas to add for this year so let me know what you have on yours! 

Monday, July 10, 2023

Game Cabinet Reorganization

We're continuing our journey to set up and organize my new house and today I just had to show you how I reorganized the cabinet where we keep all of our board and card games! This may seem trivial and inconsequential but it honestly makes me giddy every time I open it- this simple reorganization has made it so much easier for us to see all the games we have without anything getting buried in a pile, and most importantly so much easier to grab the game we want without having to take out 5 other games that are stacked above or around it. So we can get to playing together faster, and never forget about all the cool games we have!

I am a huge fan of games. I grew up playing board games and card games with my family and now I love playing with my own daughters! So over the years we have accumulated a pretty good collection of them. I honestly never gave a second thought to the way we had them sorted- in a few drawers of our china cabinet, and stacked on top of each other on some shelves in the playroom. I wish I had a picture of the drawers because they were honestly terrible, because I was trying to cram in big boxes of board games with decks of cards, little games with little bits and pieces in bags- they were a mess and I honestly forgot about some of the games we had that got shoved in the backs of the drawers until we packed it up to move! Here's a picture of one of the shelves where I had some stacks of games- not the worst thing, but it meant any time I wanted the game on the bottom I had to take out the whole stack:

I'm saying all of this to try to convey just how excited I am about this seemingly small change to this:

Why did it never occur to me before to put the board games on the shelves vertically?!? Now we can see them all, and grab just the one we want without moving all the others, just like books on a bookshelf. There were some games that didn't fit on the shelf vertically because of the shape of the box, so I just moved the first shelf down to the lowest spot and put the next one just above it so there's just enough room to store those bigger boxes horizontally without having to stack multiple games on top of each other- the only exceptions are the ones at the very bottom, but with only a couple of games to slide out from under another box, I'm calling that a massive win!

Storing the board games this way actually took up a lot less space too. When I first put the games in this cabinet those games took up all of that shelf space plus one of the drawers on the other side, but now that I got those out of the drawer, the smaller game pieces and decks of cards can sit in one layer in the drawer where we can see everything and grab what we want from there as well (and I even realized there were several decks of cards and smaller games that I could store vertically in the drawer as well).

All of that reorganizing not only made it easier to find and get everything, but it freed up two entire drawers where I can now keep puzzles and recipe books (this game cabinet is next to the kitchen and living room- it makes sense, trust me). Here's a quick video tour of the whole cabinet so you can see how it all came together:

So the moral of the story is if there's a storage or organization system that you're unquestioningly using that is adding some annoyance to your use of the items being stored, there's probably a way to fix it that will bring great joy to your life without buying or building anything or even requiring much time or effort. At least if a well-organized thing brings you joy like me.

I've actually written about my toy storage systems a number of times over the years (though none of them seem as revolutionary as this one to me at the moment!)- here's what I've used over the years, especially when my daughters were toddlers and preschoolers, if you're interested in seeing what else I've done (click on each photo to visit the blog posts explaining how I set them up):



How do you store your games and kids' toys? Most importantly is there anyone out there who has been holding out on me and never told me I could store my games vertically? Because I would like to have a word. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Music Teacher Planner Flip-through June 2023

Every 6 months or so I take out the planning pages I've already used, to keep my planner from getting too bulky, and add in new pages for the upcoming months. Before I cleared out the pages from the second half of the 22-23 school year to get my planner set up for summer, I had to go back and flip through all the pages I decorated and used over the past 6 months to show you what it really looks like when I am using my planner as a music teacher, mom, and business owner on a day-to-day basis.

If you're someone who loves the idea and the look of decorated planner pages but thinks they don't have the time, energy, or artistic talent to pull it off, I hope my planner pages show how simple, fun, and genuinely helpful for productivity it can actually be- it's not just a frivolous or creative hobby, it actually makes me more organized because I am color coding and categorizing all the information on the pages! Take a look at my last 6 months of planner pages and let me know in the comments which page was your favorite.

If you are interested in trying out these printable planner pages for yourself you can see all of the available formats (I'm using a modified version of the Dated 5) here in my TPT store

Monday, July 3, 2023

New Entryway Tour

One of the first places I got set up in our new house is the entryway! With my teacher bags, my kids' backpacks, purses, keys, mail, and everyone's shoes there's a lot of important stuff that needed a home immediately. I'm so happy with how everything came together and it has made it so much easier to get out the door in the mornings now that our entryway is organized.

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For me the main things I needed a place for in the entryway area were shoes and school bags. Of course I also wanted to have some extra hooks for guests to hang their coats and purses, and a place to drop mail and hang my keys. After living in the space for a few weeks I quickly realized we were actually coming in through the garage more than the front door, so I decided an organizer over the door to hang our shoes would be convenient without cluttering the actual entryway area! Here's the organizer I ended up getting- I love the size and it's very sturdy!

My favorite thing I have purchased for the house so far is this bench. I was looking for storage benches at first so we would have space to keep backpacks and school things, but one of my daughters suggested using baskets instead so that we could each easily pull out our bag without opening the whole bench, and I'm so much happier with this solution! The bench is actually intended to be a dining bench, which makes it very low profile and simple- just what I needed. I can't find the exact baskets I bought at the time on clearance from Michael's, but these are the closest ones I could find in dimensions and look. I highly recommend this idea for a small entryway!

I used to use clear plastic bins for my mail, but that definitely did not fit the rest of the wood items I had in the entryway, so I was thrilled to find this mail sorter with hooks on the side at a thrift store. There are plenty of items like this you can find online like this one, but I do like the way the hooks are on the side on mine, which made it perfect for this spot!

I added this new window film on the front door, since when I moved in there was old crusty stuff that was peeling at the edges and getting pretty yucky. I had some of this left over from a previous project, actually, and the last place I used it in my old house it held up perfectly for years so I'm confident it will last and it's so easy to put up!

The other side of the entry area has a collage picture frame, a planter (that I need to get a plant for), some extra hooks for coats and purses, a small mirror, and a small cork board where we put school fliers when there's something we need to remember. There's also a small shelf where we keep sunscreen, bug spray, lotion, and other little things like that that we tend to need coming in and out of the house. These are all pieces I've collected from yard sales over the years but I've never had them all together in the entryway like this and I'm really happy with the way it all looks:

Now that I've shown you each area, here's a quick tour around the entryway:

What things do you like to have in your entry area to make it easier to get out the door in the mornings? I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments! I've found it makes such a big difference when we have all of our things organized in the entry area, so while this may seem like an insignificant part of the house it really makes a huge difference for me!