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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! :)

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!

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, like sixteenth notes, syncopation, compound meter and more, 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!

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!