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Monday, January 23, 2017

My Top 3 Tips to Help Make Laundry Easier

I know some people despise laundry. I don't hate it, but it's definitely a nuisance, mostly because it's such a time commitment, what with the loading, stain removing, unloading, drying, folding, and put-awaying. Since having my twin daughters my laundry loads have obviously gotten way bigger, and I've developed a few ways to help make laundry a little bit easier and the process a little faster.

1. Easily accessible supplies

My very first "home/parenting" blog post ever was this tip: stick a pen holder on your washer or dryer to keep stain removers handy! Click on the picture to see that post (remember, it was one of my first posts ever.... it's uh, not fancy):

When I wrote that post, I was in a 2-bedroom apartment with my stackable washer and dryer in a tiny closet next to the kitchen. Although space was definitely tight, it was really nice having everything so close by. Now that I've moved into a house, things are much further away from each other, so having everything I need right there in the laundry room became even more important. One of the biggest downsides of my laundry setup in this house is that there is no sink anywhere in the basement where my washing machine and dryer are, which makes it difficult when I need to work on stains or rinse something out. Enter my latest solution to keep things nearby: a drink dispenser. These slim kinds are cheap and I've seen them at several stores (I picked mine up at Walmart, but this one looks very similar). I love it because it takes up very little storage space but holds a good amount of water. I've had mine for several months and haven't had to refill yet. Pair that with a bowl and voila! No need for a sink!

2. Reusable dryer sheets

I shared these recently in my post on 5 Eco-Friendly Ways for Busy Moms to Save Time and Money- they are great time-savers because I never have to take them in or out of the dryer! I don't even think about them! It's just one less step I have to go through every time I do laundry.

3. Organized closets

This last tip saves me a lot of time in the sorting and putting away after the clothes are cleaned: having our closets organized so that it's easy for me and my daughters to know where to put everything has made it so much easier and faster to put clean clothes away! My favorite thing about our closets is that every type of clothing has its own bin. We can all quickly find our items and throw them in the right bin. Click on each picture below if you want to read my previous posts on how I set up my closet and my daughters' closets. My girls have been putting their own clothes away since before they turned 4, which is awesome for me!

I hope you found at least 1 small way to help make your laundry time a little bit quicker and easier! How much do you love or hate laundry? What are your favorite laundry tips? Let's hear them in the comments! :)

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Teaching Canon Singing

One of the first steps in learning part-singing is through canons/rounds. I love teaching students how to sing in canon- their faces just light up when they are first able to sing in two different parts without my help!! Here is a step-by-step walk through of the teaching process I use to get students singing canons for the first time.

First, a disclaimer: yes, I am aware that canons and rounds are two different things. For the sake of this post I'm going to primarily use the term canon, since that is what is used in most music textbooks that I've seen, but I've included a few references to "rounds" in case some readers are confused ;)

1. When to start

I've honestly taught students as young as pre-kindergarten to sing a canon independently- it can be done at almost any age. BUT I think the ideal age to start working on part singing is at the end of 2nd grade. I focus on it mostly at the beginning of 3rd grade, but I like to throw it out there at the end of 2nd grade as an exciting challenge to keep them engaged when the end of year crazies set in. Although younger children can certainly be taught to perform a song in canon independently, most of them will do so by ignoring the other part completely and won't have a true "part-singing" experience (so what's the point?). Focus on pitch matching and quality vocal tone with your younger students.

2. Picking a song

Of course to teach students to sing in canon, you need a good song to start with! My favorite one to use is this one about an obnoxious cat. I've looked high and low for the source of this song with no success- if anyone knows where it comes from please let me know!

The kids love this song because it's funny. I like it as a first canon song because each phrase that the students end up singing simultaneously has a different rhythm and pitches so you can clearly distinguish each part, which helps them stay on their own part when they first start singing in canon. You can find lots more great canons in this list from Beth's Music Notes.

3. Teaching the song

The key to any new part singing endeavor is to make sure students are able to sing their part confidently. I always start teaching the song without doing it in a round at least 2 classes before we start talking about canon singing. The other key element for helping them sing their part confidently is motions. Although having different rhythms and pitches for each phrase helps them distinguish their parts, having the motions to go with it make a huge difference because they can visually see which part they are singing, and kinesthetically show what they're singing. It engages them more fully in the song and helps them stay on their part. It doesn't matter what the motions are, but make sure that each phrase has its own motion.

I start off teaching the motions first- I tell them we are learning a new song and have them listen to me sing it while they mirror my motions (in the case of the cat song, I make sure to make angry faces etc as well!). Then students learn the song by echoing after me one line at a time with their voices and the motions, and finally sing the song together with me, still doing the motions. We review the song again next class as a "regular song" to make sure they know the words, melody, and motions well.

4. Developing independence

Once they've had a few days to let the song "sink in", it's time to get them singing in canon! Hopefully after singing the song several times over a period of a week or so this step is easy, but I make a big deal about telling them that they are going to learn something tricky today and tell them the first step is to sing the song without my help. First I stop singing and just do the motions with them, and then I stop doing the motions as well (at each step in this process, if they seem at all hesitant I have them try again and make sure they can do it confidently before moving on to the next step).

5. Teacher as "part 2"

Once they can sing the song on their own confidently, I tell the students I am going to try to be sneaky and distract them, but they should do their best to sing the song again exactly the way they just did and don't let me distract them (they usually get really excited about this!). I have them start the song, then I enter (singing softly and without the motions) as part 2 (in measure 5 for the cat song). If even my quiet singing is too much for them, I'll try avoiding eye contact as well- I've even done it by going behind them and singing from the back where they can't see me. If they can stay on their part, I tell them, "Well that was obviously too easy for you! I went easy on you that time, but I'm gonna really try to get you this time!" and have them do it again while I sing full volume and with the motions. Once they can do that, it's time to split them up into parts themselves.

6. 2-Part canon

The next step is to split them up into 2 parts. The key here is to make sure you have your most confident singers split up between the 2 groups- while they're practicing singing in canon with me, I watch to see which students are able to confidently hold their own and make sure they are split up between the parts. I start each part and then help them along with motions and/or singing if either part starts to lose it! Once they make it through the song, I switch part 1 and part 2 and do it again.

7. 3 (or more)-Part canon

If the song is long enough to allow it, I like to split up the class into more parts after that! With the cat song you can go up to 3 parts, which is plenty for 2nd graders. Again, I make sure to give each group a turn singing the first, second, and third parts, and I make sure to split up the most confident singers on each of the parts.

Once the students have mastered canon singing, they're ready to move on to partner songs! I'll be back in another post to talk about those ;) What are your favorite rounds/canons to start your students on? What age do you start teaching canon singing? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Fostering Empathy

Empathy. I've been thinking about empathy a lot lately for a variety of reasons, and today I wanted to talk about fostering empathy as parents. I've always been very conscious of wanting to encourage my daughters to be highly empathic people. I'm not a psychologist or parenting expert, so these are just my personal thoughts on how I think empathy was fostered in my own character and what things I am consciously doing to foster empathy for my daughters.

The first and most important component that comes to mind is being physically present in places where you are not in the majority, whether that be in race, nationality, gender, worldview, religion, or otherwise. Obviously empathy comes directly out of understanding the "other", and there is no substitute for being physically present in the place where they live and breath when it comes to growing in our understanding a person or people group outside of who we are. In practical terms, this means I have been deliberate about where I live and where my children and I spend our time. The girls' school and neighborhood are very diverse. Having grown up as a foreigner in 3 different continents myself, I know that having someone come into your sphere and talk to you, whether that's a guest speaker in your classroom or a visitor in your home (as helpful as that can be as a starting point), can't take you out of your element and into another world in the same way that planting yourself in a setting where you can see their worldview being worked out in everyday life can. And while you can grow in understanding by talking to people, until you are physically in "their space" and put in the position of learning to live within that space, it is hard not to think of those other people groups as distant or "other" from who you are to some degree. It is always so encouraging for me to hear my daughters come home talking about the people they meet at school in a very matter-of-fact way. I know that growing up with an awareness that different people do things and think about things in different ways will serve them well.

Another component of encouraging empathy in our children is modeling. We all know that we learn a lot of our worldview, our personalities, and our opinions from what we see the important adults in our lives model for us. More than what they say, it's what we see them act on that has the greatest impact. This is a scary one for me as a mother, because I know how many times I have modeled things that I would never want my daughters to imitate, and I know pretty much every parent has the same worries. But there is also encouragement in knowing that our children learn from and take on a lot of our positive character traits that we model for them just by watching us live out our lives. One thing I have been more conscious of as the girls get older is voicing out loud the thoughts in my head so that they know what I'm thinking and can hear my empathy, my concern and respect for others, etc.

I'm sure there are much more sophisticated and complex ways to foster empathy that I haven't thought of, but I'll end with one final thought: the importance of practicing acceptance before intervention. When we see someone who is upset, we are often quick to want to "fix" the problem to help them stop being upset. Although there is a lot that is right with that instinct, I think it is important to first acknowledge and legitimize what the person is feeling before we launch into trying to change those feelings. Since the girls were tiny, I have been very aware of how often we as adults jump straight to telling crying children that it's OK. Clearly it's not OK- that's why they're crying. And while of course I know (trust me, I have two 5-year-old girls here) that there are very good reasons for comforting children in that way- they need to know that it's actually OK, and that they are more than likely WAY overreacting to whatever has upset them- I think often that can de-legitimize the child's feelings. We do it as adults too. Someone shares something that has deeply hurt them, and we immediately launch into, "have you tried this?", and "well at least_____" before taking the time to simply be with them in their pain. I still catch myself doing this with my daughters and my friends, but I want to continue to try to remember to legitimize/accept/acknowledge their feelings in a real, non-cursory way before offering any help.

I hope these thoughts will spark some thoughts and conversations about how we can all continue to foster emphathy in our children and in our own lives! If you have thoughts on the subject, I'd love for you to leave a comment below.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Music Classroom Organization

With the New Year still fresh in our minds, a lot of teachers (including me!) have organization on the brain! I've shared quite a few organizational tips on this blog over the years- it is half of my name after all- so today I thought I would share some of my favorite organization tips for the music classroom. I hope you find some fresh ideas in this post, and if you have other organizing tips for the music room I'd love for you to share them below! Click on each picture to read my tips for organizing every aspect of your music classroom (warning: this post is LONG)!

1. Instrument Storage

2. Sheet Music

3. Recorders

4. Manipulatives

5. Seating

6. Teacher Area

7. Grades / Data / Records

8. Substitutes

9. Centers

10. Behavior Management

11. Planning

I think that just about covers it for today! If you made it to the end of this post: congratulations, and thank you ;) I hope you found some new ideas to help you be more organized in your music room! Which one(s) are you planning to implement? What are your top organization tips for music teachers? I love hearing from you- leave a comment below! And if you love these organization tips and want to make sure you catch my future posts, there are a few ways you can do so: follow me on Bloglovin', Facebook, or Pinterest, get my posts sent straight to your email inbox (there's a place to signup in my blog sidebar), or subscribe to my newsletter (below). Thanks for reading!