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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Planner Tour: flip-through and setup

Time for a little more planner action! ;)


I finally got a chance to take out my old pages from the 2016-2017 school year and put in the fresh, new pages for the 2017-2018 school year and I'm so excited! I decided to film the process this year, so if you're interested in seeing: 1) what my planner looks like after it's been used for a full year and get a quick look at all my weekly and monthly spreads, or 2) see how the disc binding system works in terms of taking pages in and out, then you'll enjoy this video!

Also, you'll see the fun new cover design that I customized with an inspirational quote for this year in the video. If you want a copy for yourself, be sure you're subscribed to my newsletter- I'll be sending it exclusively to my newsletter subscribers at the end of June!


If you're curious about how I set up my planner, here is my post on how I digitally customize my printables before printing my planner, and here is my post on all the supplies I use, printing tips, etc for setting up the planner once it's printed.

Here is the link to my planner, and here is a post with all the different planner formats I have available, in case you're interested :) If you're looking into planner options yourself, or hoping to up your lesson planning/ curriculum writing game, don't miss my new email series! Click here to learn more:


Monday, June 19, 2017

DIY Visual Calendar for Kindergartners

Summer is the time for home projects! I've been itching to update my daughters' visual calendar now that they've graduated preschool and are headed to kindergarten in the fall. If you have any children who thrive on predictability and routine like mine, this project is really quite simple and has been a really helpful tool for several years now in our house!


I've been using a visual calendar at home with my daughters since they were 2, mostly because of one of my daughters who was (and is) very resistant to change and likes to anticipate what is coming next. When I first started using it, I had a weekly calendar at the top and a chore chart just underneath. Over the years I've gradually changed the board to reflect the information that the girls needed for their ages, and I've made a few more changes to get ready for elementary school! First, here's what the whole board looks like:


The main weekly calendar at the top of the magnet board (aka car drip pan) is staying pretty much the same. I first started using a visual calendar when the girls started daycare, primarily to help them see when they would be with the daycare provider, when they would be with their dad, and when they would be with me, so I basically had meals, nap and bedtimes, and when they switched caregivers on the schedule. When they started preschool, I took pictures of their school teachers to indicate when they had school and also added a monthly calendar.

With kindergarten on the horizon, I started thinking about which items the girls would want to see on their schedule. I made a few new magnets to use in the fall:


I made some magnets for field trips, their various specials, and the rotation day for their school schedule, and I got rid of the napping magnets (so sad!) and the preschool teacher magnets. I've decided that for elementary school, I'll just put up the letter day of the rotation rather than a picture of the teachers.

The section just below the weekly calendar is brand new- I made a couple of simple to-do checklists with each girl's name at the top (names are blocked out in the photos). I figure it will be a good way for us to keep track of homework assignments and other to-do's each of them needs to do throughout the week. After printing the checklists, I stuck them onto the board and covered them with a single-sided laminating sheet right on top to make it dry erase.


Just below that, I've moved the monthly calendar (which I added when they started preschool) to the side to make room for another magnetic clip. I am planning to keep any papers from school etc that we need to keep track of there, whether it's information about an upcoming field trip, homework assignment, or lunch calendar. Now that the girls can write, they do the majority of the monthly calendar themselves- read more about how we use that for memory keeping and planning ahead in this post.


Having a visual calendar has been really helpful, especially with my daughters' schedule between two houses, and it has been fun to see the girls gradually take on more responsibility in putting together their calendars and have more of a sense of ownership through the process. If you want to see how the calendar board has evolved over time, from toddler to preschool to now, or if you want more details on how I made the original board (very cheap and easy!), check out my previous posts below:



If you're wondering where the chore chart went, I now have a family chore chart in the kitchen instead- read about that in this post. I guess we're actually getting ready for elementary school now! If you have any ideas for how to help elementary age students anticipate their schedule and keep their assignments and to-do's organized, please leave a comment below- I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Fostering Relationships with Students as a Specialist Teacher

I'm pretty sure most of us got into teaching because we love and care about kids. But when we teach hundreds (or even thousands) of students and you only see each one for 30 minutes every week (or two weeks.... or three....), it can be pretty hard to foster real relationships with our students! And let's not even get started on the fact that for those brief minutes that we see them, we're trying to cover so much content that there is very little, if any, time left to get to know the students. Today I want to try to unpack some of the factors that I believe have allowed me to better connect with my students despite those challenges.


Now, I'll start off by saying that I am in a better position than many music teachers to make real relationships happen. I see my students 60 minutes total every 5 days (some once a week, some in 2 30-minute classes per week), and I teach just under 400 students in just one building. As I mentioned before, I know many music teachers (and other specialists) see each student far less than I! Still, I think these principles can be applied to any situation to, at the very least, improve relationships with students.

1. Watch students' faces

I truly believe the biggest factor in deepening my relationships with my students has been my morning duty! I'm assigned to monitor the front entrance of the school as all of the students are arriving. This gives me the perfect opportunity to do something very important: make eye contact with as many students as possible. I try to say hello and make eye contact with as many students as I can each morning (and throughout the rest of the day), and I pay close attention to any students whose faces show some kind of emotion, whether it's good or bad. Sometimes a student is excited because it's their birthday or they lost a tooth last night. When I notice a student looking particularly happy or excited and I ask them how they're doing, they will often share what's on their mind. 

Sometimes though, a student is upset. Sometimes it's obvious, but I've noticed that this year, since I started being more conscious about making eye contact, I'm picking up on more students who are trying to act normal but, on closer inspection, show signs of being tired, stressed, sad, or even angry. When I can pick up on those changes in expression, I pull them aside to ask them what's going on. Sometimes they're sick, sometimes they miss their mom, but other times it's a much more serious issue. In any case, doing this consistently has been the biggest factor in deepening my relationships with my students. 

2. Talk to other teachers and staff

I have often learned really valuable information about a student's life outside of my classroom by going to other teachers and staff to talk about a student. I usually go find another teacher to talk to when a student does something out of character in class, but other times it's because I look back and realize there has been a pattern of gradual change over the last few weeks/ months, or because I noticed something was bothering a student but I either didn't have time to speak with them or when I asked, the student wasn't willing to talk. Not every student in the school is going to be comfortable sharing their deepest thoughts and feelings with me, but often their homeroom teacher, other specialists, psychologist, nurse, or even the school secretary will have noticed the same things I am, and can either tell me what the reason is, assure me that it's being dealt with, or they'll be more focused on the issue themselves because I brought it up. Usually I just stop by the teacher's room for a 5-minute conversation. That's all it takes, but it often makes a difference in being able to understand the bigger picture of what is going on in my students' lives!

3. Give it time

Although as specialists we have the disadvantage of seeing students for less time each week, we do have the advantage, in most cases, of seeing the same students for multiple years in a row. Now that I'm finishing my 4th year in my current school, I am finally starting to see the fruits of the little interactions I have been having with my students over the course of several years. As specialists, the reality is we have to be more patient than other teachers as we foster relationships with our students. It may take longer, but we'll often be able to connect with students who may not find a connection with any other adult in the building!

With these 3 components in place, I have seen exponential growth in my connection to my students this year. With one more week left of school and emotions running the gamut, I have students dropping into my room randomly throughout the day, just wanting to talk and hang out. It really does work, and I really do think that fostering those relationships is truly worthy of all the time and energy we have to give. 

These may seem like obvious, basic points, but how much thought and energy have you put into truly being conscious of each one? I hope you'll keep these thoughts in mind as you reflect on your previous school year and prepare for the next.

Want to read more of my thoughts on "behavior management"?



How have you found ways to connect with your hundreds of students? Share your ideas in the comments below!


Monday, June 12, 2017

Travel Tips with Kids: DIY Sticker Activity Sheets

I'm back with another tip for traveling with kids, and today is all about providing some easy, cheap, and engaging entertainment (that doesn't involve a screen)! We all know stickers are pure magic, but I wanted something a little more exciting than just stickers on plain paper, and I honestly haven't been that happy with the "sticker activity books" I've purchased in the past. This easy DIY is my solution!


It's not the most complex idea but it allows plenty of room for creativity and imagination! Here are the supplies I used:


Because I'm taking the girls to Disneyland this summer, I went against my normal avoidance of character merchandise and got a bunch of sticker books with different Disney characters. Everything else I already had: dry erase markers, laminating pouches, and a few pictures of different background scenes I printed from the internet.

The idea is to give kids the tools to do some creative storytelling by giving them lots of different stickers with different objects and characters, and background scenes with a variety of locations (I have a jungle, underwater scene, village square, ice palace, ballroom, and an outdoor picnic area). Of course you could change this up to match whatever your kids are interested in- get some animal stickers and print a zoo, farm, or pet store scene; use car stickers with a city scene.... you get the idea.


I used the laminating pouches to laminate the background scenes so that we could reuse them. Hopefully this will help us avoid any arguments over who gets to use which ones!

Tip: if you stick the stickers on the back of your hand before using it, you'll remove some of the adhesive and make it easier to take off without ripping the sticker!

I left the back of the paper blank so that the girls could color with the dry erase markers and make their own backgrounds (or just draw whatever they feel like):


Depending on your children's ages, you could also put some pre-made activities on the back side, like letters for them to trace, crossword puzzles, tic-tac-toe boards, hangman board, mazes, and more.... the options are endless! If I have more time before our trip I'll probably print some ;)

What are you taking with you on your trip to keep the troops entertained? If you're planning a trip with young children this summer, here are some other posts I've written on traveling with kids:



Safe and happy travels, everyone! :)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

General Music Lesson Planning: the tiered approach

I have been waiting a long time to write this post. I've been super excited about the changes I made to my lesson planning strategy this school year, but I wanted to try it for an entire school year before I shouted it from the rooftops: I have found the missing piece to my lesson planning system. No more reinventing the wheel, no more looking through papers and files and computer folders to try to remember that one awesome lesson I did on half notes last year, no more weekends eaten up by the tetris game I used to call weekly lesson planning. Today I want to walk you through my tiered approach to lesson planning that has made everything so much clearer, allowed me to develop a truly sequenced, thoughtful scope and sequence, and set me up to be able to refine, rather than reinvent, my plans each year and minimal time lesson planning during the school year.


The basic structure of my lesson planning system works in 4 tiers: the multi-grade sequence of concepts and skills, the year-long plans for each grade, the lesson bank for each month, and the weekly planning fun. Today I'm want to briefly walk you through each of these tiers (or else this post will go on forever!), but if you're interested in a more in-depth look at the process, as well as free templates and resources to help you replicate the same lesson planning approach for your own teaching, be sure to sign up for my Lesson Planning Made Awesome email series! It's completely free and jam-packed with all of my best tips on every aspect of lesson planning and curriculum design. You can start any time! Learn more here (can you tell I'm pretty excited about this??):


Tier 1: Scope and Sequence

The first step in general music lesson planning has to be deciding which skills and concepts your students need to learn in each grade or class you teach. If you're lucky, you'll already have at least a starting point for this from your district, state, or even just a textbook series you have in your classroom. But even if you have a scope and sequence to use, you'll want to think through which skills and concepts are most fundamental and important, and you'll also want to reflect on things that you want to add / adapt / edit to fit the needs of your own specific classroom.

If you're adapting your scope and sequence to the United States' 2014 National Core Arts Standards, these templates are the ones I used to create my scope and sequence. But no matter what set of standards you're using, the process of creating your scope and sequence will be the same: figure out where you're starting and where you need to end up (your youngest grade and your oldest grade) for the basic elements of music (rhythm, pitch, singing/instrumental/other techniques, expressive elements, etc) and map out a gradual progression to get from your beginning to your end. If you teach K-5, you'll probably start with the assumption that your students know nothing, and end up with whatever skills and concepts the middle school music teachers need their students to have to be successful in their programs, for example.

Tier 2: Year-Long Plans

Once you have mapped out the progression of skills across grade levels to figure out what students need to learn in each grade, the next step is to develop an outline of how to teach students the skills and concepts they need to know in the time you have with them. I see all of my students from the end of August until the beginning of June, so I map out when I will teach (and re-teach) each skill/concept on a monthly calendar. When I'm deciding what to teach when, I start by focusing on the most fundamental concepts (usually rhythm and pitch) at the beginning, middle, and end of the year, and then thinking about what seasonal lessons, activities, or units I will be working around in each grade. I wrote in a lot more detail about this process in this blog post on long-range planning, so you can read more about my thought process (and how I write it all down so I can make sense of everything) there.

Tier 3: Monthly Lesson Bank

This was the missing piece that made all the difference for me this year! With my year mapped out for each grade, I spent a good chunk of time before the start of each month typing up all of the lessons I wanted to teach to address the skills and concepts I had assigned to that month. I also created all of the slides, visuals, worksheets, and other materials I needed and gathered all of the supplies I would need, so that everything was ready to go for the month. To make sure that I had the right amount of material, I outlined a basic sequence of how I might plan out my daily lessons for the month to fit in the different activities I had planned for the month. Depending on the grade level (I see my younger grades twice a week for 30 min and my older grades once a week for 60 min), I planned out 4 or 8 lessons for each month with just a basic list of which activities I would do in each lesson. You can see an example of how I laid out my monthly plans and materials in this free download of my September plans for 5th grade.

I set aside one weekend towards the end of each month to create these monthly plans, and they were definitely time consuming. There were several times I wanted to poke my eyes out, I was so frustrated by how long it took me. BUT the benefits to my day-to-day planning were incredible. I can't anticipate those off days when we have a fire drill or major behavior issue that throw off my plan, so I can't plan out an entire month's worth of lessons down to the day. But having everything ready, and taking the time to look at the month as a whole, allowed me to stay focused on the most important skills and concepts I wanted to cover and know that I was on track, while taking away the burden of writing lesson plans week to week.

Because I typed them up and saved them on the computer, I now also have the lessons where I can easily find them next year, so no more searching through piles of paper or trying to remember which computer folder I saved it under!

Tier 4: Weekly Planning: the fun part!

With my monthly lesson plan banks in place, my weekly lesson planning was so much easier. All I had to do was see where we were after the previous week, account for any special events etc that would affect our learning time, and plug in the lessons from my monthly plans. Done!

Here's where I think having a paper planner is more effective than using an online or digital system. Physically writing down information helps me remember things better, and being able to visually organize not just my lesson plans but special events, meetings, and other important information with colors, icons, and other eye-catching techniques made it that much easier for me to remember what I was doing in each class and quickly find what I needed when I opened my planner. If you want to see how I set up my planner and decorate my pages from week to week, here is a video from my YouTube channel that will give you a good idea of what I do.

Ready to kick your lesson planning up a notch?

There is just SO MUCH to say about all of the different aspects of lesson planning for general music teachers, there is no way I can fit everything into one post. That's why I'm super excited to announce the new Lesson Planning Made Awesome email series! Once you sign up, you'll get one email sent straight to your inbox each week for 5 weeks. Each email will go into a lot more detail of one aspect of lesson planning, and will also include a free resource (exclusive to the series) to help you get started with that aspect of lesson planning. We'll cover everything from creating a scope and sequence to figuring out what to teach when, finding lessons to teach the concepts you want to cover, setting up a lesson planning system to effectively record your lessons so you can find them again next year, using functional decorations in your planner, and so much more!

Click below to learn more about what's included and sign up for the Lesson Planning Made Awesome email series!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Travel Tips with Kids: Rainbow Snacks!

As we gear up for summer travel, I wanted to share a fun tip to help pass the time on long trips with kids (whether you're on the road or in the air). It helped make my road trip with two 4-year-olds much more enjoyable last year and I plan to use it again when we fly across the country in a few weeks!


I came up with this idea because 1) I love focusing on the color of foods- it has made my daughters much better eaters and it makes everything more fun (and usually healthier too), 2) I know that on long trips it helps to have things to look forward to throughout the trip, and 3) when it comes to travel you can never have too many snacks.

The basic idea of Rainbow Snacks is to pick 1 food item to go with each color of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and pink (you could add white as the "clouds" if you need another one) and pull them out one at a time in rainbow order for everyone to eat, spaced out over your trip.

Step One: Set Your Schedule
The first thing to do is figure out how many colors you'll need (depending on the length of your trip). If you have a 3-hour trip, you could do 6 items (one every 30 minutes) by ending with purple, for example. For preschool age, the 30-minute time worked really well. For older kids you could space them out more, even one each hour, for longer trips. The main thing is to try to have a predetermined time for each one so that everyone can anticipate when the next one is coming!

Step Two: Choose Your Foods
The second step is to choose one food for each color. I tried to have a mix of fruits and vegetables, protein and/or savory, and 1 or 2 sweet treats, but making sure I only included things that everyone would *actually* be excited about (my kids are great eaters and they'll usually eat asparagus for dinner without complaint, but I don't think they would get that excited if I pulled it out as a "special surprise" on a road trip!). Here's a list I came up with, but obviously there are any number of options! Remember to think about package colors and not just the color of the food itself.


Step Three: Prepare Your Foods
You'll need to have each food packaged in its own container so you can pull each color out separately. I put everyone's food for each color in one container for everyone to share, but you could obviously package every person's food individually if it's hard to share on the trip. I have a collection of reusable snack bags (like these) that I used for this because a) I can package each food in a bag of the same color so I know which is which and b) nobody can see the food inside. As long as you can keep track of which is which though, the packaging is obviously not too important.

Step Four: Have Fun!
One thing that made the snacks even more fun was having everyone guess what each item was going to be before we opened it! It just built up even more anticipation. If you have packaging that isn't see-through, you can pass the package around for people to shake and feel too ;)

Of course there are a few extra considerations you'll need to be aware of if you're flying- basically you'll want to make sure everything is contained and that you don't have any liquids. Here's a little more detail on that if you're flying in the United States. All of the foods I've mentioned here should be safe to bring through airport security.

How do you make long trips with young children more bearable? Leave your tips in the comments below! I can always use more ideas and I'm sure other readers would appreciate your tips too! If you want packing tips for traveling with children, here's my post on that. Happy trails everyone!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Bring Summer to the Music Room!

One of the best (and easiest) ways to spice up your lessons and keep students more engaged is to integrate something that students are already thinking about. At the end and beginning of the school year (in the US anyway), what do kids have on their minds? SUMMER! Here are 4 simple ways to take your lessons and instantly make them more engaging by summer-ifying them!


1. Chalk

What is it about chalk that feels like summer? I found some cheap little chalkboards at the Dollar Tree recently (like these) that I love to pull out at this time of year but you could also use sidewalk chalk on any chalkboard or even take the class outside to draw on the ground! This is a simple way to change up any dictation or review game by having students write their answers in chalk, use it to practice drawing music symbols, or even have students write a short composition.

2. Beach balls

Beach balls are a perfect way to bring the summer vibe indoors! I use them as a simple way to have teams or individual students take turns- after they take their turn answering a question or participating in a game they choose who to pass it to next- or make it into a game itself by writing different questions on each section of the ball. Wherever their right thumb is when they catch it, that's the question they have to answer! It's an easy way to review vocabulary too- just draw a symbol on each section and have students identify the name and/or meaning.

3. Manipulatives

I love using manipulatives for composition and dictation (read all about what I use, where I get them, and how I use them in this blog post). For summer, I look for erasers, toys, and stickers in the shape of sunflowers, suns, flip flops, ice cream cones, beach balls, pineapples, or watermelon slices to go with the summer theme.

4. Seasonal songs and material

Of course another great way to bring summer to music class is through summery music! Aimee from O for Tuna Orff wrote some great blog posts full of summery music lesson material- here's one on music about the ocean, and here's another on camping and mountain songs. Baseball-themed songs would be great too- here's my post on how I use "Take Me Out to the Ballgame".

What are your favorite ways to bring summer into your music classroom? If you're still teaching for a few more weeks like I am, I hope you can try some of these out in your classes before the end of the year! Don't forget though, kids will definitely still be thinking about summer when we get back next school year, so hang onto these ideas for back to school time too!

Looking for more lesson ideas for the end of the school year? This post has tons of review games, and this post has more fun lesson ideas perfect for the end of the year. Want to get free curriculum resources, tips, and more sent straight to your inbox?



Monday, May 29, 2017

How I Cut Back My Phone Use

I'd like to think that I spend less time in front of a screen than most people my age- I don't even own a television, I rarely have my computer out when the kids are around, and I've always tried to be conscious of how much time I spend on my phone. But the reality is I still spend more time on my phone than I'd like. Thanks to (one of) my 5-year-old's, I've finally found something that has helped me significantly cut down on the number of times I check my phone!


It was probably a year or so ago that I realized I had fallen into the habit of checking my phone whenever I was bored for more than 10 seconds. As someone who prides myself on enjoying spending time with my thoughts, it was shocking to realize that I was that addicted to my phone. But, much as I would like to just shut off my phone, get rid of a bunch of apps, or even get rid of the phone entirely, there are some legitimate reasons for needing to have my phone around pretty regularly- social media for Organized Chaos, texts and emails from my daughters' teachers or dad, taking videos and pictures of my girls.....

I tried lots of strategies to try to cut back on how much I checked my phone. I tried putting it in one central location where I would hear it if someone called or texted but not have it nearby. I tried getting rid of notifications so I only got a visual or aural notice of texts and phone calls, and nothing else. I tried getting rid of all unnecessary apps. Nothing seemed to make much of a difference.

Then, for my birthday, my daughter gave me a wrist watch. And of course, just like any other accessories I get from my girls, I started wearing it every day.

What I soon realized was that for me, the biggest reason I would end up getting sucked into my phone was taking out my phone to check the time, and then inevitably deciding I might as well quickly check to see if there are any new emails or social media notifications while I'm on my phone anyway. Once I started using my watch to check the time instead of my phone, I stopped needing to take out my phone in the first place.

I'm not going to tell you that I have completely stopped checking my phone unnecessarily. I'm still working on breaking the habit of pulling out my phone to check the time- sometimes I'll wonder what time it is and pull my phone out of my pocket and forget that I have my watch right there on my arm! But it has made the single biggest difference in my phone use, and I can see how as I get used to having the watch, I'm spending less and less time with my phone in my hand.

Do any of you wear a watch? I stopped wearing one years ago because I don't like having extra accessories to wear, but I'm so glad I started wearing one again- it's worth it! What strategies have you found that help you spend less time on your phone? I'd love to hear what has worked (and what hasn't) for you in the comments below!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

May Favorites 2017

Another month has flown by, and this one I'm not to sad to see go. May is always so crazy with events, concerts, changing weather, getting ready for summer, and everything in between! Still there were quite a few fun moments too, and plenty of things to love, so today I'm sharing my favorites from this past month. All of the photos below are taken straight from Instagram, so if you want to keep up with me more regularly come follow me over there! ;)


1. Giant inflatable dice



I was so excited when I saw these at the Target Dollar Spot- how cool are they?!? This time of year, anything that can mix things up and keep things fresh and interesting is a win, and these definitely hit the mark! I am using them in my classes mostly to review dynamics and tempi- I put a chart up on the board that shows which number means which dynamic and another set that shows which number means which tempo marking (so the red 1 means allegro, blue 2 means forte etc) and then having kids take turns rolling 2 dice at a time to see what they get. They choose from a list of favorite songs and have to sing with with their team using whatever dynamics and tempo they rolled. So much fun!

I shared a bunch of review games like this one in a recent blog post. Read that post here if you're still hanging in there for a few more weeks like I am!

2. Smoothies



With things being so busy lately, smoothies have been my go-to breakfast lately. I put some vanilla yogurt and one banana into the blender before the girls wake up, and then they take turns picking out the frozen fruit they want to add for our smoothie of the day. Lately I've had blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and peaches on hand in the freezer, and I think at this point we've tried every combination you can think of (including all 4 together). They're all delicious. Side benefit for us is that one of my girls takes a powder medicine every morning, so I can easily mix that in with the smoothie! I made a breakfast planner board last summer- you can get it for free here along with organizers for lunchboxes and tips for meal planning :)

3. Mother's Day



Of course we can't talk about May without mentioning Mother's Day! I love these "all about my mom" sheets that the girls make at school every year. This year most of their answers were super accurate- they both got my exact age, and described a lot of my favorite things pretty well! My favorite answer has to be, "I love my mom more than: anything".

4. Blog posts

I love finding new awesome blog posts each Friday to share on Facebook! Here are all of the posts I found this month- click on the picture to go read each post. Trust me, you won't be disappointed!





I hope you found some new inspiration here! What are the things you've been enjoying this month? I'd love to hear about them in the comments! If you want to keep up with me, be sure you're subscribed to my email newsletter- I've got lots of awesome stuff planned for this summer!



Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Dance Playlist: 2017 edition

Last year I shared my favorite kid-friendly, school appropriate songs to use for dance parties that are also cool enough for older kids. My students in kindergarten through 6th grade were all happy with those songs every time I used the playlist! I'm back again with more upbeat dance songs that are cool but also kid-friendly (without being edited): use these in your dancing games, slideshows, celebrations, or just put them on at home to lift your mood! This year I've included more "oldies but goodies" that my students all love (and my older students don't complain that it's out of date).











Any time of year is a good time for a dance break! For more music to get everyone up and dancing, check out last year's playlist. What are your favorite school-appropriate songs to use for dance parties? Let's hear them in the comments!

Get updates, free curriculum resources, and more!



Monday, May 22, 2017

Books to Help Little Kids with Big Emotions

While there are many things I absolutely love about 3-5 year olds, the overwhelming bursts of emotion they go through on a daily basis can often be.... well.... challenging to deal with. Similar to puberty, kids this age usually to go through a phase where their emotions are often more than they're equipped to handle. Today I wanted to share a few books I've found that I think have really helped my girls to better process, understand, verbalize, and respond to their emotions.


Happy Hippo, Angry Duck

I pretty much love every book Sandra Boynton has ever written, and this one is no exception. This one is great for the younger crowd. I found it really helpful for developing the girls' emotional vocabulary and helping them understand that having different feelings throughout the day is normal. Here it is on Amazon if you want to check it out.

Today I Feel Silly: And Other Moods That Make My Day

My girls adore this book. It is written from the perspective of a young girl- probably 5 or 6- responding to different events and triggers and talking about how she feels. It touches on everything from not liking her curly hair, to friendship problems, to family dynamics, school, and so much more in a totally relatable way. My girls really got into this one around 4, but I think they will continue to love it for the next few years. The best part is the little spinner at the back that lets kids change the main character's facial expressions. It's a great way to start identifying the facial expressions that match different feelings, which is perfect for developing empathy. Here is the book on Amazon. 

My Many Colored Days

This is great for slightly older (school-age) kids. Each feeling is described with a color and an animal (like "On bright red days how good it feels To be a horse and kick my heels!"). It provides a slightly more concrete way for kids to verbalize and describe more complex, nuanced feelings. I also love the emphasis the book has on how our emotions can vary from day-to-day and accepting each feeling- whether positive or negative or neutral- as a normal part of life. Here is the book on Amazon (the hardcover version is totally worth it for the illustrations!). I actually use this book in a music lesson for kindergarten as well- here's my post on that lesson.

Two Homes

This one is specific to children dealing with separated parents but it has been so beneficial for my girls! The book is written from the child's perspective as he describes some things that are the same and different at each of his two homes (mom's house and dad's house) and ends with the conclusion that no matter where he is, he is always loved by both parents. My girls ask for this book over and over again and I know they are absorbing the message! Get the book on Amazon here.

Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus

This is another "special issue" book that talks about a preschool-age-ish girl who gets twin siblings and feels jealous about all of the attention that the babies are getting. But even though my girls haven't had that experience, they still got a lot out of this book- one of the things I love is the way the book describes the adults reacting to the main character's emotions and how they all adapt. Also a nice bonus that it features characters from Africa! Here is a link to the book on Amazon. 

I hope you find some new books to love on this list! Do you have any other favorite books to help kids learn about their emotions? Share them in the comments!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review Games for the End of the School Year

As the end of the school year approaches, everyone starts to switch into vacation / party mode. With everyone's brains partially switched off, it's hard to get students motivated to do any kind of standard "class work". But it's also really important to review the concepts you covered this year so that they will remember them more quickly in the fall! Here are some of my favorite review games that I love using at the end of the school year.


1. Hula Hoop Conductor: instrument classifications and playing techniques review

I've written about this game before but it's one worth mentioning again! Lay out several hula hoops on the floor and have the students sit on the floor facing the hula hoops. Assign each hula hoop to a group of instruments (woods/metals/scrapers/shakers/etc) and tell students to only play when you step into their hula hoop. Proceed to make a fool of yourself by running back and forth between the hoops, stepping in 2 at once, leaning over and putting your hands in the others, jumping over hoops to trick them, etc. Try stomping in one then tip-toeing in the other and get them to follow you by playing at different dynamics/speeds etc.

Then choose a student to be the conductor in your place. When you pick the next conductor, have the first conductor take the next one's instruments so that they start switching around. Add more hoops and make the classifications more specific, or make the new ones another set of groupings, like one for all boys and another for all girls, so that they have to watch 2 hoops. The variations are endless and it's a great way to get them focused and attentive and review different instrument classifications.

2. Rhythm Chairs: meter and rhythm review

Set up a row of 4 chairs at the front of the room. Show (on the projector or with a flashcard etc) a 4-beat rhythm (such as ta, ta, ti-ti, ta) and have them replicate it in the chairs, telling them the chairs represent beats and they represent notes. Help them out on the first one by making sure they end up with 1 person sitting in the first 2 and last chair, and 2 people sitting together in the 3rd chair (I usually tell them they can stand behind and touch the chair to count as sitting as well if they're uncomfortable sharing a chair). Now split up into 2 teams, each team having their own row of chairs, put up a new rhythm, and see which team can get the right people in the right chairs first (be sure to throw in some longer notes, so students have to lay across multiple chairs- hilarious!). Mix it up (and review meter) by adding in some rhythms with different numbers of beats- they'll have to think outside the box to figure out they need to add or remove chairs!

Read more about the Rhythm Chairs and other rhythm practice games in this post.

3. Note Races: letter names and solfege review

Split the class up into teams and have each team get into a line. Give the person at the front of each line a dry erase board and marker. For letter names review (in any clef), say a word that can be spelled with note letter names (like BEEF or CABBAGE) and have them spell the word with music notes. For solfege, sing a short phrase on solfege and have them notate it (having established beforehand where do is). The first one to correctly write the notes and hold it up to show you wins a point for their team. Have them pass off the board to the next person and go to the back of the line after each round.

There are TONS of great games I love to use for reviewing notes names! Here's a whole post full of some of my other favorites.

4. Dry Erase Dice: music expression vocabulary review

I picked up a few dice with dry erase boards in each side at the Dollar Tree this fall (I still see them in stores- run to your local dollar store if you can to see if they have some!) and I use them for all kinds of games, but my favorite is to put a different dynamic marking on each side of one and a different tempo marking on each side of another and have students take turns rolling both at once. Then they choose a song (sometimes they draw one out of a hat, or they choose from a list, or I let them pick their own) to perform with whatever tempo and dynamic they roll. If they do it correctly they win a point for their team.

5. Truth or Dare: any and all concept review

This is a simple concept but the students go NUTS for this game! I made one deck of "truth" cards and another deck of "dare" cards. The truth cards have trivia questions, like "name a woodwind instrument" or "what does forte mean". The dare cards have tasks, like "clap this rhythm while stomping on the beat" or "do the alphabet song in a whisper voice". On their turn, students pick a card from one deck or the other (each set is a different color) and try to answer the question or complete the task. If they do, they get a point. If they don't, the first person/group to yell "steal" gets a turn to try to do it correctly to take the point!

This can be done as a simple card game like I just described, or you can use them with other games like Jenga. Here's the blog post I wrote explaining how to use them, with a link to the printable cards I made if you want those :)

6. Twister: vocabulary review

I've seen review games with Twister boards on Pinterest before, usually with quarter notes drawn on all the blue circles, eighth notes on the red circles, etc. So the person spinning the spinner calls out the name of the note instead of the color and the players have to know where to put their hand/foot. This is a great way to review vocabulary because the words get repeated over and over again and the students physically connect the word with the symbol. But I didn't want to have just one set of vocabulary that I could review with the game- that would make it less effective to use with multiple grades. So instead of drawing the symbols directly on the Twister mat, I drew them on clear contact paper and then stuck them on the circles. Now I have a whole set that I can change out for whatever I want them to review! I have a set with dynamic markings, tempo words, lots of music notes and rests, and even whole notes on different lines/spaces in treble and bass clef. For the dynamics, notes/rests, and notes on the staff, the person with the spinner calls out the name or letter of the symbol (if they're doing it in a center and a student is doing the spinner, I give that person a "cheat sheet" that tells them what to call the symbols on each color). For tempo words, the spinner calls out the meaning of the word ("fast", "walking speed", etc). This is another one where the possibilities are endless! I'm pretty happy I came up with this solution so that I can use different symbols without buying 10 different Twister games ;)

I hope these ideas help you keep your students engaged without throwing all learning out the window! What are your favorite games to use for reviewing at the end of the year? Leave a comment! If you're looking for more lesson ideas to keep students engaged at the end of the school year, here is a post on end of year lesson ideas, and here is another post on longer "units" for the end of the year.

Looking for more teaching ideas? See my full curriculum here.

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Favorite Crockpot Recipes for the Busy Spring Season

Crockpots tend to get a lot of attention in the fall and winter, because it's a great way to simmer up warm and cozy stews, soups, curries, and more. But honestly my favorite time of year to pull out the crockpot is in the spring when, you know, everything in life seems to happen at once and my brain is in a constant state of overload. Here are some of my favorite recipes to simplify meal prep during this crazy time of year!


The nice thing about crockpot cooking is that you can throw stuff together in the morning and not have to slave over the stove when you come home exhausted in the evening. If it's a warm day, you won't be heating up your kitchen with the stove or oven either! 

Click on the pictures to go see the original recipes:

1. Salsa Chicken

This recipe is absolutely as simple as it sounds, and it's so versatile. You literally put some chicken in the crockpot, cover it with salsa, and cook it on low for 6-8 hours. That's it. When it's ready, I like to use it for a simple taco night (pull out some tortillas, shredded cheese, and canned corn and beans, chop up some cilantro and whatever other veggies you have in the fridge and let everyone make their own soft tacos) or add it on top of a simple salad for a quick lunch to take to work, but you could also use it as filling in a casserole, add it to some one-pot pasta, or use it as enchilada filling.... you get the idea. 

2. Honey Garlic Chicken


This another recipe where you throw in some chicken and a few ingredients to marinade and you're done. I do it with chicken thighs because I prefer it but it would work with breasts as well. When I come home, I throw some rice in the rice cooker and steam some broccoli, asparagus, green beans, or some other veggie and dinner is served! Everyone that tastes this chicken LOVES it- it's super yummy.

3. Baked Potatoes


This is the perfect example of something you don't want to make on a busy warm evening because it takes a long time to cook and it heats up the kitchen, but you can eliminate those two problems with the crockpot! Wrap the potatoes in foil, throw the in the crockpot, and let them slowly cook while you're at work without heating up your house. When it's time to eat, I pull out whatever toppings I have on hand: maybe some leftover cooked broccoli, bacon bits, shredded cheese, butter, canned beans, etc, and add some chopped cold vegetables like bell peppers or carrots or pull out a bagged salad. Done! And I always make a couple of extras to take to work for lunches.

Those are my top favorite recipes to make in the spring: all of them are easy to throw together in the morning, but aren't going to feel too warm and stuffy for a sunny spring day. For more crockpot recipes (I'm a huge fan), here's my crockpot Pinterest board :)

What are your favorite ways to save time in the kitchen this time of year? Share your tips in the comments below!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Two Words That Transformed My Behavior Management

I teach in a fairly challenging environment for "behavior management". As a result, I've devoted a lot of time and energy to refining my teaching to better manage the behaviors in my classroom and help to foster my students' emotional and social well-being. This has been an evolving process, but recently I've learned the power of one simple, two-word question in handling difficult situations and restoring a positive classroom climate.


I've written a lot about behavior management strategies over the years- if you'd like to read through those I've compiled those ideas and strategies in this blog post. If you follow my progression, you'll see that over the last few years I've moved away from superficial, extrinsically motivating systems to routines and processes that foster positive character development, relationships, and classroom environment. Some of that progression came from my own reflections on what was going on in my classroom, and some of it came out of some very specific (and quite extensive) training that I've been working through on positive school climate and Restorative Practices. 

Although there are a lot of things that have come out of that training that I'd like to discuss further, today I want to share one simple strategy that I learned that any teacher can easily implement in their classroom tomorrow: the question, "what happened?". 

It seems simple enough, and when I first encountered the idea, I thought it was something I already did. But when I started paying attention to what I was choosing to say first to an upset or misbehaving child, I found that I often either led with a statement, like "you're (insert inappropriate behavior here)", or some other question, like "why would you do that?". An upset child will generally either just get more upset or be unable to answer when faced with those statements or questions.

What I have found does work is to ask the child what happened and then wait and listen. Children may not know why they misbehaved, why someone else did something to them, what they're thinking in that moment, or what series of events got them into the bad situation they now find themselves, but they can start to recount events, at least from their point of view, when asked what happened.

And I've also found that, at least for the majority of my students, one of their most fundamental and basic needs is to be heard. I've found they're a lot more willing to accept responsibility for their actions and a lot more perceptive of what is going wrong and what needs to change when they know that they are actually being heard.

Two words: "what happened?". That's it. Stop. Wait. Listen.

As the end of the school year approaches, emotions can run the gamut and tension can often rise. Why not test the strategy and see what happens? To learn more about Restorative Practices, you can find some basic information on this website. As I explore further how this philosophy plays out in the elementary specialist context, I'll continue to share my thoughts on the subject. If any of you have explored Restorative Practices, I'd love to hear from you as well! I hope this question helps you and your students to maintain a positive spirit through the end of the school year and beyond.