The Educational Songs and Children's Music Blog

10 Ways to Use Music in Your Classroom

Most teachers agree that using music can enhance learning. Yet, many teachers get stuck, not knowing what to play or how to use music to the fullest. Here are 10 ideas you can implement today in your classroom!

1. Transitions – music is a great tool when switching subjects of changing directions for your students. It has a way of resetting the stage so that children can mentally switch from one topic to another. Play a song to summarize what was just finished, or a song about what is coming next. Allow the children to stand up, march around the room or do hand movements to mark the transition. You will find your children fresh and engaged for the next subject. Click here for some great transition songs!

2. Energize – When children have been focusing on a subject for a time and begin to get fatigued (usually marked by restlessness, inattention, disruptive behavior), take a break from the class and call a music break. Play a activating song, best if related to the topic, to re-energize the children. Click here for some great suggestions!

3. Use Lyrics – display lyrics on a whiteboard, smart-board or on flip chart paper. Have the children find sight words, diagram the sentences or pull out academic vocabulary. Using the text while the song plays, gives relevance to the lyrics and allows the children to learn conventions, build vocabulary and enhance reading and literacy. Nearly all the music at Songs For Teaching is sold with lyrics.

4. Write Lyrics – collect a few instrumental tracks of familiar songs and as an assignment have the children write their own lyrics. This can be done individually, in small groups or with the class at large. The teacher can incorporate a current theme or target information learned from a particular lesson. It might be a great project for a poetry lesson! Here are several suggestions for instrumental tracks.

5. Power of the Pause – Pausing the music at key spots in the music can increase engagement. Pause before the end of a line and ask the children to finish the line. Then think of other words you could substitute for the actual lyric. Brainstorm other words that rhyme or words that may change the meaning! Use the pause button with any song (remember musical chairs?). For rhyming songs try Jack Hartmann's Rap, Clap, Rhyme. Also see Marla Lewis' Rhyme Riddles!

6. Pair with Literature – There are a number of ways to pair songs with the books the children are reading. Teachers can select songs that relate directly to the book. For example, if your class is reading Mr. Popper’s Penguins, you can incorporate this song also titled Mr. Popper's Penguins directly about the book. Or you can find songs about a related topic such as Penguin Partyabout the different types of penguins or Puffin's Summer Picnic to learn about animals of the Arctic. This can be a great way to address the Common Core directive to integrate science, social studies etc into reading. Or . . . flip it! Listen to a song before going to the library and have the children find related books! Click Here for more songs inspired by Children's Literature.

7. Make Music Video – This is a great project to integrate the sciences. Children can find photos on the internet and arrange them in a slide show to convey meaning in the song. Take the song Hibernation for example. . Children can collect photos of hibernating animals and sync them to the music. How about a song about amphibians . . . or a song about the solar system. Not only do the children enjoy the science lesson, they build their technology skills as well.

8. Coordinate with Holidays - Most teachers are used to playing songs related to the big holidays, but don’t forget the other special days of the year. For example, Earth Day is coming soon. It is a great time to play music related to conservation such as Music with Mar.'s Can It, Save the Planet. It also can be a great way to integrate songs about historical figures related to that holiday. For Earth Day, you could play a song about John Muir and learn the history of the day.

9. Have a Performance! This can be something simple like a performing for the classroom, perhaps across grade levels or with reading buddies. Or it can be for a school assembly or parent night. Using instrumental tracks saves the day when an accompanists cannot be found. Click here for some suggestions for performances! Make costumes and write your own scripts. Try one of our great musicals that come fully scripted complete with vocal and instrumental tracks.

10. Just plain fun! Try some silly songs for the simple joy of it. Make the classroom environment one that nurture’s children’s creativity and natural desire for learning.

Celebrating Women's History Month

March is Women’s History Month, and it’s a great time to talk with kids about women in history. Unfortunately, I think a lot of schools are reluctant to spend much time on women’s history, especially because March is also“Read Across America” month and Dr. Seuss’s birthday. However, there are lots of great resources out there, and it’s important for kids to learn about the contributions of women and the challenges they have overcome and those they continue to face. Girls need to hear about strong women so that they can have role models to counter the overwhelming emphasis on looks in our culture, and boys need to hear about strong women so they can grow up treating them with respect and standing up for gender equality.

A few years ago, David & I developed a women’s history month assembly, with the culminating song being “Girls Who Rock the World” from our Patchwork Planet CD. The song is based on several books titled “Girls Who Rocked the World,” featuring short biographies of young women who accomplished something amazing by the time they reached age 20. There were women throughout history, from diverse countries, and with various areas of expertise including the arts, sports, science, government, and activism. The books and the song are great tools for introducing students to women in history with whom they may be unfamiliar.

With children, putting the history in context is particularly important. Many children don’t realize that there was a time when women were prevented from voting, getting jobs, getting an education, playing sports, and were in fact treated as property. This discrimination still happens in some parts of the world. Children realize how unfair this is, especially when they learn that today, women still don’t get equal pay for equal work here in this country. Equality between women and men is a matter of human rights and a condition for social justice. It is necessary for equality, development and peace around the world.

One way to combine Women’s History Month and Read Across America is to seek out books with strong female characters. Songs can help underscore this emphasis, including our song“Harriet the Spy”. When we do Monty Harper’s wonderful song “Hangin’ Out with Heroes at the Library,” we make sure that at least half of the verses feature strong female characters such as Ms. Frizzle, Charlotte (the spider), Alice (in Wonderland) and Dorothy.

In addition to “Girls Who Rock the World” mentioned above, here are some resources you can use to introduce students to important women and women’s history in America.

African-American women:
Do You Want to Be Free? about Harriet Tubman and written by 4th grade students; recorded by Two of a Kind on our So Many Ways to Be Smart CD.
• Harriet Tubman by Walter Robinson; recorded by Holly Near & Ronnie Gilbert on their Lifeline CD.
What Can One Little Person Do? has verses about Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Rosa Parks; by Sally Rogers, on her CD What Can One Little Person Do? and also on Two of a Kind’s Friends CD

Women in Labor History:
• Babies in the Mill, by Dorsey Dixon, on CD Babies in the Mill.
• Cotton Mill Girls, American Traditional; recorded by Hali Hammer & Pat Wynne
on CD, Labor of Love (out of print)

Other great songs for kids about famous women: Amelia Earhart written by Kathleen Wiley. Jonathan Sprout has written lots of songs about famous women on his American Heroes CD’s including songs about Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Blackwell, Jane Addams, Clara Barton, Mary McLeod Bethune, Rachel Carson, Helen Keller, Eleanor Roosevelt and others.

African American Heroes - Part 3

This is the third and final post in our series celebrating the contributions of great African American Heroes in honor of Black History Month

Harriet Tubman (1820?-1913) was born a slave near Bucktown, MD. At about the age of 29 she escaped to the North. Before the outbreak of the Civil War she made nineteen journeys back to lead other slaves—including her own parents and most of her brothers and sisters—to freedom along the secret route known as the Underground Railroad. Slave owners were constantly on the lookout for Tubman and offered large rewards for her capture, but they never succeeded in seizing her or any of the slaves she helped escape. She helped so many blacks escape to freedom that she became known as the “Moses of her people.”(see Harriet Tubman’s song, co-written with fellow children’s recording artist Dave Kinnoin, titled Take a Ride from Jonathan Sprout's American Heroes CD )

George Washington Carver (1864?-1943), known as the Peanut Man, helped countless poor Southerners survive as farmers. Born a slave, he overcame harsh racial prejudice to earn two college degrees, becoming one of the most famous scientists of his time. His research reportedly led to the development of 300 products made from peanuts. From the sweet potato, he found more than 100 uses. A soft-spoken, modest man, Professor Carver donated his savings near the end of his life so his research could continue. On his gravestone is written: “He found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.” (See George Washington Carver’s song, co-written with Jimmy Hammer and Dave Kinnoin, titled Peanut Man from Jonathan Sprout's American Heroes #3 CD ).

Wilma Rudolph (1940-1994) overcame severe physical handicaps to become one of America’s greatest athletes. As a young girl living in poverty, child #20 in a family of 22 children, she was often sick. At the age of six, she was fitted with a metal leg brace and told she would never walk again. Through determination, dedication, and great courage, Wilma Rudolph turned her life around to become the “fastest woman in the world” as well as the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics. In her soft-spoken, calm, and gracious manner, she taught us that we must not allow our circumstances to hinder our potential to succeed. After winning her three gold medals at the 1960 Rome Summer Olympics, the mayor of her home town wanted to hold a parade in Wilma’s honor. She agreed to participate only if the town would change its segregated custom and hold a racially integrated parade and banquet. It did. This was the first fully integrated municipal event in the history of Clarksville, Tennessee. (See Wilma Rudolph’s song Can’t Stop Running from Jonathan Sprout's American Heroes #3 CD)

Jonathan Sprout's American Heroes CD, won critical acclaim and awards from The National Association of Parenting Publications & Parents’ Choice as a groundbreaking CD in the field of educational children’s music. A sequel, More American Heroes CD, has been awarded The Film Advisory Board’s Award of Excellence and Parents’ Choice Awards. Jonathan's American Heroes #3 CD won eleven national awards, including a 2010 GRAMMY® nomination. American Heroes #4 is now available! on Songs For Teaching!

African American Heroes - Part 2

This is the second in a series of three posts celebrating the contributions of great African American Heroes in honor of Black History Month

Beginning in 1937, Carter Woodson (see African American Heroes, part 1) focused on making the celebration of African Americans an annual event at the urging of Mary McCleod Bethune (1875-1955), once the most influential black woman in America. At 29, she started her own school for African Americans with $1.50, all the money she owned. She became a voice of hope and optimism, inspiring pride and self-confidence in others. Firmly committed to social justice, she taught her students how to succeed, insisting they pay it forward by helping others who were less fortunate. Her non-confrontational style of preferring conference tables to picket lines enabled her to build bridges between black and white communities that advanced the cause for equal rights. She was the first black woman to serve as a presidential advisor and the first black person to have a national monument dedicated to her in Washington, DC. (See Mary McLeod Bethune’s song, co-written with Jimmy Hammer, titled Heads, Hearts, and Hands from American Heroes #4 CD).

Jackie Robinson (1919-72) broke the color barrier in 1947 when he became the first black major league baseball player. In spite of racial hostility and even death threats from players and fans, he played the game of baseball with quiet dignity and extraordinary talent. He was a daring base runner, an excellent fielder and held a career batting average of .311. He was an active spokesperson for civil rights, and in 1962 he became the first African-American elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame. Jackie was born in 1919 on the verge of Black History Month—January 31st. He said, “There is not an American in this country who is free until every one of us are free.” (See Jackie Robinson’s song, co-written with Dave Kinnoin, Break the Barrier from More American Heroes CD)

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) believed that love and peaceful protest could eliminate social injustice. A clergyman and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, he was one of the outstanding black leaders of the United States at a time when many blacks were clearly treated as inferior people. His house was bombed and his life and family were often threatened, but, until the day he died, Dr. King continued to teach people the world over to protest peacefully in order to achieve equality and peace. I’ve written songs about 40 American heroes since 1994. My first was about Martin Luther King, Jr. His song Martin from American Heroes CD).

Jonathan Sprout's American Heroes CD, won critical acclaim and awards from The National Association of Parenting Publications & Parents’ Choice as a groundbreaking CD in the field of educational children’s music. A sequel, More American Heroes CD, has been awarded The Film Advisory Board’s Award of Excellence and Parents’ Choice Awards. Jonathan's American Heroes #3 CD won eleven national awards, including a 2010 GRAMMY® nomination. American Heroes #4 is now available! on Songs For Teaching!

African American Heroes - Part 1

February in America is Black History Month, when we give extra attention to our great African Americans. Carter Woodson (pictured on the right), a renowned African American scholar, is credited with having started it all on the 50th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. In 1915, Woodson attended a national celebration in Washington, DC which highlighted the progress of blacks since the Civil War. Over time, what was first known as Negro Achievement Week morphed into Negro History Week and, in the 1960s, into Black History Month. Woodson chose February because of two heroes: Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday is February 12th, and Frederick Douglass, who celebrated his birthday on February 14th. (See Abraham Lincoln’s song All Across The Land from American Heroes CD)

Frederick Douglass (1818-95) escaped the master’s whip at the age of 20 when he fled North, disguised as a sailor. He became a powerful voice for the freedom of all blacks whose lecturing and reasoning were so impressive that opponents refused to believe he had been a slave. A beacon of morality whose vision transcended race and gender, he wrote books and published a newspaper discussing the evils of slavery and promoting the rights of women.

Legend has it that on February 20, 1895, a young black man who attended a lecture by Douglass was so inspired that he went straight to Douglass’ home just outside Washington, DC that night hoping to speak with the great man. He waited on the broad front steps of Douglass’ house. When Douglass arrived home, the young man asked what he could do to help the cause of African Americans. Douglass responded with what were evidently his last three words, “Agitate. Agitate. Agitate.” He then quietly entered his home and died of a heart attack later that night. It was Frederick Douglass who said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who favor freedom without agitation want crops without plowing... they want rain without thunder and lightning.”
See Frederick Douglass’s song, co-written with Peter Bliss and Dave Kinnoin, called Agitate from More American Heroes CD)

Sojourner Truth (1797?-1883) suffered through slavery in state of New York until the age of 30. A spellbinding preacher with a beautiful, powerful singing voice, she was the first black woman to travel across America denouncing slavery. She was a simple, honest, and deeply religious activist who stood for freedom and women’s rights. Her poise, self-confidence, and fiery passion made her into an early national symbol for strong black women. One hot day in Akron, Ohio in 1851, Ms. Truth delivered a powerful speech still known as one of the greatest women’s liberation speeches ever given. Her exact words were not recorded, but one version of her speech includes, “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together (and she glanced her eye over the platform) ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now that they are asking to do it, the men better let ‘em.” (See the song about Sojourner Truth, Aren’t I a Woman) from More American Heroes CD)

Jonathan Sprout's American Heroes CD, won critical acclaim and awards from The National Association of Parenting Publications & Parents’ Choice as a groundbreaking CD in the field of educational children’s music. A sequel, More American Heroes CD, has been awarded The Film Advisory Board’s Award of Excellence and Parents’ Choice Awards. Jonathan's American Heroes #3 CD won eleven national awards, including a 2010 GRAMMY® nomination. American Heroes #4 will be available February 11, 2014 on Songs For Teaching!

Holiday music, not just for Christmas anymore ....

How many of us play music around the house for the holidays? I know we do, we blast those Christmas tunes and rock out to Jingle Bell Rock every year at home and in the classroom! But what about the rest of the year? What about all those other holidays that pop up throughout the calendar? Where is their music, why don't we rock out to those celebrations? My new challenge for myself is to recognize and incorporate more holiday and seasonal songs in to my musical library outside of the traditional Christmas ones.

Start the school year with songs about friendship in honor of International Friendship Day on Aug. 4th and then swing into September with some hardworking songs for Labor Day. October is always filled with ghoulishly silly songs for Halloweenand then we run into Turkey Day in November.

December pretty much runs the gamut of holiday music that we are all familiar with, so why not come back to school in style and play some tunes about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and spread is words on peace and acceptance.

February, love is in the air thanks to St. Valentine and why not start off St. Patrick's Day with a song about leprechauns and good ol' Michael Finnegan?

Let's hit April first with our own version of an April Fools trick and sing a song about it or start off our own Cinco De Mayo celebration in the classroom with a quick lesson in bilingual education and learn los colores or los numeros in Espanol.

Don't forget that end of the year, most enjoyed by teachers and students alike ... SUMMER!

It gets really easy to design a lesson in the classroom on a specific subject with an objective and standards to follow and incorporate some appropriate songs and music to encourage and promote learning of that specific subject, but I often forget how easy it is to press play and just sing and dance in honor of our given holidays on the calendar. The work is already done and the days are already set, all we have to do is be more aware and help our students to do the same. Learning is not always done best with a book in hand but sometimes a tune in your heart.

-Andrea Villegas, MEd.
Andrea is a mother of two (ages 4 and 2) and has been teaching primary school for eight years. She currently teaches second grade in Southern California. She states, "Music is a part of my everyday life at home as well as in the classroom."

We Have Much To Be Thankful For. . .

We enter this season of Thanksgiving with very grateful hearts as we have experienced enormous kindness and love over the past three months. At the end of August, our 20 year old daughter, Monica, was in a hiking accident in Northern Arizona and suffered a broken neck and sever head injury. It is the kind of incident that stops you in your tracks and throws your life into a tailspin.

Today, Monica is doing wonderfully well. She spent 2 months in the hospital and now works hard in an intensive rehab program. We expect a full and strong recovery! Monica is beginning to integrate back into her very active college life. She is hoping to take a few classes next semester as she eases back into her studies. This posting, however, is not really about her, but rather about all the kindness and love we have experienced along the way.

We have been showered with love and attention from family, friends and strangers alike. We cherish the hundreds of cards we received while in the hospital, letters from first graders, countless meals from neighbors, an ASU game ball presented by the Coach, teddy bears, flowers, gifts and most of all kind thoughts and prayers. The children's music community of artists and songwriters have embraced us as well.

We are ever more aware of the importance of nurturing this kindness in our children. Our teacher friend, Emily, sent us a treasured book of letters and pictures from her first grade class. An incredible example of teaching kindness. We also believe strongly that music can be a vehicle to teach these important values. (See our songs about Character Education).

And so we give thanks for all we have received especially during this trying time! (Also see our songs about Thanksgiving).

Peace, Alice & David Burba
Songs For Teaching Owners

Having Fun with Halloween

Halloween is coming! What a fun holiday! When else do you get to dress up as something you do not get to be on a regular day? And, visit houses to get treats! This day has long been a favorite of children (and many adults). In recent years, we have let the opinions of a few affect all. Halloween became labeled as a dangerous holiday with roots in witchcraft and not something we should continue. While it is true that Halloween has roots in Pagan traditions, you may want to consider how this holiday can benefit your child before abolishing it all together.

Below are two links if you would like to read about Halloween's origin. I'd like to focus on why it is a benign, and helpful, holiday for children.
*Roots of Halloween From CBN
*Halloween History From History Channel

On Halloween children will dress as something they'd like to try out. For example, they may want to be a firefighter or baker someday. They also may choose to be a character that they enjoy from a favorite story or show. Another thing that plays a factor in costume choice is being something that has you a little 'uncomfortable'. If a child is afraid of a bear, he might want to dress like one to help overcome that fear. This is a healthy way to confront the issue.

In the above picture, I am telling the story of the "Five Little Pumpkins". Children love it! Songs are another way children enjoy the holiday and explore their emotions. They hear the ominous musical sounds and naturally, the brain perks up for fight or flight. (See "Dark Dark" or "There Was An Old Lady Who Wasn't Afraid Of Anything") The lesson learned is “I was uncomfortable, but I’m okay!” This is why they will ask you to “Sing it again!” We have taken some of our songs and toned down the scary factor for our youngest. Remember, what is okay for a 4 or 5 year old, can be too scary for a 1 or 2 year old. Know your audience!

What I'm trying to say here is many of us have happy memories from our Halloween trick-or-treating. The holiday was long-ago modified to fit the needs of today's society. Celebrating holidays and having rituals is very important. Keep your children safe and enjoy the day. To watch a video of a song about Halloween Safety, see the video below.

Maryann “Mar.” Harman, BA Music/MA Ed
Founder of Music with Mar., Inc.

Youtube Video:

Kids Meet Composers!

Here's a little Quiz. . .

1. Which great composer had 20 children?
2. Which composer was known as: The Waltz King?
3. The March King?
4. The Ragtime King?
5. Who, as a child prodigy, performed with his sister Nanerl for kings and queens?

(Answers to follow)

Whatever your level of musical expertise, whether you are gifted or challenged . . . you can introduce the children you teach to 10 of the world’s best-loved composers. With a delightful one-of-a-kind collection, the Kids Meet Composers CD, your class can:
**Hear the composers (dramatized) speaking and joking with them, revealing details of the composers’ works and lives
** Sing and perform to excerpts from masterworks, sung by a children’s chorus, with teaching lyrics, and orchestrated especially for young listeners
**Play “Guess The Composer!” complete with quiz show music.

Why? The value of introducing your class to great composers and their creations goes beyond undeniably tuneful and dramatic fun. You will have invited your children into a world of sublime invention, beauty and inspiration. You will have fulfilled one of our primary missions as teachers – transmitting the best of our cultural past to the next generation. And, as a longtime school music director, I know you and your students will share the magic of their musical discovery and enrichment.

(Answers: 1. J.S. Bach 2. Strauss 3. Sousa 4. Joplin 5. Mozart)

Wendy Rollin, The Piano Lady
Creator of Kids Meet Composers, as seen on Songs For Teaching

Play Audio:

Learning Through Music, for All Abilities

I'm in a room with twenty-five children, four of whom use wheelchairs. As the children act out a song about butterflies, I choose several students from the "typical" classroom to partner with the children with disabilities. The students walk over cautiously at first. But they seem to overcome their shyness as they dance about the kids in wheelchairs. Smiles of pride come to their faces – they're just five years old, but they're doing something helpful that makes a difference in another child's life.

This is my third year as a teaching artist with VSA MA at the Condon School in South Boston, integrating music with the literacy curriculum for children in the early childhood classrooms through first grade. Condon's student population includes many students with special needs, and VSA MA's main goal is to bring together children with a range of abilities through the arts.

This year, we combined classrooms in my music sessions to bring together students from Condon's Developmental Day Care (DDC) program with the Pre-K and kindergarten classes. The DDC students face many obstacles in their daily lives – most have multiple, severe disabilities.

The other children in the school see the DDC students coming down the hall and may feel curious, worried, or even fearful. My music program aims, in part, to help demystify the lives and experiences of these fellow students, and create a place where everyone can enjoy an engaging arts experience.

I've received capable assistance from Maureen Finnerty, known to her young fans simply as "Moe" or "Miss Moe". Moe – who has cerebral palsy - has been part of VSA since her own youth. It's clear when you meet Moe that her early arts experiences had a formative role in shaping her career. Today she serves in a variety of roles as a teaching artist, theater director and performer.

Moe helped demystify the DDC students for me, too. With her help, I learned about how to make my repertoire of tunes, stories, rhythm and lyrics more accessible to a child with a severe disability. I learned about the stimulating vibration of rumbling thunder cans, which help enhance these children's experiences in learning about the Big Bad Wolf or the troll in the Billy Goats Gruff. I learned about using soft-textured beanbags for learning through touch, and providing stimulating colors as we waved scarves.

Most of all, I saw how the active experience of music and movement can bring a story to life for children with a variety of abilities and learning styles. A favorite among the youngest children is my song about the Three Little Pigs. I assign the students parts – as pigs, houses and wolves. For some, there's little to match the experience of belting out the blues chorus of the Big Bad Wolf.

It's especially fun to watch one little girl from the DDC class respond to the song. Her speech, mobility and eyesight are limited, but the minute anyone mentions that wolf, she starts to blow! With the help of her teacher, she's soon careening around the classroom to the bad-wolf chorus.

I also learned from Moe that an important learning milestone for the DDC students is the understanding of cause and effect, and making choices. In my music/movement rendition of the Three Billy Goats Gruff, all of the students have a chance to choose different ways to participate, including playing a colorful rain stick to make the sound of the river, shaking a thunder can to create a "troll" effect or tapping rhythm sticks to make the Billy Goats' "trip-trip-trip" on the bridge.

Helping students understand and make these choices is a big part of enhancing their educational experience. It helps them grasp the concepts in the story, too. Through acting out the story, I hope the students are not only having fun, but learning something important. Whatever challenges they might face – whether it's a physical disability, language barrier or a learning issue – they have strength inside themselves to stand up to adversity and overcome it.

-Liz Buchanan

Liz Buchanan's music programs are designed for fun and learning for children from infancy through age seven, although older children and adults also love her songs. Liz loves engaging children with stories and drama, building literacy learning through the arts. Liz holds an MFA in Creative Writing as well as a Masters in Education. In classrooms, in libraries, in the community—Liz's music and creative arts programs help children love learning. Click here to see more of Liz's Music on Songs For Teaching.

Click here to see more songs for working with children with special needs.

This blog post was originally published on VSA Mass Blog for All on May 2, 2013.