Six Back to School Tips – Don’t Forget the Music!

BACKtoSCHOOLcanstockphoto39451008Teachers have a tall order preparing for the new year. They often spend weeks setting up their classroom so that when the kiddos arrive, they will have an inviting organized space for learning. My teacher friends have been posting pictures of their classrooms on FaceBook to show how ready they are. I love seeing the creative bulletin boards and desk combinations, but I just want to say one thing. . . “Don’t forget the music!”

Here are some tips for teachers planning for music in their back-to-school classroom. These tips are great for establishing routines that will not only engage learners, but also diffuse some of those negative behaviors we see when kids are anxious.

1. Morning and End of Day Routine Songs —
When kids enter the classroom at the start of each day, there is a bustle of activity which can often be extremely chaotic. Kids push into the classroom with their backpacks, lunch boxes, sweaters and jackets — all needing to get settled before the child can sit at their seat ready to learn (not to mention attendance, lunch orders, homework collection, notes from home, announcements, the pledge,  etc. etc). Many teachers assign classroom responsibilities and chores as well that need to be completed.

 

Morning routine songs and end of the day songs can help define these chaotic times. Playing an up-beat hello song as the children come in the door can set a tone for a positive, productive day. Once the children understand their tasks, challenge the children to finish their jobs and be in their seats by the end of the song. Same for the end of the day routine. Kids will sing along and happily get ready to go in a timely fashion.


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2. Transition Songs —
As you plan out your daily schedule think about ways to transition your students from one activity to another. We have countless transition songs tailored just for this purpose — everything from going to art class, lining up, starting a math unit, or going to the bathroom.


Some children struggle with transitioning from one activity to another. They either cannot leave the last activity (hyper-focus) or they cannot attend to a new activity (lack of focus). Music can really be a boost for these children and help them close out one activity and move to another. It’s a lot more engaging than simply announcing, “Class, time for math now.” Choosing songs that have academic content for these transitions also can have the added benefit of introducing or reinforcing subject matter.

If a teacher uses transition songs consistently, children will tune in to the routine of the day and are better able to switch their focus. Lastly, putting movement to these transition songs (marching, fist pumps, crossing the midline, etc) has the added benefit of providing a Brain Break for the learners and helps reduce learning fatigue.
3. Set up a Listening Station —
boy_w_headphones_iStock_000005494750XSmallMost primary classrooms have a reading nook or book table. Why not have a listening station as well! This can be used as a part of a rotation of centers or it can be a place where kids can go to when their seat work is done.

 

Teachers can go old-school and set up a boom box with headphones, but technology has made this much easier. Using a tablet, computer or even cell phone, the teacher can create a listening station playlist. This can be powerful when using content driven music. Align the playlist for different units or themes in the classroom to reinforce topics covered in class. One tip is to plan for songs that match the current literature study, or your current social studies, science or math unit. As the year goes on, you can tailor this station to the differentiated needs of your students.
4. Substitute Teacher Playlist —
The day will come in the not too distant future where you will need a sub for your classroom. Whether you have the sniffles or you’re headed to a great PD session, planning for your sub can be a chore. As a teacher, you are not always sure who will be in your classroom and how skilled they might be. You certainly don’t want the day to be a loss for the kids.

 

Creating a playlist just for subs can serve as a great tool for the substitute. The kids will be engaged and it might help reduce some of the classic shenanigans that go on when the teacher is away! Again, using content based songs, you can reinforce topics you are learning in class. In your sub instructions, simply tell the teacher when to play each song. You might even want to designate a student to teach the substitute teacher the movements!
5. Mindfulness & Growth Mindset Songs —

GIRLFLOWERcanstockphoto10919689There has been a lot of research on mindfulness in the education of late. Mindfulness allows for children to be in tune with their body and their feelings and how one can, in turn, become empathetic and mindful of others. Planning for a few minutes of centering each day with songs that sooth, encourage or teach self awareness can create an environment for social-emotional learning.

Likewise, Growth Mindset has been the push in many classrooms. Growth Mindset is based on the belief that children can always grow and learn – that learning is not limited or fixed. When students believe they can get smarter, they understand that effort makes them stronger and therefore they are motivated to take on challenges. Songs that encourage positivity and character can help teachers create an environment of persistence so that kids see effort as the path toward mastery.

 

Weaving these social-emotional and character education songs throughout your lessons, can have long lasting effects on the children in your classroom.
6. Plan for Upcoming Holidays —
Once the year starts, it is amazing how quickly it goes. Before you know it, it will be Halloween, then Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, then the winter holidays! Sometimes these holidays can catch up on you by surprise.
It isn’t too early to gather some music for these seasons. You can switch up your routine or transition music with holiday songs or create a playlist for a party. (We have some great streaming apps that do just the trick!). Looking for a good song for a school performance? We have several for holidays or by topic that come with instrumental tracks or sheet music for performing.
This blog post was originally published in August, 2017. 

#NationalBestFriendsDay

#bestfriendsdayTrolling around twitter today I see the common Friday hashtag #friendsfriday and think, “What a marketing ploy!” I can’t help it. It’s the business woman in me. Then I surf some more and see that today is #NationalBestFriendsDay! My first thought was what if we took these hashtags seriously. What if we committed to building our current friends, reconnecting with old friends, and lastly, meeting new friends! As the old girl scout favorite goes, “Make new friends and keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold.” 

I first thought of my friend Melanie and realized that I hadn’t asked her how she was doing lately. I pulled out my phone and sent a quick text. How easy that was! Melanie is a dear friend. We go back over 30 years when our husbands played in a band together. Melanie managed the band,Tim, Julie, David, Alice and I would occasionally sing back up vocals. I can’t think of that time without smiling. Come to think of it, so many of our dearest friends are connections we have made through music! Just this week, Dave and I played and sang for a funeral with our dear friends Tim and Julie who moved across the country this year.  While we were sad for our friend, Sal, who lost his step-dad, we were elated to see one another and to play and sing together.

When I think about my music friends, I can’t help but think of the new friends I have made through our membership with the Children’s Music Network. We joined as business sponsors about 5 years ago when we took on Songs for Teaching. I figured it would be important to join to promote children’s music and to connect with some of our Songs for Teaching artists who were also members. What I didn’t realize is how this group would touch card from Lisamy heart and lead me to some incredible human beings, whom I am proud to call friends.  Just this week I’ve been emailing with our new friend Dave Kinnoin about an important song he has written; I received a cute card from Lisa Heintz just because; and I hungout via google for a meeting feeling like I just reconnected with friends across the country.

Music is the perfect connector! It has the ability to draw out our feelings and to break down barriers or inhibitions. There is something special about the shared joy  experienced when playing or listening music with friends. I guess that’s why I am so passionate about the Children’s Music Network. I can’t wait until the conference in October where we can meet up face to face and add to those joy-filled shared experiences.

So send a text to one of your best friends. Better yet, invite them over and get out the guitar and sing some songs or spin some records together!

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Physical Activity Important in Your Classroom

This article by Carol Stern is reposted with permission from Educational Activities . Please see our song suggestions below!

May is National Physical Fitness and Sports month, so this month’s blog focuses on physical fitness in the classroom.  Everyone knows that being physically active is good for you. There are obvious benefits to being active.  For instance, it helps reduce the risk of obesity and it helps build and maintain healthy bones and muscles. But did you know that physical activity also has some very important benefits for children in the classroom?

Reduces Stress

Regular activity has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression in children and adolescents.  Additionally, aerobic activity produces brain chemicals that promote a feeling of well-being.

Increases Self Confidence

Children who are regularly active have a higher sense of self efficacy, which means they have better confidence in their ability to complete tasks and learn new activities. (source: Active Academics)

Increases Concentration and Improves Academic Performance

Physical activity breaks during the school day have an effect on children’s behavior, attention span, ability to concentrate and test scores. In fact, studies have shown that students did better on standardized tests after moderate physical activity as compared to students who had been sitting for 20 minutes prior to testing. (source:Neuroscience, 2009)

Develops Empathy and Social Skills

Team sports and physical activity have been associated with improved self-esteem, better nutrition and less smoking and drug abuse among children.  Additionally, studies also show that physical activity fosters leadership skills and empathy in children and may also reinforce healthy lifestyle behaviors.

No Gym? P.E. in the Classroom

Many schools don’t have gyms.  Therefore, they don’t offer children the amount of physical activity needed to be successful.  Some have even cut out recess – a time for free play – from the school day entirely.  Here are some ideas you can use in your classroom to help your students get the physical activity they need.

  • Start the day off right with a quick 10-minute yoga sequence. Grab your students’ focus right from the start. Creative Yoga Exercises for Children incorporates relatable animal activities that are easy for children to learn.
  • During reading time, read a book aloud while the children walk around. When they hear an “action word” (verb) have them act it out.
  • Lessons on the go – Walk to an area (either indoors or out) where you can focus on your topic. For instance, if you are studying measurements, take the kids to different areas of the school to practice measuring different objects like the height of a step or the width of the hallway, let the kids stretch, squat and move around.
  • Hopscotch math – Have kids answer math questions by hopping onto the correct numbers on the floor.
  • Acting out – Try reviewing vocabulary words by playing charades. Children will act out the words as others try to guess them.
  • Take your science lesson outside – if you teach in an area where you can take the kids outside to experience hands on science, do it!
  • Take short (3-4 minute) activity breaks throughout the day to get the blood pumping, relieve boredom, reduce tension and increase your students’ level of alertness. A good way to do this is with music. Silly Willy Workout is an engaging album with songs that can be used individually for short breaks, or the entire album can be used as a physical education class.
  • Most importantly, don’t forget to stress the importance of being physically active to your students. According to the CDC, children should have at least 60 minutes of exercise per day. Encourage them to go to the park after school or participate in a sport.

For more information about physical activity in the classroom check out our other blog articles:

Encouraging Physical Activity Indoors  and Increase Student Focus with These 9 Movement Activities

For more information about the importance of children’s health on learning, visit the CDC’s Healthy Schools website.

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Using Story Songs for Social Emotional Learning

Today’s blog post is by Kayte Deioma AKA Auntie Kayte

ReAuntie Kaytesearch shows that social emotional learning is far more important for preschool and early elementary children in predicting later success than mastering academic concepts early. Story songs can be a great way to engage children in social emotional learning in a fun way. Stories improve language development, increase cultural understanding, and develop empathy. Adding music to stories makes them even more fun and makes the stories easier to remember, especially with a catchy chorus to lock in the moral of the story.

In traditional fairytales, there is either a child or children whose bad decisions get them into trouble and they have to find their moral way out, or someone has been cast under a spell, cursed, or locked up – usually a princess – and has to be rescued. The good guys and the bad guys are pretty clearly delineated.

When I started writing story songs, they were inspired by conversations with kids about traditional fairytale and storybook characters that veered into deeper territory. Is the Dark Knight always the bad guy? Should you summarily sink pirate ships along with the pirates aboard, or should you show mercy? Do princesses always need to be rescued, or are princesses smart enough to get themselves out of trouble? Could unicorns really exist?

Rufus the UnicornMy first CD, Rufus the Unicorn and Other Upside-Down Fairytale Songs, addresses some of these issues, using the power of story to capture kids’ imaginations, and opening the door for discussions that take the lessons even deeper. Each lyric sheet from Songs for Teaching comes with discussion notes.

Inspired by a conversation with my nephew and also working with kids who have parents in jail, Pirates Are People Too addresses consequences for bad behavior as well as compassion for people who have done bad things. The discussion notes include a “Crime and Consequences” game. The song, I’m Sorry, models apologizing for unintentionally or intentionally hurting someone, which follows nicely as part of a discussion on how you feel and what you should do if you’ve done pirate behavior.

A Princess Can Be Smart encourages girls to embrace both their princess side and their brainy side with a litany of intelligent and adventurous career opportunities for princesses. It also helps break some stereotypical beliefs that boys have about what a girl can be when she grows up, which can be reinforced in follow-up.

Rufus the Unicorn is a bit of an ugly-duckling story, where Rufus is ostracized by various animal species before finding his tribe. Children empathize with Rufus not fitting in and even kids as young as three will think about and talk about what they might do if an animal or child who is different wants to play with them.

The Cowboy Song and The Cowgirl Song are variations on the same story that encourages both cowboys and cowgirls to value work and play and take an oath to protect those who are weaker.

Just like with story books, story songs can lead to different conversations every time you play or sing them as they spark new questions and ideas from young audiences.

A special thank you to Auntie Kayte for this blog post.