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.

Audio Awareness in Learning Language

Today’s guest blogger is Jeanne Nelson of Sing in English. Jeanne and her husband, Hector live in Mexico and write and record music for English Language Learners. They produce a TV program, “My School con Anna y Rocco”, seen on Mexican educational TV 

Jeanne Nelso & Hector Marin

Do you speak a foreign language? Do you speak it fluently? Not many Americans do. Why is another language so difficult to learn? Are we too lazy? It seems almost anyone we run into from another part of the world speaks some English.  Or maybe we haven’t figured out effective ways to teach foreign languages.

I can’t talk about all schools but I can tell you about my own experience. I studied French a long time ago. I remember liking it in the beginning but I don’t think I applied myself.  After awhile I was lost. I certainly didn’t realize that I needed to develop an audio awareness of what I was learning. Or in other words to be able to close my eyes, not see the words, and yet understand by ear even beginning French. At that time my school was just about to install a language lab with ear phones to help one concentrate on listening to languages. Maybe that would have helped me.  And I certainly also remember struggling over lists of verb conjugations that I tried to memorize.  That was difficult and boring, not a very good way for me to learn. Needless to say, I never did learn French.

Now I find myself living and working in Mexico and yes, I have been here for many years. But guess what? I’ve learned a language through living the experience! I’ve learned Spanish without much effort and I learned rather quickly, having fun and enjoying it!  What a difference!

Now my partner and husband Hector and I create ESL material for children. I’m going to share with you some of the things I’ve learned along the way:

To really dominate a language the audio is essential, probably more important than reading and writing because that part will automatically follow.

The younger you start, the better. When one is young languages come more naturally. And yes, little kids aren’t reading and writing yet. It’s all by ear.

Instead of teaching vocabulary words that you just repeat, combine with a verb. Verbs are harder to learn so start using verbs.  For example instead of saying the word “sun” you can teach “I see the sun.”  Or “book”, “I have a book.” etc. (“Sol, veo el sol”. “Libro,  yo tengo un libro”. etc.) And I suggest you start teaching verbs in the first person, “I”, all the rest will follow.  It really is quite amazing if you know enough verbs and the basics of a language, you can make yourself understood.

It’s easy to learn short phrases. For example: “I don’t know.”- “Yo no se”.- “Je ne sais pas”. See, I even remembered that in French!

Use repetition. If you repeat often enough, it will be remembered.

Teach useful words. Begin forming a base for your students of English, or whatever language you’re teaching, that will be useful for life. And choose useful verbs. For example, I don’t think one needs to learn the verb “fetch”. “Bring” or “get” are much more common and useful. “Mother Goose” rhymes and songs are fun for English speaking kids but not very relevant for others. And stay away from cutesy words, for example “itsy bitsy” or “teeny weeny”, etc.  Silly songs don’t translate well either. And I say stay away from slang.

Yes, songs are great! We all know that songs are excellent for teaching because songs are fun!  If your students are learning by listening to songs be careful that the pronunciation is very clear. Children’s recorded voices are usually difficult to understand. And don’t use songs that race along.  One needs to hear every word clearly. You know how you hear a strange language spoken somewhere and it’s so fast it just sounds like gibberish?  That is how English sounds too when it’s not your first language.

Precisely because teachers here in Mexico asked us for songs in English with all these qualities, Hector and I started writing our own songs specifically for ESL, and created “Sing in English”. Through our songs, we’ve tried to develop a useful base of English.  Our songs are fun, sung with clear pronunciation so you can distinguish every word.  And we don’t sell to just Spanish speaking countries, we know from our sales that our songs are sung by children in countries all around the world.

Now Songs For Teaching has our series of 3 CD’s titled ABC’s for Beginners which teaches all the letters and phonetic sounds. I’m sure you’ll find all these new songs are a lot of fun to teach and sing! And they are great fun for English speaking kids too! We offer lots of “Holiday Songs” and because it is December I have to mention our “Christmas Songs”, a beautiful original production, perhaps my favorite!  I also have to tell you, because we are quite proud, of our new TV program, “My School con Anna y Rocco”, seen on Mexican educational TV every Saturday and Sunday.

I love teaching, I enjoy working with students of all ages. I try to make learning easy! And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll still learn French!



Making Musical Links with Literacy

This is a cross-post from  Liz Buchanan‘s blog Antelope Dance Music & Literacy originally published on 8/8/17

Liz Buchanan

I once taught at a preschool where the director told me: “Just have fun singing with the kids,” implying that they’d pick up the literacy learning elsewhere in their day. I understand what she meant, but she missed the point. Childhood music and early literacy are so intertwined that it’s hard to make music with young children without touching upon key literacy skills.

Consider the topic of rhythm. Rhythm is a part of language, just as it’s part of music. Many music teachers incorporate syllable segmentation into their lessons by having students clap their names or tap words on a drum. Musical rhythm becomes interchangeable with language rhythm. Just as they segment musical phrases, children hear and understand multi-syllable words in chunks that can be sounded out and broken into smaller elements.

Or consider another activity we often do with young children: saying a familiar rhyme and letting the child fill in a rhyming end word. For example: Patty cake, patty cake, baker’s man. Bake me a cake as fast as you ___ (the child fills in can). Songs and nursery rhymes are a natural vehicle for children to hear, express and initiate rhyming words, thus distinguishing vowel sounds and building phonological awareness.

On any given day, my music lesson includes songs that perfectly complement the other literacy activities during the child’s day at school. Here are some of those elements:

A finger play song such as “Tommy Thumb is Up” incorporates sequencing and characters, building children’s insight into the elements of stories. I use a glove puppet and give each character distinct personality traits, including the contrary “Ruby Ring.”

Finger plays also build manual dexterity as children work toward handwriting skills. Here’s a link to a recording of this song, although you should note that I usually sing about all the fingers in this song: Tommy Thumb, Penny Pointer, Toby Tall, Ruby Ring and Pinky Finger.

My version of “The Muffin Man” engages children with starting letter sounds in verses about “Muffin Man,” the “Lemonade Lady,” the “Cookie Cat” and the “Donut Dog,” to name a few. I add visuals by using a sign with key words and a picture for each verse.

“Icky Sticky and Ooey Gooey” gives students a chance to hear and guess rhymes by connecting a word to a rhyming body part (sand-hand, tree-knee, hoe-toe, track-back).   I use spoon puppets to engage children visually and create a sense of fun.

Movement activities, always part of my music lessons, have many literacy links. When children imitate caterpillars and butterflies on my song “If I Were a Butterfly,” they build their understanding of a sequenced nonfiction narrative.

If they act out my musical version of “The Tortoise and the Hare” to learn about tempo, they’re getting a taste of the fable genre and building understanding that all stories have a beginning, middle and end. They might develop a similar understanding by acting out my “Three Little Pigs” song, described in another post on this blog.

I love language, stories and poems, so to me, the literacy element has special appeal in music lesson planning. Musical concepts on their own, even for young children, can be somewhat abstract. Literacy content grounds the music lesson in the familiar world. At a workshop with Andy Davis of New England Dancing Masters, he talked about telling stories to introduce new songs to young children. He understands the connection that children naturally make with a good storyteller or a book, which often can lead into a song.

The reverse is also true. A song can get children’s attention on a literacy topic. A teacher can begin a lesson on rhyming words having the children join in singing a rhyming song. My songs on word families, sound segmentation and syllable clapping are a natural lead-in to spoken lessons on those topics, especially once the kids know the songs and can sing along and even help compose their own verses. You can find most of the literacy songs I’ve mentioned on my download album, Songs for Rhyming and Reading.

My first love in teaching is music, but I firmly believe in all the connections that music can make to everything else in a child’s world. The connection with emergent reading is a total natural!

Don’t Forget the Music! 6 Back to School Tips for Teachers!

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.