My Favorite December Books for the Elementary Music Classroom

Today I’m sharing with you my absolute faaaaavorite books to sing in the elementary music classroom in December. Although a few are holiday themed, there are certainly a couple that you can use if you don’t feel comfortable or aren’t permitted to do holiday themed activities at your campus… so really the title says five, but there are a TON more than that in this post!! #ninjaskills

Without further ado, here are my five favorite books to sing to my elementary music students in December!

(*Disclaimer: the amazon links in this post are affiliate links! Can y’all say 2-day shipping?!)

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1. Ten on the Sled written by Kim Norman & illustrated by Liza Woodruff (by the same author/illustrator & winter themed: She’ll be Coming Up the MountainIf It’s Snowy and You Know It, Clap Your Paws!)

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If you use "Ten in the Bed" with your kids (  so-mi-do practice song, anyone?) then this is a super fun extension that my kids go absolutely nuts over. It's all about a caribou who has all of his friends on the sled. They "exit" the sled a lot of different ways, and there are lots of different animals, providing about a million different things to chat about outside of the rhyming words and alliteration.

2. There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bell written by Lucille Colandro & illustrated by Jared D. Lee (similar: There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow)

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This is truly one of my very favorite series of books. There are about a million (okay, not that many, but a lot) for every season and every holiday. This one is perfect for the holidays and for audiating do at the end of each verse. I also love to give my kiddos bells to ring as we sing the story. 

3. The Littlest Reindeer by Nicola Killen

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This story I use shamelessly when I want to do a Reindeer themed lesson. (Reindeer Vocal Explorations and Reindeer Games Melody Practice are peeeeerfect if you want to play along!) There are a couple of reoccurring sounds that are perfect for un-pitched percussion integration, similarly to how I use The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything. (I talk about it in this post!)

4. Hush Little Polar Bear by Jeff Mack

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I looove to talk about lullabies with my Kindergarten kiddos, especially when we talk about loud/quiet & fast/slow comparatives. This is a really fun variation on "Hush Little Baby," and takes the reader on a trip through the narrator's dreams. The kids always pick up on (and go nuts over) the fact that the story book cover in the book is the same as the cover of the actual book. So meta, right?

5. Jingle Bells by Iza Trapani

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Iza Trapani books are seriously pure gold. I think I own every single book by this author, and I always snatch them up when I see one I think I might not have! (As a matter of fact... I might have accidentally bought doubles of a few!!) I just about lost it when I found this one--it's so good y'all! I love all of the different verses and the warm themes throughout the book. And the illustrations are to die for. Not to mention that your kiddos will love singing the chorus 800 million times--pass out some bells to make it a real party!!


That about wraps up this round up for December books! If you love round ups like this and want to be the first to find out about them, sign up for my newsletter below! You'll get instant access to the FREE resource library, which has all sorts of goodies!!

Reindeer Vocal Explorations in SeeSaw

This is the shortest and sweetest little blog post I've probably ever written... because the video below is going to tell you eeeevvvveerrrrthing you need to know about the latest and greatest resource in the FREE Resource Library: Reindeer Vocal Exploration Templates for Seesaw!

This digital resource is the first venture as to what I hope will be many digital components to resources, something many of you have been asking for! Check out the video below, download the templates, give it a try, and let me know how it goes!!

6 Halloween Activities for the Music Room

I looooove holidays, especially in the elementary music classroom. There's something magical about celebrations with those sweet kiddos, and I always do my best to add in some seasonal flair where I can. Here are six of my favorite Halloween activities that don't require you to stop teaching everything to do. Oh no, there's some juicy music learning in each and every one of these!!

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(1) Passing Games:

Passing games are always such a favorite of mine, especially around the holidays! I love using a seasonal or holiday object to make things a little festive! I learned "We Will Pass the Pumpkin" from another teacher colleague of mine when I first started teaching. Beyond that, I don't have a source (if you know one, please let me know!), because she said she's been singing it for years and years and years.

This game is super simple, and is a favorite of all of my students, whether they are kindergarteners or fifth graders!! It's simple enough--you simply take a pumpkin (I find a really small gourd version, or an artificial one from the craft store) and pass it around a seated circle to the steady beat. At the very end it speeds up, and whomever has it "when the music stops" is out! Take a listen below--the instructions are right in the song. (And remember: I'm a trumpet player by trade ;) )

Important Note: the words also say "anyone is out if the pumpkin drops." We always have a very serious talk about who is the referee (ME) during this game. I always have the rule that if you don't pass the pumpkin, hand to hand, then you are out. If I see "air-time" (even a light toss or throw), that student is out. We always do a practice round before the game starts so that the rules are super clear.

I have another fun passing game song in the Resource Library for all my Anacrusic Insiders!! IT's called Jack-o-lantern! Click on over to check it out. :)

(2) Halloween Books: (links are amazon affiliate :) )

(psst!! I talked about these four books in my Instagram live last week!! Did you catch it?! Follow me here so you don't miss the next one!!)

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Over in the Hollow:

(I have to give credit for finding this ah-mazing book to one of my students at the American Kodály Institute!! Rachael, you are a rock star!!)

If you do anything with the song "Over in the Meadow" in your classroom, this is an awesome book to use! I could do a whole separate blog post on what the original song is good for (audiating tonic, rhyming words, phrasing, etc.) but just trust me that this is one of many variations that are in book form that you should add to your music book library! For bonus points, I sing it in minor.

Ghosts in the House: 

This is my Halloween vocal exploration jam. I print out ghost icons on cardstock and laminate them so every student has a manipulative to play with during vocal exploration. You could also make tissue ghosts—just wrap a tissue over cotton balls and add two sharpie dots for eyes. There’s no set “cue” for when to do different vocal explorations, but I just scatter it throughout this book. You can lead or have a student lead! Take advantage of the different ways ghosts make sounds to practice different vowel sounds and placements.

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything:

This is a gem. There are repeated sounds that reoccur throughout the story, such as “clomp clomp.” Have your students pick unpitched percussion instruments to represent the sounds and help tell the story. (I personally think keeping “clomp clomp” with shoes is awesome—just make sure they can tie them up quick if there’s a fire drill!! #beenthere #playedthatgame)

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Bat:

We all know the original song tale about the Old lady who swallowed a fly, right? There are about a million different variations out there. Do yourself a favor and get your hands on all these books. The kids love them, and you can have them audiate and sing cadences all the livelong day. #rhymingwords

(3) Five Little Pumpkins

This rhyme is an old standby, because it's good for SOOO many things!! (If you don't know it, just google it and you'll about a million different YouTube videos for it!) I don't use it as a song, but rather as a chant.

It's perfect for practicing four voices (speaking, singing, shouting, whispering), either with the whole rhyme one way or different lines as the different voices. It's also easy to add unpitched percussion to tell the story. My absolute favorite thing to do is to have students act it out in small groups. Get creative!!

(4) Trick or Treat Games:

I love doing different Halloween speech patterns this time of year. I've seen lots of super fun activities with different candies, but I prefer to use costumed characters! I made these trick or treat interactive games to review all the fun rhythms for Halloween!! Get them here. :)

(5) Halloween Listening:

There are so many fun pieces to use around Halloween time as listening examples! My two favorites are Toccata and Fugue & In the Hall of the Mountain King. Toccata and Fugue requires a bit more ahead of time planning, due to the form of the piece. There are some excellent listening maps out there that do an excellent job of outlining this form. 

In the Hall of the Mountain King is the perfect steady beat and fast/slow comparative song for the younger grades. I like to lead a follow the leader steady beat movement game that glows in the dark! Find some fun glow in the dark gloves, give students glow sticks, and dim the lights!!

(6) Jack-o-lantern Song & Games!

Now if you're looking for something that gives a little Halloween taste with the main meal still practicing concepts on your curriculum map, this resource is for you. This group of presentations and games is everything you could need to practice so and mi in the month of October.

Check out a preview of the original song in the resource library!! Sign up below to get access!!

Have a Happy Halloween!!

Improve Parent Communication {Sparkle & Shine BTS Pt 5}

Y'all. Can you even believe it? It's still September and we're finally wrapping up this back to school series!! (...hey, one day still counts!) I hope that this series has been helpful for you and you've picked up a couple tips and tricks along the way. This last topic is one that has definitely been tricky for me in the past, so I hope these tricks I've picked up help you!

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Love it our hate it, (and depending on the circumstances, it could definitely be a little bit of both!) parent communication is part of the teacher gig. And if you’re a music teacher, you likely have 500 or more students, and therefore approximately 2,395,827 parents to communicate with.

And if you’re liiittle passive aggressive like me, it’s a total party. #not

Aside from the occasional parent contact for a problem or, hopefully more often, a total rock star day, most of my parent communication is to the masses. Here are 4 ways I keep those channels open and positive throughout the year. (Psst! If you want more info on how I do those parent contacts for the tricky kiddos, click here to check out this post.)

**Note: I understand that many students do not necessarily go home to their parents, but may be in a different home situation where they see grandparents, an older brother or sister, an aunt or uncle, or even a family friend when they head home from school. For the ease of reading (and writing!) this post, the term “ parents” really means whomever is loving on your sweet kiddos outside of the school day. :)


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#1 - Take Home Trinkets

Although this isn’t necessarily direct communication, the number one way to get parents curious as to what you’re doing in the music room is to send your kiddos home with a little something special. Nothing huge that you have to stop everything to make and send home, but when the opportunity presents itself having something here or there to put in the good ol’ take home folder is a nice touch.

My kindergarten students absolutely love these rhythm coloring sheets, and I get the best positive feedback from parents when they get to take them home. I think it’s a refreshing surprise for parents to see something tangible come from the music room. Although worksheets are not my most favorite form of music making (…not as active as it could or should be!), seeing a piece of paper with musical concepts that kids can explain reinforces that learning happens in the music room!

Another positive way to improve communication is to give out awards or incentives in the music classroom. For example, I’ve mentioned that I have little Brag Tags that I use as PBIS, and that is the perfect little trinket to send home. I talked a little bit about them in this post, and you can snag a couple freebies in the resource library. Having a little piece of paper or something that says “Super Singer” or “I Sang a Solo Today!” is sure to get parents asking their kiddos “what’s that for?” when they pick them up from school.

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#2 - A Note from the Music Room

At my old campus, all of the specialists (Music, Art, P.E., & Library) took turns sharing what was happening in each of our respective classrooms. It was a brief, but effective way to give parents a little bit of information without completely bombarding them with #everylittlething that is happening in the day in and day out of the music room. It was just enough to feel connected.

This is probably the easiest way to start a direct communication line with parents. Not too much of a commitment, not solely on your shoulders, and creates a nice collaboration with your team! I highly recommend starting here if you’re new to reaching out to parents on a consistent basis.

#3 - A Music Newsletter

Taking it up a notch, I know several folks who create a newsletter that is specific to their music room. This can be incredibly effective and tailor made to each class or grade level, or better yet, if you have a choir or other special performing group. Most folks send something like this out about once a month, and highlight some of the learning objects that students are discovering, and gives hints for opening up communication about music class at home. 

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For a choir or other performance group that might have more frequent and time sensitive announcements, a weekly newsletter might be the way to go. Remember that no matter how often you are sending this out, you can do it digitally, or pass out a hard copy… or both. Because let’s be real, the more modes of communication, the better!

#4 - Seesaw - The Secret Sauce

This past year, I completely fell in love with Seesaw. I didn’t set it up for all of my classes, but I did a “pilot” version with one of the Kindergarten teachers at my building and it was amazing. If you aren’t familiar with Seesaw, it’s an app that serves as a classroom Facebook of sorts, where students and teachers can post videos, photos, and other things to the class page or to personal pages. Parents can log in and “like” and comment on things their child is doing throughout the day!

What made this really successful for me was being set up as a “co-teacher” in the classroom. What that means is the teacher I was collaborating with gave me access to her classroom (on my own account) and made a music folder for each student and the class. Throughout the year I posted individual videos of students solo singing (while I was assessing), and whole class videos of performances and super fun games we were playing. The kids loved it, and the parents really enjoyed having a look into the music classroom—something they don’t get to do very often!

I’m hoping to dive even deeper into Seesaw this year, and hope to have some tips and tricks coming at you soon! Overall, I think this is probably the most effective way to communicate with parents on a regular basis. They can download the app on their phones and enable notifications (if they’d like) so they are always up to date! If their students have music once or twice a week and they see posts on Seesaw on a semi-regular basis, say twice a month, what a special way for them to feel connected!


And there you have it! We’ve finally come to the end of the Sparkle & Shine Back to School Series!! (It only took me two months…) I hope that you’ve found these posts useful and that there are a few tips or tricks that are either new to you or made you think a little differently. The goal for all of us is to always be learning and making our teaching practice a little bit better for our kids! Here’s a recap of all the posts in case you missed anything:

All the freebies from this series (and more!) are in the Resource Library, so make sure you’re all signed up to be an Anacrusic Insider so you have total access!

Plan for the Whole Year at a Glance {Sparkle & Shine BTS Pt 4}

Welcome, finally, to Part IV of the Sparkle & Shine BTS Series!!

Oh my goodness, isn't this a long time coming!! WHEW! (...especially for y'all who have been in school since July. Holy guac & margs!! <---that's how the saying goes, right??)

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This post is all about how I do my overarching plan for the year. You aren't going to get a lot of finite details in this post, but you will get a lot of big picture snapshots that give a little insight on how to get your learning goals on target. Stay tuned to the very end for a giveaway you won't want to miss!!

Without further ado, here is how I set up my brain space to make some magic happen in the elementary music room throughout the year. (psst!! Even if you've been in school since July, it's not too late to think or even re-align your goals, so keep on reading!!)


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Step 1: Begin with the end in mind

“Let’s start at the very beginning… a very good place to start…” Nope, not when you’re talking about long-term planning. Sorry ‘bout your bad luck, Maria. #wahwah

The most effective thing you can do when thinking about what your learning objectives will be is to think about what you want your students leaving your classroom being able to do or talk about. Notice, both of those things are observable actions you can (*ahem* buzzword) assess. That is, you can say “oh my kids are going to learn quarter note.” That’s great, but what does that mean? What can they do with it? Can they explain it? Can they read it, write it, move it, improvise with it, and compose with it?

Are you following my breadcrumbs so far?

If you’re a rookie in the long-term objective game, start with one grade level. Kindergarten is a good place to start, because it is often the very beginning (… and Maria makes a comeback.) What do you want your students to be able to do when they leave Kindergarten? Keep a steady beat? Identify one or two sounds on a beat? Show high and low? Once you identify the goals for one grade level, you can then see how those skills will transfer later on. Say… to first grade. 

See how that works? If you’re brain works better going from Fifth or Sixth grade backwards, then do it that way. But if you’re like me, I’m much more successful going simple—>complex. (I bet your kids will be too).

Step 2: Identify & Sequence Concepts

 

Once you’ve hammered out #allthethings you want a grade level to accomplish by the time spring/summer rolls around (or your third bout of winter, depending on where you live), turn those actionable goals into units by organizing concepts. For example, if you want your kids to be able to identify one and two sounds on a beat by the end of the year, they better have lots and lots of practice with: steady beat, long & short sounds, practicing the way the words go, identifying beat versus rhythm, and some comparative work to (think faster/slower, etc).

Here’s what you do. Think about that big picture concept and say well what would they need to do right before they could do this goal. Then inch it back to right before that, and right before that, and right before that. Now you’ve made your sequence.

(If this hurts your brain a whole lot, there’s a lot of resources out there that help sequence things for you. I love Rita Klinger’s Lesson Planning in a Kodály Setting <—click to get it here. My learning targets also give you a good idea of an effective sequence <—click to get my Kindergarten set here. (…or enter the giveaway below!)

Step 3: Break it Down by Month

 

Once you have all of your concepts identified and ordered, set up a plan for the year. Now this is a flexible roadmap that will inevitably change. Because: field trips, assemblies, and all kinds of other things that you have no control over. The idea is to make some loose goals to keep yourself on track and drive you teaching purposefully.

(…well that was short and sweet. How un-Anne like 😉 )

Step 4: Choose Activities & Rep

This is my most favorite part!! After you have identified your sequence and set some timing goals, start pulling from your treasure trove of resources and identifying repertoire and activities by concept. If you’ve never done this before and are feeling super overwhelmed, check out the Holy Names Folk Song Collection <—click it, you know you want to! This is a free and accessible example of how to organize materials by grade level and/or element.

Lots of other resources organize things similarly. Some of my favorites are Sail Away, 150 American Folk Songs, and An American Methodology. Once you start looking through these resources and the accompanying index within each one, you’ll get an idea of why a song is good for one concept as opposed to another. Then you can start to apply that critical eye to any resource you pick up! 

Step 5: Get Creative!!

Once you’ve figured out your overall sequence and an concept timeline, and have found repertoire that fits your sequence, it’s time to start supplementing some of your own! Use resources that you browse and buy as inspiration points to come up with your own ideas and lessons. And if something doesn’t work the first time, try try TRY again!

Of course, there are so many awesome resources out there already pre-made for you, and when you are in the classroom it is so helpful to know there are some go-to spots that you can trust are beautifully sequenced and purposeful. But you have the power and creativity to make some special lessons made to order for your students alone. None of our classrooms are one size fits all, and you know your kids the best! 😃


Now for the fun part--a GIVEAWAY!! Enter below for a chance to win a couple sets of Learning Targets, just for you!

Good Luck!! :)


When it comes to this Sparkle & Shine BTS Series, you don't wanna miss a thing!! (Oh Aerosmith...) Don't forget, there are going to be some freebies and goodies along the way as well!! Here's a peek at all the good stuff coming up:

If you want to make sure you're ahead of the game on getting any of those freebies, make sure you're signed up to be an Anacrusic Insider!! You can do it above AND enter the giveaway all at the same time. #yourewelcome :)