Saturday, March 22, 2014

Dance Energizers! Four Brain Break Movement Activities

Spring is here!  Doesn't it make you want to jump for joy and shake off those winter blahs? Here are four energizes for children -- short movement activities that can do double, and even triple duty.  They are brain breaks, they can get the heart and muscles revved up, and they can address developmental and academic benchmarks all in one fell swoop.


Materials:  Bag of found objects -- Place 8 or 10 small items that evoke movement, such as a top, a plastic grasshopper, a Koosh ball (pictured), a candle, a feather, a stretchy band, a spring, a pipe cleaner, a bouncy ball, a snow globe, etc.
Space:  This activity can be done in a large space or can be performed in place.
Concepts addressed include listening to and following directions, recognizing and incorporating different movement qualities into the body, age-appropriate motor skills, creativity, vocabulary


Pull the first object (for example, the top) out of the bag.  Ask the students, What is this?  How does it move?  Watch while it spins.  Can you move like a top?  What does the top do when it stops spinning? Can you fall on your side like the top?  Pull out the next object, discuss its properties, ask the children to move like the object, and continue through your collection.  

Found Objects

To conclude the activity, ask each child to dance like the object that was their favorite.  Or, put on some lively music, and ask the children to do a free dance using movement ideas from all of the objects.


Materials:  A musical selection, or a tambourine or drum
Space:  This activity can be done in a large space, either indoors or outside, or can be performed in place
Concepts addressed include listening to and following directions, creativity, age-appropriate motor skills, body control


The directions for this are very simple, but they can be expanded to make the activity more challenging.

Begin by asking the children to move any way they wish while the music is playing (or you are beating the tambourine or drum), but when the music stops, they must freeze.

Build on this activity by asking them to stop in different shapes:  The next time you freeze, balance on one foot!

Other suggestions include: freeze in  a twisty shape, a wide shape, a low shape, an upside down shape, a shape that has three body parts touching the floor, etc.  Finish the activity by asking the children to freeze in a silly shape while making a face.

Dance and Freeze


Materials:  Scarves or streamers of different colors; an upbeat musical selection
Space: This activity can be done in a large space or can be modified and performed in place, inside or outdoors
Concepts addressed include listening to and following directions, group interaction, creativity, age-appropriate motor skills, body control

Dance and Stop with Props

This activity is a further expansion of the previous one, Dance and Freeze.  


Each color streamer will represent a specific movement instruction.  For example:  

  • Green:  March
  • Red:  Skip (for five+ years old) or gallop 
  • Blue:  Move in slow motion
  • Yellow:  Move in the low space
  • Purple:  Flowing, turning movement

Make sure that the children understand the instructions.  If the children are very young, choose two different colors/movements, and add more if the children are ready for this challenge.  

Pass out the streamers, and play the music.  When the music stops, the children freeze.  Repeat this several times, and then on the next freeze, ask the children to trade for a different color streamer, and they will then do the appropriate movement represented by the color of their new streamer. 

Other examples of movement ideas to expand the activity:

  • Hop or jump
  • Tiptoe
  • Baby steps
  • Giant steps
  • Shake
  • Axial movement (move as if on an axis -- turn, jump, go up and down, move limbs, but stay in one spot)
  • Walk in an uneven rhythm
  • Move like a robot
  • Move like a rag doll
  • Let the children think of more ideas!


Materials:  Pom-Poms if available, music with a conga beat -- Examples: 1.  Do the Conga, TPH Productions,  Children's Party;  2.  Shakers, Debbie Clement, Debbie's Ditties 4 Come Dance S'More! (or the instrumental version, in the CD included with my book, One, Two, What Can I Do?  Dance and Music for the Whole Day)
Space: Enough space for the children to dance in a line, inside or outdoors
Concepts addressed include hearing rhythms and then translating them into movement, spatial and body awareness, motor skills, counting

Conga Line!


Teach the conga rhythm:  
The conga rhythm is four counts, with the first three being soft, and the fourth accented:  soft, soft, soft, loud . . . soft, soft, soft, loud . . . soft, soft, soft, loud.

Try it with clapping:  three claps, and then a loud accent clap.

Try it with stomping:  Three quiet stomps and then a loud one.  

Now you can play with this rhythm.  Line the children up, and have them follow you in this rhythm, as you walk:  three quiet stomps and one loud, repeating it until they feel comfortable with this rhythm.

Now try different ideas to accent the fourth beat:  a small bent-leg kick on count 4, raising one or two arms on count 4, make a face on count 4, freeze on count 4, or freeze in a funny shape on count 4.

Try the above variations with music.  

Pass out the pom-poms, and try the above ideas using this prop.

Take your conga line down the hall for a fun transition to another activity, or outside for recess!

Happy Spring, and

Keep on Dancin'!

Connie Bergstein Dow

©2014 Connie Bergstein Dow

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Part I. From "Hush, Little Baby" to Yo-Yo Ma - Using Books, Apps and YouTube Videos to Introduce Legato and Staccato

Thank you, Edith Ortigoza, for this great drawing!
Hello everyone! Ms. Brigid here, from Merit School of Music  in Chicago, IL. Though there is still snow in the ground in the Chicago area (will it ever melt?), spring is coming. Days are longer, and classroom energy is surging.

Spring also brings a heightened sense of time. In the autumn, the year stretches out forever. Everything is possible and doable. Suddenly, there are only a dozen more class sessions until the year’s end, and every moment, song or activity has to do double-duty!

Children delight in comparatives, and music educators constantly employ them as departure points. Susan Salidor, all around musical treasure and fellow Children’s Music Network member, rightly states, “…Early childhood music is all about high and low, fast and slow, and soft and loud.”

My kiddos are experts in the first two concepts, and have just finished internalizing the last –  piano (soft) and forte (loud).

 The youngest three year olds in class can tell anyone who cares to ask that these words are in “Italian, the language of music!” Students are able to sing and play instruments and f, and expressively move to and (usually) identify a sound or piece of music as either forte or piano. It’s definitely time to move on to legato (smooth and connected) and staccato (short and separate).  Are you ready?  Grab your iPad and let’s go!

Part II - Tune in on April 18 to learn how to make flashcards on the iPad!

Please note: An iPad is not necessary for these activities – but it helps! The ease and flow of ideas presented below is made more possible by the use of an iPad. This amazing device switches from a music player to a whiteboard to a picture card/flashcard creator to an instruments of the orchestra app. Accessed YouTube videos are extraordinary portals to musical and cultural literacy. Louis Armstrong singing It’s a Wonderful World? Dave Brubeck playing Take Five? Pete Seeger whistling and singing Build a Road of Peace while playing his banjo? Done! Whatever you dream or want to present, you (probably) can through YouTube videos or apps!

Prepare – Present – Practice! 

Explore lullabies. Ask children if they know what a lullaby is, and if anyone has ever sung a lullaby to them.  This is an opportunity for many wonderful stories to be shared by your children and /or families.
Discuss how to sing a lullaby. Do we sing a lullaby piano (soft) or forte (loud)?
Compare and contrast. What would happen if you sung a lullaby forte (loudly)? Try it out. This connects with previous learning – and is also great fun!
Introduce Hush Little Baby. Since this is the most well known American lullaby (!), many of the children and adults in the classroom have some familiarity and will sing right away.
If that mockingbird don't sing, Papa's going to buy you a diamond ring.
If that diamond ring turns brass, Papa's going to buy you a looking glass...

I start by asking everyone to echo my singing line by line. As soon as the class is familiar with the song’s pattern, I default to rhythmically speaking, or chanting, the next phrase. This cues the rhyme, then we all sing the verse together. Teaching tip: Gently rock side to side to establish the beat while singing the song.
Sing the song with a songbook. Marla Frazee’s version is recommended.
Illustrations ©1999 by Marla Frazee
·      Sing the book to the children. Model singing in a legato style. 
·      Ask students, What did you notice about my voice when I was singing?
·      Tell children, When notes are smooth and connected, it is called legato.  On sheet music, legato looks like a black arc or rainbow. Ask students to make one with their hands. NOTE: Depending on your class, include or omit information about sheet music.
·      Ask children to echo the first few pages of Hush, Little Baby, singing legato.
·      Tell students you’re going to sing another way, with notes that are short and separate. Model singing the next page staccato.  Ask children to echo a few pages singing staccato. Tell children, When notes are short and separate, it is called staccato. Staccato looks like a little dot underneath a note. Ask students to make staccato dots in the air with their hands.
·      Ask children what language staccato/legato is in. (Italian, the language of music!)
·      Discuss with children, “Which way do you think the book should be sung?  Which way do you like it better?”
·      Sing the song, drawing legato rainbows in the air for each phrase.

Relish the book illustrations.  
Illustrations ©1999 by Marla Frazee
Slowly look at the first few pages of the book, and ask the children what is happening in the illustrations. For many of the children, it’s a familiar story: There's a new baby in the house, and the parents are paying more attention to the baby than to the big sister. Big sister gets mad, and rocks the cradle roughly.  The baby wakes up, and starts crying - not stopping until the end of the book!
Teaching tip: I live in Illinois, and tell the children that a hundred years ago, many people in our state lived in log cabins. Illustrations are richly detailed, enough so, that compare/contrast opportunities abound. Another bonus: Text is written in a large, clear font on the bottom of the pages.

Explore vocabulary. The song lyrics are full of interesting vocabulary. What is a looking glass* and why should a ring turn brass?  Is your dog named Rover? Does a mocking bird live in our parks and wild areas? Not in Chicago! Though the book's illustrations provide useful visual cues, I’ve found that picture cards can further strengthen understanding. I now make them for all the rhyming words in the song. *NOTE: Magnifiers are commonly present in early childhood classroom, and children often say a looking glass is a magnifier.

   Hush, little baby, don't say a ...                                                                   Papa' s gonna buy you a ...
Part II -  Tune in April 18 to learn how to make picture cards on the iPad!

Since I see my classes only once a week, concepts are explored and reinforced over multiple sessions.  Once my students are comfortable with singing Hush Little Baby, we listen to other versions of the song, both vocal and instrumental, to encourage dialogue and provide exposure to different styles, sounds and artists. How many recordings do we listen to each session?  Just a few, so our listening stays focused, then we  compare/contrast each one to the way we sing the song in class.

Questions for guided listening: What instruments did you hear? 
Was anyone singing? 
Who? (Woman, man, child, group) Was the music fast or slow? 
How did it make you feel?
What kind of brain pictures did you get?

Favorites comparative listening examples for Hush Little Baby: *
*CD titles are linked to sites where you can listen to song excerpts.

1) Michael Silverman – piano                                             Canon in D
2) Doug Walker – steel drums                                          CaribbeanKids Collection, V.1
3) Marcy Marxer –voice & guitar, minor                      Jump Children
4) Karen Banks-Lubicz – voice & guitar, minor         Karen for Kids  
5) Karen Banks-Lubicz – voice & guitar, major         Wiggleworms Love You-
6) CD and Book – Children’s Choir                                  Sing Through the Day
7) Kathy Reid Naiman – voice & guitar, major          Zoom Zoom Cuddle and Croon
8) Hush Little Baby – strings, voice.                                Hush
            Yo-Yo Ma & Bobby McFerrin

Would You Like to Meet Yo-Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin?
I save the Yo-Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin recording (#8) for last.  After playing an excerpt, I ask, “Would you like to meet the musicians you’re listening to?” “Yes!” is always the answer, and YouTube and the Watchlater app make it happen.

WatchLater  is a video player and downloader, useful when Internet connectivity is an issue. Even if you have Wi-Fi and YouTube access at your school, this is a timesaver.  No more searching or fussing with ads and download times! The video is always at your fingertips, ready to play.

Getting starting: Download Watchlater, or a similar video-downloading appWatchlater requires that you create an account and password.
1.    Open the app. Press on “+ Add Video.”
2.   In the search bubble, type what you’re looking for. Inserting the URL also works.
3.   A video thumbnail appears, with an arrow bubble pointing downwards.
4.   Press the arrow bubble. The video will start downloading.
5.   When the video has completed downloading, a “√” will appear in the bubble, and the word “saved” will appear underneath.

6.   Notice the pencil symbol at the top. 
7.   When it is selected, a small circle appears next to each saved video.
8.   Select videos to delete, move or share. 
     9.  Voila! Yo-Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin!

Meet the Orchestra 
The musical collaboration between Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo Ma invariably delights my students, and class discussion leads naturally to questions about the instruments played, in this case, the String Family of the Orchestra. Of course, there's an app for that, and it will be the first thing we look at in Part II!  

Join me on April 18 for Part II - Staccato & Legato. An American play party game, St. Saens, and a magnificent orchestra app will be part of the fun.  Until then, happy singing!

And in the did I use the iPads in the activities and blog creation, anyhow?  
Created flashcards and picture cards, music player for listening comparatives, whiteboard demonstration - legato and staccato, YouTube video download via the Watchlater app, Screenshots of CD covers and app icons, and more!
I am continually inspired by the Children’s Music Network (CMN) community. an international group of socially conscious musicians, educators, librarians, families, songwriters and good people, who “celebrate the positive power of music in the lives of children by sharing songs, exchanging ideas, and creating community.” Please visit CMN, and find a gathering in your region. 

©2014 Brigid Finucane  * 847-213-0713 *

Sunday, March 16, 2014

SINGING SOLO's: "No More Pie!"

“Would you like to sing a solo?”  Many adults might find the very thought of singing by themselves in front of a group terrifying.  Most children, given proper preparation and support, say “YES! Bring it on!”

    Miss Carole Stephens here of Macaroni Soup! Active Music for Active Learners!  You don’t have to be a music teacher to try solo singing with 4’s and K’s.  You do need to be able to keep a rhythm and maintain pitch. 
     Good!  You’re still with me!  The benefits of learning to sing solo at a young age are many:
  • Independence from others
  • Confidence building
  • Taking turns
  • Active listening
  • Accurate pitch reproduction
  • And in this particular song, rhyming 

Let’s get started!  First, learn the song, “No More Pie!”  There are many versions of it on the internet – just google it or go to YouTube.  For clear pitches, click here.  To see it in “performance”, with less clear pitches, click here,  The song is very repetitive - not a lot to learn!
I suggest not teaching motions, at least until the children are very clear with the pitches.  It muddies the water.

For the first go, have your whole group echo back each line:
Teacher:  Oh my!            Class:  Oh my!
Teacher:  No more pie!   Class:  No more pie!
 Continue through the rest of the song:
Pie’s too sweet
I want a piece of meat
Meat’s too red.
I want a piece of bread.
Bread’s too brown.
I think I’ll go to town.
Town’s too far.
I think I’ll take a car.
Car won’t go.
I fell and stubbed my toe.
Toe gives me pain.
I think I’ll take a train.
Train had a wreck.
I fell and hurt my neck.
Oh my!
No more pie!

I use either a toy microphone or a pointer/wand to indicate to the children when it is their turn to sing.  This step is important.  It sets the routine for the next time: solo singing!

    I usually demonstrate by having a teacher echo me the first time we do solo’s.  Then I continue around the circle, allowing each child to have a turn singing a line back to me.  Look at the body language on the child  at left – waiting his turn!  He doesn’t want to miss a thing!  And those expectant faces as they listen to their peers singing – yes!
    What could go wrong?  Occasionally a child hasn’t listened to the line they will sing back to me.  So I sing it to them again!  What about the shy child who shakes their head “no” when you point the mic to them?  Move on to the next child!  This isn’t about embarrassing or making a child uncomfortable. It seldom happens that a child does not sing something back.  Be sure to offer the opportunity to the child the next time you do this activity – they may have just needed to see how it’s done and have time to gain confidence.

     I printed out a lyric sheet (cheat sheet) from Cos Cob School of Music:  It is excellent – and the pict-o-grams give the children the opportunity to “read” the lyrics after they’ve sung them!
    My classes enjoyed singing solo’s so much last month that they asked to sing “No More Pie” when we had parents visit music class!  My students surprised me – EVERY child sang their solo line!  There were some mighty surprised parents, too!
    Other songs that make fun solo opportunities:  “My Aunt Came Back” and “Down By the Bay!”  Do you have others – please share!  
     Let's Sing Through Spring!

Yours for a Song!
Miss Carole

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