Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Puppet Placement

Happy Spring! Our school year has been crazy! We had several weeks of illnesses - so bad that they considered closing our building and cleaning it. Then, we had several snow storms in a row. We didn't miss that many full days as much as we had late starts. When the snow melted, massive flooding occurred. Our area was able to absorb most of the water but other parts of Iowa and Nebraska were not so lucky. Many places (including our schools) have begun donating items, money and volunteering to help these people put their life back together. #NebraskaStrong

But, spring has given me some more time to share ideas and thoughts as we finish one year (and start thinking about another). Today I'm going to share with you my organization for various puppets. 

I love puppets so much! You can read about some of the puppets in my room here: Puppets - A Newfound Love.

For my soft, plush puppets, I use a shoe rack. I found this pretty durable one on Amazon. It's not exactly the straightest one, but my custodian was able to tighten it up for me. I've organized mine a little differently to evenly distribute the weight. 


I place the puppets on the different hooks using the gap where you would place your hand to use each one. It's even able to prop up my smallest finger puppets, like the seal and bird. 

My favorite collection of puppets, though, are the ones on a stick. Education Insights makes these wonderful plastic puppets on a stick, giving you two different ways to use them. I especially love these because you can easily clean them! This is so important with all the germs going around. I would even clean them when we didn't use just to be safe. You can push down the thumb lever or pull the ball at the base of the puppet. 

They've released different sets in the past few years, but I currently have:
  • Monsters (Fez, Kai & Lex)
  • Rainbow Prancers (Dazzle, Twinkle & Shine)
  • Prehistoric (Buster, Crusher & Stomper)
  • Sea Squad (Bob, Chomper & Dipper)
  • Zoo Crew (Elephant, Giraffe, Lion & Monkey)

I have 35 in all - some I have duplicates of while others don't. I like to have extras so the kids do have some selection even if they're the last ones called to come up. Because of their interesting shape, I struggled to find something that would hold all of them, not take up much room and also be easily accessible for my students. Then, I struck gold! 
Walmart was clearing out the last of their "back-to-school" items and had these wonderful storage crates for $2! I bought one and brought it to my classroom - they were perfect! Thankfully, I was able to snatch up a few more for my puppets and general storage. The bright colors were also a big bonus. The puppet is able to slip through a hole at the top and dangle inside the crate. Since some of the heads are large or irregular, I space them out a bit and try to sort them. I actually have a student that comes to my room and sorts them regularly as a calming activity. She never sorts them the same way, but it a place for her to come and find comfort in a unique sensory situation. 

I hope this gives you some new ideas on what to do with those puppets. Do you have another way to store them? Share below!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Tuneful & Trendy: Maternity Styling Tips

Fashion is hard as an elementary music teacher. We are up dancing, moving around instruments or sitting on the floor for a circle game and so much more. My skinny jeans and high heels WILL NOT cut it.

Now, add being pregnant into that mix. Every day is a new adventure.

WARNING: I'm about to be honest and candid throughout the rest of this blog post. I was extremely sick during my entire pregnancy. I ended losing 30 pounds. It was scary but Harper was safe, sound and growing beautifully the whole time. Each day, I'd open up my closet and decide what is going to be comfortable, appropriate and not too precious enough to get thrown-up on. It stunk. Some days I was so hot in my room (with two fans), that I wore a tank top during my breaks. Most days I was proud of my bump, but on self-conscious days I wanted to cover up. 
So, how do you go about having a wardrobe as a pregnant elementary music teacher without breaking the bank? Well, first I took note of what I already had that would work well as my belly grew (stretch, empire waist, flowy fabric, etc.). Here's what I came up with from my closet:
  • leggings, leggings and more leggings
  • palazzos pants (flowy and stretchy)
  • empire-waist, wrap or maxi dresses
  • cardigans & kimonos

I LIVED in black leggings, solid tops and kimonos or cardigans. Chiffon kimonos provided coverage if I needed it, but also draped nicely with my bump. I swapped those for cardigans as it got colder. Sometimes I did a solid, but more often I chose a patterned one for a little more fun with my look.

Now, what if I have a dress or top that makes me look like a big blob? I'm feeling confident and want to show off my bump. What can I do?
Add a belt! It will create more definition for your bump and help make those unflattering dresses a little more appealing. You might already use belts to create an empire waist with some outfits. I didn't previously, so I grabbed some skinny belts from the clearance section of Torrid for $3. It also helped to dress up a regular outfit for Conferences, church or a program. 

Many people love maternity stores while others hate shelling out money for something you'd only wear for 9 months. I recognize and utilized both ideas. There are some key staples that I purchased from the maternity section that really made my life easier and my bump happier. 
  • maternity belly band
  • band insert denim
  • graphic t's

Since I lost so much weight, my bump wasn't exactly "noticeable" for a long time. The belly bands I purchased helped round and support by bump, but also showcased it a bit more. I also purchased some denim capris and jeans with the support built-in. I couldn't make the denim I already have work with all the "tricks" out there, so I just splurged (and was much happier!). 

Finally, I got some graphic tees as holidays approached. These were a few of my favorites:

We didn't get maternity photos done because my pregnancy was all over the place and we weren't sure when Harper would arrive. One of the last photos I got was in front of Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. I had a basic, long black tunic and leggings. For Christmas Eve services, I added a red lace kimono from LuLaRoe. 

Two weeks later, our miracle arrived. She is everything good, pure and happy in this world. I'm the luckiest mommy in the world.

Before I end this post, I know I didn't talk about shoes. Footwear is such a unique situation and preference for each person. What works for you might not work for another expecting momma. Or, your feet might change as pregnancy progresses and then stay that way. Personally, I wore flip flops most of my pregnancy - yes, even in the winter.

Many of these items (maternity or not) work well for the postpartum phase as well. I had a C-section followed by a gallbladder removal at 2 months PP. Because of these, I had to be very careful about stitches, healing and the placement of waist lines. My kimonos, cardigans and leggings were really helpful and comfortable. 

My biggest piece of advice is find something that makes you feel comfortable and beautiful. You are bringing a life into this world. There may be days when you aren't glowing and that's okay. Don't feel like you have to squeeze yourself into a cocktail dress or wear stilettos. Breathe. You will rock it, momma, no matter what you wear!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Elementary Music Programs 17/18

Time to share my programs from the previous year! With my pregnancy, they were not my best showings or preparations. But, the kids had fun! 

Don't forget to check out my programs from previous years. You can search for them or use the sidebar. Let me know if you have any questions regarding my programs. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Be a Musical Marigold

Wow - it's been a whirlwind the last few months! My daughter is almost 8 months now and she is our world 💗 However, it's time for a new school year! I have been anxious about this school year for several reasons:
  1. Not pregnant
  2. Only 1 building again
  3. Setting expectations
  4. Meeting expectations
  5. Being innovative

Basically, I had a rough year being pregnant, trying to be in two buildings and maintaining my best teacher-self. This year I want to remind everyone why I'm a music teacher and how music can positively impact people. At the same time, I am hoping to bring some new ideas into my classroom while preserving those tried-and-true, core lessons. Above all, I want to have more joy in teaching.


Wait - you're a teacher....shouldn't you be joyful and love what you do every day?
I wish this were the case for myself and all the other teachers out there but it isn't true. I struggled during and after my pregnancy. I wasn't my best self. I clung to several friends, family and teachers who could answer my questions, be an outlet and just understood what was happening. 

When we started professional development sessions, I was immediately touched by the idea of marigolds and walnut trees.


Uhhh - what does this have to do with teaching?
Read this article. DO IT NOW! Don't skim. Truly take a few minutes and digest the goodness of this article. 

Did you read it? If not, scroll up and click. This is the most relevant, powerful and unique article I may have ever read. For those of you who didn't read it (shame on you!), here's the gist of it:
  • Marigolds help other plants thrive
  • Marigold teachers in your career will help you be successful
  • Walnut trees take from others and drag plants down
  • Everyone knows a few "walnut tree" teachers who are always negative
  • This can also be applied to family, friends AND students
  • If you're negative or convene with those that are, your teaching and life is affected. If you find your marigolds, they will lift you up, provide support and make you a better teacher

Now, this is nothing compared to the article. It was written by Jennifer Gonzalez from Cult of Pedagogy. She originally wrote it for beginning teachers, but it can be applied to anyone. These were truly the words I needed to hear to put my feelings and thoughts into an idea. Not only am I going to work to be a marigold this year, but specifically a musical marigold. Music has the power to touch people and I want to use it to support and celebrate my fellow teachers and students. 
My classroom environment is joyful. My students are joyful music makers. I haven't been joyful - until now. 

I challenge you to find a marigold in your life. I also challenge you to be a musical marigold and use music as a tool to raise others up. You might even start to change a negative walnut tree into something beautiful. 

Here's to a new school year - which one will you be?

Thursday, January 18, 2018


She's here!

Harper Louise Skog made her debut on Saturday, January 6th. There are not enough words for how much we love this little bundle. 

I'm on maternity leave until February, but momlife is no joke! In time, I'll definitely get back to blogging, being active on social media and creating more products.

Thank you for understanding the hiatus as my husband and I embark on this amazing new step in our lives!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Dear Santa...Five music books you'll want to find under the tree!

Hope you are all having a joyous holiday season!

Today I'm sharing five books with you that I think are wonderful for Christmas lists! How many of us ask for supplies for our classroom for the holidays or end up using gift cards/money to purchase things? I know my husband just shakes his head at me occasionally for it. However, we just want to bring the best musical experience to our students - even at our own expense, sometimes.

I've included a nice variety of books and how I utilize them in my classroom. Each is linked to Amazon, but please contact me if you have difficulty locating the book. 

The Story Orchestra - Four Seasons in One Day
listening, composers, music appreciation, mood
My students LOVE this book! It takes the reader through Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" with beautiful illustrations and sound samples. Each page has a short musical example to press. More information, vocabulary and all of the sounds are on the back, too. If this book interests you, definitely check out her other story The Nutcracker for your lessons next year. It's wonderful for all ages!

It's a Small World
singing, diversity, popular music/appreciation
I love books that include CDs. They are great for days when my singing voice is off, a substitute or when you want students to hear a different singing voice. But, it's always a fun time when you and the kids sing it! Aside from that, this timeless song is a great bridge for families AND it promotes diversity. Our building does a huge Culture Week in the spring and this will definitely be brought out to introduce different countries, traditions and more. 

Tap the Magic Tree
fingerplays, sensory, drumming
This book is wonderful for so many reasons! It is interactive so readers can do fingerplays with it as a large group or at a center. Personally, I like to use it with beginning drumming. Throughout the book I have my students participate on their drum (tap, whoosh, plop, etc.) to make the tree change. For example, here's one of the beginning pages:

I would have the students tap four times (steady beat) on the top of their drum. You can incorporate lots of different drumming techniques and teach appropriate playing with a relaxing story. It's a great sensory activity for my adaptive classes as well. I usually put on some calming yoga music as we read the story and drum together. 

Ada's Violin
orchestra, diversity/cultures, STOMP/found sounds, music appreciation
This is a relatively new story, but it's already a hit. It tells the story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay - a group of children that created instruments from recycled trash. I like to use it with my older kids to bridge them from learning about the orchestra to a STOMP unit. It also includes wonderful information, pictures and additional resources at the end. There are so many ways you could bring this into your classroom and it will definitely stay with the kids!

Tangled - It's Better When You Sing It
singing, steady beat, vocabulary, vocal exploration 
I discovered this new series at my local music store. Hal Leonard has put together stories (with Disney characters) that bring music to families with young children. However, they are great for my Pre-K and Kindergarten classes! I'll be using this one in January to help us remember the comparitives we talked about earlier in the year and get our singing voices working again. It has a fun song as well as online interactive activities for extension. Two other books are now in the series as well - Mickey's Found Sounds and Moana: The Beat of Your Heart. I can't wait to share these with our baby in a few years, too. 

Here's a story for you! We focus so much on our students and lessons that we tend to forget about ourselves. Take time this break to rest and rejuvenate! I definitely recommend this book to remind you about the good, the bad and the downright silly times you've had as a teacher! It is honest but REAL. 

I hope you have a wonderful holiday and break. Our beautiful baby should be arriving in the next few weeks. What a whirlwind of a January it will be. Until later - take care!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Success & Joy in the Adaptive Music Classroom

Happy October! I hope your year is off to a wonderful start - can you believe it's fall already???

Today I'd like to share about a topic near and dear to my heart - adaptive music classes. My nephew is non-verbal, autistic and struggles heavily with behaviors. I've seen first hand the power that music has for everyone, but especially these unique students. Educators around the country are also beginning to see the benefits that music has for students. Because of this, more and more music teachers are being asked to teach "adaptive" or "contained" small group classes. Many are thrust into this situation without any prior knowledge or even a clue of what to do. 

Two years ago, I was placed in this exact situation. I discovered that I would be teaching a Severe & Profound group twice every cycle in addition to their regular music time. I'd been to classes with my nephew and worked with him while I was in college. However, each student is special and learns in their own way, no matter their abilities. 

For the rest of this blog post, I'd like to share with you what has worked in my classroom with a variety of students. Every day is different - never forget that! You will have ups and down, triumphs and stepping stones. These students have truly become my favorites and I look forward to their classes each cycle. I hope that you will also find success and joy with these classes because I know they find joy in the music you are making!

What does "adaptive" mean?
Adaptive classes can take on many names, faces and descriptions. The word "adaptive" just means that you are making changes or adjustments so the students can be successful in their learning. You want your goals and lessons to be accessible for each student in their own way.

What might a classroom of these students look like?
A class like this can differ from building to building and even year to year! The students may be in wheelchairs, unable to speak or need help with general movement. Some could be struggling with regulating themselves emotionally. Others might be learning how to recognize and cope with a certain behavior. Many times these students will come with a group or individual aide who knows their situation and can better assist you in planning or making changes. They may or may not participate, but are there to guide the student. 

What things can you do with these students?
As each student is different, they will naturally gravitate toward something musical that excites them. Many of my students love movement, whether we do a simple dance or just wave scarves. Some love to play on a drum. In time, you will learn more about your class and some of their likes/dislikes. 

What are some things you can do to be successful with these students?
First of all, get to know your kids! Many people keep notes to remember what the student struggles with or if they have a specific classroom goal they are working towards. Talk to the special education teacher, school therapist/guidance counselor and their aides. I once had a student that had a very traumatic experience with balloons. I immediately scratched off all the lesson ideas I had with balloons because I wanted to make that student comfortable and happy in music. Maybe the whole group is working on their ABC's in the special education room. This is a great way for you to help while also working on a musical goal like singing together. Second, routine is huge! Below, I will share with you the routine I have established in my classroom. It took many weeks, but the students are happier and know what to expect. It also helps teach them patience and understanding because they know we will play the drums at some point. Finally, don't be afraid to adapt as a teacher. You might have a stellar lesson that worked previously, but it's been a long week and the kids have had it! Don't be discouraged! Maybe give them a choice between two things or let them pick a favorite song. Take some calming time or a sensory activity. Some days will go perfectly and other times you just have to work with it. Don't let this turn you away from music, teaching or these awesome kids. Tomorrow is a whole new day!

So, what does a day in music class with this group look like for me? I've found that this routine works well for my students because it provides them with multiple musical activities while also practicing concepts that I want them to experience:

  • beginning activity
  • vocal exploration
  • steady beat
  • game/sensory/literature
  • simple songs
  • creative movement
  • classroom percussion exploration
  • calming/cool down

Below, I will detail each category and share some of my activities that have worked well with my students. Many of the songs and activities I use come from Listen & Learn Music, Laurie Berkner, Miss Carole, Hap Palmer and assorted other places. If you have a specific question, please email me and I'd be happy to help you!

Please understand that your students are so unique and may not enjoy or be able to participate in any of the above categories. This is simply what is successful in my classroom after several weeks of getting to know my students. My aides are great fun and are always happy to participate with the students. This makes things like games and dances easier because each student has a helpful partner. As always, do what is best for your students, classroom, building, district and self. 

I use a short beginning activity to get everyone into the room and settled in. Many times it takes these students a bit longer to get to the classroom and I don't want them to miss any of the music making so this is a way for them to get stretched, focus and ready to start class.
  • stretchy band (Listen & Learn Music)
  • parachute (Shakin' the Chute)
  • bean bags (Bean Bag Boogie, Bean Bag Fun, Bean Bag Beatbox)
  • Brain Bop
  • GoNoodle/Just Dance

Vocal exploration is so important for these students! We work to hear all the parts of the voice, regardless of the ability to form words. I have an interactive whiteboard in my classroom, so it is always a treat when the kids get to come up and draw their own pathway on the board.

  • TeachersPayTeachers
  • John Feierabend vocal exploration cards
  • slide whistle
  • Hoberman Sphere
  • pipe cleaners

Steady beat is so important for all grade levels, so this is something we do every class period. Normally, we use body percussion or instruments but we also move around the room occasionally.

  • body percussion - simple activities from Elementary Etudes
  • beat buddies
  • Music Express (The Beat is the Heart of Music & Steady Eddie)
  • John Feierabend's Keeping the Beat
  • movement (Movin' to the Beat from Music K8 or The Ants Go Marching)

This is the part of the lesson that can differ daily. I try to rotate them unless it's "student request day." Sometimes we play a simple game where the students are working on taking turns or understanding that they are out. Other times they do an activity with a partner. There are lots of things that can fit here - email me if you'd like more information!

  • iPad apps (Singing Fingers, Monkey Drum or GarageBand)
  • Tap It Here (Musicplay) or Charlie Over the Ocean
  • Great Big Ball (Miss Carole) - this one is HUGE with my kids!
  • Music Mega Blocks - create combinations of ta/titi
  • Hot Potato

This category can be filled with any type of singing you want. At the beginning of the year, we do a lot of echo singing and vocal exploration before diving into full songs. I do use this time to practice program songs if the students want to share with the others. We also combine classroom learning, such as the ABC's, counting and family/community awareness.

  • folk songs and/or nursery rhymes
  • program songs
  • Friends & Family (Hal Leonard)
  • Alphabet Action Songs (Musicplay)
  • echo songs (Oh, In the Woods, Green Grass Grew All Around, Walking in the Jungle)

This is where many of my students shine - they love to move to music! We do simple dances, actions or just free movement with props like scarves and ribbons. Freeze dance is always a hit, too, because they get to hear their favorite tunes.

  • scarves & ribbons (Listen & Learn Music)
  • Parachutes and Ribbons and Scarves, Oh My (Artie Almeida)
  • literature with actions (My Aunt Came Back, Animal Boogie)
  • musical spots (instead of chairs)
  • freeze dance/folk dances

Next to creative movement, this is one of my students' favorite times! They love tapping, shaking, and more with instruments. Sometimes we use songs with guided directions while other times we just tap along at our own pace.

  • guided directions (Listen & Learn Music, Hap Palmer)
  • play & stop - take a song and add random moments of silence with Audacity
  • Preschool Prodigies (for boomwhackers & bells)
  • children's literature (Tap the Magic Tree, Haja, Shaggy Dog & the Terrible Itch, Pete the Cat)
  • Mallet Madness (Artie Almeida)

I've recently added this component and it's really been a hit. It's a chance for the students to rest and collect themselves before the leaving the room. I also use it if they are out of control or not listening - we immediately stop and cool down for the rest of class. I turn off all the lights and project glowing stars on the ceiling as they lay down and listen.

  • Kira Willey (Peace & Joy, Namaste, Just Be)
  • GoNoodle (Melting, Breathe series)
  • classical music (Pathetique 2nd mvt. theme, Claire de Lune, Promenade from Pictures)
  • Listen & Learn Music (Around the World We Go, I'll See You in the Morning)
  • Sleepy Bells (Music Express, seasonal)

To keep track of all these wonderful ideas, I have a spreadsheet that I constantly update. It gives the name, origin, category and any additional information I need. It will definitely come in handy for my maternity substitute in a few months! I also have a playlist for this class that has most of the music I use regularly. Finally, I have ideas saved in many different boards on Pinterest. I like to be organized and so far, this is the only way I'm able to keep everything together. If you have any questions, please email me. I would be happy to help you collect resources, talk about ideas or just share experiences with you. 

I hope these ideas give you some sort of foundation or step in the right direction for your adaptive music classes. My goal is for my students to experience the world of music, but also foster of love of it. They might never sing and show the handsigns for the entire solfege scale, but that doesn't matter to me. What matters is that they love coming into my classroom and find joy in singing, dancing and playing. One of the best moments in my career was when a student of mine with Down syndrome (normally nonverbal) sang "Let It Go" from Frozen in its entirety. She was so happy and excited for that song! Her para cried, I cried and it was truly a beautiful moment. My nephew is eased with certain sounds and projects his aggression through drumming. It is not a cure or quick fix, but any little bit helps to bring happiness to a child. I hope you have inspiring moments like these with your students - it reminds me why I do what I do. 

***Disclaimer: I am not a music therapist nor am I certified in any classes or techniques relating to music therapy. I am simply an elementary music teacher asked to teach something that I wasn't prepared for and struggled to find resources or ideas for this class and its special students. If you are interested in music therapy or are wanting more information in regards to it, please visit the website for the American Music Therapy Association. Thank you!***