Instrument Storage Ideas for an Elementary Music Classroom

When planning your classroom layout, you should consider how you will store your instruments for student use. Here I will outline some ways I store my instruments and make them accessible to my students to aid in their independence.

Small Percussion

Small percussion can sometimes be the worst to organize and keep neat throughout the school year, but I have found that keeping them in containers with lids is the best way to go.

When I put the instrument containers on my shelves, I consider the age of the students using them. I put the instruments that will be used by kindergarten most frequently lower to the ground and the instruments used by older students a bit higher on the shelf. As the year progresses, the kindergarten students will learn to get instruments off the shelf and put them away when they’re done independently.


In my classroom, I have various sizes of tubano drums, a few djembes, two pairs of bongo drums, a conga, and several hand drums. I organize the larger drums together and place the hand drums on the shelf with the other small percussion. I have a table in my classroom where I can put the larger drums on top of them and keep them off the floor. This isn’t the ideal location; however, it keeps the floor free for movement space.

Last year I used this table to store my drums.

I’m going to try this location this year (2022)

Orff Instruments and Mallets

I am fortunate to have 12 barred instruments and a menagerie of mallets in my classroom. I keep my barred instruments out all the time and use them almost every lesson. In past years I have kept the instruments in the back of my room behind the carpets my students sit on. This year I may put them off to the side of my classroom, but the only concern is that the students won’t be able to see the screen as easily. I keep the mallets on top of the instrument, ready to go. I keep all the extra mallets I use for my percussion ensemble in these small buckets I got from the Dollar Tree several years ago, and the buckets are labeled with pictures so that students know where to return them.


For several years, I have kept my ukuleles in their boxes. I have Makala brand ukuleles in my room, and they came in these nice cardboard boxes that I numbered to match my student’s numbers. The boxes are starting to age and still look pretty good, but I’m thinking this year I will hang my ukuleles using Command hooks and the storage bags that came with the ukulele. I may use my Cricut to label the bags with their numbers. If I do this, I’ll be sure to update the blog with a photo of the finished product.

Update: I decided to leave them in their boxes. The wall just wasn’t going to work. I will add a photo to the blog when I bring them out.

Instruments for Teacher Use Only

I have several instruments for only my use, including my piano, ukuleles, and various percussion instruments. I keep these instruments close to where I mostly stand in my classroom and on a separate instrument cart that the children know is for teacher use. I only let students I know take piano lessons to play on my piano as I tell them that it is a tool for teaching and not one that I have enough to share or teach them all to play.


I suggest labeling everything with pictures and words so students can return the instruments to the proper containers. I even have the labels on the shelves where the boxes belong so that my student leaders can help clean up the classroom after we finish the lesson. You can make labels as creative or simple as you would like, but make sure you label everything!

Here are some labels I’ve used:

As always –

Sing! Say! Dance! Play! Care!


Rules and Procedures for the First Week of Elementary Music

I would first like to say there is no right or wrong way to incorporate rules and procedures into your classroom. There are two camps, one, teach rules and procedures along the way while making music, two, specifically outline the rules and procedures for your students as a stand-alone lesson. I’ve been at my campus for 12 years and I know my administration, my students, and the ins and outs of our behavior systems really well, so I do a hybrid of teaching rules and procedures while doing a small stand-alone mini lesson depending on the age level of my students. Let me explain further… Kindergarteners and fifth graders are on the same level when it comes to testing boundaries. They test boundaries but for entirely different reasons, but both are searching for some autonomy and choices. For kinder and fifth, I would do more mini, stand-alone lessons on rules and procedures than the other grade levels. So here I offer how I teach rules and procedures in my elementary music classroom.

How I Teach Safety Procedures

We all have certain safety procedures that we must teach the first few weeks of school such as fire drills, duck and covers, lockdowns, etc. I always include these in our first meeting because I only see my students once a week and we run drills the first week of school. For the younger students we walk these drills and talk about what we will do in the event of any of these emergencies. For the older students, we speak briefly about what to do and I answer any questions but most of my students are returning from previous years, so we don’t walk the drills unless I feel we have a high number of new students in a specific class. I do not engage in the “what if” game. In other words, if their question begins with “what if” I do not answer it. I simply explain that we have been trained to keep their safety first and, in an emergency, we act the way we’ve practiced and if anything needs to change, they follow instructions from me the first time without discussion. If I’m worried that kindergarten won’t be able to handle the drills well, I have 2-minute videos of my teaching partner and I performing the drills and show those to them and then show them periodically throughout the first few weeks of school to remind them of safety drills. We eventually run the drills with kindergarten by week 3 or so.

How I Teach Classroom Procedures

I teach each procedure as the need arises. I do have students make music the first class, if possible, and I model each procedure and demonstrate every expectation. One unique thing about my campus is that I model this every time using CHAMPS, especially for the lower grades. CHAMPS in a PBIS strategy used to state expectations for student success. For more information on CHAMPS and PBIS go here.

When you model for students the first few times, be literal and very specific with your expectations. For the younger students (K-2) I demonstrate every specific procedure myself showing the do’s and don’ts of each procedure. For example, if it is getting instruments from the shelf, I walk the path they will walk, talking about how I’m not bothering any of the other instruments in the room, then I pick up the instrument and hold it how I want it held on the way back to their spot, finally, I place the instrument in rest position on the floor all the while making mistakes along the way to see if they’ll catch my mistakes. I try to make it fun and playful as I can, but I do model everything. Once they have their instruments I will them demonstrate how to play them and I’m very detailed with that, as well. With the older students (3-5), I can verbally remind them of expectations, and continue to teach while they get what they need.

Classroom Rules

There are many schools of thought that say the students will have more buy-in if they create their own rules. While that might be true for classroom families, I have not found that to work in the music room. Could you imagine having 24-ish sets of rules to post, remember, and enforce? So I use the music rules from MusicTeacherResources on TPT which are:

M – Make good choices

U – Use equipment properly

S – Speak when the time is right

I – Involve yourself in all activities

C – Cooperate with others

When I review CHAMPS with my students, I include their expectations on how this relates to the 5 music rules and if they fail to meet an expectation, we refer to the music rules to see which rule we need to work on.

A Few More Tips

Start each class new. Do not remind your students of how last time went, especially if it was a dumpster fire.

Don’t hold grudges. If a student struggled last time, let it go. Try not to take their behavior personally. Behavior is communication and if a lesson didn’t go well, they are trying to tell you something, so listen to the students and change something next time. Try not to say things like “remember when you did x,y, and z last time?” They don’t remember and if they do, it’s a distant memory and they’ve forgotten what their motivation was.

Build relationships with students and their classroom teachers. Show an exchange of power at the door. Make sure the students hear and see you receive and give updates on their location, well-being, behavior, goals, etc. so they can realize that you are a part of their learning community and truly are a teacher that cares.

Good luck in the new year. Take care of yourself and be kind to yourself. You will make mistakes. You will have good and bad days. Enjoy the good, learn from the bad, and all the days in between are wonderful chances to make music with kids.

Sing. Say. Dance. Play. Care.


3 Reasons Why You Need Your Students’ IEP/504 BEFORE the First Day of School

If you are new to teaching, in your first few years, you may not know that specialist, like us, are required to follow a student’s IEP or 504. If you’re in college and just learning about special education, you may not know what an IEP or a 504 is and at the end of this blog I will provide you with some resources to help you become familiar with these documents. For now, I will discuss 3 reasons why you need you students’ IEPs/504s before the first day of school

  1. It’s the Law

A teacher must be aware of a student’s IEP to ensure they are providing proper accommodations from day 1. General education teachers, assistants, and special area (music, PE, art) teachers. Some think specialists do not need to know a student’s diagnosis, academic and behavior levels, accommodations, modifications, related services, and goals, but I disagree. We need more than modifications, accommodations, and behavior plans especially if we are required to come up with our own mods and accommodations to the curriculum. Talk with your special education coordinator to see what can be shared and still maintain a students’ privacy.

2. Preferential Seating and Routines

What is preferential seating? Preferential seating is placing a students’ seat where they will be the most successful in the classroom, not always in the front and not always in the back and not always with the group. If you have a student with a visual impairment, you’ll need to know where they will be most successful in your room and that’s the same for a student with a hearing impairment. Inattentive, wiggly students may benefit from sitting away from the group or even in a special type of seat. Often the wiggly students and students with Autism and ADHD benefit from routine and you will want to establish this from week one. You will want to teach expectations about their seating and seating arrangements so that you can begin to gather appropriate data and keep notes if their seat is a successful place in the room.

3. Triggers

Students with ADHD, emotional disorders, autism, or other mood disorders may struggle with transitions. Leaving their classroom and arriving in your classroom is a big transition and the smaller transitions we have in our classrooms are triggering to some. Transitions, new students, a new teacher, the loud noises from music, any of these may trigger a meltdown or tantrum that could have been avoided. If you have a student in the midst of a meltdown and do not know how to de-escalate, or do not know the difference between a meltdown or tantrum, here are some tips to help you. Imagine if you already knew that the student would need additional support because you had their IEP/504 in advance, you could have these supports in place. You could use accommodations or try to anticipate and prevent a meltdown by minimizing triggers, providing sensory considerations (especially for sound) and establishing routines early.

Additional Tips:

*Seek out updates after annual ARDs                         
*Shred all old IEPs


*Learn to read an IEP here

*Find help for preferential seating here

Top 5 Books for Back to School

I know, I know it’s still summer, why are we talking about back to school?! We’re worse than Target! I am one of those teachers that plans during the summer so that I can relax during the year a little more. I do a lot of broad plans and tweak them throughout the year, and I’ve found that works well for me, so I won’t fix what is not broken. One of the things I plan for is the first week of school. Here are five books and their lessons that I like to use during the first week or weeks of school!

On the First Day of Kindergarten by Trish Rabe


Melody: Sung to the tune of “12 Days of Christmas”

Ukulele Chords: C, Am, F, G, D

Link to music here:


School routines and procedures for the music classroom and your campus


Creative movement to show actions within the story.


Students can keep a beat with you or sing along with you if they are comfortable. I would not add instruments on the first week(s) of school.


Self-awareness: Understanding one’s own emotions, personal goals, and values. Assessing one’s strengths and limitations, having positive mindsets, and possessing a well-grounded sense of self-efficacy and optimism.

Your Name is a Song by Jamilah Tompkins-Bigelow


Melody: Sung to the tune of “12 Days of Christmas”

Ukulele Chords: C, Am, F, G, D

Link to music here:


School routines and procedures for the music classroom and your campus


Creative movement to show actions within the story.


Students can keep a beat with you or sing along with you if they are comfortable. I would not add instruments on the first week(s) of school.


Self-awareness: Understanding one’s own emotions, personal goals, and values. Assessing one’s strengths and limitations, having positive mindsets, and possessing a well-grounded sense of self-efficacy and optimism.

What if Everybody Did That? by Ellen Javenick

My students love this version of the read aloud or you can always read the book yourself!


This lesson does not have a melodic component, but you could always compose something or play the rhythms in pentatonic using Boomwhackers or Orff Instruments if you’d like to extend the lesson to have a melodic component.          


T: Practice the rhythms of the B section

T: Practice the rhythms of the created A section

S: Improvise/create more A rhythmic sentences about things we should not do in our music classroom


You could improvise movements of the different things people should or should not do in the music classroom (example: raising hands or playing instruments without permission)


Perform: A, B, A’, B etc.

You could use hand drums, tubanos, or any non-pitched percussion instrument to perform the A and B sections.


Self-awareness: Understanding one’s own emotions, personal goals, and values. Assessing one’s strengths and limitations, having positive mindsets, and possessing a well-grounded sense of self-efficacy and optimism.

My Mouth is a Volcano by Julia Cook

This one is a classic book used in classrooms for quite some time now. I know my classroom teacher friends still use it on occasion, but I usually beat them to it!


T: Sing the melody

S: Echo sing, keeping the BX ostinato in their lap. Younger students can just sing the song throughout the text and the teacher plays the BX part and you can leave out the frame (hand) drum part.

Add the frame (hand) drum part to the melody


Speak the frame (hand) drum part as a rhythmic ostinato


You could add movement to this piece by emphasizing the words “rumble”, “grumble”, “wiggle”, and “jiggle”.


The orchestration can be adapted for all ages. The younger students will have fun singing the song and possibly adding the drum part depending on their strengths. The older students will like the challenge of putting all three parts together, four, if you added movement.


Self-management: The ability to empathize, delay gratification, control impulses, and demonstrate perseverance

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman

There is an outstanding lesson plan on by Daniel Hershman-Rossi.


Sing (text to adapated from Music For Children Volume 1. p. 91 #5 )

melody throughout reading the book aloud. This is a quick way to introduce the melody.


You can speak the text to the song to help students learn the words, especially any ELLs you may have.


This melody is so beautiful you could have children improvise movement to show the phrases.


The arrangement is easily adapted to various grade levels and instrumentations.


Social awareness: The ability to understand, empathize, and feel compassion for those with different backgrounds or cultures.

I hope you try one or more of these books in your classroom at the beginning of the year and have great success with them! Happy planning!

Sing. Say. Dance. Play. Care.


3 Positive Primers for Elementary Music Classrooms

What are positive primers? A positive primer is anything that primes the brain to accelerate processing and the opposite is a negative primer or slowing the brain down. If I give you something to ready your brain for the response I’m looking for, I’ve primed your brain or accelerated its thought processes toward the memory I would like recalled. If I give you a positive primer and accelerate happiness, I can stimulate higher brain functioning. Today I would like to provide you with 3 positive primers for use in the elementary music classroom.

1. Greet Your Students at the Door

Your students need to see the exchange of power from classroom teacher to music teacher. In my classroom, I ask the teachers for attendance, mainly for student safety, but I like to know who is absent, in the nurse, at the counselor or what have you. It opens other conversations with classroom teachers such as “Johnny is in the counselor right now” becomes “Is Johnny alright, is there anything going on that I need to know about to help support Johnny while he’s in my classroom?”

While the children are entering the door, greet them with words or a safe, gentle touch. You may be the only grown up that gives that baby a hug that day, a handshake, a fist bump, whatever works for you, but greet your students as they walk in. Make it part of your routine, establish it very early on, and make sure the classroom teachers understand that this is part of your routine, and you are not going to make any changes to that, even if they are in a rush.

2. Transitions

Transitions happen so often in the music room and what better time to build relationships with our students. You can make them musical, silent, or a time to have a quick chat with your kids. You can absolutely use transitions as a brain break if your students are a little squirrelly. When you choose your brain breaks, make sure you are reading the room. Go Noodle is great, but make sure you are choosing the correct activity to meet your students’ needs. There are brain breaks that are escalating and will build positive energy and emotions into your lesson. If your students aren’t feeling it that day, and they are a bit low energy, you can try clapping games, yoga pretzels, racing games, movement activities, just have a dance party! Maybe your students are hyped up and have been cooped up on a rainy day and you need to bring them down, you can try a de-escalating break like mirror movements, quiet music, breathing exercises, and other calm movements to build in calm emotions, contentment, serenity, safety and focus for your students.

3. Independent/Whole Group Time

During whole group lessons, encourage your students to be mindful of their accomplishments and successful moments. Have your students perform for one another and share about what went well during the performance or what could be changed to improve their performance. Give them a script to try to follow or a sentence stem, such as, I enjoyed _____ during your performance because you did _____ and _____ well. Or I think _____ went well however it could be better if you changed _______. This will encourage positive dialogue, priming the students to make musical decision when creating music, and to accept criticism in a positive light.

When a student performs independently, whether is a small solo singing or they’re brave to share their compositions, praise them! Prime the experience with positive affirmations and a growth mindset and you’ll discover students are suddenly excited to perform and play music!

However you get your students ready to learn, positive primers are a great way to increase student engagement, stimulate brain functioning and get your students loving music class!

Sing, Say, Dance, Play, Care


Resilience: Will We Survive This Year?

I know this year is hard. I’ve been in education for 16 years and have seen and heard a lot of education policy come and go. This year is no different, except that it is. The difference here is that we are literally trying to survive a virus that is raging all around us while being asked to move mountains with children. I know at my campus we’ve been asked to implement a few new things and with every step I feel the same way, “how am I supposed to survive until the end of the year, both literally and figuratively?” I hope this post can shed some hope and maybe help you feel some sense of peace for our future. Here I offer five ways to increase student resiliency and in turn, help your own resilience.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from stress, adversity, failure, challenges, and trauma. When students are resilient, they take healthy risks, do not fear falling short, are curious, brave, and trust their instincts. Resilient students know their limits, push themselves, set and reach long-term goals, and can solve problems independently. So how do we go about promoting student resiliency?

Classroom Routines

When you create a positive physical space for students, you promote calmness and positivity. When you give the students brain breaks, predictable greetings, transitions, and independent work time, they can rely on the routine to help face adversity. In your routines, allow for time to focus on character strengths to teach children how to identify, recognize, practice, and use those strengths. Foster a place where mistakes are not only welcomed but embraced as part of learning. When your classroom culture reflects diversity, encouragement is the norm, and student input is valued, students in your class will be more likely to take risks and accept failures.


The first step to resilience is acceptance. You need to accept and validate their emotions, allow them to feel and work through their emotions in a healthy way, and always let them know you are there to help. Do not tell a student to stop doing XYZ when they are expressing emotions. If a student is crying, for whatever reason, validate their emotions, acknowledge their feelings, and help them understand that crying and feeling what they feel is okay, and let them know you are ready to listen when they are ready to talk. I am not a person that allows students to cry at the same level for every issue they encounter. I try to incorporate a learning opportunity of the severity of the situation versus their reaction. We react this way when someone hurts me but when I do not get the color I want, crying is alright, but we do not need to explode and become angry or violent.

Product Over Process

Do not emphasize product over process, especially in the elementary music room. We want students to explore, create, and learn music within the confines of what is right, sure. However, when we “teach to the test” as they say, we ruin that process. When we stress over the final product, the performance, this takes away from the learning process from which the students are learning all their vital musical skills. You do need to of course measure right from wrong, teach correct technique, but also allow students to try again without negative consequences. Let the process be a place of creative thinking and trial and error, not a time to perfect and polish a performance. During the learning process when a student is frustrated, turn their I can’t statement into a resilient statement such as, I’m tired and need a break or I have solved this problem before and I can do it again. Teachable moments happen all the time during music class or ensemble rehearsals. We can use those moments to talk about resilience and how we can not only improve has musicians, but as humans. When we do this, we show that resilience is not the stamina it takes do hang in there and learn a difficult concept, rather a process we go through to affect the outcome.

Be an Example of Resiliency

Show students that you make mistakes and can find another path.  When you tell students what and how you’re feeling and how you’re overcoming your stressors, it helps them decipher their feelings and manage their stressors. Students need to know that we understand them because we also go through hard times. Even now, during the pandemic, we can demonstrate resilience. We don’t have all the answers, and it is alright to be scared. When we acknowledge our fears about the future and demonstrate that knowledge is power it will help them remember that it is okay to be scared and uncertain, but we can make it through and move on!

Practice Self-Care: No, not spa days, pjs, and coffee

Teachers can suffer from caregiver fatigue very quickly. When you teach in a trauma informed environment, this lessens our potential for caregiver burnout. When you care for others with trauma you can suffer from insomnia, fatigue, aches, pains, lack of motivation, lack of concentration, isolation, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness or anger. We can alleviate these symptoms by changing how we do things in the classroom to increase our own resiliency and our student’s. These are not permanent conditions, and you can overcome burnout. You can make simple changes like issuing trigger warnings before teaching a lesson. You can learn your students’ triggers (write them down if you need to) and do your best to avoid them or issue a trigger warning before proceeding. Allow students the chance to opt out of triggering activities without penalty. No, they can’t get out of work, but they can skip a song or lesson if it means they avoid being triggered and you avoid a trauma response. You can practice and teach a few grounding techniques by working with their classroom teachers or special education teachers to find out what helps the students calm down, reset, and move forward.

There are two camps about resiliency. Some feel resiliency is taught and practiced, much like learning an instrument. Others think resilience is something you are born with, like talent. As musicians we have a unique perspective on this as some of us are exceptional musicians because we worked at it, practiced, and became masters at our craft, others have raw, natural talent that helped along the way. We can see a struggling student and remember that resiliency is like learning music, either you have it easier with talent or you don’t, and hard work can move mountains.

Sing! Say! Dance! Play! Care!


5 Tips for Beginning and Maintaining a Successful Orff Ensemble

When I first began teaching elementary music, I was fresh out of college and had never set foot in an elementary classroom. When I fell in love with teaching elementary, I knew I needed to gain some more experience and naturally gravitated to the Orff process. If you want more information on the Orff Schulwerk you should check out the AOSA webpage. After teaching for about six years, I decided it was time for me to start an Orff ensemble at my campus. I have learned a lot over the last 7-8 years and would like to share my experiences with you. Here are the top 5 things I learned when beginning and maintaining a successful Orff ensemble.

1. Choose a really good name

You thought I was going to start with something pedagogical or about recruitment, didn’t you? Nope. Choosing the name for the ensemble is pretty important. When I selected the name of my ensemble, I thought of several words that were synonymous with music or sound. You’ll want to choose something that maybe has some alliteration with your campus name or mascot, something that your students can connect with. As the years have gone on, the name of my ensemble, Resonance, has become harder for the children to pronounce and relate too, but I believe that is the lapse of two years of performing.

2. Hold Auditions

I choose to hold auditions to narrow the number down to about 30. I have found that more than 30 is really difficult to manage, especially when it comes to writing parts. I use a rubric that looks like this:

I give the students a packet with the music and links to videos (on my YouTube channel) to watch to prepare for their auditions. On audition day, I have the instruments set up and ready to go with copies of the music, on music stands (or they can use their own) and my iPad set up to record their audition. I record for two reasons, one, for me and my ADHD so I don’t miss anything, two, in case a parent questions their child’s ranking and acceptance. I can show the video and discuss what the weaknesses were. I listen to their audition, rate their score, and select the top 30 students. I do take into consideration their grade level to a small extent. If number 30 is a third grader and 31 a fifth grader and their scores are neck and neck, I may choose the fifth grader, since I want that fifth grader hooked on music before leaving for middle school. I do not always consider their grade level, but on rare occasions I do. I have a different scoring system for each grade level and adapt the rubric to reflect their grade level and skill level.

3. Be prepared to write arrangements

In my Orff levels I learned how to write arrangements for folk songs to fit the needs of my students. Now, with that said, writing for your percussion ensemble is kind of a different beast. I’ve had to write songs to go with books, arrange pop-songs (which means getting the appropriate permission), and add percussion parts to existing orchestrations to fill out an ensemble. It is incredibly time consuming, unless choose to use other people’s arrangements, which is fine, but gets expensive, too.

When I first started my ensemble, I used pieces we had done in class and just added more unpitched percussion parts and some contra bars. I basically take what they’re already learning and level it up. Now, I tend to choose a theme or book to structure the performance around and choose music to fit those ideas.

4. Prepare Rehearsals Ahead of Time

Anyone who runs an ensemble knows how crucial planning your rehearsal time is. When running a rehearsal, you have the parts of the music you want to work on, the parts the ensemble NEEDS to work on and then the parts that neither of you knew would fall apart and need to be worked on. I create a loose timeline of how and when I want things taught, and then I work around what the ensemble needs. Planning is great but be flexible. I teach one to two songs at a time so as not to confuse the children and bounce around between 4-5 pieces.

If you plan ahead enough, you can create practice videos for your students to watch and prepare at home. I give my students a paper xylophone to practice on and show them how to practice on body percussion or found sound objects so they can practice at home.

5. Comparison is Not Pretty

Do not compare your current chapter in your story to someone’s finished novel. If you are just starting out, or you’re having funding issues, or instrument issues, or whatever the case may be, comparing your group’s success to someone else’s will sink your ship before it ever sets sail. I work in a district that is very diverse. My ensemble is not going to perform to the same level as someone who has been performing for 20 years, my ensemble struggles with parent commitment/involvement, therefore a lot of the work goes on during rehearsal. We don’t all have access to devices at home all the time so expecting the children to practice at home does not always happen. I try to celebrate our strengths and highlight things we can do really well and work with the strengths of the ensemble. I am a firm believer that kids are kids and socioeconomic status should not change how we teach kids, however the hard truth is that it does. Access to materials, parent involvement, and the like, are all going to contribute to your ensemble’s success. I strongly believe you can find their strengths, write/arrange music to fit those strengths and create a dynamic Orff ensemble at your school.

Sing! Say! Dance! Play! Care!


Should I Do Christmas in my Music Room?

There is much debate on whether Christmas belongs in the classroom, and I do not have an official answer, but I do have a possible solution. This week I would like to present to you three ways to celebrate holidays during Winter and how they relate the National Standards for Music.

1. More than Christmas

We must realize and recognize that there are more holidays that land during our Winter season than Christmas. We also must be sensitive enough to know that not all the “holidays” that have been commercialized are even that important to those who celebrate them. Christmas is important to Christians because it literally celebrates the birth Jesus Christ, but if you do some research, you’ll learn that Christmas is more of a secular event than a religious holiday in that the true history of the birth of Christ doesn’t really mirror that of the Winter season. The same can be said for Hannukah. If you research Hannukah you will learn that it is not one of the Jewish holy days and is a relatively minor holiday for their religion. Hannukah has gained popularity because of its proximity to Christmas in the United States.

This is where being the music teacher gives us a wonderful advantage, you know your entire school and hopefully know the different religions and cultures present at your school. You can work with the families in your building to learn about the cultures and celebrations that are relevant to your community and learn about those during the Wintertime.

Analyzing, comparing, and responding to music from various cultures is in every standard that you are well within your “rights” to incorporate these songs and activities into your lessons.

2. Around the World

If you are at a campus that is against acknowledging the holiday due to its religious nature, you could always frame your lessons as exploring music from around the world. Christmas music is music and because it has the elements of music, playing it, listening to it, and responding to it, falls in the realm of the National Standards. To be fair, you should include music from all cultures and religions and apply the same analysis to those pieces of music and not make Christmas music appear to be superior in any way. We shouldn’t do this regardless of your campus’ wishes about Christmas, but some of us do tend to show a bias toward Christmas especially in our holiday programs and concerts.

At my campus, we do perform a holiday performance that is centered around Christmas. Although no mention of God or Jesus, the performance is about Christmas or the “meaning of Christmas” as it pertains to hope, peace, and sharing. If someone wanted to be picky, Christmas is a religious holiday and should not be celebrated in school.

However, in Texas, the law is written,

Sec. 29.920
Winter Celebrations

(a)A school district may educate students about the history of traditional winter celebrations, and allow students and district staff to offer traditional greetings regarding the celebrations, including:

(1)“Merry Christmas”;

(2)“Happy Hanukkah”; and

(3)“happy holidays.”

(b)Except as provided by Subsection (c), a school district may display on school property scenes or symbols associated with traditional winter celebrations, including a menorah or a Christmas image such as a nativity scene or Christmas tree, if the display includes a scene or symbol of:

(1)more than one religion; or

(2)one religion and at least one secular scene or symbol.

(c)A display relating to a traditional winter celebration may not include a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief.

So celebrating, acknowledging, and decorating for Christmas is not only okay, but lawful.

At my campus we do a sing-along, where we teach songs from all over the world that are religious, multi-cultural, and offer different views points. We try to honor all cultures and religion in the music room and truly make it about the music and how music is used in and for celebrations, versus, here is this holiday we celebrate and play music in the background.

3. Let the Holiday Pass Without Celebration or Acknowledgement

I always say to be true to yourself. If the holidays are emotionally triggering for you, then do not feel forced to celebrate them or acknowledge them. You can study world music without incorporating secular Christmas music. You can choose to explain your choices to your students or not. It is your classroom and in the end, it is your choice.

In my classroom, we sing, say, dance, and play along to all types of wintertime music. We do listen to Christmas music, sing Christmas music, but we also play dreidel, sing Kwanza celebratory songs, and more! You know your campus and know your community, do what feels right for your classroom.

Sing! Say! Dance! Play! Care!


Puppetry in the Music Room

I by no means am a master puppeteer. I do not know ventriloquism, nor do I have any idea how to properly puppet, if that’s a thing, but I love using puppets in my classroom! There are many reasons to incorporate the use of puppets in your music room including helping students acquire language (ELL learners and very young learners), encouraging students to be expressive with their thoughts, fears, and feelings, and finally, creating and bringing stories and music to life. Children live in a world of imagination and puppets help an adult enter the child’s imaginary world and allows children to experience empathy because they can relate to the character they are trying to portray. Let’s look at three ways puppets enhance learning in the music room.

1. Acquiring Language

When the children become comfortable with the puppet, they are more likely to take risks. Puppets become like sympathetic friends to the children, and they will try to speak with the puppets. The children do not feel threatened by the puppet and trust them. Puppets help improve communication skills, overcome language barriers, and help with self-control. The puppets can break down the barriers between teacher and student. Teachers can use puppets to introduce new vocabularies, create dialogue and teachers should plan their lessons in which the puppets can be combined with play. Puppets can be used to create dialogue and engage students in academic conversations without anxiety.

The use of puppets for second language learners is so useful! When you think about it, puppets introduce another fluent English speaker into a room of apprehensive second language learners. Children can witness the dialogue take place between two proficient speakers and it helps them rehearse the dialogue. The puppet becomes another someone to teach and helps with the information gap necessary for learning. Communication is an exchange of information, and this exchange is helped by the puppet’s lack of knowledge on any subject. Puppets are a real-life object, close to reality, therefore providing the English language learner a less intimidating partner to practice language acquisition with.

2. Expressing Themselves

Puppets create an environment that children can feel comfortable and less self-conscious in. The children become less inhibited, and they do not hesitate to take risks.

Children view the puppets as having human-like qualities and are therefore inclined to interact with it and speak to the puppet in a way they may not communicate with other children or adults.  

Analisa, what do I say to the student that insists it is just a puppet and is fake? Well, there is a few things you can do. You can acknowledge that the puppet is indeed inanimate and not real, but it is life-like, and it is fun to pretend. You could sound a little bit crazy and not even acknowledge that the puppet isn’t real and continue as if the puppet has its own personality.

I personally use the approach by saying “I know that. You know that, but they don’t know that, so we play along.” The kids get a kick out of knowing something the puppet doesn’t know and we’re able to just keep pretending and playing make believe.  

3. Bringing Stories and Music to Life

Understanding the difference between fantasy and reality. Lessons are active and lively and fun. Puppets can be used as a hook to learn the lyrics in a song. Puppets can be used to create storylines and create plays, in which students must interact with one another and cooperate to create the narrative. Students take a more active learning approach, and their engagement improves if the student becomes the puppeteer. I like to think of it as hands on is minds on – the children are involved in the learning and storytelling; this increases their interest in the lesson and leads to deeper understanding.

Ways to Teach Social Emotional Learning with Puppetry

Puppets can be a great way to engage students in conversation. You can use them as a greeting for the students, asking how they’re doing, encouraging the students to ask the puppet how they’re doing (modeling friendly social greetings). By doing this you are increasing their self and social awareness.

You can use the puppets to share emotions, learn to express emotions and think about another person’s emotions is a part of gaining social awareness. The child may be more willing to engage in a conversation with the puppet and you may, in turn, be able to communicate with the student about their thoughts and feelings.

If you have a student that struggles with game play and waiting their turn and winning or losing, puppets can help. The puppet can model waiting their turn in the game, or model winning and losing. A student is more likely to respond to this lower stress situation and have a better understanding of regulating their emotions in game play. By doing this you are increasing their self-management skills.

I would avoid allowing the puppet to demonstrate negative behaviors, keep the association with the puppets positive. For example, when the puppet loses the game have them demonstrate good sportsmanship by saying phrases to the other team like “good game” or “well played” or “thank you for playing with me”. We want the student to see themselves in the puppet and therefore we want the student to see themselves acting positively.

Students who take responsibility for the puppet showed a decrease in defiant behaviors, and increased responsibility of helping their puppet to listen and participate help the student maintain focus and prevented them from causing disruptions in class. By doing this you are increasing the student’s responsible decision making.

Obstacles to Overcome When Teaching with Puppets

Do the children grow bored?

The children love repetition, so growing bored of the same puppet doesn’t really happen, especially if you get creative with the use of the puppets. You can use a puppet as a hook, for vocal warmups, to aid in lyrics, and the list goes on. As you use your puppets for different things, the children grow fond of them and will ask to see them.

Do you have to be educated in puppetry?

            You absolutely do not have to be educated in puppetry or ventriloquism. The children will not care that your lips move when the puppet talks, especially if you let them use the puppet, they realize that it is being controlled by their arms/hands and their voices.

Expensive vs Inexpensive Puppets

Any type of puppet works, and you do not have to spend a ton of money on puppets. The more attached to the puppet the better, so if they created their puppet, they form an attachment to it. The cost of the puppet is not the issue here, it’s the willingness to use them and make them a part of your classroom.

I hope I have inspired you to try to use puppets in your music room.

Sing! Say! Dance! Play! Care!


3 Ways to Use Color as an Accommodation in the Music Room

When our special education students or students with specific learning disabilities come into our classroom it is our job to provide accommodations for them so they can be successful. One of my favorite ways to accommodate for students is using color Before I discuss three ways to use color as a specially designed instruction (SDI) for a student, let me define an accommodation. An accommodation is a way to help students acquire the exact same content as their peers, whereas a modification changes the content. Here, I will discuss using color as an accommodation.

Color Coding A Behavior Plan

For students on a BIP (behavior improvement plan) color can be used for transitions and to stop/start certain behaviors. If a student has an SDI of high contrast materials or limited visual clutter, color can help focus on a specific behavior such as remaining seated on a colored spot or within a colored boundary. In my classroom I have a pink box in the back of the classroom that students can choose to sit inside if they need a break or need a place to just sit away. You would be surprised at how many students love to sit in the box, they feel safe there to just be themselves, move around and wiggle if they need to and not be a bother to those around them. This designated space also works well for students who have preferential seating or a colored boundary. I just used pink duct tape and created a 9X9 space on my floor, easy peasy!

Color Coding Visuals for Melody and Rhythm Instruction

ChromoNotes™ colors or Boomwhacker colors are the ones that are most popularly used in the elementary music classroom. I use ChromoNotes™ colors to color code melodic visuals in my classroom to help keep reading the melody consistent. My students begin to learn that C is red, D is orange, E is yellow, etcetera, and it carries over to all melodic instruments in my classroom. This is great for students who thrive with consistency. For rhythm, I use the

Note Knacks® colors devised my Kristen Pugliese to teach the number of sounds in a beat. For example, a quarter note is red because red has one sound, a pair of eighth notes is yellow because yellow has two sounds. My favorite in this system is terracotta for sixteenth notes!

This system works well to get students started on understanding that rhythm is the number of sounds in a beat and as the rhythms become more complex, the system adapts for that, too!

I use Magnetix for recorder which are trimmed in ChromoNote™ colors so that the students can read the color and the notes on the staff. I know that notes on the staff in “real” music is black, but the purpose is accessibility, if this makes the music more accessible, then why would I not try? If you do not want to use these branded color systems, you don’t have to. You can come up with any color-coding system that works for you and the student. The best accommodations are consistent accommodations and those that work for the student.

Color Coding Instruments  

Colored instruments or stickers on instruments are an accommodation for striking in the correct spot, holding an instrument correctly, etc. This method can be used if a student’s SDI is to identify and limit distractions by providing a “strike zone” for immediate success in playing the instrument. I use the ChromoNotes™ stickers on my Orff instruments to align with the color-coded music. I use the ChromoNotes™ bells, Boomwhackers, and keyboard instruments in my classroom to maintain as much consistency as I can. If you don’t have access to those, the stickers are a perfect option to help color code the instruments you do have.

Color is a wonderful way to provide an accommodation for all music students, especially special education students in music. By using color coding systems for behavior, visuals, and instruments special education students can learn the same content as the other learners. Color can be a dynamic way to meet student’s SDI’s in the music classroom! Give it a try!

Sing! Say! Dance! Play! Care!