Sunday, May 18, 2014

SPRING! Songs, Chants & Apps to Welcome the Season

Hello everyone! Ms. Brigid here, fromMerit School of Music  in Chicago, IL. Thank you for joining me!

©2013 Brigid Finucane, Chicago Botanic Garden
©2014 Brigid Finucane
The earth is finally awakening and turning pretty again, with apple trees in full bloom,  arches of bleeding hearts, and lilacs starting to perfume the air. Inside, my geranium cuttings are blossoming after a long winter’s hiatus, and the gardenia has opened four buds today, with dozens more on the way! It’s Spring!

This is the perfect time  of year for bird songs, stories, and dramatic play in the classrooms – made more magical by the appearance of my plush Audubon robin toy. 
Press the back and  fat tummy (filled with worms!) simultaneously, and the robin “sings” an authentic song!         I encourage children to look for robins outside in their yards, parks, and playground.  All of a sudden, bird becomes robin who nests amongst the apple tree blossoms and whose eggs are the color of the sky.


©2014 Brigid Finucane, Blackbirds in the garden!
Of course, the robins have lots of friends, including two little red-winged blackbirds, named Jack and Jill. My Audubon blackbirds, are a bit shyer than the robin, and make their presence known by calling to the children from the depths of the music bag. I ask, “Does anyone know who is making that sound?” No one does. “Does it sound like a robin?” No! Only a robin sounds like a robin! Out come the Audubon blackbirds, squawking away! After introducing them to the group, the song is taught. There are many different melodies to choose from,* but it works equally well as a chant (spoken). Get your blackbird fingers ready! 

                                                  Two Little Blackbirds
Two little blackbirds sitting on a hill,
One named Jack, the other named Jill.
Fly away Jack!  Fly away Jill!
Come back Jack!  Come back Jill!

*My melody.  Made with Shadow Puppet app

Over the years I’ve added more verses: Some shared by friends, others I’ve made up. The verses I like best are (often) silly, composed of opposite pairs and have a kinesthetic element – but that’s just me! Your kiddos will guide you to the best choices for your class. Invite them to offer their ideas, and make rhyming the first two lines a class challenge! In the ideas below, the blackbirds are sitting on a…, playing in the…., flying in the…., etc.,  e.g.,

Two little blackbirds flying in a  cloud. One was soft, the other was loud.
Two little blackbirds playing with their Dad.  One was happy, the other was sad.

snow /  fast and slow                                            snow  / sang high, sang low
gate  / early and late                                             stick / healthy and sick
bend / beginning and end                                    kite /  heavy and light

Two little blackbirds chatting by the pool, one was hot, the other was cool.
driving in a car / near and far                            flying into town / up and down      
sitting on a wall / short and tall                         so pretty to behold  / shy and bold
chair  / here and there                                          wheelbarrow / wide and narrow

Cool note: Tim turns the blackbirds into penguins for the winter!
Two little blackbirds sliding down a hill, one name won’t and one named will.
Spinning in the breeze / dance and freeze        Sitting on my shoulder/ hotter and colder
Sitting on my knee / you and me                        Sitting on my pinky / fresh and stinky

In addition to singing, we talk about blackbirds’ habitat and look at pictures of them in the wild on my iPad. Did you know the females are brown? My kiddos do, thanks to the iPad app, iBird Yard +, which offers fascinating and easy to navigate support materials that include photos, bird songs/ calls directly in the app and a slideshow option with sound. Photographers are credited, which is a very nice touch.

A song from the Hebrides dances through my brain as I walk through my neighborhood in my self-appointed role as a plant detective, applauding the appearance of buds and blossoms and sprouting green spears:           
                        For day’s work and week’s work as I go up and down,
                              There are many gardens, all about the town.

The song goes on to name flowers and trees blooming in the in the gardens, and ends perfectly, in sync with my thoughts:

                        I have passed your railings, When you never knew.
                        To people who have gardens I give my thanks to you.

©2014 Brigid Finucane

Yes, it’s time to plant a garden – and I have just the poem to share, written by Susan Salidor . It’s not only a surefire hit, but includes all the elements: earth, water, sunshine and time! 

First You Take a Seed 
©Susan Salidor
First you take a seed                             Mime holding a small seed.
And you plant it in the ground.          Plant the seed.  Make sure to cover it.
Next a raincloud comes                     Make a fist and move it across the “sky.”
And waters all around.                        Open fingers and “rain”/wiggle fingers
                                                                               over seed.
Then the sun shines brightly,              Draw a circle in the sky, open fingers to
Without a sound.                                    Finger to lips – “shhh!”
And in just a few days,                          Slowly push one hand though fist like
                                                                               plant growing.
A flower is found.                              Open and wiggle fingers for “a  flower.”

©2014 Brigid Finucane, Emma!
This is a great partner game. One person plants, the other is the flower. Switch. 
©2014 Brigid Finucane, Emma & Kate (Sisters)!

But wait! There’s more! Watch Susan reciting the poem on YouTube, then take a look at the happy teacher-created bulletin board based on the poem!

Spring in the Midwest means rain, rain and more rain! Rain everywhere - 
but not on me!

Rain On the Green Grass 
Rain on the green grass,             Lower both hands in stages, with fingers apart.
Rain on the trees,                          Lift arms like branches on either side of body.
      OR Tree sign:  Arm vertical, open hand twists. Elbow rests on opposite hand.
Rain on the rooftops,                   Make shape of house, starting with peak of roof.
But not on me!                               Point to your own self with index finger.

©2014 Brigid Finucane, Briana Hornsby (daughter)!

1) Vocal echoes with comparatives.
Ask students to echo. Draw from high/low, piano/forte, staccato/legato,  fast/slow, singing/speaking voices. Each phrase can be done a different way.

2) Beat & rhythm.
Clap or walk the beat (“feet to the beat”) while reciting the chant, then clap the rhythm.

3) Half and half.
While standing with a partner, rock the beat for the first half
of the chant, and pat the rhythm (“rhythm hands”) with your partner for the second half Be gentle! There are no trips to the hospital in music class!
©2013 Brigid Finucan
4) Drums, Please!
Play the chant’s rhythm on a gathering drum, buffalo drums or nested frame drums,* phrase by phrase. Older children can try chanting and playing the rhythm all the way through without echoing. This is great syllabication practice! *See the Percusssion Discussion below for simple ideas about introducing drums to your classroom.*
©2013 Brigid Finucane

5) Crescendo Rainstorm!
After saying and playing the chant’s rhythm, finish with a crescendo storm!  A crescendo is when sound gradually increases from soft (piano) to loud (forte). First practice with hands on the room’s carpet, then try it with drums. Start with one finger on each hand, then gradually add more until all fingers and both hands are  engaged.  Crescendo!!! It’s also great fun to introduce, then say, the words pianissimo (very soft) and fortissimo (very loud) in Italian, the language of music. If young children can casually tell me, “My parents drink cappuccino,” they can also say fortissimo!

6) Crescendo circle.
Hold hands in a small circle. With feet to the beat, chant Rain On the Green Grass very softly (pianissimo). Repeat, taking a small step backwards, and recite the chant a bit louder. With each repetition, the circle gets a bit larger and the volume a bit louder, until finally, the circle is fully extended and the volume level has reached fortissimo (very loud). Crescendo!

*Percussion Discussion!

Drums are exciting! Minimize the potential for chaos by taking time to introduce the drums and demonstrate sounds that can be made. Discuss appropriate use, starting and stopping together, etc.

I have found success with bringing in several nested drums and placing them flat on the floor so kiddos can use alternating hands  when they play rhythms and the crescendo rainstorm. Groups take turn playing. When one group finishes the sequence, the next group takes their place.

Sit one to three children at a drum, depending on the sizes of the drums, children and class! Consider using a ritual like the described below, so that you can easily check that no instruments are being assaulted and everyone is having fun.  I start with a ritual every time the drums come to class. The players echo everything I say, and mirror my playing.

Hand’s up!                 (Said after every phrase)
Hello, drum!              (Hit drum, using the word’s rhythm)           
Give it a scratch!      (Scratch drumhead gently. Experiment with sound.)
Now pet the drum.   (Rub the drumhead gently. Experiment with sound.)
Good drum!                (Hit  drum, using the word’s rhythm.)   

Bits and Pieces
The Children’s Music Network's listserv is bursting with wonderful ideas for celebrating the season. Here are a few of my favorites:

Stuart Stott’s impeccable blogpost and song celebrating gardens and community.

©2013 Brigid Finucane
Liz Buchannan’s version of Two Little Blackbirds / Robins  connecting traditional songs to literacy learning.

Mike Whitla’s composition, “Trees Need the Sun”, whose first verse goes:
Trees need the Sun (make a circle with your arms for the sun),
Trees need the rain (use your fingers to show rain),
Trees need the earth (touch the ground with your hands),
It's always been that way.

© 2012 Rock’n’Rainbow Music Publishing/Rainbow Songs Inc.

And last, but not least, Debbie Carroll’s “Simply Beautiful” version of The Tree Song by Lorraine Lee Hammond, a perfect song about an apple tree through the seasons.  " Springtime the blossoms grow on me.  They open, they open." It makes my heart sing.

And in the did I use my iPad in the activities and blog creation, anyhow?  
Apps: iBird Yard +, Shadow Puppet (video sing-along), Camera for taking pictures of kiddos, Diptic and Photostein (photo frames), Educreations (adding text to photo collages), Screenshots of gathering drums, app icons, and more!
©2014 Brigid Finucane

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 *



  1. So much wonderful information in one place, Brigid! Thanks! If anyone needs a melody for "Two Little Blackbirds", they can check it out on my "Sticky Bubble Gum" cd: - it's track #9. We'll have to get together to view each other's gardens soon!

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