Thursday, September 25, 2014

Music & Blogging on the Brain

Why do people blog?  For me, it is because I am passionate about sharing what I've learned about the importance of music in our lives.  I even have a Facebook Page dedicated to posting daily brain facts.

      As a music teacher, I am often disheartened when a classroom teachers tells me there is 'no time' to use music in the classroom.  Music enhances a lesson; it doesn't take time away from it.  And that is what my blogs will be about - how to use music in the curriculum and have the knowledge to back up what you are doing.
      On the 25th of each month, I will focus on a particular skill / activity and how music helps to develop the ability to perform.  This month, I am just posting a general, rounded commentary on why music NEEDS to be part of your daily routine along with brain based activities.
Ken Robinson is an advocate for the arts in education.  He has a Ted Talk that is informative, entertaining and relevant.    You may want to check it out at Ted Talks - Ken Robinson
        A new school year has begun.  Everyone usually begins with either an invigorated "It's a new year and I'm going to accomplish a lot!" OR a disillusioned "It's a new year and I don't know how I'm going to include everything they are demanding of me now!" attitude.   You are the only one who can adjust that.  I'd like to offer some simple suggestions for activities that can get you and your children in a good place to learn.

1.  Always hydrate!  The body needs 1 6oz glass of water for each 20lbs of body weight per day.
2.  Brain buttons are helpful when feeling uncomfortable. Placing a hand over your belly button and one on your chest and moving hands in a circular motion increases oxygen by relaxing the muscles.  This movement helps to stimulate right and left brain connection.  Plus, it is VERY easy to do.  Background music can provide mood as well as a prompt for time.
3.  Cross crawls can be done by bringing the right knee to the left elbow and then left knee to the right elbow.   This is helpful when a child is operating from one side of the brain - which is what we do when stressed.  These can be done to any song with a good basic 4/4 count.  (Check out "Maerobics" at  Go there from Sept 25 to Sept 30 and download it for FREE.  Yup.   FREE.   Use code - Brain)  
   PSST! ~ ~ Some extra info - This is also a reading readiness indicator.  Children who have difficulty with this activity also have trouble reading.  Which means  - - DO this a lot to help for cross lateral stimulation.

 Maerobics     Maerobics
     Here is a link to me doing "Maerobics" with some of my children.  I had the children take a brain break and we did some hook ups.  One of them asked "Wow! What just happened?  That felt good!"  YES!
4.  Hook Ups help to calm.  Many schools have begun using these at the beginning of the day.  They can be done standing, sitting or laying down.   You cross your right leg over your left.  Put your arms in front of you, palms down and cross your right arm over your left.  Clasp  your hands and bring your arms into your body, resting under your chin.  Stay in this position and breath in through your nose and then blow out your mouth.  
         Music can be used while doing hook ups.  However, it should be instrumental, calm music so as not to interfere with the brain focus on the activity.
         Doing all these things every day will not only improve the mood and enhance learning; it will also give your students the skills to help themselves.
         This year, when your music students have to leave to go to lessons, keep this brain fact in mind :

         Please let me know if there are particular activities you want to know about that have to do with music and  brain research.  I would love to help with an answer.  In the next few months we will will explore the benefits of marching, keeping a beat, kazoos, singing, dancing and much more.  Stay TUNED (get it?  tuned?)

Maryann "Mar." Harman is the founder o Music with Mar., a company dedicated to producing top quality, brain research based music, products and workshops.  Her recordings have won several national awards.  She travels world wide sharing her love of music and hosted BAM Radio's Music and Learning Channel.  Learn more about Mar. at or visit her on Facebook

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Room of Repurposing

Hi! It's Scott from Brick by Brick. I love to repurpose materials—use materials in ways different from their intended use.

This week I was reminded that the children in the classroom can be the best repurposers. (Is that a word? Hmm.) One of my girls walked over to the blocks and repurposed them from building to spelling and writing. Here's what she did.

Kids have great imaginations and great ideas. They can take just about anything and reimagine it into something completely different. 

But there's one barrier to this - ADULTS. We can dampen those ideas with a just a few words. Or a mindset. (Well, maybe it's not you. Maybe it's me.)

Often we say "no" when we could say "yes." Or at least "Hmm. Let's think about that."

So what happens when you see kids repurpose? Well....

Headbands (strips of cloth) become doll clothes

Masking tape becomes a hat

A block bin becomes a hat

Tables and chairs become a tunnel

And gems become pizza toppings

As you work with a group of children or survey a classroom, think about ways you can say yes. Yes to creativity. Yes to fun ideas. Yes to repurposing. 

I learn some of the best ideas that way!

How have you seen kids' imaginations in action as they repurpose materials?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Let's Read, Then Dance!

A Dance Story Inspired by "Otis and the Scarecrow" by Loren Long

Otis and the Scarecrow is a lovely new book by Loren Long, who lives in my town, Cincinnati, Ohio.  He, along with many other local authors will be at Books by the Banks ( on Saturday, October 11.

I have chosen to write a movement activity about this book for several reasons.  Otis and the Scarecrow is the perfect book to explore with young children during late summer/early fall, and it is a beautifully written and illustrated book. The story inspires many movement ideas.  Perhaps the most important reason is that the book is about friendship, and the power of compassion.

As a dance teacher, I love watching children use their imaginations as we dance about anything and everything.  I often use books, stories and poems as a springboard for creative movement explorations.  

Why do I love dancing about stories with my young students?

Ready to begin a dance story!
Bringing stories to life with music and dance can nurture many early literacy and language skills, such as:  

  • Sequencing
  • Making predictions
  • Identifying with different characters
  • Exploring the setting and background
  • Vocabulary acquisition
  • Listening skills
A dance story can be a very short activity (10 minutes or so), or can be expanded into a longer one that even could be used as a fun presentation for parents and friends.  Children enjoy revisiting the book, and through a teacher's movement prompts and the children's own kinesthetic responses and ideas, the explorations that result can be energetic, playful, and enriching movement studies.

Otis and the Scarecrow Dance Story

  • The book Otis and the Scarecrow by Loren Long
  • An upbeat musical selection -- Bluegrass instrumentals work well for the setting and atmosphere of this story.
  • A space large enough to have the children stand in a circle and move freely
How to Present the Dance Story:

Read the book Otis and the Scarecrow, by Loren Long, to your students. Now dance the story by using any or all of the following prompts.  Allow time between each prompt for the children to respond and follow where their imaginations lead them.

Stand in a circle with the children and ask, When the story begins, who has just come to the farm?  What does the scarecrow look like?  He is very straight and stiff.  Let's imagine we are stiff like him, and try to walk.  Walk around yourself in a small circle.  Now let's imagine we are a floppy scarecrow.  Walk around in a circle and be as floppy as you can.  Do you feel the difference between stiff and floppy?

Now make your body into the shape of the scarecrow in the book, 

Make yourself into the shape of the scarecrow!
and try to look grouchy like he does!  What other faces can you make?  Let's imagine we are a shy scarecrow, an angry scarecrow, a surprised one, a silly one, a happy one!

The animals all try to greet him.  Let's try some greetings.  First, let's wave 'hello.'  Now wave with your knee, your elbow, your head, your foot!  Wave with your whole body!  Does the scarecrow wave back?

The animals each have different greetings for the scarecrow:  be a horse, and curl your lip.  Prance around in a small circle like a horse.  Now be a duck, and point your wings at the scarecrow.  Waddle around like a duck.  The little calf and puppy were frightened. What do you do when you are scared?  Now imagine you are a bull:  snarl, huff and turn away.  What does the scarecrow do?  Make yourself into the grouchy scarecrow, standing very still.

Imagine we are in the pumpkin field.  Be Otis the tractor, chugging around the field.  Chug all around the room!  Now imagine you are pulling children on a hayride.  That is a big heavy load.  What do you feel like when you are pulling something heavy? Imagine you are now walking through the pumpkin field looking for the perfect pumpkin to carve.  Pick up a heavy pumpkin and imagine you are carrying it home.  Put it down carefully!

Let's play some games like Otis and the animals in the cool autumn air.  Should we play follow-the-leader?  Should we come back to our circle and play ring-around-the-rosy?  

We play Follow-the-Leader like Otis and his animal friends!

More Follow-the-Leader!

Now let's gently fall down and play Otis's quiet game while we sit in our circle.  We will start by taking a deep breath like Otis, and then very slowly let it out with a puff and a shhhh.  Try that again!  Now let's be still, like Otis instructed the animals:  no laughing, quacking, giggling, or puffing!  How long can you sit and not move a muscle, not even your smile muscles?

Let's finish the quiet game by moving parts of our bodies like the animals:  twitch your nose like the bull, wiggle your bottom like the ducks.  Roll on the ground like the horse!

Here comes the rain!  Let's imagine we are raindrops.  Move around the room and swirl in the wind, gently float like a light raindrop, then falling like a big fat raindrop.  Make a splash!  Now let's stomp through mud puddles!  Imagine you are the scarecrow, and sway back and forth in the wind, with the cold rain splashing on your face.

Let's go to the scarecrow so he won't be alone!  All together, we will imagine we are marching down the big hill.  Next, we cross the big, empty corn field, and we will huddle together under the apple tree on the hill and watch Otis go to the scarecrow. 

Now we will join Otis!  Imagine you are the tractor, the dog, the horse, the duck or the bull.  How would you go down the hill toward the scarecrow?  Let's go all together.  Now look up at the scarecrow.  Is he finally smiling?

Finish the story with a free dance to reinforce the learning and encourage the children to  explore any parts of the story they wish.  Put on the musical selection and allow the children several minutes to dance.  Bring the dance to an end by fading out or stopping the music, and asking the children to freeze in the shape of their favorite character from the story.

Try this dance story format with other books and poems!

Keep on dancin',

Connie Bergstein Dow


Copyright 2014 Connie Bergstein Dow

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Educators Who Care, Share: Singers, Sites & Songs from the Heartland Part III: From the Midwest & Great Lakes Regions

Special Note: This is Part III in a series, dedicated to the mission of listening locally. Links to the first two posts, as well as my other Pre-K and K Sharing tomes, are listed at the bottom of this article. In a few months, I’ll turn my attention to the West Coast. Stay tuned!

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

This post takes up where my August 18, 2014 entry, Educators Who Care, Share: Singers, Sites & Songs – Part II: Midwest & Great Lakes, left off. Part III continues the mission of listening locally – and highlights musicians from the Midwest and Great Lakes region who write or perform for the EC population, though some also write for and work with older children. Many are teaching artists, conduct residencies, and present workshops. Some are published authors. All are musical treasures. I’m only including artist’s whose work I use consistently. Sound sample links are provided, if available. Please remember that this list is intended to be a gateway and is in no ways exhaustive.

Bruce O'Brien
Bruce O’Brien, WI
About: It’s fitting that I begin with Bruce O’Brien. A decade or so ago, I went to my first national CMN conference in Wisconsin, not knowing a soul.  Bruce, a big-hearted Wisconsin native, welcomed me warmly – and set the tone as I navigated the new terrain, meeting people from around the U.S., gathering a treasure trove of new songs, and raising my voice with the glorious gathering. 

Classroom Faves:
At that long ago conference, the song that made the most impact was Owl Moon, inspired by Jane Yolen’s book of a father and daughter going out “owling” – looking for owls – on a bright, cold, winter night. Bruce co-wrote the song with his five-year old daughter. Because it was so long ago, I’m not sure if Owl Moon was part of a Round Robin – where attendees share songs, one after another aural treasure spinning out into the night - or if the song spontaneously erupted - in eight part harmony - from the gathering. For a brief, enchanted spell, as the music swirled round us, I was… we all were… transported to a sacred, sonic landscape. It was so deeply affecting, that I reconsidered changing my negative

opinion of winter. Of course, that impulse passed swiftly, but I immediately purchased the book upon returning home. I have sung the song ever since with my kiddos – Pre-K, K and up through Third Grade, as well as my parent-child classes. ASL (signing) is a great addition. I must admit that I abridge the text slightly, and add the song in the appropriate places as the story progresses. Please don’t tell Jane Yolen. Authors can be fussy about that sort of thing. BTW, Ms.Yolen is a fan of the song.

Of Note:
Owl Moon, on Bruce’s CD One in the Middle, is hard to find these days – but it’s worth a try since it contains other memorable songs to sing along with and listen to. Luckily, musician and storyteller Jack Pearson has recorded the song on his fine CD, To All Purple Tree TrunksAnna Stange, below, also has recorded it on her CD: Miss Anna’s Music Class: Volume II.  

 Tom Pease. Stuart Stotts, WI 
Stuart Stotts (in purple) & Tom Pease (in blue)
About: How to start, and more to the point, how to do justice, separately and together to these two phenomenal talents and devoted friends? As individuals, their light shines brightly, but together, they’re a supernova, the perfect foil for each other’s quirks, deep thoughts and unique – and rollicking – senses of humor. Both are consummate musicians and songsmiths. It’s impossible to write about one without the other. Tom is the heart and Stuart, the soul. In preparation for this post, I wrote each of them, and asked them about their relationship as songwriters and friends. Their response: 

Tom: "Stuarts songs reflect how very well he listens to every child...nay, every person. The world is a kinder place with folks like him working with children. Is that okay?  Or this: Haiku de Stotts:
Encounter Stuart / Find ears wide open to all / Gathering the tunes"                                                                                                                                               
Stuart: "As for me and Tom, here's how I see it. Tom is the greatest kids performer I know, and I've seen a lot of them. I'm a good songwriter, a decent performer, and a very good professional development leader. I'm also an author. Tom and I do some residencies together, maybe 20 days a year. We write some songs together, particularly for young kids. Usually I write those and he helps finish them. I don't mean to minimize that. He has a great sense for the last 15 percent, which is where I'm weakest. I also write a lot of songs on my own….We have two recordings together.
We are incredibly close friends."

Classroom Faves: The CD I primarily draw from is Everybody Started Out Small. To this day, my college student daughter and I spontaneously break into 8 Hugs a Day when we’re hugging each other. We’re Gonna Shine is a beautiful affirmation, and a lovely way to end the day or a class.  The chorus lends itself to echoing. Their version Tue Tue, from Ghana, is clear and easily learned. Movin’ On To First Grade, a delightful, celebratory Kindergarten song, can be easily customized. My K students relish this song. So Many Ways to Be Smart, a very smart song, should be adopted as the theme song for both the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA).

Of Note: Both Tom and Stuart are generous and approachable. They also write scores of new verses to their songs during their school residencies - great fun! Lyrics are on their websites. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention they both have solo recordings. Stuart has written several books and is a Kennedy Center artist. Read more on his website. A final note:  Stuart’s blog posts are a pure pleasure to read. He often debuts new songs that are a perfect fit for the EC classroom. His latest post is about –wait for it! – Tom Pease!

 Gari Stein, MI
Gari Stein
About:Gari Stein is a musician, teacher, writer and thinker who has synthesized her degree(s) in Psychology/Child Development and Dance with music research from diverse modalities to create beneficial and holistic early childhood programs. She also is the founder and director of Music for Little Folks. Her commitment to the field of early childhood music and development are evidenced by the rich resources she provides through her website, including Research, Articles and Activities, Michigan Read! Resource Guide, which… “is chock full of information on Early Childhood Literacy, The Role Music Plays in Promoting Early Childhood Literacy and Connecting with Literacy – Birth to 2nd Grade,” and a series of articles authored by Stein, starting with 
Nurturing Baby & You: More Than the Music. Her book, The More We Get Together. Nurturing Relationships Through Music, Play, Books and Art, includes “over 300 resources and activities, photographs and FREE travel CD with 53 songs for Tots to 8s.” It’s a treasure – and received the 2009 Children’s Activity award from USA Book News National Best Books.

Of Note: In addition to the great resources she provides, Gari Stein has  many delightful YouTube videos. They will make you happy – and your kiddos will be delighted as well!

Anna Stange
Anna Stange, IL
About: You might find Anna Stange teaching a parent-child class, in a school making instruments out of recycled materials, hiking on the Appalachian Trail, or giving a concert at a local folk festival or at the 
far corners of the world collecting songs. She’s a unique and energetic force in folk music, and luckily has made a number of engaging recordings for the early childhood classroom, accompanied by guitar, banjo, dulcimer and autoharp. Her wide repertoire is made up of American heritage, composed and multicultural songs. 
Classroom Faves: One can never have too many good compilations of children’s music, and Anna has made two I recommend: MISS ANNA'S MUSIC CLASS: a pre-primer for little folkies (such a great name!) and Miss Anna’s Music Class: Volume II. Both have 28 tracks, with many early childhood standards to enliven your classroom or home.

Of Note: Keep an eye out for Anna at your library, school or folk festival! Her schedule features not only what she’s doing and where she’s going, but  local, regional and even international music events!

Barb Tilsen
About: If deep, golden, honey could sing, it would sound like the voice of Barb Tilsen. There’s nothing like the warm, enveloping hug of her voice. Her CD, Make a Circle Like the Sun, is an aural feast, full of gorgeous harmonies and instrumentation, and a expressive voice like no other.

Classroom Faves: Perennial favorites Rhyming Time and Make a Circle Like the Sun, a circle dance embellished by flittering violin, are both written by Tilsen. But wait, there’s more - including Patty Gille’s jazzy confection, Red Yellow Orange and Brown, perfect for dancing to with scarves, and Bill Wellington’s deliciously funny and much requested There’s a Dog in School!  Dave Orleans Save Some Trees is on my 2014-15 “to do” list. It’s a great echo song– and the message is important without being preachy.

Of Note: Barb is not only close to my heart because she is Barb and a Minnesotan (as am I, though displaced), but also because she sings books. She has shared many of her favorites with members of The Children's Music Network. In fact Barb, Mike Eppley, (a musician extraordinaire and children’s librarian from northern California, who, with wife, Anjaline, does a magical weekly storytime), and I compiled a Music & Literacy in the Early Elementary & Pre-K Classroom Booklist, which can be found on the members' pages. At the 2012 CMN International Conference, she wowed attendees with her musical version of Mem Fox’s Where is the Green Sheep? I hope a second CD will be made in the near future with that recording on it! (Barb?)

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 *

Blog History: December 2013 – Present

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Apples and Pumpkins and Leaves - OH MY!

  Autumn has arrived here in Chicago – it’s in the 50’s and I had to get up in the night and add a blanket!  A chilly hello from Miss Carole of Macaroni Soup to those of you in the Southwest where it’s in the high 90’s and hotter, and everyone in between!  Perhaps it’s time to break out the apple songs – and you know that when that happens, the pumpkins and falling leaves can’t be far behind!  Today I give you one of each!


    You’ll find this song on my “HUM: Highly Usable Music!” recording or you can give it a listen on my website’s Song of the Month page for September 2004.  
    I use a flannelboard visual – a leafy tree I painted on flannel and felt apples for each child to stick on the tree before we start to sing.  For instructions on how to make an inexpensive flannelboard go to my May2014 blog.
    The only “tricky” part to this song is putting 2 smiling apples onto the board without the children seeing you do it.  I wait until all the apples are passed out and sneak my 2 apples (smiling faces down) onto the treetop as the last few children are putting their apples on the tree.  Haven’t been caught in 15 years!  You can do it, too!
    Tell the children, “Sometimes, in the Autumn, the apples get so happy that they start to smile!  Yes, SMILE!  Do you think WE have any smiling apples?”  Then we turn several over to see if any smile – of course, I finally pick one that I added.  They are amazed!
 “Is it high or low on the tree?  It’s high, so point way up high!”

Way up high in the apple tree
One little apple smiled at me
I shook that tree as hard as I could –
Down came the apple – mmm it sure looked good!
Line 1:  Point way up high!
Line 2:  Put pointer fingers at each side of your smiling mouth! 
LIne 3:  Clasp hands together in front of body and shake like crazy!
Line 4:  Drop one hand from overhead to floor
  Repeat again – with the other apple.  Then count how many apples are UNDER the tree – two!  Sing:
Two little apples under the tree
One for you, and one for me!
Two little apples, crunch, crunch, crunch!
Two little apples – let’s eat them for our lunch, YUM!

    Then you might do any of the wonderful apple activities in Deb Chitwood’s jam-packed blog of Montessori-Inspired AppleActivities – posted just yesterday on PreKandKSharing!


    This chant will tickle the funny-bone of your children – even if they’ve never heard of Mother Nature.  They just love the sneeze part!  

    Keep a nice steady rhythm for first two lines – we tap the beat on our legs, moving hands to the floor for “crinkled on the ground.”  Throw hands high and make big swirls of falling leaves.  For the final line turn your hands palms-up questioningly – and end with a big sneeze into your elbow!  

    Check out even more instructions on my October 2011 SOTM page.

    No tune – just speak it clearly and dramatically.  It’ll be on my new cd, “Polka Dots!”  Watch for a November release date!

Red leaves, yellow leaves, orange leaves, brown

Big leaves, little leaves, crinkled on the ground

Everywhere are falling leaves –

Mother Nature, did you sneeze?   AH-CHOO!

   You can also do this one with a flannelboard tree and felt leaves for visuals!

A VERY FINE DAY!  By Carole Stephens c.2014
    This new song celebrates both apples and pumpkins.  We put one hand to our forehead for the “looking” verse, then go walking around the room for the “come on down…” verse.  Then pantomime the action, reaching up high, then bending low to pick apples, or reaching low to snip a stem and put a heavy pumpkin in a wagon.  It’s such fun!
     The tune?  Only for PreKandKSharing followers, you get a sneak preview of this song on my new “Polka Dots” recording (scheduled for November 2014 release) for FREE!  
Reach up high!

Where, oh where do apples grow?
Where, oh where do apples grow?
Where, oh where do apples grow?
Way down yonder on the apple trees.

Come on down to the apple orchard!  (3x)
It’s a very fine day!

Reach up high then put it in a basket!  (3x)
It’s a very fine day!

Where, oh where do pumpkins grow?  (3x)
Way down yonder on the pumpkin vines!

Come on down to the pumpkin patch!  (3x)
Come on down!
It’s a very fine day!

Snip the stem and put it in a wagon!  (3x)
It’s a very fine day!

It’s a very fine day for being outside
A very fine day to take a ride
To a pumpkin patch or an orchard wide
It’s just a very fine day!

    OK – you are now armed and ready for autumn songs.  Need more?  Check out the Song of the Month Archive on my Macaroni Soup website. 

Or check my posts on this blog:

September 2012 Season Sings!  Leaves, Bats, Pumpkins!
October 2012 Making BOO Fun!
October 2013 -  Blow the Wind!

    I would love to know some of YOUR favorite songs for Fall/Autumn!  Come on - SHARE! 

NAEYC 2014 ALERT:  I will be presenting a workshop at the NAEYC conference in Dallas in November AND sharing a booth with 2 incredibly talented children's music educators: Ellen Allard and Music With Mar's Maryann Harman!  Check out our FB page: Musicians at NAEYC!

Yours for an Autumn Song!
"Miss Carole" Stephens
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