Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Smart Woman Sets Off STEAM! (using a Thanksgiving Theme!)

      With the holidays coming, food is going to be a big part of our celebrations.  This is a good time of year to teach nutrition. 

When I take this doll out, every child comes up to me and sits down while excitedly asking “Can I feed her?”  We then go through a nutrition lesson I know they will never forget because they are using their entire brain!  How?  With the use of music and movement combined with a visual they can interact with, the brain is set up for easier comprehension and better retention.  Here is how we do that.
This is a picture of me working with a group of two-year-olds.
They love their Smart Woman Doll.

BRAIN FACT   Music creates a positive state for learning because it helps to reduce stress levels, heighten attention, enhance concentration, reinforce memory and stimulate motivation.  (Campbell, 97; Jensen, 2000)
Our first activity is the song, “I Know a Smart Woman”.  It uses a melody they are already familiar with – “I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly”.  Because they already know the melody, their brain can give more focus to the content.  Instead of feeding her things she really shouldn’t put in her mouth, we feed her from all the food groups.  

Children can learn the concept of Thanksgiving and sharing with the "Salad" Activity.  Ask each child to bring in a baggie filled with something that could go into a salad.  When they get to class, each child puts what they brought into a bowl and by everyone sharing what they brought, we create a salad to share with each other!

Additional things to add to the lesson could be:
 *Have a food plate up front or at each place for the children to place food on
 *When the food is sung, they place it on the plate
     ^This allows them to see the plate filling up. GREAT visual!
                *Everyone joins in on “She’s a healthy woman!”  (Sing “Do Do Do Do Do Do!”)
*Be sure to encourage that singing because ……

BRAIN FACT Singing activates the semi-circular canals and aids in balance. 

This activity naturally leads to great extensions:
            Graphing and Sorting – Put all the Vegetables here.  How many are green?
            Personal preferences – How many people like Bananas best?
            Multicultural – Different families eat different foods.  Share your favorite                                                
BRAIN FACT Afro Cuban / Salsa beats can benefit the brain by about 20% more than Mozart!  (Parsons, 2006).

The second song is the Smart Woman Merengue.  Each child has a food to feed the Smart Woman.  Everyone is standing up doing the Merengue which is a simple dance for children as it only involves stepping and moving your hips.  After the food is fed to the doll, there is then an activity to do combining music with a movement.  At the end, each food is repeated with its group called out for recall and memory.

Science is FUNdamental and activities like these make it memorable and fun for the children and the adults teaching the lesson.  Feed your Smart Woman!

Maryann "Mar." Harman
Founder of Music with Mar., Inc
BA Music ED/ MA Education
Visit Facebook for daily brain facts : Facebook Brain Facts

Monday, November 23, 2015

Don't Pop the Bubble Wrap

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

Do you love to pop bubble wrap? It's a great stress reliever. But if you can restrain yourself from all that popping, you can use bubble wrap for painting! (And that may relieve stress, too.) I've used bubble wrap in two ways for painting. 

Bubble Wrap Painting (Brick by Brick)

Bubble Wrap Painting (Brick by Brick)

We have wrapped blocks with bubble wrap. Tape the wrap into place. Pour paint into a shallow pan. Dip the wrapped block in the paint. And stamp or smear away!

Bubble Wrap Painting (Brick by Brick)

Bubble Wrap Painting (Brick by Brick)

Bubble Wrap Painting (Brick by Brick)

A hint: Fold a paper towel to put in the pan. Dampen the towel with water before adding the paint on top. The paper towel creates a "stamp pad" effect. If you do not add a little water to the towel before adding paint, the bubble wrap may stick to the towel and pull it out of the pan. (Trust me; it's true!)

Bubble Wrap Painting (Brick by Brick)

Bubble Wrap Painting (Brick by Brick)

Another way to use bubble wrap is to tape a piece of bubble wrap to the table or easel. Offer paint and brushes. Kids can paint right on the bubble wrap. The textured surface gives a different experience than painting on smooth paper. Make a print from the child's design by pressing a piece of paper on top of the bubble wrap and carefully pulling it off.

Bubble Wrap Painting (Brick by Brick)

Bubble Wrap Painting (Brick by Brick)

I always say that you can paint with just about anything. Bubble wrap is a fun way to explore and expand your painting horizons!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Dance a Voyage to Outer Space!

It is getting cold outside, and dance is a wonderful outlet that allows children to be active indoors and use their imaginations for creative play.  This is a short dance and music activity based on the song Grocery Space Trip by Debbie Clement.   The activity, as well as the music, are available in my book One, Two, What Can I Do?  Dance and Music for the Whole Day, with a double CD of songs and instrumentals by Debbie Clement.

Get ready to count down for blastoff!

 Grocery Space Trip

Space: A large, open space is best for this activity
Props: Crayons and drawing paper
Modifications for Different Learners: This activity involves a quiet drawing section and a more active movement section.  Children may participate in either or both sections.
Teaching Tips: The song is rich in images and movement prompts.  It is perfect for exploring ideas through three mediums: drawing, music, and dancing.

Music:  Grocery Space Trip, by Debbie Clement, from the CD accompanying the book One, Two, What Can I Do?  Dance and Music for the Whole Day*

Pass out paper and crayons, play the song Grocery Space Trip, and ask the children to draw something based on images in the song.  Play the song a few times, while the children work on their drawings.

Ask them to put their papers aside, while they go to a home spot to be ready to dance.  Explain that now they can dance about what they drew and other parts of the song.  Play the song again while the children respond to the music and their pictures with movement.

Movement prompts in the song are: riding in the grocery cart, pretending the cart is a rocket ship, getting ready for a space trip, countdown from 10 to blastoff, flying through outer space, traveling through the stars, looking at the planets, landing on the moon, heading for home, going through checkout line.  Call out any or all of these prompts to spur more ideas as the children are dancing.  Finish the activity by asking the children to imagine they are landing, and end up back on their home spots.  They may want to add to their pictures now, as they will have many new ideas from the movement, and from the other children.

Keep on dancin',



*One, Two, What Can I Do?  Dance and Music for the Whole Day with double CD by Debbie Clement is available through Redleaf Press:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Thanksgiving Time is Thank You Time!

Ms. Brigid here, from Merit School of Music  in Chicago. Thank you for joining me!
Before we look at Thanksgiving songs, here is my question:

What are you grateful for? At the moment, I’m grateful that during the torrential rains of the last day, our roof isn’t leaking! On a more global scope, however, here are three things that come to mind:

Hot off the (virtual) presses, this resource is available to one and all! “INTRODUCING OUR NEXT SONGBOOK- PEACE SONGS FOR CHILDREN
The NEW CMN Song Library recently launched with our Environment Songbook of members' music that was already on the public site, but broadened to include audio files and lyrics for all songs. Many members have also contributed lead sheets, sheet music, and additional resources.  We're pleased to let you know that the Peace Songbook has now been added.  These two songbooks will continue to grow and serve as a free resource available to artists, librarians, teachers, and other visitors to our site, providing the tools needed to actually learn a song and use it tomorrow-a one-stop source for growing your repertoire with fine songs from fellow members. What could be grander?  Read more about our Song Library at:"  

~A Trio of Songs by Stuart Stotts. Stuart was CMN’s keynote speaker at the annual conference just a month ago in Zion, IL. Since then, he has presented three songs on his excellent blog that are invitations to inclusiveness and speak to the power of people singing together: Clap My Hands In The Morning, I’ll Save a Spot For You, and 'Til Then. Click on the links to read about the songs and hear them in their entirety. In the last song, change “show to show” to “spring to snow,” and this beautiful and engaging song transforms into the perfect song for the end of class or a special gathering. And yes, the composer approves this idea!

~Choice Literacy and Big Fresh Newsletter
Every Saturday I awake to an inspiring new post from the Big Fresh Newsletter. Besides the engaging and thoughtful key articles on the collaborative blog, there is a “Free for All” section from which I’ve discovered wonderful new books and strategies for use. Just this past week, I clicked on Franki Sibberson’s “Teaching Reading Skills with Wordless Picture Books,” and came away with an armful of new titles that I immediately tracked down at The Skokie Library. I’m excited to dive into this luscious list!
And Now…Thanks Giving!
This week I’ve been asking students in my classes to tell me one thing about Thanksgiving. Families and friends, cornucopias and pilgrims were mentioned, but the majority of answers tended to be food-oriented. In one first grade class, “eat dead turkey” was the unsavory, and repeated, response of choice. What to do?

Since I visit classrooms once a week, varying from 30” – 60” sessions, it’s best for classroom teachers to discuss historical details. I focus on being thankful, not only for its intrinsic worth, but also as an antidote to the materialism that creeps into this time of year.

~Thanksgiving Time
Tune: Do You Know the Muffin Man?
Thanksgiving time is thank you time 
For all the fruits and vegetables. 
Thanksgiving time is thank you time. 
Thank you, thank you, thank you.   
Other ideas:  Thanksgiving time is thank you time …For all the things that live and grow; …For moon and stars that shine at night; ...For families that we love so much.

~I teach “Thank you, thank you, thank you” before I start the song, so my kiddos can immediately chime in. After singing is strong, I open it up to ideas from the class. Feel free to combine ideas from more than one child in each verse, e.g. …For moms and dads and dogs and cats.

Lyrics by Brigid Finucane.  Tune: Down By the Bay

For sun and moon               And stars above,
For Moms and Dads,           People that we love
For _______________,       Where we learn and play
Let's all say thanks,             On Thanksgiving Day

For winds that blow            For rains that fall
On the smallest flower        And the trees so tall
For happy laughter            As we dance and play.
Let’s all say thanks,            On Thanksgiving Day.

~I wrote this song originally for a sweet preschool I teach at, but have since adapted it for use at other schools. Insert the name of the classroom, school, or group where indicated in the first verse. Please customize for your site. I also add basic ASL signing to the song. At the very least, I teach the sign for “thank you.”

~Finally, I close my sessions with the musical book, May There Always Be Sunshine.
Jim Gill, the beloved Oak Park, IL singer-songwriter, sings this song in concert, and over time gathered ideas to use with the song. This book is the result of years of ideas, and is lusciously illustrated by Susie Signorino-Richards.

The song “…was created in 1962, music was composed by Arkady Ostrovsky and
the lyrics were written by Lev Oshanin. The Russian writer Korney Chukovsky later wrote in his book that the base for the song was the four lines which became the refrain, composed by a boy of age four in 1928.” Youtube:

I sing the first four lines by myself, and then ask the children to sing with me on the second repetition. We then sing the rest of the book. My Pre-K children are not readers, so I let them fill in what they think the picture is about, e.g., an illustration of “skyscrapers” can be called “houses,” “cities,” “buildings,” etc., with my complete support. At the end of the book, I sing, “May there always be ice cream…” and ask if anyone has another idea.
I’ve been touched at how enthusiastic the children are to share their ideas. They often sing the whole phrase, rather than filling in the idea at the end. It’s a sweet and affirming way to end a class.

I’ve also experimented with asking the kiddos to draw a picture of what they are thankful for, essentially creating a class book that we can sing together.

Thank you for joining me! I hope you have a glorious and happy Thanksgiving with those who are dearest to you. Celebrate fall, the bounty of the earth, the richness of life…and music!

Merit School of Music, Chicago
Call on Merit School of Music! Our onsite school is in the West Loop. We work in the schools throughout the area providing band, orchestra, percussion, choir, early childhood, and general music instruction with project based units including Recorder, Music and Storytelling and Songwriting. We do great work! YoYo Ma is a supporter!

Chicago Families
Please come to Merit’s Storytime sessions It’s free, fun, and facilitated by singers and storytellers Amy Lowe, Irica Baurer & Brigid Finucane. Stories and songs start at 11am, and we end with instrument exploration and family networking. The next session is December 14.  Storytime is  be offered once a month on the 2nd Monday.

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.

©2015 Brigid Finucane  * 847-213-0713 *

Blog History
June 2015. Summer Songs

Monday, November 16, 2015

Obstacle Course Adventure!

The Rainbow Hoop
Weather getting a little snarky? Need a great gross-motor activity for indoors (or outdoors)?  I’m Miss Carole of MacaroniSoup and I’ve got just the thing:  an OBSTACLE COURSE, of course!  Yes, I’ve written about this before – you can check out my original blog about it here – but it deserves a reminder, and here it is!

I started creating obstacle courses for my own kids (who are now twenty-somethings) to while away cold and snowy winter days here in Chicago.  As they got older, they helped create the obstacles – often creating elaborate chair/blanket contraptions or up-the-stairs-down-the-stairs segments.  In the summertime, the back yard was perfect.  I remember my daughter including the kiddie pool – you had to catch a fish with a string attached to a stick with a paperclip “hook”.  It took her almost an hour to create her course – a great exercise in planning – then she invited neighborhood kids to come run it!  I might add that it often included the sprinkler as an obstacle.  Unfortunately I have no pictures of those courses.  Before digital photography, but I sure remember them in my brain!

Creating your course:
1.  Assess your space.  How many “obstacles” can you safely accommodate?  Be creative – I have 2 doors to my music room and an extra teacher, so I was able to extend the course into the hallway. Thanks, Mrs. Desent at St David's Nursery School!
2.  Create obstacles that extend physical and brain development.  Use chairs, tables, blocks – whatever you have handy.  If going outdoors, incorporate natural or stationary obstacles – trees, climbing equipment, etc.
3.  Find fun, exciting instrumental music to accompany your course – about 4-5 minutes is perfect.

Weave the Trees
Now you’re ready to start.  I ask the kids to sit in the middle of the rug, while I set out the course around them.  As I place each obstacle, I name it (Bat Cave, Balance Beam, etc) and then invite one child to demonstrate how to do that task.

Once the course is set, I assign small groups of children to stand at each station.  This helps avoid a back-up line of children waiting for an obstacle.  
Music on – BEGIN!

My November Obstacle Course included:
Under the Bat Cave
The Rainbow” hoop – some scarves attached to a hula hoop – they duck and go through it.

Weave the Trees” – out to the hallway to go in-and-out the blocks.  This took several attempts for some of my students to successfully navigate the weaving pattern.

The Bat Cave” – I tossed a black blanket over a small table, placed a plastic bat atop it and the children crawled under it. Crawling involves using oppositional movement – great for the brain.

The Red River of Fire
The River of Fire” – a red towel – oooh, scary!  Not!  But barrel-rolling is a great skill for pre-readers.  It involves the complete rotation of the body on the floor.  This takes practice – 4’s and 5’s may still struggle with it. But you can encourage Vestibular Development which is necessary for balance and Gross Motor Development to build strength and coordination.  For a comprehensive list of barrel-rolling benefits try Moving Smart’s article: Smart Steps: Let’Em Roll!

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Bridge Over Troubled Waters” – (ha ha – a shout-out to my youth!) – I have a homemade balance beam, but you can put a tapeline on the floor, or make funfoam “stepping stones” to tape to the floor.

    Our music was the theme from "Ghostbusters!"

It’s not a race! When we’re ready to start, I don’t say “GO!” 
I say “BEGIN!”  

There are 2 simple rules:
1. One person on an obstacle at a time. (except the weaving)

2. Do not push or pass the person in front of you.

    Now you’re ready!  Tell me what you’ve created for obstacles – I’m always looking for new ones!
    AND – if you are coming to the NAEYC Conference in Orlando. Please come say hello at my Exhibit Booth #244, or at my workshop Friday at 1:00 – “Active Music for Active Learners!” on page 137 of the NAEYC program book.  Let’s get moving together!

Yours for a Song!
“Miss Carole” Stephens

Park Ridge, Illinois
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