There has been a lot of press lately about tragic outcomes due to bullying. This is an issue that we all need to take seriously. The most successful anti-bullying programs take a comprehensive approach by training both teachers and students to recognize bullying and successfully intervene. One-time programs have not been shown to be as effective. That being said, songs that deal with issues of bullying, when paired with discussion and other anti-bullying programs, can enhance student understanding and empathy. Music can sometimes affect people at a deeper level, reaching the heart and not just the head.
As the performing group Two of a Kind, we have often presented assemblies and workshops on the topics of anti-bullying and conflict resolution. We have a number of songs that deal with these issues and can be used as discussion starters. One of my favorite songs is called, “Hey, Little Ant,” by Hannah and Phil Hoose. This song (and the book which was made of it) is about a conversation between a kid and an ant. The kid is about to squash the ant, so the ant tries to get the kid to see things from his/her perspective. By the end of the song, the kid is having second thoughts about killing the ant. The song ends with a question:
Should the ant get squished?
Should the ant go free?
It’s up to the kid, not up to me.
We’ll leave that kid with the raised up shoe
What do you think that kid should do?
Younger kids may be thinking about this song literally as being about a kid and an ant. However, older students can realize that the song has deeper messages about how we treat each other and the value of seeing things from different perspectives. When we do this song for an audience of children, we usually ask for a show of hands at the end from the people who think the ant should go free and not get squished. We almost always have an overwhelming majority of hands raised in positive response to that question, even though we’ve often heard a lot of kids yelling “squish it!” before that point. That gives us an opportunity to point out that the loudest voices (the bullying voices) aren’t always representative of the majority. This is an especially important lesson (for adults too) when the airwaves are filled with loud, bullying voices that don’t necessarily represent most people.
We often like to pair “Hey, Little Ant” with a song that we wrote about making good choices called “When I’m Strong.” The idea behind this song is that although it can be difficult to make the right decision when others around you are trying to push you in a different direction, it feels good and strong to do the right thing. The verses have examples about boys excluding girls on the playground, being pressured to buy things like cards or video games to continue a friendship, and opening a present that was hidden in the closet. The Chorus goes:
I feel good
When I’m strong
When I decide for myself
What’s right and what’s wrong
Additional songs that deal with accepting differences include “Love Makes a Family” by Two of a Kind, celebrating all kinds of families; “So Many Ways to Be Smart” by Stuart Stotts, about different learning styles and multiple intelligences; “Jennifer Montgomery” by Stuart Stotts, about a deaf girl who is excluded, but creates friendship and understanding through teaching her classmates to sign; and “The Colors of Earth,” a beautiful song by Sarah Pirtle about celebrating all colors, by comparing skin and eye color to things found in the natural world. There are many more examples of songs that can be used to start discussions and reinforce programs to help students, teachers and parents reduce bullying in and out of school.
I've spent the last twenty-five years working as a music therapist with young kids who contend with language and communication disabilities. I want to share about increasing vocal and verbal behaviors in young kids. I do have to premise this by saying that these are very generalized, non-specific ideas to consider. I'm not a speech therapist, but these activities can be thought of as a starting point.
By Ron Fink & John Heath of Bad Wolf Press
Many teachers are afraid of doing a play with their class.
It sounds so daunting: big costumes to come up with, sets to build, and so much to organize! You’re way too busy teaching standards to mess with that kind of boondoggle.
John Heath and I have written a variety of musical plays for classroom use, and we have a few principles:
If this is new to you, let me make two more points.
Here’s a fun song from our U.S. Geography show called “The Big Southwest.” It’ll help your students remember facts about that section of the country.
Listen to a clip of "The Big Southwest" from the U.S. Geography Musical Play in the audio player, below.Play Audio:
It's amazing how quickly the Halloween decorations came down and were replaced with turkeys, pilgrims, and other symbols of Thanksgiving throughout the school where I work. My students were already asking me to sing the Turkey Dinner Dance with them on November 1st, and of course I happily obliged.
As much fun as it is to sing about turkey dinner with all the trimmings, the theme that I really want to drive home with them this month is thankfulness. It's important to be thankful for all that we have throughout the entire year, and Thanksgiving is the perfect season to start encouraging my students to do so.
The song Thankful is meant to be a conversation starter; it poses the question: what are YOU thankful for? Not only do I share the things and people for which I am thankful, but I invite my students to add to that list. We've written verse upon verse using their answers, which range from "my little sister" to "kisses from my dog" and more.
What kinds of sweet and creative answers will your students give in response to this question? There are plenty of songs about Thanksgiving to get them started!
Some of these behaviors could be alleviated if the child could communicate their feelings to someone. (In a previous blog, we discussed how sign language can serve as a bridge while children are developing their spoken language.)
Weather Report is a wonderful song to get children to not only recognize facial expressions but also to get “in tune” with their kinesthetic signals too.
After reviewing the classroom weather chart, explain that feelings can change just like the weather….and just like the weather, we look for signs to help us identify those feelings.
How do we move if we’re angry? Possible answers-stamping feet, pounding fists, wrinkled faces
How do we move if we’re happy? Possible answers-jumpy, dancy, floaty
How do we move if we’re sad? Possible answers-slow, droopy
Play the song Weather Report.
Follow up activities:
Weather Report: (in a group or in pairs)
One child is the meteorologist (perhaps with a blow up microphone) and another child is the “weather”. The “weather” child demonstrates a feeling and the meteorologist identifies the emotion.
Make a week’s calendar of feelings. The children can color, write or place stickers on the various days to denote their weather/feeling.
This activity is great for rainy days and kids love it. The best part is that they're learning and they don't even realize it because of all the fun they're having!
Freeze games have stood the test of time and there is a reason. They are nutrition for our brains. Brains always seek more sophisticated stimulation. Here are some of the frozen benefits. Freeze games require the recognition of sound verses silence, give and take, interest in the “other,” listening, auditory processing, concentration and attention, bodily control and coordination, imagination, and expectancy. The game is also good for waiting and impulse control, building all types of language, conceptual and pre-academic skills, social skills and more. These skills are all used for higher emotional and academic intelligence. Oh, and they're fun to play.
Goodbyes aren’t easy. There’s nothing fun about parting from a relative or friend, whether its for a few short days or for an extended period of time. But if saying goodbye is difficult for you, think about how it must feel for a child who has severe separation anxiety issues. Many of the children I work with must deal with this on a daily basis, and that is something we can address through music.
I always end my music therapy sessions and music classes with a goodbye song, and I try to stick with those that are happy and upbeat so that the transition to the next activity is hopefully a positive one. However, I wanted to address the feelings that some children associate with saying goodbye, which is why I wrote Time to Say Goodbye.
It’s important to validate the anxious or sad feeling a child may experience when he or she says goodbye, and reassure that it is only a temporary separation (unless it is not, in which case a different approach should be taken).
This song could be used at different transition times throughout the day; I mentioned going to school and coming home from school, but you could easily add verses about going other places or seeing off a friend or loved one for a period of time.
Explore more of our Transition Songs for helping children move from one activity, place, or situation to the next.
Happy Harvest Candles
Materials: Baby food jars; white glue; paint brush; yellow, orange and green tissue paper.
Method: Tear tissue paper into little pieces. Paint the outside of the jar with glue, thinning the glue with water if needed. Stick the tissue paper bits to the jar until it is completely covered. Let it dry overnight. Place a small tea light in the jar and have an adult light the candle.
Pin the Apple on the Tree
You will need a large brown paper tree shape; blindfold; paper apple with the child's name and tape on the back; a basket.
Tape the tree to a door or a wall. Give the child his or her apple, put on the blindfold, and point the child toward the tree. The child tries to stick the apple on the tree. After all the apples are placed on the tree, count them and ask each child to "pick" an apple and place it in the basket.
Pamela Pigella's Haystack Snacks
Adult: Heat morsels in a double boiler or microwave on medium 3 to 4 minutes until melted. Stir well. Add noodles and toss with two forks until evenly coated.
Children: Drop mixture by spoonfuls onto foil or wax paper. Refrigerate until set. Makes about 24 yummy haystacks!
Fun Fingerplays - Autumn Leaves
Autumn leaves are floating down.
(float arms and hands up and down)
They make a carpet on the ground.
(make a spreading motion on the ground)
Then, swish! The wind comes rustling by,
(move arms to side quickly)
And sends them dancing to the sky.
Miss Pennypack's Autumn Puzzler
You will need a yellow, red, and green apple.
Each apple is a different color
In this puzzler's apple game.
But when the apples are cut open,
Each one is just the same!
People are different colors. Are we the same inside?
As a teacher…
Have you had a child throw a block across the room in anger?
Have you had a toddler bite another child?
Our reactions might include…
A. Forming a support group
B. Asking ourselves why we didn’t choose another profession
C. Getting angry with the child in question
Yes, the behavior is unacceptable but many times, the behavior stems from the inability to express needs, wants or emotions. Often, once a child develops a communication system, the behavior will fade.
Infants’ and toddlers’ oral communication skills don’t develop as quickly as their understanding of the world around them and their hand-eye coordination. Sign language can be a great bridge for communication. Pairing a word with a sign exposes children to a communication tool that they can start to use now! It is also a good tool for children with special needs.
Here is an “edu-taining” clip to get you started.
Music is also a great way to get children “in tune” with their feelings. Several years ago I saw a 3 year old child practicing scissor skills with his teacher. All of a sudden the child threw the scissors at the teacher. Was the child mad at his teacher?
No, he was frustrated and didn’t have the vocabulary to identify the feeling for himself or the teacher. With that scenario fresh in my mind, Danny and I wrote an activity song “Chill” (a homage to Greg and Steve’s “Freeze”) that can get children and teachers talking about frustration as well as giving them a physical strategy of “chilling".
Music and reading can be connected in so many ways, but for this blog I will focus on songs that inspire children to read and songs that are related to specific children’s books. It is the aim of most teachers and parents to encourage children to read for pleasure, yet there are so many competing demands on kids’ attention from video games, homework, chores, extra-curricular activities and TV. Since music is so appealing, songs can get kids excited about reading in general, and about particular books.
One of our favorite general reading songs is “7 Nights to Read,” which takes an old (and somewhat inappropriate) ‘50’s song and adds new lyrics about reading and writing each day of the week. It’s a fun rock n’ roll song that kids love. Tom Chapin and Michael Mark’s “Library Song” is always a big hit because the music is compelling and sing-able, and the lyrics help us imagine characters from books coming to life and wreaking havoc at the library. Two of a Kind’s song “Author, Author” takes a similar idea and celebrates authors by imagining that all their characters come to life and throw a party for the author who created them. Likewise, Two of a Kind’s “Going on an Adventure” gives several examples of how books can allow you to travel through time and space and have adventures without leaving your home.
Songs about specific books can capture kids imagination and get them interested in reading that particular book. Two of a Kind’s song “Swimmy” tells the story of Leo Lionni’s book by the same name. The watery music and catchy lyrics compliment the book and drive home the message that we are stronger when we all work together. “Wild Things” is a fun action song by David Heitler-Klevans, inspired by the book by Maurice Sendak. “Harriet the Spy” is another song by David, for chapter-book readers, with music reminiscent of ‘60’s spy movie themes.
Some songs have also been turned into books. Great examples of this are Raffi’s “Baby Beluga,” Ashley Bryan’s version of “What a Wonderful World”, Peter, Paul & Mary’s “Puff the Magic Dragon” and many others. One of my favorites is “Hey, Little Ant” by Phil and Hannah Hoose. This song and book appeals to children on many different levels. On the surface, it is about a kid deciding whether or not to step on an ant, but it goes beyond the literal by bringing up issues such as bullying, learning from someone who is different from you, seeing things from another point of view, and making moral decisions.
These are just a few examples of the connections between songs and literature. Both music and books are such rich source material that when combined they’re almost irresistible!