Themed activities are great for young children, especially when it comes to the holidays. Some of the themes I use with my students during this time of year include snowmen, Santa, giving and sharing, and Christmas trees. The more creative, the better!
With just a few props and some special tunes, you can easily create a reindeer theme for your classroom. Here are some suggestions:
Listen to "The Other Eight Reindeer" in the audio player below, from Listen & Learn: Christmas
If you've read my previous entries, then you already know that my favorite way to begin a new month is with a song dedicated to it. December is no exception, especially since it's a month chock-full of special days and reasons to celebrate.
Like all of the songs in my Listen & Learn: Months series, the December Song emphasizes the number of days in the month, where it fits numerically (number 12, of course!) and the important events that occur during December.
Most children associate the month of December with Christmas, but as you and I know, not all of our students come from similar cultures, religions and backgrounds. That is why I'm always sure to include other traditions, such as Hannukah and Kwanzaa, when I talk about the holidays. Both of these celebrations are included in the December Song, and it would be simple to substitute any other holidays that your students may celebrate, as well. This is a wonderful learning and sharing opportunity for the classroom, as many children love to talk about their families' holiday traditions.
And then, of course, there is New Year's Eve. There are so many interactive discussions to be had concerning this special day, from new year's resolutions to the different ways everyone rings in the new year.
December is, without a doubt, a fun month for planning lessons and activities. While my own lessons span a wide array of topics, it's nice to have a comprehensive song to tie them all together. From the first of the month to the last day of 2009, here's wishing you a wonderful December!
Written by Rachel Rambach
Listen to "December" in the audio player below, from Listen & Learn: MonthsPlay Audio:
Kwanzaa (“first fruits of the harvest’) is a holiday celebrated by African-Americans. First created by Ron Karenga in 1966, Kwanzaa is a celebration and fusion of African heritage and culture.
Kwanzaa lasts six days, from December 26 to January 1.
There are seven principles (nguzo saba) of Kwanzaa:
▪ Collective work and responsibility
▪ Cooperative economics
Each day, participants ask “Habari gani” (“what is the news?”). Each day, the answer to this question highlights the principle of the day. A special candelabra called a kinara (kee-na-rah) is used; one candle on the first day, two on the second, etc. Homemade gifts - underscoring the principle of creativity - are often exchanged.
One of my favorite books on Kwanzaa is Seven Candles for Kwanzaa by Andrea Davis Pickney, beautifully illustrated by Brian Pickney. Penguin Books: 1993.
Several years ago, I was asked to write a song to honoring Kwanzaa: Kwanzaa is Here is both simple to learn, and easy to use as a performance piece.
When I first teach the song, I present it in a “call and response” pattern. I “call” the first and third lines; the class or audience “responds” by alternating the second line (“habari gani”) or the fourth line (“Kwanzaa is here.”). It doesn’t take long for the students to learn all the words. Then, you can play with arrangement: have half the class “call” and the other half “respond.”
This becomes a wonderful performance option! The caller may be a soloist, a group solo, or ½ of the class. You may have the call/response pattern only in the verses, and have everyone sing together (tutti) for the chorus. Or you may have the call/response all the way through the song.
Discuss what each of the principles mean.
▪ Kindergarten and first graders may do this together, while the teacher records on chart paper.
▪ 2nd grade and higher: After the first discussion, each student chooses one principle to write about: what does this principle mean to me? How do I observe it or experience it in my life?
Music has patterns just like math. A song with a verse and chorus has an ABAB pattern. The pattern for Kwanzaa is Here varies, depending on how you sing it! A simple call/response, alternating each line, would be ABAB.
Call and response - a musical pattern in which a one person or group begins one phrase and another person or group responds with another phrase.
Solo - one person singing (or playing an instrument) alone
Tutti - everyone sings together.
Written by Greta Pedersen
Listen to a short sample of Kwanzaa is Here in the audio player, below.Play Audio:
Thankfulness doesn’t end with the start of Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving). As we begin our excursions to the mall, start to remember and help children remember that the best things aren’t found in big gift boxes.
Activity: Big Things Don’t Always Come in Fancy Boxes
Art Activity: Decorate one side of a piece of paper as a gift box. Fold the paper in half. On the other side encourage the children to write, have them dictate to you, or draw something that they can do this holiday season to help someone else.
Remind your children what whatever they may celebrate in December: Christmas, Kwanzaa, or Chanukah…giving a gift from the heart is a universal message for everyone.
Written by Caroline Figiel
Listen to a short sample of Little Things in the audio player, below.
Fun Thanksgiving Activities from Months of Music
by Karen Rupprecht & Pam Minor
The Thanksgiving Shopping Game
A Fun Fingerplay: A Turkey is a Funny Bird
A turkey is a funny bird
(Hold up one hand.)
Watch him wobble wobble
(Sway your hand)
All he knows is just one word:
Gobble, gobble, gobble!
Make Your Butter for Thanksgiving Bread!
Thanksgiving will be here soon, but there is still time to introduce new, related songs and activities in the classroom. As the holiday season approaches and students begin to get restless, I am open to anything that will catch and keep their attention!
One of those sure-fire songs is "The Ten Days of Thanksgiving". It is based on the familiar tune, "The Twelve Days of Christmas", so when I begin singing it, everyone instantly recognizes the melody and becomes attentive. Here are a few other reasons why I love incorporating this song into my lessons:
I must say, this song is a challenge for the teacher, too! When I first started using it in the classroom, I had a little cheat sheet taped to my guitar so that I could remember the order of verses. But now, after singing it so often (mostly at the request of the students!) it is deeply ingrained in my memory. The day has just begun, but I have no doubt that I will sing this tune no less than six times before school is over!
This article was written by Rachel Rambach
Listen to this song from Listen & Learn: Thanksgiving in the audio player, below.Play Audio:
Along with topics such as gratitude, food and family, Thanksgiving is a good time for learning and teaching about Native American cultures, including their rich and diverse musical traditions. As a nation, we have thankfully come a long way from the simplistic and offensive ways in which Native American music was sometimes represented in times past. It can sometimes be daunting to find materials that are respectful of the complexities of the various Native American nations (or tribes), which are also accessible to young children.
Ya Ha Haway is an inter-tribal greeting song. It is not associated with one particular Native American nation, but has been used as a cross-cultural welcoming song. This song also features a drum part that is fun to play on either drums or body percussion (clapping, stomping, patting, etc.)
There are many wonderful Native American game-songs. Wee Hee Nah is a “duck-catching” game played in a similar fashion to “London Bridge.” Two children (the duck-catchers) make a bridge with their hands outstretched high towards each other. The other children are the ducks, and they walk in a circle going clockwise, passing under the bridge. At the end of the song, the two duck-catcher children bring their hands down to catch whichever “duck” happens to be under the bridge at that point in the song. Some versions have the caught child excluded from the game or sent to sit in the middle of the circle, but I prefer to have the “duck” take the place of one of the duck-catchers.
Children often ask “what do the words mean?” and this can be confusing with many Native American songs. The lyrics of both Ya Ha Haway and Wee Hee Nah are “vocables” – sounds that cannot be translated into specific meanings in another language.
In addition to music, there is a rich tradition of Native American stories, and often stories and songs are combined in mutually enriching ways. There are a number of wonderful story-song combinations in the book The Singing Sack, including “Gluskabi and the Wind Eagle” (Abenaki) and our favorite, “The Boy Who Lived With Bears” (Iroquois).
Hey, Hey Watenay is a beautiful Ojibwa lullaby, which has made its way into the repertoire of folksingers such as Sally Rogers and Claudia Schmidt. The minor pentatonic melody is both haunting and comforting, and this song is accessible in both its original form and in English (“sleep, sleep little one...”).
There are also many songs about Native Americans and related subjects. Older students will learn a lot from Fred Small’s song “The Heart of the Appaloosa”. Nancy Schimmel’s 1492 and Two of a Kind’s Columbus Revisited both deal with the irony of “being discovered”.
I have heard a number of Native American speakers make a plea to educators that we teach children that Native Americans are alive and present in today’s world – not merely a part of past history. The vibrant traditions of Native American songs and stories can help to bring this point home.
This article was written by Two of a Kind.
Thanksgiving is approaching quickly and it’s a great time to look at the meaning of the holiday, going beyond the turkey and mashed potatoes. When we think about giving thanks, we think about what we value in life.
A number of years ago, David worked with a class of first-grade students and had them brainstorm ideas for a Thanksgiving song. They came up with the song Thank You for Thanksgiving. The first verse goes like this:
Thank you for Thanksgiving
Thank you for everything
Thank you for the Indians
Thank you for the Pilgrims
Thank you for the space and the stars
Thank you for Jupiter and Mars
It’s a very simple song, and has some of the wonderful kid-like lyrics that you might expect from a group of 6 and 7-year-olds. Using that song as a framework, you can have your students brainstorm their own ideas. The rhyme scheme is “abcbdd.”
Thank you for ________ (a)
Thank you for ________ (b)
Thank you for ________ (c)
Thank you for ________ (b)
Thank you for ________ (d)
Thank you for ________ (d)
Some other great songs on this theme include Raffi’s “Thanks A Lot” and “All I Really Need” on the Baby Beluga album. Also, Betsy Rose has a wonderful song called “I Can’t Imagine.” The first verse begins, “I can’t imagine life without popcorn.” You can substitute different words for popcorn such as family, water, chocolate, etc. Once again, this allows the children to voice their opinions about the things that matter to them.
Combining these songs and songwriting activities with original art is another way students can express themselves. Once they’ve written their own lyrics to the Thanksgiving song they can illustrate their song. The song with illustrations would be a wonderful gift to parents. Happy Thanksgiving!
Listen to a short sample of "Thank You for Thanksgiving" in the audio player, below.
Purchase the song with printable lyrics.
Music is a great way to teach children social skills!
In a time when face-to-face social interactions are often being replaced by social networking online, it is increasingly important to teach these skills to our children and students. Social skills can be especially difficult for children with developmental disabilities because these children often are unable to pick up common social cues, such as saying “hello” and “goodbye." Music provides a safe, predictable place to practice skills that may be anxiety-producing; songs make these teachable moments fun!
One important social skill is saying “hello." Our society gives high social marks to people who appear to be friendly. Many children don’t understand the importance of this skill at first, but upon becoming better at it, they often get the positive social reinforcement that allows this behavior to become more habitual and natural.
Beginning the day with a “hello” song is a great way to start the day! Here are a few ways I use a “hello” song to teach this skill:
Listen to a “hello” song while drawing what the song is about. Go around the room and allow children to share their drawings if they would like. Talking about songs has the added benefits of teaching children to take turns and of expanding their vocabulary.
After singing or listening to a “hello” song, make a plan to say “hello” to three people throughout the day. Adding a visual picture or drawing can be a great way to support songs as educational tools. Make a board with a variety of pictures of people that we can say hello to.
Sing a “hello” song. Go around the circle as each child says hello to the person on his/her right. I look for a positive aspect of their behavior and share this with the students. Then if additional skills need to be reminded, these can be “sandwiched” into the comment. For example “What a beautiful smile you had as you said hello, but let’s hear you say it a little louder so they can hear you. Your words are important and we want everyone to hear them.” Or “Well said, Tony. Remember to look towards their eyes. That way they will know that you are with them.”
I can say hi to my Mom when I wake up in the morning.
I can say hi to the bus driver on the way to school.
I can say hi to my friends when I see them in the lunchroom;
and when I meet someone new, saying ‘hi’ is good to do.
Refer to the song if someone new should enter the classroom by saying “Remember that the song teaches us that people like it when we say 'hi,' or even try humming a bit of the song, as a reminder.
Listen to a short sample of "People Like It When I Say Hi" in the audio player, below. (from My Turn Your Turn)Play Audio: