April Showers 2.0

rain

April showers bring May flowers, as the saying goes. But here
in New Jersey, the rain, in blatant disregard of both the calendar
and corny old sayings, is still falling. No one’s a big fan of bad
weather, but I’d argue that it’s particularly annoying for preschool
teachers. Young children need to get outside every day, and not just
for a few minutes. When they don’t get their run-around time
outdoors, for more than a day or two… well, it it’s not pretty.
Little voices get louder, petty grievances get even more blown out of proportion than usual, tempers flare. And when preschool tempers flare, we’re talking red-faced screaming and hitting and pushing.
Help!

Music and movement to the rescue! Let’s get some bodies moving.
Feet stomping. Hands clapping. Add some jumping and some wild and crazy dancing. It’s a tried-and-true way to release some preschool
energy in a positive and fun way.

 

This week (anticipating Cinco de Mayo), I’ve been using a song called  “Bailar Rapido” in my music enrichment classes. (Don’t worry – it isn’t all “rapido” – there are slow sections too!) The song is one of many delightful songs from the wonderfully named CD by Baby Loves Salsa, “Salsa For Kittens and Puppies.” (You can view the video, and the purchase the CD, here.)

You don’t need to know Spanish to enjoy dancing along with “Bailar Rapido.” Just dance, following the tempo of the music, and stop and “freeze” when the music stops. Each time the music resumes, it’s a bit faster, until by the end you’re all dancing in a very “rapido” whirl.

Every group I’ve done this with absolutely loves it and wants to do it again!

More of my favorite movement songs include: “Jump” by Patty Shukla,
“Get Ready to Wiggle” by the Wiggles, and “Dancing Bear” by Bari Koral.

I have dozens of fun movement songs you can lead on your own in my
new book, “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” published by Gryphon House. Here’s one of my favorites:

Clappety-Clap 

Children should be standing in a circle. Explain to them that this is a clapping song, but that they’re going to clap in a special rhythm – “clap-pet-y clap,” with one clap per syllable. Practice this rhythmic clap a few times.

Clap and move as indicated in the song, while singing to the tune of “Jimmy Crack Corn”:

                        Clappety-clap and pat your knees,
                              Clappety-clap and pat your knees,
                              Clappety-clap and pat your knees,
                              And clappety-clap again.

Additional verses:

                        Clappety-clap and jump up and down…

                              Clappety-clap and kick your feet…

 Then comes the fun part – ask the children to think of other movements you all could do after you “clappety-clap.” They’ll love to come up with inventive and fun ideas!

Have fun with these easy and energizing songs… even on sunny days!

 

 

All Aboard!

pattyshukla

Trains are one of those things, like farm animals and dinosaurs, that young children don’t really have a lot of experience with, but they’re still fascinated by them. I guess most children are more likely to come into contact with trains. If you count subway trains. (But I don’t think they hold the same allure, even for preschoolers.)

Anyway, I’m reading a story with a train in it this week (“Toot! Toot! Quack! Quack!” by John Archambault and David Plummer (by the way, my classes all love this book – you can buy it here.) I wanted a song to go with it, and I chose “Choo Choo Train” by the wonderful Patty Shukla. (The video’s on YouTube.)

Well, I knew I liked this peppy movement song, and I anticipated that the children would enjoy it, but I had no idea what a hit it would be! They love the slowing down, stopping, and then resuming the regular (fast) pace, which happens several times in the song.

As an educational bonus, at the end the song counts to twenty. Then the music stops and starts one more time! Preschoolers and kindergartners think this absolutely hilarious. I haven’t had a group yet that didn’t respond enthusiastically to this song! I highly recommend it to anyone working with young children!

 

 

The Creative Magic of Naming

This article appears in the current issue of Creativity Portal (creativity-portal.com).
If you’re not familiar with Creativity Portal, check it out- it has wonderful ideas and articles for artists, writers, teachers, and other creative people!

The Creative Magic of Naming

How to use the Naming Game to empower children and foster creativity.

By Abby Connors | 3/20/16

My pig puppet greeted the kindergarten class with his usual cheerful oinking. Then he whispered in my ear.

“Oh, you’re hungry? You’d like some corn?” I asked him. He nodded.

All the children held out their hands, filled with delicious imaginary corn, ready to feed the pig.

Puppet CornI can’t recall when the puppet-feeding routine started, but for many years, this is how I’ve ended my music enrichment classes for young children. The puppet animal is usually one who had appeared in a story or song we’d enjoyed earlier.

On this particular day, though, as the pig and I began our journey around the circle, giving each child a turn to feed him, Aiden suddenly asked, “What’s the pig’s name?”

Now, generally, I’m pretty quick with silly answers to silly questions, but this one caught me off guard. My mind was a blank.

“Hmm…” I stalled. Then I said to Aiden, “I don’t know. What do you think would be a good name for the pig?”

With no hesitation, Aiden decided, “Sharky.”

“Wow,” I said, delighted. “That’s an interesting name.”

But Shalini, sitting next to Aiden, was frowning thoughtfully. “No, I would name her… Princess Pig.” “Oh, I like that one too,” I responded.

Before I knew it, all the children were clamoring for a turn to tell me their name for the pig puppet! “Pinky,” “Isabella,” “Piggy Wiggy,” and many others were suggested.

“Those are all wonderful names!” I said.

I didn’t realize it until later, but it was interesting that none of the kindergartners insisted that the whole class accept their idea as the one and only name for the puppet. They hadn’t made a contest out of it — they’d just enjoyed the fun of thinking up names. Since five-year-olds tend to turn everything into a competition, this was really remarkable. I think it was because they let themselves just get into the flow of creative thinking. The process was energizing and engaging in itself — they didn’t need an end goal.

After that day, “naming the puppet” became an eagerly awaited tradition in that group’s music class for the rest of the year. And since then, I’ve used this activity with many other groups, and it’s always a favorite. Why? I’m not sure, but I do have a few hunches.

First, naming puppets (or stuffed animals, or dolls) is an easy and socially acceptable way for young children to express their feelings — all kinds of feelings. They might be feeling a little aggressive (like the namer of “Sharky”) — or self-assertive, giving the puppet their own name. (One boy named a puppet “Taj 2,” like a movie sequel.) Some children feel maternal (or paternal) and give the puppet a name like “Sweetie Pie” or “Little Baby Elephant.” Some choose extravagant, “fancy” names like Lilybelle or Anastasia — the naming equivalent of playing dress-up. And some children enjoy the opportunity to be silly and whimsical, with names such as Hedgehog Flip-Flop, Pugglia, and Zoomy.

I also suspect that this activity feels empowering to young children. When a child names a puppet, she’s in charge. The name she chooses is her own creation — even if it’s “Honey,” it’s her creative decision to match the name “Honey” with this particular puppet. It seems like so many popular playthings today take this power away from children, with pre-named characters from movies and TV. These toys can be fun sometimes, but young children need the experience of naming their own toys, too. Naming validates their own personal style and their ability to make decisions (plus the right to change their mind later, if they want to.)

When I was a child, I thought naming a doll was almost as fun as the doll itself. I’d spend days happily hemming and hawing over the perfect name. (The perfect middle name, too!) One of my sisters was totally the opposite — she named all her dolls Patty. Every single one. Like every other form of creative expression, there’s no one right way to give a toy a name — except the way you want to.

Naming is also a form of pretend play, just like dressing up in princess gowns, playing house with a toy kitchen set, or “building” with a toy tool kit. Naming is something grownups do (although they don’t usually name puppets.) (Unless they’re me.) Pretend play centered around grownup activities gives young children the opportunity to explore their feelings about their parents and other adults in their lives and “practice” adult roles.

There’s an educational bonus to this activity, too — naming is a way for young children to play with language and sound. For instance, I’ve found they often choose rhyming names, like Froggy Woggy. Alliteration (even though they don’t know what that word means) is popular too — names like Funny Funny Fox and Choo-Choo Chicken. They like to add silly endings, like with Chimperoo or Spiderella. And there are children who always invent completely nonsensical names like Zoozoo or Biffalo. Rhyme, alliteration and fanciful wordplay are some of the same creative tools they will use for poetry or other creative writing, and they develop these skills almost unconsciously with this game.

Play the Naming Game!

PigIf you’d like to use this naming activity with your class, be sure to:

Keep it casual. Bring in a puppet or stuffed animal, preferably in the context of a story you’ve read with the children, or something else they’re familiar with. Say something like, “Uh-oh. I forgot to name this puppet. Does anyone have any ideas?” or “Hm. What do you think would be a good name for this puppet?” Start with the children who raise their hands (or just call out), and then ask, “Anyone else?” The first few times, it’s probably better not to go around the circle and ask everyone for an idea. Some children might be more comfortable just listening until they get the hang of it and realize they don’t have to come up with a “great” idea. Remember it’s just for fun.

Accept every response. (The only exception I make is for “bad words,” or mean or insulting language — then I ask the child if they can think of a nicer name.) I try to be positive and encouraging, but not overly praise-y — that can give a message that they need to invent a name that pleases me, instead of a name they like. Keep the big compliments for the entire group, at the end of the activity. Then tell them how excellent their names were, and what imaginative, creative children they are!

I don’t know any other activity that provides so much fun — and inspiration for creative thinking — for such a small investment of time. My only word of warning is that when young children find out how much fun it is to name puppets, before you now it they’ll start to name everything. One boy introduced me to his hat one day! (Its name was Jack, in case you’re wondering!) •

©2016 Abigail Flesch Connors. All rights reserved.

Abby ConnorsAbby Connors is an early-childhood music teacher and author of Shake, Rattle and Roll: Rhythm Instruments and More for Active Learning

 

 

Learning from Teaching

I had an awesome time presenting at the “Kenyon at Kean” Annual Conference at Kean University in Union, NJ last Saturday. Kenyon is the chapter affiliate of NJAEYC for Central New Jersey, and if you you want to see some dedicated teachers – well, after a week of working with young children, to wake up early on a Saturday for a conference is pretty impressive. Ans it isn’t like these teachers just showed up, either – they’re always engaged, energetic and ready to play, move, and sing! And jump! (My presentations, like my classes for children, always include plenty of jumping!!)

Teaching teachers is a really interesting experience because I’m basically teaching my peers. These people know what it’s like to work with preschoolers and kindergartners, which could be daunting, but I know that, like me, they’re all here to learn and share.

There’s never been a workshop (and I’ve presented more than 30) in which I didn’t learn something – sometimes, I felt, more than I taught. The groups I met with on Saturday (I presented twice) shared songs, movement activities, tips on explaining ideas to young children – all kinds of great stuff. When participants improvised their own movement activities in small groups, one group even made up a song to go with it (which was super cute and I can’t wait to use it!).

My hope is that my presentations will not only teach music activities and research about their benefits for young children, but also encourage teachers to tap into their own creative energy. The groups on Saturday were just bursting with enthusiasm and imagination! Thank you to all these teachers who gave up a Saturday morning to learn – and to teach.

January, Also Known As “Square One”

This post doesn’t have a picture to illustrate it. That’s because when I looked up “preschoolers fighting” or “preschoolers angry” or “preschoolers not listening to you” all I found were photos of attractive child models who were looking cute-angry. Actual preschoolers don’t look that cute when they’re  hitting somebody or lying on the floor, very ostentatiously ignoring you. So you’ll have to imagine the picture. But if you’ve been teaching preschool the last two days, that shouldn’t be too hard.

January is like September lite. The children seem to have forgotten all the rules and all the routines. Most of all, they’ve forgotten how to cooperate with the teacher and with each other.

Music activities can really help with all this. Why? Because singing, dancing and playing instruments together as a group helps children to bond again, to enjoy being part of a classroom. Music activities also promote social skills like listening, taking turns, and respecting others’ ideas, as well as their physical space.

Any activity in which children keep the beat of rhythmic recorded music (I’ve been using Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” this week) with rhythm instruments involves something called entrainment, in which they adjust and attune their movements to the rhythm of the music and to the movements of the people around them. Entrainment has actually been found to promote empathy and understanding.

Activities involving children “rowing” together in a circle, holding hands, (using “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or other boat songs) will get them moving and acting as one to accomplish something (in this case, rowing a boat) and increase social bonding. Those large stretchy bands are wonderful for toddlers, who might not be up to holding hands for several minutes at a time but are delighted by the stretchy, colorful fabric. There are several available at West Music.

And don’t forget to dance! It’s social, a release for “indoor-day” extra energy, and it’s fun. Some of my students’ favorites are “Dance with Me (Baila Conmigo) by Greg and Steve, “Twist” by Patty Shukla, and “Get Ready to Wiggle” by (of course) The Wiggles. Make time for dancing every day – it’s been shown in several studies to relieve children’s stress and help them feel happier. (It’s good for us teachers too!)

Music helps with just about everything, but especially with unsocial, all-about-me behavior. It leads both children and grownups to the it’s-all-about-us place.

 

Super Simple Learning

snowflake

At NAEYC (I can’t believe it was almost a month ago!) I met
Sara, the community manager for Super Simple Learning. I
was so excited! I’ve used songs from Super Simple Learning
for years,  especially with children age three and younger,
though not always.

I first discovered them while browsing through YouTube,
where I came upon their channel. Each song is accompanied
by an animated video.

The great thing about Super Simple Learning songs is that
they truly ARE super simple. Those of you who teach toddlers will
know what I mean. Even songs that sound quite easy to us
will sometimes have a twist of melody, or an uneven pattern,
that provokes Blank Face in very young children. Not these
songs. Children easily and happily follow along with the words
and appropriate actions – because when they understand
something, they’re engaged and energized.

My favorite SSL songs are “Little Snowflake” (pictured above),
“One Little Finger,” and “Uh Huh” – I’m sure when you take a
listen to their channel you’ll find your own favorites.

And toddlers, twos, and threes aren’t the only appropriate
groups for these songs – they’re fun confidence-builders
for older groups at the beginning of the school year, or
dual language learners. Super Simple Learning is simply
an excellent resource for early childhood professionals.

The Amazing Patty Shukla

pattyshukla

At the NAEYC Annual Conference I was lucky enough to
meet Patty Shukla, who presented a poster session
there.

If you teach young children and you don’t know Patty
Shukla’s music, you should! I discovered her a couple
of years ago on YouTube, where she posts many outstanding
video (You can find her channel here). Patty is one of those
very rare children’s performers who truly understand the developmental  needs of young children, what they’re able
to do, and what they LOVE to do.

For instance, one of her songs, “Jump,” features her
singing “Jump, jump, jump, jump, jump, jump” a million
times (actually 64- I counted!) I thought, hmm… that’s
an awful lot of jumping. Well, guess what. Preschoolers and
kindergartners love to jump an awful lot! There are two
slow sections to rest up a bit, then back to jumping! My
students absolutely adore it.

Some of my students’ other favorites among Patty’s songs
include “Wiggle It!,” “S.T.O.P.,” and “Shake and Move.” But
all her music is catchy, easy for young children to understand,
and filled with fun and energy. She’s also produced Spanish
versions of many of her songs.

In person, Patty was just as lively and exuberant as her music!
I asked her about her tango song (the only tango for young
children I know!) and she explained that the tango originated
in Uruguay, where her parents are from, and not Argentina
as I (and I think most people) assumed. As we spoke, others
came by and joined the conversation, and Patty played and
sang bits of her songs. It was so much fun.

I hadn’t realized that aside from recording and producing
videos, Patty also presents concerts all over. I hope I can catch
her in concert the next time she performs in New Jersey!