Sunday, January 25, 2015

Bean Bags & A Song

Who doesn't like a bean bag?  Even as an adult, you get one in your hand and you begin squishing it.  They feel so....interesting.

Bean bags are one of the many things in early childhood that are thought of as 'toys' and yet they are so much more than that.  It's almost as if 'toy' is a bad word, like there is no time for toys in early childhood.  We must help children get ready for school, not be treating them as if they are already there! (Remember?  It's called "Preschool".)  Toys are the tools of childhood.  It is with toys that many skills are developed because it is through play we learn how to navigate the world.  Bean bags are fun toys.  Let's break down the things that are learned when playing with bean bags.

The first aspect is tactile.  Children are feeling them.  Squishing them.  Poking them. This helps to develop the FINE MOTOR SKILLS of the fingers.  When they push down on the beans in the middlle and they move, that's SCIENCE!  They are learning displacement. When they toss a bean bag up in the air and it comes down, that's gravity.  None of these concepts need to be named.  They can just happen while children's brains get wired for understanding the concept when the time comes.

Another fun thing to do with bean bags is walk and balance with one on your head, foot or shoulder. This is important for VESTIBULAR strengthening.  By taking the bean bag and placing it on different parts of the body, children are learning body parts - LANGUAGE.  

When using bean bags with children, I encourage them to 'try what I'm doing' and 'show me what you're doing'.  This allows for you to show them ideas and acknowledges they, too, can think of things to do.  CREATIVE THINKING as well as CONFIDENCE.  I also ask them to share with a friend and trade bean bags.  SOCIAL INTERACTION.

There are many songs using bean bags.  (I, myself, have composed a few.)  The combination of music with the bean bag activities intensifies the learning experience.  Music helps the children utilize the bean bags in a constructive way while making it easier to understand.  Because of music, they will retain what they've learned a bit longer as well because the music will get more areas of the brain involved in what could have been just mostly a motor movement activity.

If you haven't used bean bags in a while, it is time to revisit them.  Here is a link to quality bean bags made in the USA.   Bear Paw Creek Bean Bags   
To get a 10% discount, use code : Musicwithmar

If you are using bean bags, YAY!  Either way, here is a free song download for you.  Get out those bean bags and do the "Bean Bag Groove".  
Download here : BEANS  And use the word BEANS for the code.  
(Offer valid until Jan 31, 2015)

For daily brain facts, please visit Music with Mar. Brain Facts Page
Music with Mar. Website
Maryann “Mar.” Harman
BA Music / MA Education
Founder of Music with Mar.

Friday, January 23, 2015

All Wrapped Up

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

Well, this time I'm using "repurpose" in a little different way. Recently I was reminded that kids can use materials in ways they were intended, materials that are usually not used by kids but by adults.

We had a "gift wrapping" experience recently in my class. Kids got to use tissue paper and clear tape. These materials are things I would use to wrap gifts myself.

Gift Wrapping (Brick by Brick)

Kids often do not get to explore these types of items. So, my kids wrapped and wrapped. They would bring me a "gift," I would unwrap and appreciate the gift, they would wrap it up again.

Gift Wrapping (Brick by Brick)

What did they wrap? Food boxes that had been stuffed with newspaper; a few wooden blocks; a couple of homemade Velcro blocks. You could give them whatever was on hand. 

Gift Wrapping (Brick by Brick)

I like using tissue paper because it is easier to fold and handle than wrapping paper. And it's much cheaper. (Don't use that expensive art tissue; get the gift wrap kind from the dollar store!)

Gift Wrapping (Brick by Brick)

You can save the tissue if you want for later collage projects. We just tossed it after our exploration was a wrap.

Think of ways you can give kids adult tools or materials that they can explore and use themselves. I posted about glue guns and staplers in the past. Kids could use screwdrivers or hand drills, mixing bowls and whisks, spray bottles and dish cloths. We have even used a drying rack when we washed our play dishes

Look around the house. Walk through the store. Kids love to use those adult materials. What can you explore?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Nurturing Future Arts Lovers

Best Wishes for 2015!

Most of my writing about movement has focused on the importance of providing children opportunities to participate in the arts.  Today I am writing about nurturing engaged and interested arts audience members.

An important part of learning to appreciate dance, music, theater and other arts is to learn how to be an attentive and courteous audience member.    
We can do that with young children in the classroom by dividing the class into two or more groups and allowing each group to show, describe, perform, etc., whatever artistic endeavor they happen to be exploring.  The non-performing group or groups in this case becomes the audience.  I like to use this opportunity to explain what it means to be a polite audience member.  First of all, of course, I remind them that this is the other children's chance to perform, and the audience must be respectful of them and give them their full attention.  For very young children, I give them a task while they are watching, which becomes their focus and helps them to concentrate.

For example, let's say we are playing a movement game about making snowflake shapes.  

Making a snowflake shape!
Another snowflake shape!

Another snowflake shape!
I give the audience group a "watching task" such as:  "Watch the other children and see if you will see someone making a pointy snowflake shape, and also watch for a curvy snowflake shape!"  Before you change groups and it is their turn to "perform," follow up by asking them what they saw, and allow them to offer other ideas about what they noticed the other children doing.  They may also want to tell you what they are going to try when it is their turn to dance.  This has the added benefit of stimulating ideas for all of the children as they explore the movement game.  

I give a similar but different set of tasks when it is the other group's chance to "perform." ("Watch for a snowflake shape that is turning!" "Watch for one that is low to the ground!").  If I do this exercise periodically over the course of the year, the children become more comfortable waiting for their turns, and also are more involved in the whole activity of the group.  It has the added benefit of adding to a child's excitement to perform when it is his or her opportunity to shine.  These are all positive outcomes for an activity that on its face is passive (watching other children while waiting their turns), but it is not difficult to turn it into one that is engaging for the children.  

Most communities offer concerts, performances, museum exhibits, and other art events that are geared toward children.  Another suggestion I would make is to look for opportunities to attend dress rehearsals which are often open to the public and have a more informal atmosphere than the actual performance.  I obtained permission from the Cincinnati Ballet to bring my granddaughter to a dress rehearsal of Peter Pan.  She had just turned one, so my daughter-in-law and I didn't know what to expect.  It turned out that my granddaughter sat quietly for about a half hour, completely enraptured by the music and dance.  And, because it was a less formal setting than if we had taken her to see the full-length ballet, we could leave quietly when she was ready to go, without disturbing anyone.  

Other quick tips for taking children to and getting the most out of arts events, include checking the arts organization's website for educational enrichment related to the presentation, making sure to arrive with plenty of time for the children to become accustomed to the space, and checking for opportunities to meet the performers after the show.

In addition to introducing children to many different art forms and ways of looking at the world, you will help to foster lifelong appreciation in the delights of art, theater, and dance.

Keep on dancin' in 2015,


Sunday, January 18, 2015


#ReadYourWorld: Celebrating Children, Diversity and Humanity

“Our mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.

Hello, everyone. Ms. Brigid here, from Merit School of Music  in Chicago, IL. Thank you for joining me. I’m starting off 2015 by promoting books and multicultural literacy through the 2nd annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCCBD), #ReadYourWorld.

Co-founders Valerie Budayr from Jump Into a Book, and Mia Wenjen, from Pragmatic Mom write, “Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. (We’re) on a mission to change all of that….to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries....Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book.” 

Young readers won’t find access to these books, however without adult help – from parents, caregivers, teachers, librarians and booklovers - and bloggers! That’s where I come in. I’m one of over 150 bloggers writing posts on a multicultural book this month! On January 27, 2015, all contributing bloggers – and their book reviews – will be linked together on the MCCBD site for a multi-faceted gala reveal.

MCCBD is also partnering with First Book to create a Virtual Book Drive for the event, and with The Children’s Book Council to offer readers quality resources. Be there or be ☐. No worries, however, the resource will be archived on the MCCBD website for all eternity…or until the internet ends, whichever comes first!

I was delighted to be matched with Meera Sriram, an author born and raised in India, now living in the U.S. In our introductory emails, Meera wrote, “When I decided to follow my heart and start writing for children, I really wanted to address the void in the children's literature scene in India. I now have four books published in India.” The book she chose to share was Dinaben and the Lions of Gir, co-authored by Praba Ram.

The book opens a window into the world of the Maldhari community of Gujarat, India, some of who live in the Gir Forest. A bit of backstory may be helpful: The Gir Forest is famous for being sole remaining habitat for the Asiatic lion, and the Gir Forest National Park  and Wildlife Sanctuary were established for their protection. No human activity is allowed in the National Park, and only the Maldhari, famous for their dairy farming, are allowed to graze their cattle in the adjacent Wildlife Sanctuary. The Maldhari and the lions have coexisted for centuries, but the existence of both is challenged by other complex issues. 

In the first part of the book, the reader is introduced to Dinaben and the world she occupies. Standing in her house between suspended silver-colored water vessels, the richness of her clothing, and the textiles of other Maldharis shown on the next page, stands in stark contrast to a modest way of life.

Dinaben’s village is in the middle of the Gir Forest, home to a vast array of plants, birds and animals – including lions! The domestic cows and buffalos of the villagers also graze in the Gir. This can cause problems: “Sometimes, there are accidents among animals and humans. Generally, the Maldharis do not trouble the animals in the forest. They are busy with their work.”

The last part of the book looks closer at what Dinaben does during her day whlle her husband is busy with their cattle.  

Dinaben also is responsible for churning butter, making curd from milk, and making ghee, similar to clarified butter.  Her husband, as is the custom, takes these products to sell.  The book ends, "The Gir is Dinaben's home. It also belongs to the lions. So, let us help protect the forest."

What I liked:
-The book sheds light on a part of the world and a way of life very different than what is generally known in the U.S. It is also shows how rural people live and work (dairy farming) in relatable terms for young children – with the additional bonus of lions in the neighborhood! 

-The book’s photos document a wide variety of animals and birds, most of them uncommon to North America.
-Text is straight-forward and bi-lingual. The book I received had Tamil and English text, but is available in multiple languages, including Hindi, Telugu, Gujarati, and others.
-Many pages include a charming line drawing of a playful young lion, which adds a touch of whimsy to an otherwise strict, non-fiction presentation.
-The “More about lions” at the end of the book, offers kid-friendly information on lions in general, and clearly describes the differences between Asiatic and African Lions.

What I would have liked:
-More connection between the two stories.
-The development of a clearer message. The ending, “….let us help protect the forest.” gives no clear directive or action plan.
-People-animal conflict is alluded to, but in vague terms. The photos could better support the text, “Sometimes, there are accidents among animals and humans.” I can imagine the authors wanting to be sensitive on this subject, given that the book is written for children 4+-6 years old. More information for the adult reader (me) would have been helpful, perhaps as an afterword. That being said, the book is written for children living in India, so perhaps the adults reading it there are already well informed about Gir, the lions, and the Maldhari, in a way that I wasn’t.
-More, and larger photos of Dinaben and Maldhari life. Captions of what is portrayed would have been helpful.  
-I would like to know more about Dinaben – how she felt about her life, the lions, or what gave her pleasure.

After I finished reading the book, I wondered about what Dinaben wondered, e.g., what did she think about her family, her life, and the lions. What inspired her exquisite textile work? It also made me curious about the Asiatic lions, the Maldhari, and the resettlement of families that took place when the preserve was created. I spent hours searching the internet for articles and images on both subjects. Final verdict: The book made me care about Dinaben and prompted me to go on a further journey. I would share it with young children.

Many ideas for pre-K and K family and classroom connections come to mind. Some of the following activities were suggested by my friend, Allison Ashley, who teaches at Covenant Nursery School.
1.    Make butter.
2.    Bring in ghee – widely available in grocery stores – and serve it with crackers.
3.    Explore lion lore, using the book’s  “More about lions” pages. Play Saint Saen’s “The Royal March of the Lion”  from Carnival of the Animals, and invite the children to move like lions, with the occasional “roar” thrown in.
4.    Provide paper, glue, and brightly colored tissue paper for children to make their own artwork inspired by Dinaben’s appliqué and stitched textile. Talk about geometric and organic shapes, repeated patterns. Invite the children to include family pets in their compositions.
5.    Share Indian “nursery rhymes” or simple songs. Mama Lisa’s World is a great place to start.

Day by day, more bloggers are publishing their reviews, which can be found on MCCBD ‘s Twitter ( or Facebook page ( These links will not work if you do not have an account. More information can be found on MCCBD’s,, an intriguing, new (yes, another new thing) social media platform.

Multicultural Children’s Books Day would not be possible without the help of MCCBD’s 2015 Sponsors:                                                                                          

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 *

   Staccato & Legato/ pt.2                             
    Midwest & Great Lakes – Listening Locally / pt.2
    Midwest & Great Lakes - Listening Locally / pt.3

    Singing a Storybook - Wintertime / A Winter’s Tale

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friendship In Action With Music!

   Miss Carole of Macaroni Soup here in chilly Chicago! After finally coming back from Winter Break and Weather Interuptus Days, I love introducing songs that promote friendship.  In February we get all lovey-dovey for Valentine’s Day – but what does that mean to a young child?  I go for the angle of being kind to our friends, caring to our families, and sharing the joy of music-making and dance.

   This month I’ll introduce you to three of my favorite songs and dances that promote sharing, caring and fun through music and movement.  
                        Here we go!

1. Who Will Be My Friend Today?
    The tune is “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush” – hear it here.  The activity is fairly simple.  Make 2-3 hearts – they can be paper (single use) or plush or felt (multiple uses.)  My hearts are felt with a little stuffing, then hot glued around the edges.  They’ve lasted years!

THE SONG:        Who will be my friend today,
                        Friend today, friend today?
                        Who will be my friend today,
                        This bright and sunny morning?

                        You will be my friend today,
                        Friend today, friend today!
                        You will be my friend today,
                        This bright and sunny morning!

For Preschool:  Everyone sits together in the middle of the room (or rug, or any open space.)  The teacher gives the hearts to 2-3 children - if your group is fewer than 8 children, you may use 2 hearts, use 3 hearts for larger groups.  The children with the hearts walk around the group while everyone sings the first verse.  Then each child gives their heart to a sitting friend, taking them by the hand to walk around the circle with them as everyone sings the second verse.  The hearts are collected by the teacher, who gives them to new children.  Repeat the sequence until everyone’s had a chance to go around the circle.

For K’s:  Everyone sits together in the middle.  The teacher gives the hearts to 3 children, who walk around the group while everyone sings the first verse.  Here’s where it’s different for some groups.  If your children have become self-conscious about holding a classmate’s hand, as I occasionally find with K’s, the game becomes a hand-off – with the new carrier of the heart now going around the circle and the original carrier sitting in their place on the floor.  You may have to try it once to see how your class reacts. In this case, you would only use the first verse.

NOTE:  I ask children to only give the heart to someone who has not walked yet. “If you haven’t walked yet, raise your hand silently so that the walkers know who they can choose. Should a friend offer you a heart and you've already had a turn say 'Thank you, but I've already had a turn.'”

Jump Jim Joe!
2. Jump Jim Joe! 
    This is one of my absolute favorite partner dances!  Hear it here.  It’s a folk dance of the best tradition!  Please learn this song well enough to sing it with your students at a slow enough tempo for them to do all the dance moves.  You may never use the recorded music – I don’t!  We need the slight pauses (P) I put in at the end of each action so that everyone can do it well.
THE SONG:     
        Jump, jump, jump Jim Joe
        Nod your head (P) and shake your head (P)
        And tap your toe.
        ‘Round and ‘round and ‘round you’ll go
        Now you find another partner
        And you jump Jim Joe!

THE DANCE:    Each child faces their partner, holding hands. 
        Line 1:  They jump!
        Line 2:  Nod heads up and down - demonstrate “yes”
                    Shake head – demonstrate “no”
        Line 3: Tap toe to the side (still holding partner’s hands)
        Line 4: Two hands circle – not too fast!
        Lines 5-6: Find a new partner – someone you haven’t yet danced with!
...And tap your toe!
'Round and 'round and 'round you'll go...


 I do "Jump Jim Joe" with three year olds through school-aged children, and they LOVE IT!  Also great for mixed-age groups and parent participation events!

Yes, I know the Muffin Man!
    This one is for the youngest among us – 3’s and younger.  Not that a 4 year old won’t enjoy it – it’s a great introductory partner dance – because it’s VERY simple!  Hear it here.

THE SONG:      
Oh do you know the Muffin Man,
The Muffin Man, the Muffin Man?
Do you know the Muffin Man
Who lives in Drury Lane?

Yes, I know the Muffin Man,
The Muffin Man, the Muffin Man!
Yes, I know the Muffin Man
Who lives in Drury Lane!

THE DANCE:  Help children choose partners – they’ll be keeping their partners in this one!  They hold “inside hands” so that they can walk together around the room (as they did with the hearts in our first song.)  For the first verse, couples walk hand-in-hand around the room.  For the second verse, they face each other and clap hands pattycake style.  Repeat! 

REMEMBER: Demonstrate the dance before inviting the children to stand and join in. Use another teacher OR a child to help show what to do (choose your partner wisely!)  
   There you go!  Get those dancing feet moving – especially when the weather prevents you from going outdoors!  It’s not just good for the kids, if you know what I mean…

Yours for a Song and Dance!
“Miss Carole” Stephens

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