"Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature can not do without." ~Confucius

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

DIY "Peter And the Wolf" - Characters with Instruments

Who doesn't love "Peter and the Wolf" by Sergei Prokofiev? The melodies, instruments, story, etc....
Well, you can create your own Peter And the Wolf-type activity at home with a favorite story of your choosing.  All you need is a favorite book, some various instruments and some kids!
We had a lot of fun with this, hopefully you can too!

I chose a story that was simple, had a few re-appearing characters and was already a well-known story to my kiddos..... "The Little Mouse, The Red-Ripe Strawberry and The Big Hungry Bear" by Don and Audrey Wood.

They love this story and it leant itself easily to 3 characters who would each get an instrument sound: the mouse, the strawberry and the bear.... and since I had 2 boys participating in this and one would be upset if he didn't have as many as his brother, I also stuck in the page turn as needing an instrument.

First, I printed out a sheet with each "character" (again, pics from a google image search. And yes, I am STILL out of my color ink cartridge!)

Next, I had the kiddos go and gather instruments.

They chose which instruments should be assigned to which characters (It was fun to see which instruments they picked for each one; the drum went fairly easily to the "Big Hungry Bear").
We practiced playing each instrument when the character's name was said before starting the book.

Then, the performance began with a musical introduction (which was incredibly loud and I'm amazed it didn't wake up little brother).

We read through the story once (with me helping them with extra emphasis on particular words and waiting for them to remember which instrument was what), then finished with an exciting musical finale where they all played as loudly as possible.

We went through it again under the instructions that they had to remember to use their instrument on their own, and by this time, they were pro's! :-)

They were uber excited about this and wanted to try it again with "Peter Pan" - another favorite - which has many more characters, so we recruited more instruments and went to round 2, which was a little harder to keep track of, but still lots of fun.

This was great for more opportunities to use instruments, matching instrument sounds with character-types,  practicing listening and remembering skills, and a great, user-friendly connection to a great piece of music - since you can remind them of how Prokofiev used different instruments for his characters in his musical tale,  Peter and the Wolf.

We may try this again this week with "Where the Wild Things Are" since especially that middle "rumpus" section would work well for some instrumental improvising. :-)

What other stories would you use?

Have fun!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter: Simple and Meaningful Activities

We are looking forward to a glorious (and chilly) Easter Day celebrating with family and friends. As the boys get excited for all the child-focused aspects of Easter (Egg hunts, candy, gifts, etc...), it is once again important to "lead from the front" about what makes Easter so special. Adorable animals like bunnies and chicks are all created things... but we get to celebrate the Un-created One who loved us enough to come to the earth He made and give His life as a ransom for many. Very cool.

During their reading time this week, I have been reading through the Easter story with them and today we learned this very simple song to the tune of "God Is So Good" (melody:go here.)

He rose again, He rose again,   (hand motions: lift hands from low to high)
He rose again, Jesus is alive.  

Jesus is my King, Jesus is my King,   (hand motions: hands shaping a crown on head)
Jesus is my King, I'm so glad He's mine.  (hand motions for mine: point to self) 

I made a coloring sheet (printed on cardstock) incorporating both of these truths from online clip art and after we learned the song, we painted them with watercolors.

We'll also be making something similar to this Easter Egg Garland and reviewing the song too as we get ready for another wonderful Easter weekend.

Here are a few other Easter activities: one for Good Friday and one for more ideas on how to use those easter eggs.
Check out more of your favorite blogs to find more meaningful and family-enriching traditions!
Happy Easter!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What We're Listening To...

The children have been asking for new and exciting music (I guess our own stash is boring now....), so here are a few favorites that we've enjoyed and that I would recommend both for musical and kid-friendly reasons.

In choosing music that my kids listen to, I feel like I'm a 'health-food-nut-parent' who will only say yes to something my children want if there is a redeeming healthy aspect about it.  There are so many children's music CD's out there with poor singing and very un-inspiring canned music going on in the background. I often shudder when I hear these...

When you're choosing music for your kiddos to listen to (that music will also do its part in shaping their musical appetite and understanding), listen for good quality singing, use of real instruments not (entirely) computerized music and creativity in the songs. In the instance of kids' songs, if they are tied to familiar characters or stories, they may be more memorable and enjoyable for your little tot.

OK, here's our current playlist:

  1. Sesame Street "Kids' Favorite Songs 2" 
I love this CD. The Sesame Street gang is hilarious and the music is so creative and so well done. The boys had many favorites on this CD and wanted to listen to it all the time, multiple times for a while. Mommy and Daddy were laughing at parts too. I love that because of Sesame Street's great talent, they have real live musicians who make the music so much more vibrant and enjoyable. Awesome.

2. Trout Fishing in America: "Big Trouble"
As I referenced in this post, we really like this duo. They're two very creative and able musicians who enjoy being silly and having fun with children through music. This particular album of theirs contains the ever-fun, "Nursery Rhyme Polka" (Throw It Out the Window), but there are a lot of other creative songs that quickly became favorites here too. Just don't explain too much about the song, "The Cat Came Back." :-)

  3. Sesame Street: "Kids' Favorite Songs" 
Well, there was a "Favorite Songs' 2" so there must be a "Favorite Songs" 1!  I intentionally put this one in the #3 spot because it's a little more challenging for Mommy's patience with Elmo and Big Bird's loud voices throughout many songs, but it's just as popular with the kiddos as item #1 in our list...  The music is still very good and very descriptive... worth giving it a try! The boys especially love Elmo and Snuffy in "Row Row Row Your Boat" when they're trying not to sink because Snuffy is so large).  I just think that "Favorite Songs' #2" is better. Just my opinion. :-)

So, go to your library and check these out (Yes, remember that the library has MUSIC too?!) and have a blast with hearing your kids learn some tunes.

Any album favorites you'd like to share??

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Row, Bounce, Turn & Sway Your Boat

Nothing like adding a little creativity to an old classic!  This time, we're taking the ever-faithful "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and adding a little more activity to it.

Songs with motions and movement are excellent for toddlers, Pre-K'ers, Kindergartners, older kids, etc., because movements enhance learning. Those who may not be so quick to pick up a melody may still be able to do simple motions in rhythm, thus still providing great training in musical ideas and patterns.

So, for this activity, grab your kiddo/s and sing through "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" (If you don't know it, just type the name into Google. I would have put a link on, but they're all so cheesy I couldn't bring myself to do it. So, find one if you need to... and I apologize in advance for the cheesiness).

There are tons of things you can do with this simple nursery-rhyme song, but today we used it for some 'pretend play' in boats.

Here's what we used:
1. Laundry baskets (if you're doing this with a class or more kids than you have baskets for, you can stop into any wholesale club like COSTCO, BJ's, etc. and grab some of their many empty, low-sided boxes)
2. Stick for the mast (wrapping paper role or a stick from your yard)  
3. Paper and markers for creating a flag or sail.
4. "rowing" devise (large wooden spoon, etc.)
5. Clear packing tape.

After the kids know the song, have them create a flag for their boat and then tape flag to their mast, and tape mast to boat.

If you have a blue blanket of some sort, that would be great for water. Ours was a little small, but it still worked OK.

 Have kids 'man' their boats and sing through the song - in a round if they're old enough - and do the motions. Then, use some different motions instead of "row" - like sway, speed, drive, shake, run, bounce, turn, tickle, etc. They can make up more as they go. You can help by showing the motions for each word as you all sing it.

Here they are with "hide" your boat, I think... or maybe it was "sleep" your boat...

You certainly don't need a boat to do these - they will be just fine being creative with this no matter what!

After we were done singing, the boys continued to play in their boats for a while - it was neat to listen to their imaginative play. :-)

Be creative and have fun! :-)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Educational Orchestra Concert!

We were invited to an educational concert (featuring the awesome Philadelphia Orchestra) by a dear friend, Lisa, whose enthusiasm for the event overshadowed my own fears about what my 3 little crazies would be like in a concert hall (Thanks Lisa!).  We signed up for tickets and were delighted to receive lots of helpful information in the mail about the event and also some lesson plans to use in preparing the kids for the experience. Loved it!

The morning was a little rougher than I had hoped, with a semi-sick baby M and a wrong turn or two, but we made it in the nick of time!

The performing hall is beautiful, and well, huge! It was filled with excited kids and semi-frazzled teachers trying to keep everyone together. Usually concert halls are filled with polite adult conversations before a concert. It was really neat to see it filled with excited, amazed chatter by hundreds of kids anticipating what was going to happen next and pointing excitedly to their favorite instruments. K and J were taking it all in... a little unsure of what was going to happen, I think. :-)

The concert was based on the story by Classical Kids,  "Beethoven Lives Upstairs". The orchestra performed a medley of Beethoven's music that was all orchestrated around 2 actors going through the story of what it was like having Beethoven live above you - expressively dialoging about his habits, his parties, his moods, how many pianos he had, his difficulty with becoming deaf, and even how he played his music with the pianos flat on the floor so he could feel the vibrations to help him hear what he was writing.

It was very well done - the actors were engaging, the lights were enhancing and the music.... well, it's the Philadelphia Orchestra... need I say more?

Although most of the information was way above where my kids are as far as retaining facts about Beethoven, they listened and were engaged throughout the performance (which was the perfect length for kids, by the way). It was exciting for them to be listening to such great music, hear and see enthusiastic actors, and participate in the experience with friends and hundreds of other kids as well.
On the way home we talked about the actors, the music, what it means to be deaf and why Beethoven wrote both loud and quiet music. :-)

And.... what fun experience is complete without a special treat to end the day? Makes it all the better, I think!

So, may I highly recommend checking out your local symphony orchestra and getting your kids to an educational performance?! Worth the effort for the amazing exposure and wonderful music!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Teaching about the Orchestra!

The boys and I are getting ready to go to an educational concert based on the wonderful story, "Beethoven Lives Upstairs."  They are excited, and a bit confused about what this experience will be like.
So, we created a concert experience to a) teach them about what it's like to play in an orchestra, and b) get them prepared for going to see the concert.

I must say that my good friend Elmo has been helpful in this venture. The CD "Elmo and the Orchestra" which I mentioned before in this post, has been very instructive for the boys in learning more about instruments and classical music. I found myself referring to Elmo a lot in our activity.... like, "remember Elmo called them the BIG double basses?" and "Yes, maybe the orchestra WILL play the 'storm' one."

So, our tasks today were to assemble an orchestra, arrange them on a stage, gather an audience and enjoy a wonderful concert!

Enter..... plastic people. Including super heroes. And pirates.

First, I went online and dragged and resized some coloring pages of selected orchestral instruments to be pint-sized for our purposes.

If you'd like to join in the fun, pick a few of your favorites, arrange their size to fit your peeps and print them out! Most of the ones I printed out had lighter lines, so they're harder to see in the pic... sorry. :-/

Next, grab some coloring utensils, scissors, tape, a box for the stage and lots of little plastic people.

Have kids color the instruments any colors they'd like. Go over the names of the instruments, whether it's a shiny brass, a percussion, a string or a woodwind instrument. The instruments we used were violins, double basses, clarinets, trumpets and timpani.

When each instrument is done being colored, cut it out and ask the child/ren to assign instruments to various "players."
They can use tape to affix the instruments to each person, they may need help depending on age.
(The "stage" has a picture drawn on a piece of paper by K (above) when asked to draw an orchestra.)

  Once all the instruments are assigned, you can help your kids make sure the "musicians" sit/stand with like instruments - the "buddies" stick together, and they all work hard to make awesome music. They're like players on a team - similar to baseball, soccer, etc. teams.

Next, we had Daddy the pirate, Mommy, K and J come to the concert. They gave their ticket to the man at the "door" and  found their seats. K brought along his lego robot spaceship and J brought along his sports car. Normal occurrences in concert halls, of course.

The orchestra played their beautiful music. It was exciting, thrilling, and very loud. :-)

If you'd like, you can play a portion of a symphony here for some listening fun. Just grab one of your favorite recordings, or if you have no idea where to start, go to YouTube or Pandora, etc. and type in "Beethoven Symphony" or "Mozart Symphony" or "Dvorak Symphony" and you'll get plenty of options.
 (Thank you, Batman, for that thrilling violin solo.)
(one pirate needed a block because he was too short...)

...and the audience rose to their feet in grateful applause!

We were having so much fun, we realized we forgot a very important person... the conductor. We quickly grabbed one from among the eager volunteers and all was well.

This was great fun and helped get the boys more pumped for seeing the real, live orchestra soon!
Hope you can give it a try too!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Pete the Cat" - Song and Activity

I, for one, think there is a shortage of fun song-books out there.... But, I'm glad this one is around!
"Pete the Cat - I Love My White Shoes"  by Eric Litwin (Ill. James Dean) has been around for a few years, but I'm just finding it now... takes me a while.

The illustrations are simple, but effective. The song also, is simple and effective to get you and your kids singing. It's a fun, silly little melody about a cat's shoes that start out white and change color throughout the day as he gets stuck in some colorful stuff.
I hope your library has a few copies of this so that you can pick one up and give it a try!

Once you've got your hands on the book, go to this site from the publisher to hear the song and the story being read. Once you've got it in your head, read/sing the book to your kiddos - with a cool groove, of course. :-)

We had lots of fun with the story and song.
They especially liked making sound effects for the wet, squishy shoes. :-)

Then, we colored our own shoes and sang about them. No, not our real shoes, silly.  Just paper ones.

If you'd like to join in the fun, find a black and white printable image of a shoe online, print out a few pairs and have kids color or paint them.

K wanted his to be green, so we figured that he got stuck in a pile of mushy peas (ick).
J wanted his to be gray, so for lack of a better option, we figured he got stuck in a pile of fire ashes (better option, anyone?).
Then K wanted to make another pair and just call them "Cool Scary Star Wars Shoes."
So, we had fun singing about our shoes (I colored a pink pair!), including the Star Wars shoes.

Give the book a try, even if you don't like cats! It's fun to sing about shoes!