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Every winter, I invite parents/family/friends of students in grades PreK (age 3) to Grade one to “Bring Your Parents to Music Class”. This is a time where the parents/family/friends can come to the music classroom at Far Hills Country Day School and participate in class with their child. This usually occurs over four days because it includes six classes (one music class per each grade level where there are two classes per grade). The room is prepared as an open space where I place chairs around the perimeter for the guests to sit. I leave the room in an open space so that there will be enough room for the guests and for us to have movement activities.
The activities vary for each class, but they have a flow that looks like this in a 35- to 40-minute class period:
- Students enter.
- I thank the guests for being here. I give a brief history to how this was started and thank the school for letting me have these days to invite the guests into the classroom.
- Welcome Song
- A song that the students have been learning this winter.
- A vocal activity such as “Sing your name and when you do, we will sing it back to you,” on the pitches ssmmssm, ssmmssm, for PreK and K. For grade one, I would add the pitch la to this activity. We sing that melody and then each student responds by singing a solo of their name and then we echo-sing their name together. One might think that the students would be too shy to sing a solo in front of their parents, but most of them have no problems singing in front of the guests. If a student talks their name, I do not correct it at this time. We echo-sing the name back to them. If a student is too shy to sing their name, then we all sing their name. After the activity, I briefly tell the parents the goal of the activity. Best Part: When the guests sing their name too!
- Movement Activities: At this point in grade K and one, we show them a variety of folk dances. In grade K, we associate these dances with our social emotional learning program (SEL). The students tell them about being their BEST (Body Language, Eye Contact, Say Good Words, and Tone of Voice) and how they use that to choose partners and to work together in their dances. In grade one, we take it one step further and show how these dances come from various countries and how that relates to their classroom study of continents and directions. In first grade, they study North, South, East, and West. Dances from various countries have a great place in music class. One place is relating where the countries are to where we are on the map. The students use their directional skills to figure out that the dance that is from Mexico is south of us and that the dance that is from Canada is north of us. Best Part: Watching the students explain BEST and where the dances originated.
- The students perform the dance. Best Part: Watching the students shine!
- They invite guests to then perform the dance. Best Part: Watching the faces of the students and guests as they dance together!
- For grade one, we perform three dances: La Raspa, Les Saluts, and Bobalinka. In grade K, we perform two dances: Bling Blang (where we show the guests macro and micro beat movements) and the kindergarten reel. In PreK, we perform Welcome Back to School and Laurie Berkner’s I Know a Chicken song. Best Part: Again, watching the faces of the students and guests as they dance together!
- The final activity usually involves a book. In grade K, it was Mortimer by Robert Munsch. The students acted it out, sang the song that Mortimer sings in the book, and used boomwhackers to show low to high (when moving up the stairs) and high to low (when moving back down the stairs). In PreK, we sang the book, Shoo Fly. The students then invited the guests to help them create movements to the song with their parachute. In grade one, the three dances usually take up the remainder of the class time. If there are five minutes left, we show them John Kanaka. Best Part: Watching the students own the story of Mortimer and watching the guests perform with their children using the parachute.
- We thank our guests.
- Goodbye Song
- This looks similar to a Family Folk Dancing Night. Would that be a better choice? It depends. I do live in a community where guests can come into the school during the day. However, if that was not the case, then a Family Folk Dancing Night might be a great alternative. With that said, this younger age group can have a challenging time participating in a folk dance night where the ages vary and the parents have multiple-aged children. There are benefits to having this age group participate in a smaller activity, such as this one, instead of a big folk dancing night.
- What do you do when students have no guest? This occurs every year. My average guest participation is 82%. That’s a high number, but it does mean that some students have no guests. When that occurs, they help me teach the class and the dance. They also pair up with me to dance, or they pair up with the extra guests in the room, or they pair up with a classmate. In the ten years that I have done this, it has never been a challenge. The students are very resilient and can problem-solve extremely well.
- Do all of the guests have to participate? No. We encourage participation, but never force it. We just love having the guests in our music classroom.
- Do you give them a momento from the day or a sheet with your goals? I could, but the sheet has usually ended up in the garbage in the past. Therefore, I take pictures of the day and use those pictures to send the guests a highlight video from the class. I post the video on their Seesaw music page.
I hope that this inspires you to try a class like this with your community.
*The dances come from The New England Dancing Masters Series found here: https://www.dancingmasters.com/
Amy M. Burns is an elementary music educator, clinician, author, and musician. She currently works at Far Hills Country Day School in Far Hills, NJ teaching PreK through Grade 3 general music, grade 5 instrumental music, and grades 4-8 instrumental band. She is the author of Technology Integration in the Elementary Music Classroom, Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with a SMART Board, and Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with One or more iPads! She is also an author for Online Learning Exchange™ Interactive Music powered by Silver Burdett. She has given numerous presentations on integrating technology into the elementary music classroom as well as being a keynote speaker for music technology conferences in Texas, Indiana, St. Maarten, and Australia. She is the recipient of the 2005 TI:ME Teacher of the Year Award, the 2016 NJ Master Music Teacher Award, the 2016 NJ Governor’s Leader in Arts Education Award, and the 2017 Non-Public School Teacher of the Year Award. You can find out more about Amy at her website: amymburns.com