A Full Head of STEAM!

What follows is my full handout from my workshop on STEAM learning at the New England Regional Conference of The Children’s Music Network on May 2, 2015.

A Full Head of STEAM!

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) + Arts = STEAM!

1) Why is it such a great idea to integrate music & movement into learning about other subjects?

  • Music incorporates rhythm and catchy language that’s often easy to remember, helping students retain content.
  • Songs, like books, help build vocabulary.
  • Music, singing and movement are working many parts of the brain simultaneously, thus stimulating brain development and keeping the listener engaged and active. Best-sellers such as Daniel Levitin’s This is Your Brain on Music (2006) offer insights on neuroscience research on the human experience with music. Levitin’s elaborate brain diagrams show how nearly all parts of the brain are utilized in processing musical experiences, not just those related directly to listening and language, but also the memory center in the hippocampus, the timing circuits in the cerebellum, the planning centers in the frontal lobe, and the motor, sensory and visual cortexes.
  • Music develops skills such as keeping a regular beat, which has been shown by research to be connected to success in academics, especially reading skills.
  • Many songs naturally draw students into learning about patterns and sequences, essential in math, science and literacy learning.
  • Songs and finger-plays with movements and/or sign language help children incorporate a concept into their bodies.
  • Music/singing is a non-competitive activity that helps build children’s sense of self worth, and also helps teach important social-emotional skills such as taking turns.
  • Most of all, music is GREAT FUN and builds community!

“By and large, the arts are not conveyors of information.  Dance and music do not add to our information overload. Their purpose is not to convey data but to supply insight and wisdom – in a word, meaning.  Their power is that they can move us.”  – Charles Fowler, 1994

“When children dramatize, move to, or create music to represent a story, they become actively involved in working with the ideas in the story. As they translate the words to art forms, each story comes to life.  Indeed, the act of transforming or translating is fundamental to attaining understanding or comprehension.”  – Meryl Goldberg, 2006

What kinds of songs are most effective for encouraging learning?

– Songs that are easy to learn, have a catchy tune. The classic example is Schoolhouse Rock.

– Songs that have parts kids can repeat. Examples include Liz’s songs, “I’ve Got Potential” or the “T-Rex” song. Right away, the children are involved in the song.

– Songs that include instruments. Rain sticks, thunder cans, shakers and rhythm sticks can actually dramatize aspects of the song.

– Songs that include props. Puppets, stuffed animals, rubber duckies, scarves. These incorporate visual learning and extend body movements.

“If it hasn’t been in the hand, the body and the heart, it can’t be in the brain.” – Educator Bev Bos

Songs I personally find effective for science/math learning. You can find recordings of most of these songs on Liz’s Sound Cloud page (https://soundcloud.com/antelopeliz/) or in Liz’s recent blog posts at http://www.antelopedance.com.

Cloud in the Middle of the Sky. Uses scarves & rain sticks.

– Once I Was a Seed – Uses body movement to embody concept of growth. Rain sticks or combo with scarves.

Nuts for the Winter. Stuffed squirrel & shaker eggs.

– T-Rex – Song written by Liz with English language learners; the kids pretty much could repeat back the whole text of the book. We turned it into a call and response song.

Finger plays! Surprisingly simple ideas are very engaging. Adding puppets and visual props makes it even more so.

Here is the beehive –  Here is the beehive, where are the bees? Hiding away, where nobody sees. Watch them come creeping out of their hive, 1-2-3-4-5.

– Plant the seed down in the ground – (Tune of Pop Goes the Weasel) – We plant the seed down in the ground. The rain makes a shower, and then the sun shines bright all around. Up pops the flower.

I’m a Little Worm – I’m a little worm, I’m a little worm, here is how I wiggle and squirm. I go under the ground, under the ground, ‘cause that’s where all the worms are found.

How can we create songs with kids that will help them learn?

Liz’s Songwriting Worksheet

 Song Topic or Question:

Two descriptive words ____________________________

Two action words ________________________________

Say something!  __________________________________

Create an illustration for your song topic on the back of this sheet.

Some tips:

– For science songwriting, picking a topic could be as easy as asking an “I wonder” or a “why” question. Why do stars look white? Why do rainbows appear? I wonder how big infinity is? Why do animals become extinct? Why does the ocean have waves?  Then you and kids go do some research to find the answer.

– Tune & song structure. You don’t need to start from scratch. Look at classic songs that work well with kids, such as the examples on the previous page. Another example is Pam Donkin’s Water Cycle song, which was based on a gospel song.

– Use brainstorming and list-making to help create your song. You can read more about my songwriting process with students in my blog: http://www.antelopedance.com/uncategorized/from-brainstorming-to-creating-a-new-song/

Finger Plays for Spring Days

Bee-illustrationBelow are two fun finger plays for spring days. Teachers can pair these with themes relating to gardens and growing plants, trees and flowers, reminding children that bees and worms play an important role in the life cycle of plants.



Here is the Beehive (traditional)

Here is the beehive, where are the bees?

Hiding away where nobody sees

Watch them come creeping out of the hive

One and two and three four five!


Here is a video that shows a simple “book” that I made for this song, followed by the finger-play motions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbrkfvWvYE0

I’m A Little Worm

By Liz Buchanan

I’m a little worm, I’m a little worm

And here is how I wiggle and squirm.

I go under the ground, under the ground

‘Cause that’s where all the worms are found!

Wiggle pointer finger for first verse.  Put pointer finger under palm of other hand.  On last line, push all five fingers out from under the palm.

Why are finger plays great learning tools for young children?

  • Finger plays make a body-mind connection.
  • Most utilize music and rhythm, which helps build literacy.
  • Most utilize rhymes, which help with phonological awareness.
  • Many tell a story, and help children learn to organize their thoughts to tell a simple story/narrative themselves.
  • All utilize sequences and many utilize number sequences.
  • All encourage fine motor skill development. This is especially important as children learn handwriting skills.
  • They’re engaging and fun!

Rain & Thunder!

RailsoilIt’s spring. That means no more snow, at least we hope not, here in New England. Enough already! But the rain’s a-coming, oh yeah.

One of my music students’ favorite activities is dramatizing a rain and thunder storm, using instruments, of course. My favorite instruments for this activity are rain sticks, drums and thunder tubes. More about these shortly.

I’ve used a couple of different songs for this activity, but my current favorite is a variation of the classic spiritual tune, “Train’s a-Comin’.” It’s a fun and very easy song to sing, readily adaptable to different topics. My Ohio-based colleague Joanie Calem offers another version, “Spring is A-Comin’.” You can see her video here:


The video will give you the tune to this song if you don’t know it.

This song is great for “zipping” in different lines/verses. Start with “Rain’s a comin’, oh yeah.” After that, you could ask the children what they need to bring if it’s going to rain that day. New verses might include: Bring your umbrella, oh yeah. And/Or: bring your raincoat, rain boots, rain hat.Scan 9

During these verses, ask children to keep their instruments quiet. Tell them it isn’t raining yet. For many young children, this requires enormous self-regulation (a big side benefit of group music class). Some can’t resist starting to tap their drums, rain sticks or thunder tubes, but urge them to try.

Finally, comes the moment when the rain sticks can play. I use the lines: “I hear a shower, oh yeah. Rain shower, oh yeah … “

After that comes thunder! “Rumble of the thunder, oh yeah!” Bring on the drums/thunder tubes! Sometimes we have someone flash the lights on and off to create a lightning effect. Very dramatic.

Occasionally, this activity can be overwhelming for children with sensory issues. I invite them to move away from the circle of instruments or cover their ears if necessary. It’s important to let children know it’s okay if they need to do that.

After the thunder verse, it’s time for the storm to pass. Here are possible lines:

Storm is a-passing, oh yeah.

See the rainbow, oh yeah. (Perhaps add a rainbow streamer or two.)

Here comes the sunshine, oh yeah. (Children put down their instruments and make a sun with their arms over their heads.)

Generally, you’ll need to sing this song two or three times in order to rotate the instruments and give everyone a turn.

This activity links to the following kinds of learning:

–       Musical/auditory learning about percussion/singing

–       Narrative non-fiction learning. The narrative has a beginning/middle/end just like a fictional story.

–       Science learning about weather and seasons

–       School readiness skills (listening to instructions, waiting for your turn, sharing instruments).

Other rain songs I like include the classic nursery rhymes such as “It’s raining, it’s pouring,” Nancy Hershatter’s “Once I was a Seed,” and my original song, “Rain” from my CD, Singing All the Way Home.

I also recommend “There’s a Cloud in the Middle of the Sky” described in a previous post, and “Cancion de la Nube” (Song of the Cloud), shown in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPHC2T0w9ik  You can find the original Spanish version of this song in Sarah Pirtle’s excellent book for music in the classroom, Linking Up.   My video shows the English translation, written by Sarah. This awesome song is not only about clouds and flowers, but empathy.

If you do not have these instruments and would like to buy them, here are some links to West Music, which is my favorite supplier.

Rain sticks.

Thunder tubes.

You can also purchase various drums appropriate for use by children from this site and many others. Or you can make instruments! For young children, you can easily make rain sticks by stuffing some crushed up foil into cardboard tubes, sealing off the end and filling with lentils, split peas or small rocks such as fish-tank rocks. Seal off the other end and decorate. More about instrument making another time.

Stay out of the rain! Come inside and make music.


A Spring Song About Seeds

SeedCover2What could I become? I’m just a little seed…

Last spring, I started singing a brand new song about seeds on the way to a school where I work. I arrived and wrote the whole thing down in the parking lot. Yep, it’s one of those “organic” tunes that just happens before you know it! The song’s refrain is: “I’ve got potential! I’m a little seed.” The refrain repeats, encouraging participants to sing it back, call-and-response style.

Seeds, of course, are not the only things with potential. This song invites discussion with children about the meaning of “potential,” as well as the life cycle and the characteristics all living things share. You can also encourage children to rewrite the song by adding their favorite flowers, plants and trees.

This is a great song to pair with a book. There are many, but the first ones that come to mind for me are Lois Ehlert’s Growing Vegetable Soup and Planting a Rainbow, or Eric Carle’s The Tiny Seed.

There are also many songs you could pair with this one. I’m inviting my friends at The Children’s Music Network (and anyone else) to share their song and book suggestions in the ‘Comments’ area. I have two recommendations of my own. One is a song I sing all the time and have mentioned on this blog before, Nancy Hershatter’s “Once I Was a Seed.”

I’m also impressed by Pam Donkin’s “Planting Seeds of Love.” She has a new web page entirely devoted to ideas and activities related to this song. Check it out at http://www.plantingseedsoflove.com/

Please enjoy and share this new video with art I created especially for this song:


At my page on the Songs for Teaching website, you can find the complete song lyrics and a download.

I hope you enjoy watching, listening, singing and sharing this song!

Sequence Songs – Write Your Own!

IMG_1792As a follow-up to last week’s post, I’d like to suggest further possibilities with songs that involve sequences. The songs in this post are all drawn from older songs, but have new words. Call it the “folk process.” Call it opportunity. Call it taking a song and making it your own.

The first song that jumps to mind is Pam Donkin’s “Water Cycle Song.” Pam, a family music performer and teacher in Northern California, is one of the lifelong friends whom I met through The Children’s Music Network. Pam sent me a link to her song when I requested song ideas for my recent gig at the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum in Chestnut Hill, MA.

Pam’s song, which is on her album for young children, A Hop, a Skip and a Jump, is a simple song based on an old spiritual. It teaches in a very simple way about the different stages of the water cycle.

That got me thinking about how I might rewrite another sequence song, a traditional song that my grandfather used to sing, “There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea.” You can find the original version on my first album, Make It a Song, Song, Song.

In no time at all, I thought of a water cycle version of this song:

IMG_0724There’s a cloud in the middle of the sky

There is vapor in the cloud in the middle of the sky

Then comes rain from the vapor in the cloud in the middle of the sky

On the flowers falls the rain from the vapor in the cloud in the middle of the sky.

If you want to hear the tune, I’ve posted it on Sound Cloud. I soon tried it out in a kindergarten classroom, dividing the kids into groups of four. The first person in the group was the cloud, waving a white or pink scarf; the second person was the vapor, with a blue scarf; the third person was rain, with a rain stick; and the fourth was the flower, with the scarf color of their choice. They seemed to like it, and asked to do it again! We followed that with the “Once I Was a Seed” song discussed in the previous post.

All of this led me to think of another sequence song I rewrote, mostly because I felt I had to. The beloved “Peanut Butter” Song had to be shelved for some performances due to peanut allergy issues. Hence, my rewrite: “The Apple Pie and Ice Cream” song! You can find that one in this earlier post. (The “Peanut Butter” song is also on Make It a Song, Song, Song – I love this version!)

It’s not that hard to rewrite these kinds of songs. I’m not just saying this because I’m a songwriter. Give it a shot and see if you can get creative with just about any old song, from Old MacDonald to Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush.

Music for Learning Sequence & Narrative

Find a song below that invites children to act out the story of a caterpillar.

Find a song below that invites children to act out the story of a caterpillar.

My music sessions with children often aim to provide a musical basis for understanding the elements of narrative structure, including placing items in a logical sequence. Children’s knowledge of both fictional stories and non-fictional events, such as the growth of a plant, can be enhanced through musical exploration. Fisher and McDonald (2001) describe how teachers can have great success with sequencing songs such as “I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” and “I Had an Old Coat,” the story of a tailor who gradually reduces his worn old coat down to the size of a button, making good use of the remains each time. In the “Old Lady” song, the items in the sequence get progressively larger, while in the “Old Coat,” they get smaller.

“The Green Grass Grew All Around,” a traditional American song familiar to most children, also employs a progressively smaller sequence, as does its Irish counterpart, “The Rattlin’ Bog.” One time my daughter and I started with a tree in the song and sang it all the way down to a quark. In Raffi’s “I’m Being Swallowed by a Boa Constrictor,” the song’s sequence progresses up the body, from the toes to the head, as the singer gets gradually swallowed up!

Placing items in a logical sequence is a key organizational skill useful in every academic discipline. Science is grounded in concepts of order and sequence.  Mathematics relies on the understanding of various number sequences and patterns.  Social Studies employs timelines and asks the learner to consider how a particular sequences of events might lead to certain changes in society.  And of course, fictional stories have a beginning, middle and end.

Musical pieces, too, form patterns and sequences that lead the listener through various iterations of a theme or themes before a piece reaches its conclusion. I feel sure my music teacher friends could expand on teaching about musical themes and variations or ABAB patterns. SCN_0013For my own purposes, I often combine song lyrics and musical patterns to teach concepts in other academic disciplines. In the springtime, I teach a simple song, Nancy Hershatter’s “Once I was a Seed,”  that employs movement and a major scale to teach children about the growth of a seed into a flower.  The children begin the song curled up on the floor as seeds. As the scale progresses, the song’s lyrics invite them to look up at the sun, drink some water (from a rain stick – kids love it!), sprout leaves (while starting to stand up) and finally reach for the sky.

Sarah Pirtle’s song, “A Seed Knows What to Do,” provides rhyme, rhythm and a tune to tell a more elaborate story of a garden, beginning in late winter and ending with the fall’s harvest. The song, on her album Pocketful of Wonder, repeats a refrain reminds students of the central theme, the simple miracle of nature that seeds “know what to do.”

With my song, “If I Were a Butterfly,” children are invited to imitate the motion of a butterfly fluttering about the room.  It can be done as a finger play or as a movement game using the whole body.  The melody of the song follows the butterfly; when the notes go higher, the butterfly flies higher; when they go lower, the butterfly flutters down and touches the ground.

During the first verse of the song, the children are encouraged to show how the butterfly begins as a caterpillar, then cuddles up small into a chrysalis.  As the spring sun shines down, the chrysalis opens up and out comes the butterfly, fluttering around again.

The song’s second verse weaves together bits of information about butterflies, including how they help flowers grow, where they live, and what colors they are. The song creates a list of content topics similar to what a teacher would create with students during a classroom unit. Children can be encouraged to develop each of the topics with further research, reading, drawing or writing. They can also act out the different topics of the song, showing how butterflies spread nectar in a flower garden and live in different climates and places.

In my music sessions, children often wave scarves in the different butterfly colors. This activity is a special favorite among the students in my combined classes that include children with significant physical disabilities. The scarves provide eye-catching colors and children in wheelchairs have fun waving them and playing with them in a variety of ways, then covering up with the scarf to be the chrysalis. A success at every level!

Nuts for the Winter

Chipper adds his nuts under a scarf!

Chipper adds his nuts under a scarf!

Here’s a fun song for early winter, when small animals are out gathering their provisions. I use a stuffed squirrel named “Chipper,” and explain that Chipper needs to hide his store of nuts so he’ll know where they are all winter long.

This interactive song is also fun for counting and addition.

I spread out a scarf on the floor and tell the children that underneath the scarf is the hiding place. I give each child one or two “nuts.” Usually I use shaker eggs, so they double as an instrument for the song.

You can have a discussion about what squirrels eat, and the different types of nuts and seeds that might be around your area. When I first did the song, I brought in real acorns. This was fine until the day I discovered little white worms had taken up residence inside some of them, and there they were, wiggling around. Yikes! If you want the real thing, a package of mixed nuts in their shells might be better. You can hear a very basic recording of this song here.

Here are the lyrics:

The squirrel is looking for nuts for the winter,

The squirrel is looking, looking all around.

He needs one nut to store for the winter,

One nut to put under the ground.

(Ask one child to put a nut under the scarf.)

Fiddle-ee-dee, fiddle-ee-dow

He’s got one nut under the ground.


Spoken: But this time, Chipper needs more nuts to store away. 

The squirrel is looking for nuts for the winter,

The squirrel is looking, looking all around.

He needs two nuts to store for the winter,

Two nuts to put under the ground.

(Choose two children put nuts under the scarf. Ask one of the children to count how many nuts in all are under the ground now.)

Fiddle-ee-dee, fiddle-ee-dow

He’s got three nuts under the ground.


In the next round, Chipper needs three nuts; so again, choose three children. They’ll count up a total of six nuts under the scarf. Then four children will offer nuts on the next verse, counting up to a total of 10, and so on.

I often go up to six nuts to put under the ground, even if I have to add a few myself or give everybody two. This activity provides an opportunity to ask children to tell you the next number of nuts that will be added, and to estimate how many are under the ground. It’s also a good lesson in counting correctly. Many times, young children lose count when numbers go higher than three or four. This song offers a chance to show helpful techniques to assure the total isn’t over or under-counted.

In case you missed it, I have another post about animals preparing for winter, paired with the book Frederick. Have fun singing all winter!