Fun Song & Story Acting with Chicken Little

It’s great fun to engage children in stories with music and acting. Elsewhere on this blog, you can find posts about my musical versions of stories such as “The Three Little Pigs” and “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Click on “Story Songs” to find several examples. These musical dramas don’t require much rehearsal – just invite kids to step into the parts.

This past year, one of my kindergarten music classes did a very fun version of “Chicken Little” for our school play. With just a little preparation, you can create your own in-class version of the little chickie who thinks the sky is falling, along with a host of other characters from Funny Bunnies to the sly Foxie Loxies.

Children can decide what part they would like to play. Don’t worry if more than one person wants a part – just create two or three of the same character. If you are acting it out very informally, an adult can read the narrator parts and the kids can simply act out the animal part they’ve chosen. In Chicken Little, half the fun is letting the “actors” take a little time to create their silly animals with sounds and movements.

Below is the script. You will notice that the little song repeats frequently, but that’s actually a good thing when working with young children.  They learn it quickly and enjoy singing it over and over. You can find a recording of the whole story here: In the recording, there were multiple versions of each character, including Chicken Little.

Chicken Little

A play adapted by Liz Buchanan ©2017

Narrator 1: This story is called Chicken Little.

Narrator 2: Once upon a time, Chicken Little went for a walk in the woods.

(Chicken Little comes to center stage, where an oak tree is standing. Chicken Little stops and sits down to rest in front of a person playing the Oak Tree.)

Narrator 3: When Chicken Little stopped to rest, and something fell on his/her head.

(The Oak Tree drops an “acorn” on Chicken Little. A squirrel picks it up and runs away when Chicken Little isn’t looking. Chicken Little jumps up and rubs his/her head, looking very upset.)

Chicken Little: Ouch! The sky is falling!

Sung by all children:

Oh, no! Something fell down!  Oh, no! It’s falling all around!

The sky is falling, Oh no. The sky is falling, I’ve got to go.

And tell the king about this thing, ‘cause the sky is fall-ing.

Spoken by all: Soon Chicken Little met the Silly Kitty.  (Kitty does a little kitty dance and says Miaow.)

Kitty: Miaow!  What’s the matter, Chicken Little?

Chicken Little: The sky is falling!

Kitty: Oh, no!

Sung by all:

Oh, no! Something fell down!  Oh, no! It’s falling all around!

The sky is falling, Oh no. The sky is falling, I’ve got to go.

And tell the king about this thing, ‘cause the sky is fall-ing.

Spoken by all: Soon they met the Funny Bunny! (Funny Bunny hops a bit, then stops.)

Funny Bunny: What’s the matter, Chicken Little?

Chicken Little & Kitty: The sky is falling!

Funny Bunny: Oh no!

Sung by all:

Oh, no! Something fell down!  Oh, no! It’s falling all around!

The sky is falling, Oh no. The sky is falling, I’ve got to go.

And tell the king about this thing, ‘cause the sky is fall-ing.

Spoken by all: Soon, they met Henny Penny. (Henny Penny flaps and says Bok Bok.)

Henny Penny: What’s the matter, Chicken Little?

Chicken Little & others: The sky is falling!

Henny Penny: Oh no!

Sung by all:

Oh, no! Something fell down!  Oh, no! It’s falling all around!

The sky is falling, Oh no. The sky is falling, I’ve got to go.

And tell the king about this thing, ‘cause the sky is fall-ing.

Spoken by all: Soon, they all met the Lucky Ducky. (Ducky flaps and say quack quack.)

Lucky Ducky: What’s the matter, Chicken Little?

Chicken Little & others:  The sky is falling!

Lucky Ducky: Oh no!

Sung by all:

Oh, no! Something fell down!  Oh, no! It’s falling all around!

The sky is falling, Oh no. The sky is falling, I’ve got to go.

And tell the king about this thing, ‘cause the sky is fall-ing.

Lucky Ducky: (Pointing up) Quack-quack. Hmm! But it looks like the sky is still up there!

(Chicken Little and other animals look at each other, confused.)

Chicken Littles & Others: Huh?

Spoken by all:  Then, along came the sly Foxy Loxies. The Foxies said:

Sung by all, or by Foxes:

What’s all this I hear you calling?

Did you say the sky is falling?

I can help, come right this way!

I’ll help you at my house today!

(Foxes secretly look at something called “Chicken Cookbook” and rub their tummies like they can’t wait to eat Chicken Little.)

Lucky Ducky: Quack-quack-quack.  Those Foxes, they are oh, so sly.  Those Foxes will tell you a lie.

Foxes: Not us!

Ducky: Quack-quack. Yes, you!  Go away!  (The Ducky grabs the cookbook and Foxes exit in a huff.)

(Oak tree drops another acorn on Chicken Little. The Squirrel steps out, ready to grab the nut.)

Chicken Little: But the sky is still falling!

Squirrel: No, it’s not, it’s just a nut. Yum!

Chicken Little & all other animals/birds: Oh!

Chicken Little: Why didn’t you say so before?

All Sing:

The sky didn’t fall, Oh no. The sky didn’t fall, oh, no.

It was just a nut, so off we go. It was just a nut, so off-we-go!

Musical Learning with The Three Bears


Paul Galdone’s book is a great accompaniment to this musical lesson.

The story of the Three Bears is a fun way to help children learn about high, medium and low pitches. This idea is not original to me (I’ve referenced some lesson plans below), but I found a way to involve students playing different instruments and repeating lines of the story.

The drums, the lowest instrument, are for the Papa Bear. Next comes Mama Bear, represented by tambourines and/or smaller drums. The baby bear is represented by the highest-pitched finger cymbals and bells. I’ve abbreviated the story line slightly so that there’s less talking for the teacher and the kids have the maximum opportunity for playing instruments.

The rhythm is as follows (88 = paired eighths, 4 = quarter, R = quarter rest):  88-4    88-4   4 – 4 – 4  R

Spoken lyrics with the rhythm:

Papa Bear, Papa Bear, Pa-Pa-Bear.

Mama Bear, Mama Bear, Ma-Ma Bear.

Baby Bear, Baby Bear, Ba-by Bear.

Goldilocks is represented by the glockenspiel. She has the same rhythm as above and her melody is:

Mi-So-La, Mi-So-La, La-So-Mi, with the lyrics: Goldilocks, Goldilocks, Gol-di-locks.

The teacher reads or tells the story using the suggested script that follows. Students can be invited to join in the repeating lines. Each part above should be played on the instruments when that character is underlined.

The script

Once upon a time, there were three bears, Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear. One day, their breakfast porridge was too hot, so they decided to take a walk and let it cool.

While they were gone, along came a little girl named Goldilocks. She knocked at the door but no one was home, so she thought she’d check out this little house in the woods.

The first thing she saw was the table, laid out with three bowls of porridge. There was a big bowl that belonged to Papa Bear. There was a medium-sized bowl that belonged to Mama Bear. There was a little bowl that belonged to Baby Bear.

Goldilocks tasted each bowl, and the littlest bowl tasted just right, so she ate it all up.

In the next room, she found three chairs. There was a big chair that belonged to Papa Bear. There was a medium-sized chair that belonged to Mama Bear. There was a little chair that belonged to Baby Bear.

Goldilocks tried out the first two chairs but they were too big. The Baby Bear’s chair looked just right! Except – oops! It broke apart when she sat in it!

Then she decided to go upstairs, where she found three beds. There was a big bed that belonged to Papa Bear. There was a medium sized bed that belonged to Mama Bear. There was a little bed that belonged to Baby Bear.

She tried the first two beds but the Baby Bear’s bed was the one that felt just right. She soon fell fast asleep.  I wonder what will happen to Goldilocks.

The three bears soon came home.  They saw their porridge bowls. (Tap instruments on the bold syllables, as indicated in the lines that follow.)

Papa Bear spoke first. Somebody’s been eating my porridge.

Mama Bear spoke next. Somebody’s been eating my porridge.

Then Baby Bear piped up:  Somebody’s been eating my porridge and they ate it all up!!  (Go crazy on the instruments on this last part.)

Next they went to their chairs.  (Repeat similar taps for each line.)

Papa Bear spoke first: Somebody’s been sitting in my chair.

Mama Bear spoke next: Somebody’s been sitting in my chair.

Then Baby Bear piped up:  Somebody’s been sitting in my chair and they broke it to bits!

Finally, they went up the stairs and saw their beds.  (Repeat similar taps for each line.)

Papa Bear spoke first: Somebody’s been sleeping in my bed.

Mama Bear spoke next: Somebody’s been sleeping in my bed.

Then Baby Bear piped up: Somebody’s been sleeping in my bed and here she is!

Goldilocks awoke with a start! She jumped out of bed and out the window!

(Glockenspiels play and voices sing.)

Goldilocks, Goldilocks, run away! (Play and sing several times, getting faster).

Goldilocks ran away and never, ever came back again to the house of the Three Bears.

The end!

I’ve written a full song about the Three Bears. It’s a great way to end this lesson. You can download it and find the lyrics here at Songs for Teaching.  You can hear the song here.

Here are some lesson plans that helped inspire me:

Here’s a youtube of the Paul Galdone book, emphasizing high-low pitch differences.  Have fun exploring pitches and instrument sounds!

Writing a Song About Flying!

Photo on 9-4-16 at 12.01 PM #2 (1)Ever dream of flying? Not flying on an airplane, though I love that, too. I mean letting your body catch the wind as you rise up into the air, soaring and gliding and seeing the sights far below.

The classic Peter Pan fired children’s imaginations about flying. Just a little fairy dust, and off you can go, to a magical land beyond the horizon. A contemporary picture book about a flying adventure is Abuela, by Arthur Dorros, illustrated by Elisa Kleven.

I first read this book at part of an “Adventures” reading unit for kindergarteners; it’s a wonderful book for ages 4-7. An added bonus is that it includes many words and phrases in Spanish, as a young Latina, Rosalba, goes flying around the city with her grandmother, her abuela.

My song “Flying High,” from my new album Amazing is the perfect complement to this book, or to any book about flying. This song is available at my web page through CDBaby or Songs for Teaching.

CDThe chorus goes:

I wish I knew how to fly, like fairies, birds and Superman!

If I could fly, I’d go so high, and with magic, I think I can! I think I can!

Two of the song’s three verses pose open-ended questions about flying:

  • If we could fly, where would we go?
  • If we could fly, what would we see?

The song answers the questions, but of course, there are many other possible answers. Writing a new verse to the song could be a creative extension of the Abuela story for the class. It is also a way for students to learn and practice writing in the genre of poetry.

Students could start with a writing prompt, answering one of the questions in their own words, starting with prose rather than poetry. They would need to use their imagination to think about where they would go or what they would see when they’re flying! (By the way, there is also a song called “Imagination” on this same CD!)

Once everyone’s done with their writing, the teacher could review the papers and help students transform their prose-writing into poetry in order to construct a new verse to the song. The first line would be the question. Let’s say the question is, “If we could fly, what would we see?”

Here are some possible answers:

  • A plane flying through the sky
  • A bird swooping and gliding
  • A white, fluffy cloud
  • A kite with a long tail
  • The top of a skyscraper
  • People walking below, looking small
  • The arch of a bridge
  • A river looking like a snake
  • The moon rising
  • The sun shining bright
  • A dragon breathing fire! (why not, it’s already a magical story!)
  • A superhero flying by

Especially when working with grades pre-K through first, I’d recommend helping students write the verse as a group. First, let the students know the basic structure. Each verse has four lines. The first two and the second two are rhyming couplets, so the rhyme scheme of the verse is A-A-B-B. You already have your first line, “If we could fly, what would we see?” so the end word of the second line must rhyme with “see.” Brainstorm rhyming words with “see.” These could include me, tree, bee, be, free, sea, whee, glee, three, tea, knee. The original text uses the line, “An eagle soaring proud and free.” Here are some possible alternatives that keep close to the rhythm of the original:

  • The bright green tip-top of a tree
  • People walking far below me
  • A plane is gliding right near me
  • A gull that’s heading for the sea
  • A kite that catches wind so free
  • A bright red bird, what can it be?

The next two lines must rhyme with each other, so be sure that the end word of line 3 has some rhyming possibilities. You might come up with a great line, but then have to rule it out because of the lack of rhyming options.  Here are some possibilities:

Couplet 1:

A tall building scrapes the sky

How did it ever get so high?

Couplet 2:

A river winding through the city

Up here, clouds look so pretty!

Couplet 3:

A kite that’s bobbing in the wind

The blue sky never seems to end.

Couplet 4:

A river winding like a snake

Flows into a bright blue lake.

Writing rhyming lines can be tricky, so it’s good for the teacher to practice it ahead and have some possibilities in mind (plus be familiar with end-words that might not produce a great rhyme for the song).

Songwriting with students is one of my favorite teaching artist activities. With a little practice, teachers can also help students be the songwriters and poets!

Cultivating Young Musicians – Part 2

Singing in the classroom can have a strong connection to enhanced early literacy skills.

Singing in the classroom can have a strong connection to enhanced early literacy skills.

“If we inspire you to do anything new at all in your [music] classrooms today, we hope it is this: Tell stories to your students! Read to them, use picture books or just tell them stories from your heart. Children NEED to hear them!”

Peter & Mary Alice Amidon of New England Dancing Masters, at an Orff workshop, quoted by Sally Rogers


I led a workshop entitled “Cultivating Young Musicians” on April 30, 2016 at the New England Conference of The Children’s Music Network. I highlighted songs that I regularly use in my music-teaching practice to help children learn about basic musical concepts such as scales, pitch, beat, rhythm, tempo and dynamics.

We spent the second half of the workshop learning some story songs to help children get engaged with playing instruments, singing simple parts and moving their bodies to dramatize a song or musical piece. I love to use stories for music teaching. Stories are often used in the Orff-Schulwerk and Dalcroze music-teaching methodologies.

Here is a wonderful video that demonstrates a musical story using the Dalcroze technique:

Bunny Story link.

I got especially excited about telling musical stories after taking a workshop in March with Andy Davis from New England Dancing Masters. If you missed my post about that workshop, read it here.

The first story we acted out in my workshop was my version of The Three Billy Goats Gruff. We not only have three children play the parts of the billy goats, we also usually have several trolls and a group of children to play the river. We also have a different group of kids play instruments to dramatize the characters: rhythm sticks for goats (to make a hoof sound on the bridge), thunder tubes or drums for the trolls (if you don’t know what a thunder tube is, google it), and rain sticks for the river. Here are links to the lyrics and my recording of this song:

Billy Goat Lyrics

Billy Goat song

The second story we acted out was my version of The Little Red Hen. I heard about acting out this story from my CMN colleague Joanie Calem of Columbus, Ohio. I loved her version but also felt inspired to write my own. You can use different instruments for each of the animals in the story. If you’re doing this in a classroom, you could have two or three students portray each animal. I followed a friend’s suggestion and have each “animal” wear a picture of their animal around their neck. There is space after each “Not I” for the animals to tap an instrument, clap, or make their animal sound. The red hen and chicks can use red and yellow scarves for wings. Here’s the link to the song:

Little Red Hen Song.

We finished our workshop with a rousing rendition of a perennial favorite among many of my students, Bob Messano’s “Rockin’ in the Rabbit Hole.” Kids love to dance like hopping bunnies, then get down and “hide” when the farmer approaches. In the end, some of the kids play “kids” who are much kinder than those angry farmers and cows! You can see my “peeps” video of the song here:

Rockin’ in the Rabbit Hole.

Have fun acting out and singing all your favorite stories with kids. They love it!

Musical Play with Stories

Students at the Gardner Pilot Academy act out my musical version of The Three Little Pigs (which was written at the Gardner several years ago).

Students at the Gardner Pilot Academy act out my musical version of The Three Little Pigs (which was written at the Gardner several years ago).


This is the second in a series of posts about learning through play.

I had the opportunity to attend the Massachusetts Music Educators’ Annual conference for the first time this past weekend. This is my first year “officially” to be a music teacher for elementary school students, and I gained some new perspective about the job.

I got a short sales pitch on recorders (and a free recorder), talked to a music department head whose principal wants to cut the music programs to make room for more instruction in “core academics,” (I gave her my card if she needs an ally) and wandered through displays of K-8 music curricula, lollipops to sell for band fundraisers, and shiny brass instruments and violins.

Then I found something familiar: a four-part workshop led by Andy Davis of the New England Dancing Masters. Andy is a quintessential Vermonter – his remarks are peppered with references to contradances and squaredances, grange halls and old-fashioned storytelling. The Dancing Masters have created many books of traditional movement songs and dances with appeal to all ages.

One of the Dancing Masters' many publications.

One of the Dancing Masters’ many publications.

Andy’s workshops had a following. He had participants up and dancing and making music the old fashioned way. His instruments were body percussion, an accordion and occasionally a piano. The heart of the workshop was dancing with friends and acting out stories to music. No computers, no data, no rubrics. Just getting back to the real basics: people of all ages having fun and exploring the human condition and elemental themes such as love, evil and death.

I like to think that’s what kids have a chance to do when they act out my musical stories such as “The Royal Children” (a gender-neutral version of the Dancing Masters’ “Thorn Rosa”), the Three Little Pigs and the Three Billy Goats Gruff. It’s what kids have experienced at my summer drama camps, in which we’ve built stories – mostly classic myths and folktales – into musical plays from the ground up. Kids understand more about evil when they’ve actually played the big bad wolf or the menacing troll. They love acting out ways to show that bad guys will get what’s coming to them: good-bye bad wolf! You’re no match for our brick house!

Andy’s workshop featured the story-song of Old Roger, a tale of death. It’s a simple movement activity in which Roger (having passed on) is buried with an apple tree to mark his grave. A woman comes to gather some apples from the ground, and Roger springs out of his grave and scares her! She goes hippity-hop! Roger can even get up and pursue her around the tree. It’s not in the song, but I think the story should end with the woman gently encouraging Roger to go back to his grave. This ending is consistent with other folktales of this nature.

The song has its roots in English/Scottish folk culture (although I found one reference on the web to the song’s popularity in Cameroon). Death is a topic we often tiptoe around in schools, but one which children are endlessly curious about. Andy made the point that in earlier times, death was much more present in children’s lives. Multiple generations often lived in the same household, and many people died at a younger age, including children who never made it to adulthood. Animals constantly were killed (dinner!).

The story’s also about the spirit world; the dead are often still a presence in our lives, waking us up and even chasing us around the apple tree.

When children act out the story, each part is played by someone in the group, including the apple tree and even the apples if you like. Multiple groups can act it out at the same time. Here are the lyrics, which can be set to varying tunes. The tune Andy used sounded similar to “Pop Goes the Weasel.”

  1. Ol’ Roger is dead and laid in his grave,
    Laid in his grave, laid in his grave;
    Ol’ Roger is dead and laid in his grave,
    Oh, oh, laid in his grave, (or Hee-Hah, laid in his grave)
    Oh, oh, laid in his grave.2. They planted an apple tree over his head,
    Over his head, over his head;
    They planted an apple tree over his head,
    Oh, oh over his head,
    Oh, oh over his head.

    3. The apples got ripe and all fell down,
    All fell down, all fell down;
    The apples got ripe and all fell down,
    Oh, oh, all fell down,
    Oh, oh, all fell down.

    4. There came an old woman picking them up,
    Picking them up, picking them up;
    There came an old woman picking them up,
    Oh, oh, picking them up,
    Oh, oh, picking them up.

    5. Ol’ Roger got up and gave her a kick, (or gave her a scare)
    Gave her a kick, gave her a kick;
    Ol’ Roger got up and gave her a kick,
    Oh, oh, gave her a kick,
    Oh, oh, gave her a kick.

    6. It made the old woman go hippity-hop,
    Hippity-hop, hippity-hop;
    It made the old woman go hippity-hop,
    Oh, oh, hippity-hop,
    Oh, oh, hippity-hop.

My suggested ending:

The woman told Roger, Go rest in peace,

Rest in peace, rest in peace;

The woman told Roger, go rest in peace,

Oh, oh, rest in peace.


At the end, Roger lies back down in his grave, so that the living, too, can go in peace.

Tortoise & Hare Teach Tempo & More!

TortoiseThe Tortoise and the Hare is one of the best known of Aesop’s Fables, stories that are credited to Aesop, a storyteller and slave who lived in ancient Greece. Most children seem to be familiar with the story already; many say they have “seen the movie.”

I wrote a song about the Tortoise and the Hare to teach about musical tempo, and to help children think about story structure and characters. You can find a sample and download of my song at Songs for Teaching or CDBaby. The lyrics are below. It’s a simple 3-chord song in C; I usually play it on the ukulele. Credit my CD producer Eric Kilburn at Wellspring Sound for all the extra instrument parts on the recording. He adores playing his vintage banjo-lin, which plunks along with a slightly goofy sound.

When I sing this song in the classroom, I focus on learning about the opposites, fast and slow. I also introduce  tempo, the speed or pace of a piece. Sometimes music goes slowly like the tortoise, and sometimes it moves rapidly like the hare.

Scan 32We do the song first as a movement activity. I invite the children to get up and move slowly like a tortoise and then hop quickly like the hare. The children play both parts at the beginning, but around the “nap” part of the song, they usually decide which part they want to play – the hares take a nap while the tortoises keep moving slowly around the room until they win. Hooray!

We repeat the song sitting down. I use percussion instruments such as shakers and rhythm sticks. I ask children to join me in playing the different tempos in this song. Sometimes I divide the kids into two groups; the tortoise group plays shaker eggs during the “tortoise” parts of the song, the hare group plays rhythm sticks during the hare parts. Everyone can play during the parts that involve both tortoise and hare.

To have more fun with the story, you could have children make stick puppets and create their own puppet show, telling the story in their own words or perhaps singing parts of the song.

Fables, of course, have a “moral.” In the case of this story, “Slow and steady wins the race.” Ask children which character they like best, and why the tortoise won the race and the hare lost, even though he was faster. It’s a nice lesson: sometimes the outcome isn’t what you expect. The one everyone thinks is so “slow” can still win!

The Tortoise and the Hare

Aesop’s Fable – Lyrics and Tune © 2015 by Liz Buchanan


All day long, watch the tortoise go, plodding along, his steps so slow.

And all day long, the hare goes fast!

Watch as he goes hopping past, watch as he goes hopping past.

Tortoise, so slow, oh, so slow.

Hare, so fast! Zip, zip fast. Hare, so fast! Zip, zip fast.


So says the hare, “How ‘bout a race?

‘Cause I know I will win first place.

Could the tortoise beat me? Never!”

Then the tortoise says, “Whatever.”

On your mark, get set, go!


Watch that hare go, go, go! Watch that hare, hopping fast!

Watch that hare go, go, go! Watch that hare, hopping fast!

Here comes tortoise, oh so slow. Tortoise, he will come in last.

Tortoise, so slow. Oh, so slow.

Hare, so fast! Zip zip fast. Hare, so fast! Zip zip fast.


So says the hare, “This race is a snap,

So I think I will take a nap.

Racing with a tortoise is such a bore.”

So the hare lies down and soon lets out a snore.


Then along comes tortoise at a steady pace.

Always slow, but still in the race.

Slow, so slow, but he gets there,

And crosses the finish line before the hare!


Give steady tortoise a great big cheer!

Hip-Hip Hooray! Never fear.

Though hare wakes up, he’s just too late

‘Cause slow and steady won the race.

Yes, tortoise kept going and got FIRST PLACE!


Bunnies, Duckies & Springtime Fun


‘Tis the season for Peeps!

Even though I’ve always thought the Easter Bunny was kind of a silly concept, bunnies are a perfect topic for spring music time.

I like acquainting children with Beatrix Potter and the story of Peter Rabbit. A fair number of kids seem to have seen a video of Peter, but fewer have seen the actual book with the lovely illustrations. I bring in the little book to show everyone, then I often tell the story with Peter Rabbit finger puppets that I purchased on Etsy.

The traditional “John the Rabbit” song can easily be turned into “Peter Rabbit” and fits perfectly with the story. You can talk about how this song is from the point of view of Mr. McGregor, and he’s pretty mad at Peter! I play a drum and the kids shake shaker eggs (in bright spring colors). We sing it call-and-response style. You can find it on my CD, Once Upon a Tune.

While you’re there, be sure to avail yourself of “Rockin’ in the Rabbit Hole,” a longtime fave of the kids in my music groups. It was written by “Guitar Bob” Messano. Check out his music sometime – he’s written a lot of fun songs for dancing and movement. With this song, the children dance all around like bunnies until the “farmer” shows up – then they get down on the floor and “hide.” For some reason, this is children’s very favorite activity.

Please watch my home-grown peeps video by clicking right here: Peeps video of “Rockin’ in the Rabbit Hole.”  Making it was truly low-tech fun, followed by extremely sticky hands.

Photo on 11-2-14 at 2.54 PMIf you want to add another springtime creature to the mix, how about some ducks? I got inspired by the music/math lessons that Pittsburgh music specialist Margaret Hooton has created using duck songs and rubber duckies. I recently got some rubber duckies myself, and they’ve made quite a splash! I like singing Raffi’s “Six Little Ducks” or Ellen & Peter Allard’s “Here Comes Mama Duck.” This song is on Volume 3 of their highly useful series, Sing It! Say It! Stamp It! Sway It!

Finally, speaking of splashes, I recommend my puddle song, “Deepest Puddle in Town.” We have a few million of those where I live in MA, as our record snowfall turns to mush and then water, water everywhere. Deepest Puddle is a really fun movement song, with jumping, swimming and flying. And then you can add a quick word about where the puddles go when the sun comes out – evaporation! Science!

What Three Little Pigs Can Teach About Reading & Writing

Three Little Pigs and One Wolf by Cosmococo.

Three Little Pigs and One Wolf by Cosmococo.

In my songwriting life, I’ve become a little obsessed with characters in threes. My initial “Three Piggy Opera” was so much fun that on my next album, Once Upon a Tune, I included my own songs about the Three Bears, Three Billy Goats Gruff and Three Little Kittens. You can find all these songs on CDBaby or at my Songs for Teaching Page.

What’s with all the threes? Plus there are all the variations and parodies of the above stories: The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, Los Tres Cerditos. Search for The Three Little Tamales on Amazon and you can find quite the variety. The three-character theme is a staple of many a kindergarten curriculum.

Why three? This is probably all explained similarly elsewhere, but here’s my take. The three somebodies are a perfect way to teach about the elements of the typical linear story. Stories have a beginning, middle and end. Stories have a protagonist who wants something. Stories have an antagonist who thwarts what the protagonist wants. Protagonist figures out in the end how to overcome antagonist.

Hey, that’s just what they taught us when I got my MFA in fiction writing (though of course there are the feminist variations that just go in circles). What makes a good story all comes down to … The Three Little Pigs!

So at my most recent kindergarten concert, I lined up three children holding their three cut-out houses, of straw, sticks and bricks. I said, “Just like these three pigs, stories have three parts: a beginning, middle and end.” The first pig is the beginning of the story, the second pig is the middle, and the third pig finally figures out how to solve the problem. You can see how kids can have fun acting out my Three Pigs song in this video:

The Three Billy Goats Gruff unfolds in exactly the same way. The Three Bears gets more complicated, because Goldilocks isn’t your classic bad-wolf antagonist, she’s just a bit confused about what to do upon encountering a strange house in the woods. But in a slightly more advanced way, the story’s scenes develop with essentially the same three-part structure.

It also occurred to me that The Three Little Pigs is a perfect way to lay the groundwork for writing a simple, cohesive essay. You know: state your premise, develop your ideas in three tidy segments, and tie it all together in a conclusion.

Now, I wouldn’t go telling kindergarteners to write essays based on the three pigs structure (though in this current weird world of ‘kindergarten is the new high school’ somebody might be trying to do that). But I do think that learning the structure of the ‘story of three’ provides an effective overlay for the logical analysis, organization and presentation of ideas.

Again, I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of this. But for me, it was an aha moment.

Do kids get the connection? Do they better understand literature and write more cohesive essays after carefully studying The Three Little Pigs? I don’t know. I’d love to hear from teachers on this topic.

I do firmly believe that giving students a chance to embody the story through singing, moving and acting deepens their understanding and might even make them better writers. Plus they’re having a lot of fun – we can still do that in education, right?

I love the illustration of the three pigs, above. Here’s the link to the artist’s page:

Make Stories Come Alive With Music

castle2 copy“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, Integrating the arts: An approach to teaching and learning in multicultural and multilingual settings, Pearson, 2006.

Music is such an awesome vehicle for teaching children about sequence & narrative that it becomes a natural way to explore the elements of fictional stories. One of my classrooms did an extensive unit on castles and fairy stories, to which I was able to bring several songs, including a song I’d written with a previous class, “If I Lived in a Castle.” The castle song doesn’t tell a story, but it’s about the characters that live in a castle, giving the teacher the chance to introduce the concept of characters and ask children to think of additional characters who might inhabit a castle. (This song is on my CD, Make It a Song, Song, Song.)

The class also enjoyed acting out a traditional song based on the “Sleeping Beauty” story, entitled “Thorn Rosa.” I learned this song from Amy Conley, a fellow member of The Children’s Music Network. She had made various changes to include more characters and thus more children. The “Thorn Rosa” activity – which we dubbed “Royal Children” so that male children could be included, too – incorporates music, drama and movement.  I usually hand out colored scarves appropriate to the characters in the story. By acting out this song, the children learn about characters and narrative structure.  They also portray the story’s themes of good versus evil – dramatizing the evil witches or wizards who cast the spell, fire-breathing dragons who threaten the castle, knights who combat the dragons, and magical unicorns who wake the children at the end of their long sleep. (This song is on my CD, Once Upon a Tune.)

Another way I use music to enhance story knowledge is with a song I wrote with a PreK class at Boston’s Gardner Pilot Academy. The students were in the midst of a unit on fairy tales and their favorite story was the Three Little Pigs. Adding music enhanced their learning in several ways. First, it engaged the students in learning about music itself, specifically about opera and the blues. The students helped select two song styles for the mini-opera: one was a folk-styled little pig theme and the other a rock/blues big bad wolf theme. Both themes were repeated several times – as they are in the story – so the children soon felt very comfortable singing the simple lyrics.

A second learning outcome of the “Three Piggy Opera” idea was the opportunity  to deepen the children’s story knowledge through drama.  The benefits of drama included a new level of understanding of the characters  (students put on their best bad-wolf snarl) and a great lesson in classroom cooperation as the children chose roles, worked in partners and groups, and waited their turns.  Similar to the “Thorn Rosa” activity, our piggy opera provided multiple learning outcomes:  musical knowledge, social/emotional learning, and a new perspective on the story itself. (This song is on my CD, Singing All the Way Home.)

Teachers can undertake these kinds of story/music projects with the help of a music specialist, but most would be relatively easy for classroom teachers to do by themselves.  The Royal Children song is simple to sing and can be done without any instrumental accompaniment, and teachers could always use my CD for the Three Pigs activity. Here is a link to a video in which you can see some kids acting out The Three Piggy Opera:  This can quickly become a favorite activity that kids will stage spontaneously – no teacher required!

Song & Book Pairing for Late Fall

The mouse glove is great for telling the story of Frederick.

The mouse glove is great for telling the story of Frederick.

I had a chance to present my first music and literacy workshop for children’s librarians yesterday and it was a lot of fun! One thing we discussed was pairing books with songs.

I love including books and references to books in my music & literacy sessions with young children. I’ve received lots of suggested book/song pairings from fellow members of The Children’s Music Network.

In my post earlier this week, I talked about pairing the “Today is Monday” song with Eric Carle’s book by the same name. Another book that I love to enhance with songs is Leo Lionni’s book, Frederick.

In this story, all the mice are gathering food and nesting for the winter while mouse Frederick stares dreamily across the field. Frederick tells the others that he is gathering colors, sunlight and words, which he will share with the other mice to help them get through the long winter.

I usually tell the story in my own words, using my “mouse” glove, giving out props to the children in advance. The song pairings could also be used while reading the book.

The first song I sing is my own version of “Three Blind Mice,” which I’d never normally sing anyway (such brutal treatment of three mice with a disability!). My lyrics go:

Five little mice, five little mice

They’re so nice, they’re so nice

They’re gathering up some wheat and corn

For something to eat during winter storms

And also some straw to keep them warm

Oh, five little mice.

I have the children run their fingers across their palm or the floor to show scurrying mice.

Later in the story, when Frederick shares his gathered sunbeams with the children, I sing and do the motions to the traditional song, “Mr. Golden Sun.” I also give out yellow ribbons to the children to wave in the air as sunbeams.

When Frederick shares the colors with the other mice, I sing Ruth Pelham’s “Rainbow Around Me” and have the children wave colored scarves. To save time and stay on track with telling the story, I often just do the chorus of the song rather than all the different color verses.

Finally, Frederick shares the words he’s gathered by giving all the mice a poem about the four seasons. I write out words from the poem and give each child a word. Since most of the children are pre-readers, I read the word with them, and then we point to the words as they come up when I read the poem.

This is a delightful book and song to share in late November or early December! When I first read the book, I was inspired to write my own song about getting ready for winter. I don’t currently have a recording, but I’ll share it sometime soon.