Had a Bad Day in Music? Read This.

This is for all the music teachers who have endured a “bad day,” especially at the start of the school year. I have been teaching music for young children for more than twenty years, and those days still happen to me.

One of them was today. But upon reflection, most of it wasn’t that “bad.” On balance, it had more wonderful moments. But it was one of those days that made me want to write to my children’s music forum (sponsored by the wonderful Children’s Music Network) and ask, “How the heck do I handle this?”

Now, I happen to have written about how to handle it. On this blog. You can read it here. That doesn’t mean I’m 100 percent in control all the time. Today … I give myself about a 70 percent.

Over my years as an itinerant early childhood music teacher, I’ve often taught classes at a preschool near me. It’s a lovely, small program, run by a veteran lead teacher who partners with parent volunteers. The children seem to feel free to be themselves, unencumbered by unnecessary rules and Pre-K “academics.” All good.

The weekly music time is in a medium-sized room that’s sometimes used as a dance and yoga space for other building occupants. Flooring is rubber. For music/movement, this space is preferable to the classroom’s small circle area.

But today, a few children just couldn’t resist taking over the space – running, running, running. Not listening. Not sitting where or when they were asked to sit. This bedlam was punctuated by the girl who insisted on bringing her “lovey” that plays a ding-dong tune. You know the kind.

“I’ve got this.” I know that’s what some of my friends in CMN would say. They know who they are. I was tempted to write some of them directly. But actually, once I started to deconstruct my music time, I realized, “I’ve got this, too.”

As I reflected, I went back over what worked during my 30 minutes of music time with the children. They mostly kept their feet “glued” to the floor during the opening stretch. They sat still for the “Icky Sticky and Ooey Gooey” song with spoon puppets. They had a great time with my song, “If I Were a Butterfly,” using scarves. In this song, the children mostly bop around the room. (In a class at a different school today, a child “butterflied” into the piano bench, resulting in a bruise that required an “incident report.” Yikes!) In the middle of the butterfly song, children get on the floor to be the caterpillar and chrysalis. We have about 30 seconds of waiting time in the chrysalis. Then they bop around again.

All of this was good (leaving aside the butterfly injury). So I guess what I’m telling myself is to give myself a break. A few children couldn’t manage cooperation during the entire 30 minutes in the room. It looks “medium sized” to me, but must look huge to them. They’re three! Why not run free?  They weren’t tired enough to settle down after ten minutes in butterfly mode, but hey, they were due to go out to play.

That’s what I’m telling myself, this lovely September Thursday. I’m happy that I get to go to “happy hour” later with friends.


  1. Sounds like your class had their “Happy Hour” first, Liz! Bet they loved every minute of it – and only you knew of the creeping chaos that stood at the door! Keep up the great work!

  2. I hear you, Liz. It’s especially problematic when children are in a room that, at other times and for other activities, they are allowed to run around — not sure if the dance and yoga classes you refer to allow this. One of the reasons I dislike giving concerts in gyms is for this very reason. For small children, the rules about these rooms is always changing — what might be encouraged in one class is discouraged in another.

    Sounds like you knew what to do and, if you didn’t, at least allowed yourself to have “one of those days.” We must forgive ourselves for these occasional challenges as easily as preschoolers move on from their challenges! Xo

  3. Yes, Liz you are so right that there are those bad days, or when you are doing multiple classes, the classes that flowed and the ones that didn’t! I always have to remind myself that learning to pay attention is a life-long journey.

  4. A bad day in a music class is often better than a good day for other types of jobs. Though its still frustrating when things get out of your control. Perhaps this should be a song, I believe Dave Kinnoin has one…..Great idea for an article!

  5. Sounds like you handled things brilliantly. No disaster. Just more energy and that is hard. I know you did fine because you are such a pro.

  6. Wow, thanks for all the comments! I knew y’all had my back. At happy hour, I met a pediatrician who confirmed that September is often the month from hell for children and families. And probably for many of the rest of us who still organize our lives in “school years.”

  7. I’ve nothing to add except my admiration. I’ve taught in some funky places, and the environment makes a huge difference. Well done and as always well written!

  8. Hi Liz! l love reading your blog—thanks for your generous sharing of fun ideas and song suggestions….
    For me often the best thing on those super squirrely days is a really dead simple “stuff to do” song – like Alina Celeste’s “Let’s All Clap Our Hands.” Hands! Head! Noses! Jumping! More Jumping! I find sometimes going back to those no-prop, easy to follow, quick to change songs are just the ticket when the kids are off the walls.
    I appreciate your sharing though, nice to know even a veteran like you has those days that make you go “I am terrible at this!!” For a second …

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