Friday, February 17, 2023

30 Games and Activities for Singing Time

Learning and practicing songs can a tedious task or a fun activity. If make a game out of it, children will enjoy the learning process and remember songs for life. I was less than enthusiastic when I was first asked to be the children's chorister at church, but once I built up a small repertoire of song games, I could get by with very little prep time each week and I'd always leave church feeling like a rock star. Below are some ideas from the bag of tricks I've used the last couple years working with kids during music time. 

Learning a New Song

Erase a word:
Write the lyrics on dry erase board or chalk board and invite a different child to erase a word or two each each time you sing it, until you can erase whole lines at a time and they've got it memorized with nothing left on the board. 

Pretend you are Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, by singing a phrase and having the children repeat it back to you. I put my hands to my heart while I sing and then stretch my arms out when it's their turn. Do this three times before moving onto the second phrase and combining them. Do the next two phrases the same way before singing all four together.

Remove a Phrase Card:
Have picture cards or written phrases or sentences on cards that are placed on the board in order, with magnets. Have a child remove one at a time until you've got them all down, 8 cards, 8 times, should be enough to tattoo that verse or song in their brain. 

Emoji Lyrics:
Ask for ideas for an image to represent the first phrase of a song. Have a child come and draw the picture on the board before moving onto the next phrase. Sing these a couple of times before adding.  These should be drawn in order left to right top to bottom and so you can point to the pictures as the song is sung.

Hot or Cold:
A child or two will leave the room and stand in the hall, while another pair of children hide a small object in the room. When they come into the room everyone is singing the song softly, but they sing louder when the pair (they have to stick together) get closer to the object. They sting quieter for colder and louder for warmer.  For small classes it can be one child hiding and one searching, but this is the favorite game in my group and everyone wants a turn. Sometimes I have to send out three children at a time.

Using Uno cards seems to be a popular way to practice songs.  I just put four pieces of colored card stock (red, yellow, blue, green) on the chalk board with magnets, each color paired with a phrase of the song (pictures and phrases to represent a couple of sentences). Then a child picks from a small assortment of Uno cards (face down). If it's a blue 4 then you sing the part of the song above the blue paper 4 times. A yellow 2 means singing that part above the yellow card 2 times. I pulled the assortment of cards out of the big deck so that it would work out for each color to be sung 5-7 times. A wild card might mean singing the whole thing together, or having the child choose which color he or she likes. 

Line Up in Order
Bring four kids up at a time, give them each a card with part of the song on it, in random order, shuffle the kids around to make it interesting, then see if they can get themselves in order of lyrics. Or a couple of kids from their seats can come up to line the card holders in the right order. 

Rhyme and Reason
Have students pick out the rhyming words in each couplet and highlight them with a yellow marker on a poster or card stock with lyrics. When you turn the poster around read out everything but the rhyming words and see if they can fill it in.

Learn a Language!
In a 9 month period (20 minutes a week), my kids were able to learn and perform 15 songs, one was in Japanese, one was in Spanish, and 2 were in sign language. They got so excited about knowing different languages! The thing that made it even better was that there were some Spanish speaking families and a deaf friend in the audience come performance day.

Reviewing Songs

Once enough songs are learned, it's just a matter of rehearsing them all enough times to keep them fresh and performance ready. Review should not be boring since songs can be reviewed with games and activities too.
Pick a Style
Have students pick a style out of a hat: staccato (each note is short and choppy) legato (each note is long and goes into the next one), Broadway style, cowboy style (open for interpretation, but we usually crank up our Georgia southern accents), flamingo style (on one foot) creative! I like to write styles on the back of flower shapes, put them on the chalk board with small round magnets, and then draw stems to make a bouquet.

Go Fishing
A dowel, string and magnet make for an easy fishing pole. Foam fish can have the name of a song on the back of each, attached with a paperclip. When the magnet hits the paper clip, it should attach. My students love to catch a fish. a blue piece of fabric makes a nice pond if you want to get fancy about it.

Name that Rhythm
You can get more kids involved if after one kid catches a fish, another child reads it to themselves and then they clap or use a percussion instrument to pound out the rhythm of the song. They will probably need the adult chorister to do it with them. Some of the songs are much harder than others to guess.

Punch out songs by putting a name of a song in each of 6-10 cups. Cover the top with tissue paper and either tape of a rubber band. Children can poke or punch through the paper and pull out the song title. I attached my cups to foam board with hot glue and called it "The Sing Machine."

Roll or Spin A Song
Kids can choose from a list of six songs by rolling a giant foam die (the number coordinates with a song). A big spinner can also be used to randomly pick a song.

Holiday-themed Song Picks:
  • Students can take turns picking craft foam hearts on dowels out of a Valentine's Day vase. On the back of each heart is a song name and page number, or just a number of a song on your short song list. You can add a heart for a free pick, or another activity such as "say something you love."
  • In April, kids can pick Easter eggs out of a basket with a number or song name. The eggs can also be hidden around the room and found first all at once, or one at a time.
  • Picking a petal with a number or song name on each to assemble a big flower, 
  • Adding Scoops of ice cream to a cone with card stock or foam scoops with a name on the back.
  • "Plucking" feathers off a craft foam turkey, or putting them on. Maybe a feather or two could say, "Name something you are thankful for."
  • Unwrapping small gifts with objects in it that represent a song or pulling song names out of a gift bag is a happy Christmas activity. Another variation could be to use parts of a nativity with a song number taped to each piece to pick and put in place, with the goal of assembling the entire creche by singing all of the songs.

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign!
Children love to be in charge and these activities can help the group pay closer attention to the person at the front of the room. You can put pictures on popsicle sticks or have a piece of card stock glued to the front and back of a paint stick or dowel. Think in terms of opposites: a mouse would mean to sing quietly, while a lion would mean to sing loudly. Even little kids are learning dynamics through something this simple. The sign holder (a child may be picked to do that) holds the sign can flipped from front to back to  have other children adjust their pace or whether they're standing or sitting. Sometimes two signs can be used, one in the right hand and the other in the left, to mix it up. Some ideas include:
  • Stand up-Sit Down
  • Fast-Slow
  • Quiet-Loud
  • Sing-Hum
  • Sing-Be Silent
Build Action into the Song
If there's a repeated word have the students stand up on that word. One song repeats the word "dare" 8 times and the students are jumping out of their seats. Another song I pick a child to do an action (such jumping jacks or running in place)  or us to do during the chorus. Three verses would require three children each with an action to lead during their turn.

Snowball Fight
I got this from another chorister, and just do it once or twice a year as a reward after a performance. You have every kid write down a name of a favorite song that we've sung in the past, on a white sheet of paper. They crumple it up and then when I set a 60 second timer they throw it at someone, pick up another wadded paper snow ball and throw it again and again. It's a very short game so that things don't get too crazy. Then they line up and throw it into an empty wastebasket. Then children take turns pulling a snowball out and reading the name of the song for us to sing. We may just sing the first verse if there are lots of songs to get through and then go to the second verse if a second snowball has the same title.  Un-sung snowballs can be saved for times when there's a few minutes to fill.

Pictionary Song Title
Have students pick a song title out of a hat/bag, and then have them draw something that represents the title for the children to guess. Once they know the title, sing the song, and move onto the next child's turn to pick a song. Maybe the kid who guesses the name of one song can be the next one to draw.

Song Charades
This is just like the Pictionary game except that once they pick a song title, they have to act it out without words for their buddies to guess the song. 

Incorporating Music Theory

I love trying to work some music theory into singing time. 

We got the Beat
Having kids learn to keep a beat is one of the easiest things. Pass out percussion instruments:  I filled medicine bottles and jars with dried beans, rice, pasta, and pecan shells. These can be spray painted or wrapped in contact paper. Other percussion instruments could be jingle bells strung on pipe cleaners and wrapped around dowels or strung on paper plates for tambourines. Small paper plates can filled with rice and glued together for another instrument. Just guessing what's inside is a fun game. Kids without instruments can clap along to each beat.

Down Beat/ Conducting
This is a great way for kids to understand how most measures start on the down beat and just shake or clap to that beat. I may have children stand and bend their knees, which can be done as they are using their percussion instruments or conducting. Leading music isn't very hard and children in elementary school can learn how to use their arms to count out 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4 timing. Emphasizing the down beat with your not only arm but whole body helps get the point across.

When you come across a song that is 3/4 timing, and that the children know the words to, it's good to get them on their feet. Step to the left on the down beat and then two baby steps in place before stepping right with two baby steps for the next measure. Dance, music, lyrics, it all comes together to get wiggles out, reinforce song knowledge and learn what 3/4 timing feels like.

While beats are constant the rhythm is unique to each song. Children can say the lyrics using the proper rhythm before adding the notes. This can be done with or without clapping/ percussion instruments.

By using signs or your hand at different heights to show volume you can help them pay attention to how loudly or softly they are singing. You can write ff, f, p, pp on the chalk board and point to the level of volume they want to aim for. Holding a mouse picture on a stick or a lion on a stick to denote when you want kids to be quiet or loud is useful for the tiny kids. I've seen my kiddos bring tears to people's eyes just by singing really loud on the chorus of some songs. Dynamics are powerful.

Higher or Lower
Have the pianist play two notes, or you could sing to notes, and then pick a child to tell whether the second note was higher or lower than the first. Or you could have all of the children respond by showing thumbs up for the notes going up and thumb down for notes going down. Scarfs can be handed out to wave during bridges or ascending and descending phrases in songs.

Drum Circle
If we finish early or if they did a great job and I want to give a reward, I'll have the kids sit in a drum circle. I made a portable fire ring out of a grape-vine wreath, paper towel rolls, Christmas lights and cellophane, I plug it in for us to gather around.  Then we take turns coming up with a 4 beat rhythm for everyone else to repeat. It's a great way to learn listening and creative thinking skills.

Practicing for Perfection

Honing songs for programs means practicing standing and sitting in unison, posture, smiling, and clearly enunciating.

Make Song Goals:
Have charts to use several weeks in a row to see which songs need the most help in preparing for a performance.

Call in the Judges:
You might want a few adults or volunteer children to have sticks to hold up for frown, smile or flat faced sign after a song is sung, to know if we need to try again. 

The Heart Chart
I have a poster with hearts attached on pieces of yarn that can slide up and down the scale to rate the children's singing by how well they enunciate, by their posture and how well they are watching me. It varies by song, but by the time we sing 3 or 4 songs, all the hearts should have made their way up the chart into the excellent range. Velcro on foam board or magnets could be another way to change the ratings.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Metalic Paper Portraits

 Three weeks into our Portrait and Figure Unit and I thought we'd try out some play with processes and mixed media. Metallic paper collages are a fun way to fill in a drawing with color. My students drew portraits on mat board and then tore foil paper of various colors to glue down and  ill in the spaces around the lines. They painted the entire surface black and wiped carefully with damp paper towels to polish back some of the shine without rubbing off the colored foil. The dark lines and batik effect is worth the anxiety of temporarily covering the collage in black. All of my students seemed pleased with their finished products.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Percisionism Watercolor Project

Student watercolor breaks up space in the style of Demuth

 Charles Demuth was one of the immaculate American Modernist painters of the 19020's and '30's. I love him, not only for his art, but for being a fellow native of Lancaster County, PA. In fact, his Lancaster studio was just a mile from hospital where I was born, and a mile and a half from the church I attended growing up. He, like Frida Kahlo, Henri Matisse, and Andy Warhol, was gifted art supplies by his family when bedridden with an illness. Sharing game changing careers born from challenges is another thing I love. I don't want my students to see their visual impairment or other disabilities as an excuse, but an opportunity for growth.

Precisionists, as they've come to be known, are modern American painters who broke away from the quick brush strokes of the Impressionist landscapes, and drew upon Cubism and Futurism as they painted hard edged planes. They relished in man-made structures and the beauty of the industrial age. Demuth's "I Saw the Figure Five in Gold" was based on his friend William Carlos Williams' poem about a fire truck. I read the poem, "The Great Figure" and described how it was interpreted with fractured planes and the one point perspective with the 5 receding in space.

This movement is a great way to teach linear perspective. We carried watercolor into a second week so that students can get a better grasp on the medium and make small adjustments to the hues as the planes shift. Demuth sometimes painted in gouache, an opaque watercolor. It was a tidy week that incorporated art history, literature, essential drawing techniques and basic water color processes in one lesson.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Kandinsky Circles

 Wassily Kandinsky was a Russian born artist who led a movement of expressionist artists in Munich in 1911. The group's name, The Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter), was named after one of Kandinsky's paintings. He had a degree in law. He also had synesthesia, which is a condition in which senses overlap. He could see sound and hear color. Monet's paintings of haystacks made music for him. His paintings represented sounds: dark blue would represent the sound of an organ while a light blue would represent flutes.

Because my students are blind or visually impaired, the idea of visual art representing sound and visa versa is interesting to them. They made "chords" of color in their Kandinsky style color circle paintings. His famous color study of circles was one of his most famous pieces. This assignment was a nice way to talk about the properties of watercolor, and what happens when you let one color bump up against another wet color and as opposed to layering edges with a dry, for example. What happens if a dark color is next to a light color? And what about color relationships and composition? How do you keep the cool and warm colors evenly distributed? What happens if you don't? 

This project was another part of our unit on Expressionism that didn't take more than a couple class periods, but left them with pieces that were fun to make and fun to view.