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Teaching Tips: Come and Make a Circle

Hello teachers! Thanks for visiting the Teaching Tips page for my newest release, Come and Make a Circle: Twenty Terrific Tunes for Teachers and Kids. This page is intended to help you make the best use of this recording in the classroom. In addition, I would love to know how you’ve used this CD in your classroom. Please feel free to email me with YOUR ideas or suggestions for other teachers for Come and Make a Circle, and with your permission, I’ll be sure to post them on this Teaching Tips page.

First, you’ll notice that Come and Make a Circle is divided into six sections: Let’s Sing, Favorite Fingerplays, Rhythm & Rhyme, Songs That Teach, Let’s Dance, and Time to End. These sections represent my lesson plan for any music session I teach. I choose a few from each category for every 30-minute circle time; less for a 15-20 minute circle time. From my 10 plus years in the classroom, I believe that 30 minutes is perfect for music class in a preschool setting with 10 to 20 children in each session.

Let’s go through each sections one by one and I’ll talk about how best to use each song. I suggest listening to each song before reading the explanation below.

Let’s Sing

All the songs in this first section are intended to gather and warm up your kids for circle time.

  1. Come and Make a Circle — Written to the tune “Did You Ever See a Lassie,” this first song is perfect for gathering in a circle. Some kids need musical cues as well as spoken cues to come to the circle for morning activities. In rewriting this song, I wanted to help young ones understand what a circle is, so I wrote the lyric “with a friend on each side” to make it fun and to introduce a conceptual understanding of the shape of a circle.
  2. Hello –This song comes off my first recording for children and their families, Little Voices in My Head. It is a good greeting song and the refrain or chorus is easy, repetitive, and fun for children to learn. In concert and in class I ask children to wave “hello” with both hands raised above their heads each time we sing the word “hello.” In this way, the song become a game and gently forces young kids to listen a little better. If the song is too long for your kids, just sing the catchy refrain!
  3. Me Llamo Susana — This song is an easy and effective to introduce kids to each AND introduce another language into circle time, or, if you’ve got Spanish speakers in your class, it can act as a bridge between languages. I wrote this song when I was an Artist in Residence in Rockford, Illinois and one of my schools had a large but not entirely Hispanic population. The song is purposely written in both English and Spanish, making the swing between the languages painless and hopefully fun.
  4. Shoofly — This African-American song is a great way to talk about feelings, especially at the beginning of the day when kids have just separated from parents and feelings are raw. I use easy sign language to accompany the words. If you are unfamiliar with sign language, check with the other teachers on staff. Chances are you’ll find someone with a working knowledge of sign language who can coach you on the movements. I encourage using as few movements as possible so they are easily mastered by young children. I use The Comprehensive Signed English Dictionary (Gallaudet Copyright 1983) and check with my friend fluent in sign language to make sure my signing and singing makes sense.

Why use sign language? Why use hand movements at all?

Any movement you can put with words and music will help ensure that we reach all of our many types of learners. Some years I have young ones who only sing the words at first, or only do the movements, or others, of course, that just sit and soak it all in for a month before daring to sing and dance. This is what I mean by reaching ALL of our learners.

Favorite Fingerplays

Every child I have ever taught loves fingerplays: short, rhymed verses with movements that transform fingers and hands into all sorts of things. I’ve included five of my favorites on this CD and will do my best to explain the movements. Feel free to email or call me for clarification on the movements.

When I Was a Little Fish — Given to me by my friend and colleague Amy Shimoni several years, this fingerplay is my all-time favorite.

Oh when I was a little fish, little fish, little fish
Oh when I was a little fish swimming in the water.
Pointer and thumb of right hand opening and closing like a mouth, other fingers folded in. Whole hand moves up and down.
My momma come and get me, get me, get me
My momma come and get me and carry me home.
Left hand, all fingers opening and closing on thumb like a bigger mouth, closes on little fish on last “get me”.
Ha ha this-a-way, ha ha that-a-way
Ha ha this a-way, carry me home.
Palms together, fingers pointed out moving left and right with verse.

First You Take a Seed — An original fingerplay perfect for the spring and early summer.

First you take a seed and you plant it in the ground Take imaginary seed and plant it in the fist of the opposite hand.

Miscellaneous Notes for Teachers

Of course, feel free to let this CD play in your classroom all day long, if you’d like. Many teachers tell me they just play my recordings all day, every day, and I’m flattered by that! But this CD, more than my others, is designed for teachers as a resource. If you are new to the field of early childhood education, I think you’ll find Come and Make a Circle gives you what you need to begin successful circle times. Over time and with a little effort, you will find your favorite fingerplays and dance songs, or perhaps you’ll write a few yourself!

About playing an instrument

When I began working in children’s music about ten years ago, I taught those first music classes unaccompanied, like many preschool teachers. I was able to use my voice and a few percussion instruments to make a 30-minute session work well. When I realized I wanted to make a career of it and add concert and recording work, however, I felt I needed to learn an instrument. Although my background was in musical theatre and cabaret, I never learned an instrument because I never had to learn an instrument.

I was fortunate to have been given an autoharp some years before and I began in earnest to learn how to play this easy, satisfying instrument. I highly recommend it. Autoharps have 36-strings and a keyboard, so if you can strum with one hand and push chord buttons with the other, you’re set! You can buy autoharps online or at your favorite local acoustic instrument store. Because autoharps have 36 strings, it is important to learn how to tune them. I recommend buying an electronic tuner (about $50) to help with the sometimes painful job of tuning. The more you do it, like anything else, the easier it will become. And get this: You don’t need to read music to play the autoharp! If you are using sheet music, just play the chords listed above the music. Some songbooks just give you lyrics and chords, which is all you need!

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