Thursday, June 18, 2015

Show and Tell Your Travels: Making Connections in Your Classroom

Whether I travel far or near, my students are in my mind wherever I go. Because my husband is a professor and he gets to go to conferences sometimes, I have gotten to take a few fun trips. I have also gotten to go to some fun places with my family in the past 5 years, as my kids have become adults. I have been able to bring a few things back to make some connections to our learning. No matter what kind of teacher you are, you can use your travels to make some wonderful connections and help bring the learning to life.

A few years ago, I, my husband, daughter and youngest son got an opportunity to visit South Florida because my son had spent two years there and wanted to show us around. I loved the relaxing sounds and feel of the beach, especially early in the morning. I loved picking up the shells and saved many for my kindergarteners.

In kindergarten, we sing a song called, "Seashells".  It is how we begin thinking of high and low and steady beat. We go on a "trip" to the beach by saying the Rhyme, "Engine, Engine, Number Nine" as we beat the steady beat on our laps. We do vocal play as we pretend to be dolphins or whales at the beach, making our voices match our hands as we go up and down. We pick up shells on the beat, high and low as our voices go high and low. We eventually make our bodies go high and low. I am amazed at how the kids really can hear the high and low and they discover whether their bodies should be up or down. Kids do solos using tiny shells to pick them up on the beat as they sing. When every student has done a solo with the shells, I give each one of them a shell that I picked up on the beach in Florida to take home. During this process, I show them my beach picture of me picking up the shells, and seeing a dead whale on the beach. I also let them see my huge conch shell and "listen" to the ocean. For many of them, this is new and many in my low income title one school have never been to a beach. The fact that I picked it up for them and they can see the pictures of me on the beach makes the learning come to life and is so magical to them. We use this song in first grade as we make our beat books. Get my free beat book for "Engine Engine" here.

A Dead Whale we saw on the beach

Two years ago, in the summer, my husband had a conference is England. He had lived there years ago before we were married, and had gotten a driver's license (much harder than the US to get) so we rented a car and had a wild ride on the other side of the road. We were able to see a little bit of London, Stratford Upon Avon, where Shakespeare lived, Lake Windermere (the Lake District), Newcastle, and the White Cliffs of Dover. It was so wonderful, but the White Cliffs of Dover had extra meaning since I sing a song about going to Dover. You can hike on top of the white cliffs and it is so peaceful and beautiful. Across from it, you can see France. Now I could actually show pictures and tell the kids I had been there! I even brought home a little bit of chalk from the cliffs.

The White Cliffs of Dover

We sing this song and do a fun play party with it. We get into a circle side by side in partners as we go around the circle. When we get to "three times over", we take our arms over our heads and turn around. This works best if you practice it by itself. Some kids will have a hard time, so you help them feel the motion they are supposed to do by physically helping them move the right direction. They all get it with help. Next you have the kids take hands with their circle-- the kids in the outside take hands with their neighbor and the kids on the inside take hands with their neighbors. We actually practice switching hands. I will say, "partner" and then "neighbor". Both circles (concentric circles) go in opposite directions on the part that says, "Sailing East, Sailing West" to the end. When you get to the first syllable of the word Ocean, the circle go around until on the final syllable, you stop at your partner. It takes some work to get this good, but the kids love it and love showing their teachers when it is perfected. This is always requested in 4th grade and in 5th grade, we play it on the recorder once students get past their black belt. 

These are some of my third graders doing the play party

This last May, my husband got a paper accepted into a conference in Florence, Italy. It was for the next to last week of school. It was VERY difficult getting ready to go-- trying to wrap up all of the end of school year projects, and making sure my 6th graders were ready with their graduation songs since I had no more teaching time left when I got back.  To make things even more challenging, my son's wife's grandma died right before we left, so we knew they would be coming from California to the funeral and would be in our house, so I had to really clean the house for company. (AND I didn't get to see my 4 cute grandchildren!) 

I found some great connections for songs in Florence. Italy is known for their leather and there was leather everywhere. We sing a song in first grade called Lucy Locket Lost her Pocket and play a fun game of looking for the "pocket" (purse) using the voice in dynamics. One student goes out of the room, just outside my door. One student will hide the small purse. Then the student from outside the door comes in. As they get closer to the "pocket" you all sing louder, as they go the wrong way, you sing more quietly.  If they are good at listening to the cues, they will find it quickly. Some kids are not as good, but we always have fun! I found a cute little leather purse to use for this song while in Florence. As I bring this out to use, I will show beautiful pictures of my time in Florence and will take the opportunity to show where it is on the map. 

Can you tell my daughter is thrilled to be in this picture?

I found one other item that my kids will love. Italy is known for having fine silk. We sing several songs for which we use a scarf. One of my favorites is "Little Johnny Brown".  I sing it in Kindergarten, working on beautiful singing and moving creatively. I got a beautiful scarf in Florence that the students will love and I can't wait to show them more beautiful pictures of Florence, Italy. Funny thing. When my sub was there for a week while I was in Florence, she did this song with the first graders too and they requested it when I got back. Boy had they improved on their creativity and movement in one year. I think I will bring it back in first grade this coming year!

Finally, there are so many gorgeous churches and cathedrals. We spent much time exploring them and walking up hundreds of stairs in each one. Many of them had beautiful bells ringing in them. I had to take a video of the Duomo in Florence to show my students. I sing a song called "Bells in the Steeple".  95% of the kids don't even know what a steeple is, so we have to discuss that and I show them a picture of a steeple. Until now, I haven't had a good way to show them a good example of real bells in a steeple. Now I have both pictures and sound. We use this song for teaching do mi and sol, as well as working on the 3/4 time signature.

The leaning tower of Pisa had beautiful bells in it

Working bell at the top if the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Duomo (Cathedral) in Florence, Italy

I LOVE bringing these connections back from my travels. It is part of what helps me to get excited about the next year as I know the kids will be excited about these new connections. Have fun in your travels and be sure to bring your travels back to your students, no matter where it is- even in your home town!

My daughter, me, and my husband on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge in Florence


  1. I had fun reading your post and hearing about all your travels and seeing the fun things you pick up for your classroom along the way. I am sure your kids love it too!

  2. Lindsay, it means a lot to me that you took the time to read my post! I am glad you enjoyed it!