Posted in arts, more seeds, special education, spirit

Using Music in the Classroom

Music – it’s Not Just for Music Teachers!

I’ve been a teacher for a long time. Music has always been a tool that I’ve used in my classroom, from pre-K through adult education.

I don’t want you to think I’m that magical teacher who started every day playing the piano or guitar and singing with my students. I HAVE done that before, but not everyone can play an instrument or sing. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use music to reach the students in your room.

Today, I wanted to share with you some tips for incorporating music into your daily or weekly routines, and some of the brain research into why you should especially consider it, if you’re working with students who have disabilities.

Why Music?

We all can relate to the effects that some music has on us, as people. But is there actual research on the effects of music on us? If so, what does it say? How can we use that in our teaching?

As it turns out, there is a LOT of research on the positive effects of music on humans (and other species), of all ages. Dr. Jeremy Dean, psychologist from University College in London, has compiled research studies on a number of ways that music improves our lives as humans:

  1. It improves our cognitive ability (especially if we learn to play an instrument);
  2. It gives us a feeling of tapping into something bigger than ourselves;
  3. It makes us feel happier;
  4. It makes us feel closer to others (especially when we perform together)
  5. It decreases our stress levels and increases heart health;
  6. It helps us manage our moods;
  7. It changes the way we see other people;
  8. It makes the world seem more colorful;
  9. It improves our vision (really!);
  10. It’s something we are drawn too from birth.

Simple Ways to Incorporate Music into Your Daily Routines

As I said, music sneaks into my day regularly. Here are some ways to use it easily, organized by goal areas (I included BONUS homework activities – my students are notorious for not doing homework, but these ideas have worked for me year after year).

“Sheet Music” by nick.amoscato is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Academic/Cognitive ~ Language Arts

  • Song Lyrics as Poetry: My students often balk if I mention that we are going to do a poetry unit. When that happens, I use song lyrics to lead off the unit. Starting with familiar songs hooks the students, enabling me to then shift into classic pieces during the unit. {BONUS: My kids don’t like to do homework. But they WILL write down the lyrics to their favorite songs, especially if we are going to use them in class that week}
  • Mood and Theme in Literature: Last year, my class struggled with comprehension beyond the “right in your face” type. So I wrote common themes in literature on the Promethean board, then played familiar songs for the students, and asked them to identify the theme of the piece (this also works for mood). We discussed how the words and music each contributed to the meaning, much the way you would discuss the words and pictures in a picture book. {BONUS: I gave the kids homework assignments to come to school the next day with a song that fit a particular theme or mood}.

Academic/Cognitive ~ Math

  • Fractions: With students who have an ear for music, and maybe know how to play an instrument or read music, I’ve used note values to help them understand the fractions whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth, and even thirty-second. Here is an online guitar lesson that has audio clips of the various note values.

Study Skills

  • Transitioning into the School Day: One year, I had a very rowdy group, which, ironically, also included a child with agorophobia for whom just entering the classroom was difficult, especially when it was noisy. The way the class came into the building set the (unfortunate) tone for the rest of the morning. Out of desperation, I started playing smooth jazz on my Promethean board, using my Pandora account. The kids entered the building, and said, “Ooh. What’s that?” They entered the room head-bobbing and snapping their fingers – very silly – but 1) got into the room and 2) sat down to work.
  • Focus Aids: Over the years, my kids have asked for music to help them focus when they write, or when they are doing independent work. NOTE: I stick to music without lyrics, as the lyrics are often a distraction. My kids usually ask for piano music.
“SH530048” by fo.ol is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Behavioral / Social-Emotional

  • Self-calming #1 ~ Music Contracts: In a previous school, we issued music contracts to students who requested music as a calming or focus aid. Students had to show that they were able to use the aid responsibly (e.g., work got done, the equipment was used and cared for properly, students turned off the devices when asked). We purchased inexpensive MP3 players (without wi-fi or internet capabilities) for each student, and ear buds. We then asked the students to list music they wanted to have on the MP3 player, and one of the staff members found “clean” and school appropriate versions of the songs, and loaded each students MP3 player. {BONUS: the music list can be sent home for homework}
  • Self-calming #2 ~ Mood Reset: In a behavioral health setting, disruptive behavior happens. And it affects the rest of the group, because “everybody’s here for a reason.” One year, when I had quite a few “internalizers,” if there was too much tension, the students would ask to turn off the lights, put their heads down, and listen to music for 5-10 minutes, to get themselves back in order. It was good for all of us.
  • Motor Break: Once in awhile, you get that kid that has to move periodically, to get the sillies or fidgets out. One of my students was given the strategy to go to the back of the room and “dance it out.” He was an excellent dancer, and would do a quick 30-second “Fortnite” dance to get himself refocused (dancing to music inside his head). We got so used to it, and he used it so appropriately, that no one paid him any mind.


  • Listening: When you work with students with behavioral health or cognitive issues, many will have IEP goals about following directions. Kids with ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) will hear your voice and automatically want to do the opposite, no matter what you’re saying. So, I’ve “tricked” kids into learning how to listen and follow directions by using music as a hook, by having them listen for a particular thing (a word the singer uses to describe his love, the instrument that sets the tone of the piece, the way the writer uses dynamics to surprise you…), then write it down.
“Piano keys” by waltfur is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Fine and Gross Motor

  • Coordination and Strength: Kids on certain medications (especially psychotropic ones) have difficulties with their weight, overall energy levels, and, sometimes, coordination. Some kids’ disabilities, themselves, affect their muscle tone. All of these things make physical activity unpleasant for a lot of kids – especially teens, who might not be physical activity fans, anyway. In the past, we’ve had success engaging every one of our kids when we had a drum circle. It’s communal, it’s loud, and they get to bang on stuff – with permission! It also helps them with listening and timing.


  • Playing Music as a Pastime: When we were cleaning out an old room to turn it into a classroom, we found several keyboards. No one wanted them in their rooms, so my assistant and I took two of them. We set them up near one of the Promethean boards, and found videos on keyboard playing for beginners. Two of my students as to play the keyboards during activity period, every day. Identifying a hobby is an important part of transitioning into adulthood {NOTE: we hide the power cords when we don’t want the keyboards to be a distraction!} .
  • Identifying Strengths: As part of our community meetings, our principal used to set up karaoke, and have open mic times. One year, a new student stepped to the mic and sang the popular song, “Location.” He sounded just like the actual singer! He didn’t realize that he sang as well as he did. Another student would play her ukelele and sing. It was good for the kids to realize they had strengths, and good for their peers to see them in a different light.

Other Ways to Use Music

I know that I focused more on older students in this article. In my experience, it is way easier to get younger students involved in music activities. It’s when students hit the teen years that they become self-conscious and withdrawn. I love to sing and play music, but, as I said, I am NOT the teacher who is drawn to performing in the classroom. The above activities were comfortable for ME, too.

Do you use music in your special education classroom? Let me know in the comments section.

Meet My Musical Family

A little about me and my family:

There are a lot of musicians in my family. Basically, we are our own band:

My husband is a professional drummer… my eldest son plays the clarinet and saxophone… my middle and youngest sons play the trombone… my youngest son also plays the drums… I sing, and play guitar and violin. My mom passed on her musical genes to me. My husband has professional musicians (a bassist, a saxophone player, singers) in his family, and inherited his musical abilities from his mom, too.

So this article touched my soul… I wanted to share some photos of my family, making music. Enjoy!

Posted in faith, general education, homeschool, more seeds, parents, social-emotional, special education, spirit

Living a Life of Gratitude

Ungratefulness: The Price of a Hectic Life

The world we live in can be a real doozie…

Right now, my desk is littered with planning materials for summer school and the fall, a pile of mail to sort (most of it junk), bills to pay, to-do lists, my partially completed journal for the day, a coffee cup that wants more coffee, and several cans with markers and colored pencils for my Bible journaling that never seems to get done…

It is easy to become overwhelmed with the busy-ness of life. Sometimes, the brain can be so full of things to do, worries and anxieties, appointments, and past conversations that there is no quiet, not even on the inside. The availability of information on a myriad of electronic devices only makes this worse.

Our kids feel the same pressure. And, in a paradox that hurts the hearts of people in my generation, they eschew the very things that ease the heart of a small child: sunshine, unstructured play, face-to-face time with friends, family outings.

It is not surprising that, in all that busy-ness, people of all ages become bitter and negative about things. We miss the good things that we have, because we are so focused on what we need to do and what we don’t have.

Building Gratitude

Fortunately, it is never too late to teach ourselves and our kids how to be grateful. Building gratitude starts with small steps, just like learning to read. These small steps cause us to pause in a hectic life, and consider the goodness that we already have. By simply changing the way we think about events, we can learn to be content in all things, as the Apostle Paul taught us.

Ten Ways to Practice Gratitude

Learning to be grateful is a process. Here are ten simple things anyone can do to begin a lifetime practice of gratitude.

  1. Say “thank you,” and say it often. Saying “thank you” isn’t just good manners. It lets the other person know that you appreciate him and what he’s done for you. My husband and children always says thank you to me after a meal, and we always say thank you to my husband when he cooks – we give thanks to God, and then honor the cook! Thank the postal carrier, thank the cashier at Stop and Shop… just say, “Thank you!”
  2. Recognize “stinking thinking” – and eliminate it. I once worked with an excellent teacher at a correctional facility.She had a poster in the front of the room entitled, “Accountable Speech.” On one side, she wrote negative self-statements her students made: “I’m so stupid” – “We’ll never get jobs” – “I can’t do that” – “That’s just how it is.” Next to each statement, she re-wrote it with a positive mindset: “I don’t understand that – can you explain it to me?” – “I need help finding a good job” – “I can’t do that YET” – “That’s how it was – but things can change.” Re-think the words you speak over yourself. Build yourself up with your own words.
  3. Share 3 good things that happen to you each day. When my kids were little, it was like pulling teeth to find out how their days were. So, during our afterschool snack, I asked them to tell me three good things and one not-so-good thing. This helped them focus on the good (even if it was “Jacob’s mom brought in cupcakes for his birthday”) and still honors thThee bumps in the road – in a balanced way. Try it with your kids.
  4. Make a “100 list.” I had a class once that included quite a few teens with depression and anxiety. I started this task when one of them was going through a rough patch. They grew to like it so much that they asked to be able to do it on days that weren’t going so well for the class – instead of the scheduled task. Simply start a list of things that you are thankful for. The idea is that the first 25 are rather concrete and often materialistic (new jewelry, a vacation, payday…). As you get to 75 and above, however, you get to the real things to be thankful for: still being alive, being clean and sober, being reunited with family…
  5. Start a gratitude journal. It can be devoting one day a week (maybe Sunday) to a gratitude entry in the journal or planner you already use. Or you can challenge yourself, for 30 days, to write down one thing you’re grateful for, each day. Just write it down!
  6. Complete a Gratitude Challenge. There are so many 30-day challenges online these days. Pick one and dedicate yourself to it for a month. If you’re really dedicated and committed, try working through Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy for an entire year.
  7. Think of the upside of things. My pastor used to say, “Don’t complain about the light bill. Thank God you have electricity. Some don’t.” For almost any trouble you have, you can take the “glass half full” viewpoint. When you catch yourself (or your kids) looking at a half-empty glass, rephrase the statement.
  8. Give up something you love for a week. A friend of mine used to have her kids each pick out 2-3 toys to keep in their rooms. The rest would be lovingly packed and put in the attic. Every month or so, they’d “shop” in the attic, swapping out their toys for ones they stored. They grew to better appreciate the ones they kept in their rooms, as well as the ones in storage. Try doing without something for a time – you’ll be more grateful for it when you return to it!
  9. Start and end your day with gratitude. My journal has space for me to write down 3 things that I am grateful for upon awaking, and 3 things I am grateful for before retiring for the evening. I made a word cloud of June’s entries – the bigger the word, the more times I mentioned it. This was a good reminder for me about what really matters.
  10. Read one prayer of thanksgiving from the Bible, each day. King David wrote many songs of thanksgiving in the book of Psalms. If you’re not sure what a prayer of thanksgiving is, All About Prayer has a good article to read.
gratitude word cloud
My June gratitude word cloud… The bigger the word, the more times I mentioned it in the month.

Find Peace in Gratitude

As a parting thought, I want to share with you a gospel song that gets me in the tear ducts and heart every time I sing it. Blessings to you, and God bless your journey toward a life of gratitude.

Posted in faith, spirit

Bible Memorization: Helpful Resources for Working with Kids

{Originally posted at “On Planting Seeds,”  October 2, 2012, This post contains affiliate links}

Memorizing Bible Scriptures

I discovered a great addition to our home Bible study tools on Pinterest.

Hubbard’s Cupboard has downloadable resources that can be used to help your kids (and you!) memorize important Scriptures:

  • Joyful Heart Tune Charts: Colorful drawings and key scriptures, set to familiar childhood tunes.
  • Joyful Heart Bible Verse Charts: These look like the tune charts, without reference to the tune.
  • Joyful Heart Bible Verse Copywork: Primary or regular ruled lines, with the Scripture at the top.
  • Joyful Heart Bible Verse Strips: The words of the Scripture, to cut out and re-order to create the text.

Also included are ideas on how to create Scripture binder, “Go-Fish” style card games and other activities, using these four resources.

Our Bible Study Plan

We used Genesis through Deuteronomy and Ancient Egypt in Grade 6, then Joshua through Malachi and Ancient Greece in Grade 7,  by Sonya Shafer at Simply Charlotte Mason. There are suggested readings and activities for the whole family, as well as grade-appropriate tasks — truly a one size fits all program. I love the way it intertwines Bible reading, the history of the lands and people of the Bible, and supportive reading from both historical fiction and non-fiction sources.

The core text is, of course, the Bible. We have used The Everyday Life Bible, by Joyce Meyer (click on the photo for ordering information), but use whatever bible you have at home. Some folks recommend a study bible, which includes explanations of the geographical, social and political background of the readings. Others say the Bible should stand true all by itself. It’s really up to your personal preference.

As we go through the Bible, I am printing out the associated resources (if any) from Hubbards’ Cupboard, or using my own narration activities.

Finally, we are creating a Child Training Bible.

See my Pinterest Board, Home Bible Studies, for more ideas.

{ This blog is featured in Top 100 Special Education Blogs}

Posted in homeschool, more seeds, outdoor education, parents, spirit

Getting Outside with Children

The Benefits of Outdoor Time

It seems like I never quite get my garden in when other folks do. By the time the school year wraps up, it’s almost the 4th of July. I recently spent a rainy day planning a small kitchen garden that I’m going to install this weekend…
outdoor education
A small garden can afford time to refresh oneself outside… and provides learning opportunities for children, too. {Image credit: (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2019}

When I get outside, even to sweep the sidewalk, pull a few weeds, or just sit and drink my coffee on the patio, I feel peaceful. My mind and heart empty of all the stresses of the day, and I can hear God talking.

Nature Study and Outdoor Learning

The outdoors is an excellent classroom, not only for “summer school,” but for any time of year. Don’t worry about structuring the time – 15 minutes a day, with an opportunity to talk, write or draw about the time, is all that is needed to spark creativity and connect a child to the world. Of course, once they’re hooked, they will want to be outside for hours (see this post about Charlotte Mason’s view on children and the outdoors).

See my Nature Study and Outdoor Classrooms board for some ideas on how to use your outdoor space as a peaceful learning place.

Summer Outdoor Learning

Whether you’re homeschooling all year, looking for enrichment for kiddos home from a brick-and-mortar school, or just wanting some fun things to do with your children during the summer, check out some of our favorite summer nature activities:

  1. The Mathematics of Nature: Fractals
  2. Beaches, Beaches, Everywhere!
  3. Summer Bird Study: Blue Jays
  4. Nature Study Notebooks and Literacy
  5. A Little Fun with our Feathered Friends
  6. The Nightshade Family (and a Little Surprise)

What are you doing with your kids this summer? Let me know in the comments section! Share a link…

{ This blog is featured in Top 100 Special Education Blogs}

nature study
Handbook of Nature Study, Amazon ~ Click for details…
Posted in faith, how-to, spirit

Four Bible Study Activities

Christ and The Pharisees
With these four Bible study tips, students can find meaning in even the most difficult passage.

Note: The following is a post I published several years ago. In it, I describe several ways you or your high school-aged student/child can conduct a personal Bible study. I hope you find it helpful.

~ With Blessings, from Kim (6/2/2019)

Sometimes, when I study a passage, I like to look carefully at the words that are used. If we believe that all Scripture is inspired by God and complete, then the various translations should contain patterns and trends within their covers, that reveal the underlying message from the Almighty, despite variations in the specific words used. In this article, I will share with you four different word study activities that I use sometimes as part of my Bible study. Any one of them brings me new insight. I hope they bless you, too.

Yesterday, I was reading from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 9, verses 9-13, where Matthew joins Jesus, leaving his business as a tax collector without another thought:

9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,”he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

Activity #1: Counting the Words

There are 108 words in this passage, and the words “tax collectors” and “sinners” occur a total of 5 times, with the word “Jesus” appearing three times. The words “disciples” and “Pharisees” are present twice, each. No individual word, except the word “and,” occurs more than three times. The phrase “tax collector” meant more to the Jews of Jesus’ time than it does to us now. The tax collectors were local business people who were paid by the Roman government to collect local taxes. In addition to collecting the required taxes, they collected a fee, sometimes steep, from the citizens: in effect, they ripped them off through a form of graft. The taxpayers knew this, but had no choice but to patronize them. As a result, they were not at all well-liked by the citizens OR the Romans; hence, it is almost always associated with the word, “sinner” in the New Testament. We can see by the most mentioned characters (Jesus and the tax collectors/sinner), that this passage is mostly about sinners, and God’s view of the sinner.

Activity #2:  God’s Way/The World’s Way

The message of this scripture is the difference between the way that Jesus and the Pharisees treated the lesser members of society. So I decided, next, to examine each word phrase, to compare the godly way of perceiving the sinner (Jesus’ actions), versus the worldly way (those of the Pharisees). I read each phrase, then decided whether it was speaking of God’s view of things, or a world view, and sorted them. Here is the result:

God’s Way of Relating to the Sinner

  • “Jesus went on from there…” – God never ceases looking for those in need
  • “… he saw a man, Matthew…” – God actually notices us; as Miles McPherson says it, He sees the “saint within the sinner”
  • “Follow me…” – God calls us to Him and wants us to walk with Him
  • ” … having dinner at Matthew’s house…” – God fellowships with the sinner
  • … on hearing this… ”  God hears  the bad things that are said about the sinner
  • ” … It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” – God considers our sin a curable sickness
  • “Go and learn what this means … ” – God wants us to not just know the Word, but understand and live it
  • “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” – How we treat sinners is more important than gifts we give to God
  • “I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinners.” – Jesus came to gather the sinners

Does this sound like anyone you know? Does this sound like you? But, more importantly, does it sound like me?

The World’s Way of Relating to the Sinner

  • When the Pharisees saw this…” – The world minds the sinner’s affairs from afar
  • ” … they asked His disciples…” – The world talks about sinners behind their backs
  • “Why does your teacher…” – The world does not claim Jesus as its teacher
  • “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” – The world questions kindness toward sinners and  refuses to associate with sinners.

Does this sound like anyone you know? Does this sound like you? But, more importantly, does it sound like me?

At the tax collector
Matthew’s story of the tax collector reminds us that we are ALL sinners… and Jesus loves us just as we are!

Activity #3: How Does God See Me?

For a glimpse at how God sees me, I can also do this exercise: take the Scripture, and substitute my name, or the words, “me” or “I” wherever I see reference to either tax collectors or sinners. It would look a little like this —

As Jesus went on from there, he saw me sitting in my . “Follow me,” he told me, and I got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at my house, many [of my friends] came and ate with him and his disciples. When the [church folk] saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with Kim and her friends?”  On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but Kim [does]. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but Kim.”

Wow… Jesus came to my office and asked me to make a dinner party for Him! AND He told the church folk that He came to the neighborhood JUST FOR ME!

Activity #4: Where do I need to check myself?

Okay. Now for the moment of truth. Let’s do the same activity, except this time substitute my name, “me” or “I” wherever they mention the Pharisees. I can substitute, in the place of “tax collectors” or “sinners” any group of people that is in need in my community, or an individual person:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a drug addict sitting [at the street corner]. “Follow me,” he told him, and the drug addict got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner [with the addict] at [the shelter], many drug addicts and alcoholics came and ate with him and his disciples. When I saw this, I asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat [at the shelter] with drug addicts and alcoholics?” On hearing this, Jesus said [to me], “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

I don’t know about you, but whenever I do this activity, substituting my own name wherever I see the name of someone who is living according to the flesh, there is always a particular line that gives me a “twinge.” When this happens, I have to stop and think about why.

I hope you found any of these study ideas helpful. Be well, and be blessed!