Summer Camp Week 4: Echo, echo…

I wonder if it is possible to get through the summer break without feeling some degree of guilt or inadequacy about how we are spending our time.

I’ve seen magazine articles claiming that facilitating too many activities for children damages their ability to function independently… and I’ve read advice from educators on steps we should be taking to halt the ‘summer slide’.

I’ve clicked on comforting blog posts celebrating carefree and unstructured summers… and I’ve marvelled at pinterest boards and facebook feeds full of fabulous crafts and amazing excursions.

As with most things, I guess the key is to find the right balance for your family (and your sanity!). Luckily there are many ways to make music a part of your summer fun with very little planning or extra effort, so this week’s posts will focus on quick ways to provide some musical moments.

Today – echoing. This is something you can do at the breakfast table, in the car, at the checkout… or at the piano or somewhere more ‘musical’ if that’s where you happen to be! All you need to do is sing a short phrase – anything from a couple of notes to a line or two of a song and get the children to sing it back to you.

You can sing to ‘da, da, da’ or ‘la la la’; sometimes I’ll throw in some solfege names to see if the kids parrot them back without realising that I’m sneakily trying to teach them something. For some variety (or if you don’t feel comfortable singing) you can also do this with clapping or tapping rhythms.

And that’s it!

So far playing echoing games has proven to be a good distraction when my little lot start bickering (and it’s also a great way to make use of those times when the children decide to play the HILARIOUS ‘copying everything I say’ game). Plus, as I increase the length or complexity of the phrases I sing to the kids the thought occurs that, along with prolonging our musical playtime, I might also be helping them prepare for any pesky aural exams that might crop up in their future. Result!


Summer Camp: So far…

We’re halfway through the summer break here so I thought I’d take a break from posting new activities this week to give us time to play around more with some of the ideas we’ve already tried.

If you’re looking for a quick musical activity, please do take a look at what we’ve been up to so far…




It’s been a fun few weeks! Hope to see you back here for more next week…

Summer Camp Week 3: Fantasia

Today I felt pretty grotty, so I pulled out all the stops with a musical activity I’d been saving for just such a day… we watched TV!

I borrowed Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 from the library (I think I could blog every day about how much I love Calgary Public Library) and let the DVD look after all of us for a couple of hours.

In all honesty I’d forgotten that a lot of Fantasia isn’t really that entertaining for young children, so we skipped through a few of the heavier (and scarier – Night on Bald Mountain) sections but, unsurprisingly, Mickey as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and the dancing hippos in Dance of the Hours went down very well.

Fantasia 2000, however, was a revelation – I’d forgotten it even existed and certainly don’t think I’d ever seen it. The whole program was enjoyable for the whole family, but the Rhapsody in Blue section is just fabulous; we couldn’t resist watching that part again straight away. The whole thing is good enough to make me feel ill for another day so we have the excuse to watch it again (although – who I am kidding? – we’re definitely gonna watch it again anyway!).

Today’s recommended activity: watch Fantasia 2000 or, failing that, listen to Gershwin’s wonderful Rhapsody in Blue or, failing that, just watch TV… go on, you know you want to. 😉

I’ll be taking a break from this virtual summer camp next week; week four will commence Monday August 3rd.

Summer Camp Week 3: Guess Who

Today we played Guess Who with musical instruments.

The children playing Guess Who with musical instrumentsWe have the version with the little doors, so if you have the same version please feel free to download the PDF I made from the bottom of this page.

My choice of instruments had a lot to do with which pictures were easy to find and wouldn’t be too confusing rather than featuring complete instrumental families or sticking to a particular genre of music. So, for example, I included the violin but not the viola or cello as with pictures this small the differences between them weren’t obvious enough (and two of my three kids aren’t readers yet).

I was impressed with how easily my little lot adapted to this version of the game – without prompting they came up with questions such as:

  • Is it a blowing instrument?
  • Does it have strings?
  • Do you hit it to play it?

They did need a little guidance when it came to the difference between the organ and the piano (maybe I’ll change one of those options on a future version), and I guess you might need to keep your ears open for any disputes about the piano as it can fit into a couple of different categories.

If you do decide to print this out to try at home (I hope you will!) then I suggest you leave the top section of the paper attached to help hide the sliders as I only made one version (rather than creating a second page with the items in different positions). Please let me know in the comments if you find this printable useful; I’d be happy to upload alternative/improved versions in future.


NB. The PDF is set up for letter size paper, but if you are printing on A4 just ensure you don’t click to resize and it should still come out ok – you might just need to cut a small strip off the bottom of the page.


Summer Camp Week 3: Beginning Recorder

We’re back with the recorder today.

I know hearing small children play the recorder is not the most soothing of activities, but if you can manage to put up with the noise for 10 or 15 minutes there is a lot the kids can gain from this activity.

Our little ensemble sat in a circle and we reacquainted ourselves with the recorder.

  1. Hold recorder with left hand (LH) on top, right hand (RH) steadying the bottom half. The mouthpiece should be resting just inside the lips, not touching the teeth.
  2. Practice blowing gently, try some short notes and some sustained notes. Listen to the difference it makes when you blow harder and softer.
  3. Make sure your left thumb is completely covering the hole at the back of the recorder, and put your pointing finger over the top hole on the front. Now blow gently to play a B. NB. I use the term ‘pointing finger’ here to avoid confusion with the fingering numbers used on the piano. Usually in recorder books this (index) finger is labelled as 1, in piano the thumb is 1.

E and O (ages 4 and 3) started losing concentration here but L (age 6) was able to remember how to play A (LH thumb covers back hole, pointing finger continues to cover top hole and middle finger covers 2nd hole) and G (as for A but with ring finger also covering 3rd hole).

L practised playing B, A, G – listening for squeaks (from fingers not fully covering the holes or blowing too hard) and getting used to transitioning between notes. In the meantime I suggested to E and O that they join in playing without any holes covered – this produces a sound that is just slightly sharper than a D so didn’t harmonise too badly with L’s playing. I then joined in playing G, A, B in contrary motion with L.

As we played together we fell into a ta, ta, ta-aa rhythm (crotchet, crotchet, minim – or quarter, quarter, half note) which they chanted as ‘I love you-ou, I love you-ou’. E then altered her rhythm to ta, ta, ti-ti, ta (crotchet, crotchet, quaver-quaver, crotchet – or quarter, quarter, eighth-eighth, quarter). We also took turns using the recorder cleaning rods to conduct and drum along and, to my pleasant surprise, we seemed to be making a fairly rhythmic and melodic sound together.

So, clearly we weren’t making music that anyone would much want to listen to, but what we were doing was:

  • Learning how to blow into the recorder to make a ‘nice’ sound.
  • Listening to the notes we were producing and correcting squeaks.
  • Practising transitioning between notes.
  • Improvising with rhythmic patterns.
  • Hearing changing harmonies.
  • Listening to each other to keep in time.
  • Learning to mark a beat with a baton (and watching a conductor).
  • Listening and watching as we drummed along with the beat.
  • Linking language and rhythm.
  • Having fun!

For a lot more information about playing the recorder and some useful diagrams, have a look at Squeaky’s Recorder Playhouse. And for reassurance that the recorder can actually sound ok…

Summer Camp Week 3: Je Suis une Pizza

For today I offer a quick song suggestion.

My eldest daughter, L, introduced the songs of Charlotte Diamond to me when she first started kindergarten here in Calgary and I gather that more than one generation of Canadians will be very familiar with this song!

Je suis une Pizza was L’s first introduction to speaking (and singing) French, but it is such a perfect echo song that she didn’t seem to notice that she was learning a new language.

My French is terrible, and the younger children haven’t had much exposure to French yet, but we all enjoy singing this song. And that opening got a laugh from the kids at least the first 20 times!

So, enjoy echoing Mme Diamond – or each other – and I’ll be back with another musical suggestion tomorrow.

ps. If you’d rather stick with English I am a Pizza can also be found on YouTube.

Summer Camp Week 3: Who is Bono?

When I set myself the challenge of sharing a musical activity each weekday of the summer I thought I might run out of ideas all too soon. But what I’ve found so far is that if I just keep my eyes (and ears, of course) open then there is almost too much music to explore in everything we do.

This abundance of inspiration and information has been almost overwhelming in the past – the worry that we wouldn’t get to EVERYTHING almost scared me off starting on ANYTHING (and I’m not just talking about making music here). However, once I decided to let go of the forward planning to a certain extent we’ve all been able to have so much fun just taking our musical cues from the everyday events of the summer break.

We are blessed with an excellent public library here in Calgary which has many wonderful children’s books about music, but music wasn’t necessarily on my mind when the girls picked up Ella by Mallory Kasdan and illustrator Marcos Chin.Ella book cover

This ‘cheeky parody’ is inspired by the fabulous Eloise (by Kay Thompson and illustrator Hilary Knight). Eloise book coverEloise is an established favourite in our house and Ella is certainly a winner for us too. After a couple of sessions just reading and enjoying the book our musical activities were inspired by Ella’s mum as, ‘She knows Bono.’

The kids didn’t know who Bono was, so we took a lengthy pause to listen to some U2 songs and watch some clips on YouTube. We tried:

  • One (the kids preferred the duet version with Mary J Blige)
  • Desire
  • I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
  • When Love Comes to Town (for a bit of bonus B B King education)

Elsewhere in the book Ella says, ‘Sometimes I tie one leg to the other and try to dance’; we combined this with our U2 listening and it made for a VERY fun activity (albeit one with a high risk of tears before bedtime)!

So, apologies for a somewhat convoluted post but, in summary – my musical suggestion for today is, either:

1. Listen to a few classic rock/pop songs (and then tie your legs together and try to dance), or

2. Read through a couple of favourite children’s books following up on any musical cues you might find. And, of course, you could still tie your legs together and try to dance!

Summer Camp Week Two: Friday

Apologies for another late post; we have just returned from a short break in Jasper, Alberta (a post about music for a five-hour car journey may well follow one of these days!).

We saw many amazing sights and stopped to listen to the sounds of waterfalls, bird song… and even an avalanche.

As we explored the town of Jasper on Thursday we were able to stop and listen to just a little of the performance of Warrior Women, a First Nations mother and daughter drumming group who were performing outside the Heritage Fire Hall.

Children playing on a small model steam train in Jasper, Alberta.

The cheeky children deciding that playing was more important than providing material for this blog.

However, having been lucky enough to stumble upon the chance to enjoy some live music the kids spurned the music in favour of playing on a little train.

I really regret that we didn’t stop to listen to the whole performance and learn about drumming from Matricia and Mackenzie Brown, but I guess our follow-up activity will be to do some research ourselves to find out more about drumming in the First Nations cultures of Canada.  I think we’ll use this lesson plan from as our starting point.


Summer Camp Week Two: Thursday

Recently L has been asking to have a go on my violin and, as with too many requests, the answer is usually, ‘not right now’. So hooray for the summer break when there is less running about to various scheduled activities and more time for just trying things out.

A small child has a go at playing a full-size violin.

Six-year-old L grapples with a full-size violin.

My violin is full-size and my L is… not so much. But she enjoyed having a go, and reminded me of the ear-assault that my own parents had to go through as I first started to play at around age 9. Thank goodness for patient parents though – learning the violin is a true gift, as of all the orchestral instruments it is probably the most likely to see you finding a place in an orchestra no matter your skill and experience.

Do you have a musical instrument you’ve been meaning to let your child try out? Might the summer break be the time you find time? Or maybe you have a friendly local music shop or a kind friend who might let your child have a go (under supervision, of course). A project for another day is for me to track down somebody with an instrument that I’ve never tried to see if they will let me and/or my kids have a go.

Summer Camp Week Two: Wednesday

Today I am planning to show the children this YouTube clip of the first movement of Elgar’s Cello Concerto. I don’t know if they will have the concentration to listen to or watch much of it but I chose this particular clip for two reasons:

1. It’s a stunning piece and a great introduction to the gorgeous tone of the cello.

2. It is conducted here by Estonian Anu Tali – a female!

I may well return to the subject of the sad lack of high profile female conductors in a future post but, for now, my aim is just to allow my children to watch a female conductor in action and hope they see it as something both normal and inspiring (and not too boring!). I’m very interested to see whether they already (at ages 3, 4 and 6) have an opinion as to whether conducting is a ‘male or female’ kind of job… but I’m not sure I intend to lead the conversation in that direction.