‘Tis the Season for Singalongs

One of my favorite traditions at The Hope Institute is gathering all of the students and staff for an all-school holiday singalong. We really go all out: our Hope House Band (comprised of me on guitar and vocals with three other members on guitar, drums, and bass) sets up, we pass out song packets with lyrics to all the classes, and we even invite students to perform special roles in the festivities.

This year, one of our senior classrooms has been creating their own visuals to accompany songs for each month, and December is no exception. We have been having so much fun using their creative materials for Ten Twinkling Trees and The Other Eight Reindeer that now, they are going to add their artistic talents to tomorrow’s singalong.

The class worked together to make signs for each of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, which they will hold up in the air at the appropriate times in front of the entire school when we sing the tune tomorrow. I think the staff members are more nervous than the students, to tell you the truth! We rehearsed this morning, and I know everyone will be impressed.

Singing seasonal carols is my favorite way to get into the holiday spirit, and I know I’m not the only one. I love hearing coworkers and children singing Christmas songs in the hallway outside of my office throughout the day, and next week I will be leading one of my classes as we surprise other rooms with a song or two. How does your school get into the holiday spirit? Do you put on a special program or concert? I know that many schools are not allowed to celebrate religious holidays…if this is your case, do you celebrate the season in an alternative manner? Please take a moment to share!

Friday Fave: Reindeer Games

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of leading the music portion of my church’s “Breakfast With Santa” event. This was the second year of my involvement, so I knew better what to expect and what the kids wanted (the chance to get up, dance around, and sing Christmas songs) as well as their parents (happy, occupied children and cute photo ops). I managed to combine all of these things in a ten-minute activity, and it was so much fun that I thought it deserving of “Friday Fave” attention!

Reindeer were the theme of the music room, made evident by the reindeer antlers on my head. Once all the children arrived, were seated, and commented on my headgear, I asked them if they knew who was the most famous reindeer of all. Of course, they all shouted, “Rudolph!” and we went right into the song, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Next I asked if they were aware that Rudolph isn’t Santa’s only reindeer, and told them that I would need 8 volunteers to show them what I meant. This worked out perfectly, because the groups were made up of 10-15 kids, and there were always a few who just wanted to watch. My volunteers came to the front and reached into my bag of tricks:

After all, every reindeer needs a good pair of antlers (the jinglier, the better) and a substitution for hooves (rhythm sticks, of course). I knew the props would be a hit, but I wasn’t quite ready for the excitement they would stir up. And that was fine with me!

The finishing touches were the nametags, which my “reindeer” wore around their necks. I made these by printing the names in a Christmasy font, laminating, and hole-punching so that I could string the sparkly rope through and tie it at the top.
Not all of the kids could read, so before the song, I pointed to each “reindeer” and read his/her name aloud. Then I told them to listen carefully, because when their name was called during the song, I wanted them to fly away just as the lyrics instruct.

The song that I used for this activity is one of my own, The Other Eight Reindeer. Both the kids and parents got a real kick out of it, and you should have seen those cameras flashing as each child “flew away” when it was his/her turn.

After the song, I asked the children to return to their seats for the next song, Up on the Housetop. They all clicked their “hooves” and sang along, still wearing their antlers (I’m telling you, it was a chore getting them off their heads and back into my bag). At the end of the song, it was time for the group to move on to the next station. I repeated this activity eight times that morning, and had a nice long nap when I got home :)

Ways to Spend Holiday Break

There’s a certain electricity in the air, now that the holiday season is upon us and winter is creeping in. Today in Springfield, that air is freezing cold, gusting, and carrying snow showers, but electric nonetheless. Most kids are counting down the days until their much-anticipated holiday break, and truth be told, so are many of us educators! Those two weeks are a wonderful time to relax, recharge our batteries, and prepare for the coming winter months. It’s the perfect amount of time, in my opinion, because usually by the end of the break, I’m ready to get back to my students and into the swing of things.

I’ve been hearing all about the fun things my students have planned over the holidays, which inspired me to write a song on this topic. The song can be used as a conversation starter, and a base for coming up with new and fun ideas that will keep kids busy during their time off. This is bound to please parents, who sometimes struggle to keep their children occupied and out of trouble for two weeks!

This time of the year, when winter is here,
And the schools are closed across the nation.
There’s so much you can do,
Why don’t we name just a few,
Ways to spend our holiday vacation.

If it snows, you can go outside,
Hop on a sled, and take a ride.
Put on your ice skates and take
A trip around the lake.
What a way to spend your holiday break.


If you’re tired, you can sleep in late,
Or get up early if you’re feeling great.
There are nights to stay awake,
And naps to take.
What a way to spend your holiday break.


If you’re bored, you can read a book,
Watch TV or learn to cook.
Maybe even help bake
A chocolate cake.
What a way to spend your holiday break.


What are your plans for winter vacation (if you’re lucky enough to have one)? Will you go out of town, or stay close to home? I’m looking forward to being home, spending time with my family, and maybe even getting ahead on some projects I have in the works. Oh, and I can’t forget the parties, food, and presents (giving and receiving). After all, what would the holidays be without those things?

Red, Yellow, and Green

Teaching functional skills and real-world concepts are high on my list of priorities, since the ultimate goal for my students is independence. The Hope Institute uses a Skills Assessment to determine whether or not each student is reaching goals such as dressing, eating properly, interacting with peers appropriately, and so on. Included on this list is personal safety, which encompasses crossing the street, using the crosswalk, and identifying traffic signals.

That is the topic of today’s song: learning the meaning of red, yellow, and green as related to the traffic lights. Many teachers use this concept in their classroom or when traveling with students from one place to another, using colored signs to indicate whether students should stop, slow down, or go. Learning and practicing this in a protected environment is the first step in transferring such knowledge to a real-world situation.

Stop when the light is red.
Go when it’s green.
Slow down when the light turns yellow,
That’s the color in between.
The traffic lights are red, yellow and green.

Red, red, is at the top,
Of the traffic light.
If you stop when you see red,
Then you know you’re doing it right.


Yellow, yellow is in the middle,
Of the traffic light.
If you slow down when you see yellow,
Then you know you’re doing it right.


Green, green is at the bottom,
Of the traffic light.
If you go when you see green,
Then you know you’re doing it right.


Although the songs I’ve written cover many of the topics included on my school’s Skills Assessment, there are many more opportunities for new tunes to cover this exhaustive list. Of course, I’ll be posting them as I write them – an ongoing process that will take me well into the summer, I’m sure!

Friday Fave: Springfield’s Own Magazine

The Hope Institute has been featured in several local publications recently, and I feel honored that our music therapy program has been mentioned in a few of those articles. Today’s cover story in Springfield’s Own Magazine highlights many aspects of Hope, including music therapy.
Another way Hope is thinking outward is by employing innovative teaching and therapy methods that will help students master daily tasks and help them express their feelings and communicate. In 2006, Nyre helped Hope obtain a grant for a music therapist, and Rachel Rambach was a perfect fit.

“I got really lucky,” she says. “I was finishing up my graduate school internship (for music therapy), and Hope had received a grant for music therapy.”

By allowing students to learn by singing and playing instruments, Rachel Rambach is able to connect with the children in a different way and reinforce what their teachers are working on with them, she says. She writes her own songs and creates CDs for both parents and teachers so students can keep learning through music even on the days she does not meet with them. While teaching youths of varying learning levels and abilities can be difficult, she says her job is more fun than anything else.

“My job is so much fun,” she says. “Music helps to create a level playing field for the kids; its universal, and it’s something that everyone can relate to, no matter what their ability.”

Teaching handicapped and disabled children involves a large commitment from Hope’s teachers and staff, but what is most evident among them is their dedication, faith and love for their students, and the hope that Hope will help the children have satisfying and fulfilling lives.

Read the entire article (written by Nicole Harbour) for a better understanding of what The Hope Institute is all about, and just how many children it benefits in so many different ways. You can do so here.

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