It’s Okay to Cry

It's Okay to Cry

As a kid, I was never a crier. My mom used to say that she could count on one hand the number of times she saw me cry when I was younger, and she was probably right. Something always stopped me from letting my feelings out.

I see the same thing happen with my students quite often. Music therapy and even music lessons can be emotional at times, and I can tell when a child or young adult is on the verge of tears. They usually try to hold them back and keep themselves together, but I always encourage my students to share how they’re feeling — even if it means letting the tears fall.

I remember feeling embarrassed every time I cried as a child, even if it was just in front of my parents or best friend. But as I say in the song, everybody cries and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

I’ve learned that crying can be cathartic…it really does help us face whatever we’re feeling sad about. I wrote this song so that we can teach that to our students and children. Choking back tears is no fun, as I know all too well!

To the Bathroom I Go

To the Bathroom I Go (Instructional Song for Children)

It didn’t take long for me to learn that as a music therapist working with children who have special needs, one goal area I’d be addressing often is bathroom routines.

Handwashing, teeth brushing, bath taking…those are the easy ones. But toileting is a little more tricky, not to mention a little less fun. However, it’s a goal I’ve been working on with students since my  first day on the job, and I’m still at it five years later.

The key to a good “potty” song is that it must be detailed yet tasteful enough so that parents, teachers and others feel comfortable singing it. To the Bathroom I Go is repetitive and the melody is simple, as you’ll hear below.

This is a reworking of the original potty song I wrote years and years ago, and since it’s proven to be effective many times, I didn’t make too many changes. While some of the lyrics may induce a giggle or blush, I think they strike the balance I mentioned earlier.

Plus, it’s a catchy little song that — like it or not — you’ll probably be singing all day long. What are your favorite songs on this unavoidable topic?

Find Your Name

Find Your Name Sign

Like so many others, this song was written specifically for one of my music therapy students. She is working on identifying her name from a field of several others, so now we sing Find Your Name at the beginning of each music therapy session.

The visual I use is pictured above, and was super easy to make. I just printed a simple sign I made using Pages, slipped it into a page protector, and then attached Velcro dots to the front and back where you see the name cards. There are also Velcro dots on the other side of each card.

I made several cards so that I can switch them out each week, which makes finding her name just a little bit more challenging for my student. The simple song is short and lets her know exactly what is expected of her.

I have started using this song with quite a few of my other students as well, though for some, a field of 4 is a little too overwhelming. But that’s an easy fix — I just remove 1 or 2 cards as needed, and will gradually increase the field as they start to recognize their names more easily.

What songs, visuals, and other resources do you use to help your students pick their names out of a crowd?

How I Stay Productive…Even When I’m Sick

How I Stay Productive Even When I'm Sick

This past weekend was a bit of a bummer for me. I started losing my voice in the middle of the week, and woke up on Saturday with a full-blown cold. Turns out I’m not the only one: when Michelle, Kimberly, and I got together via Skype to record this month’s episode of our podcast, we realized that all three of us were under the weather! It’s just that time of year.

Being sick meant I had to cancel most of my weekend plans, which included providing music activities at Breakfast with Santa, recording some new songs for my students, singing in the choir at church, and making a “Sunday Singalong” video (thank goodness for my special guest this week!).

But even though I was stuck at home with no voice, I still managed to make the most of my weekend while getting the rest I needed to start feeling better. Here are the ways in which I stayed productive…and none of them involved leaving my couch!

  • Learn new music. I’ve got some holiday gigs coming up, so I spent some time going through my Christmas songbooks and working on a few tunes. By working, I mean listening to recordings of them, and then playing them either on the guitar or piano (okay, so this does involve leaving the couch). It was hard to resist singing along, but the sound of my voice was so pitiful that even I couldn’t stand to hear it, let alone my husband in the next room :)
  • Make lead sheets. I fell a little behind on making lead sheets both for performances and music therapy work, so I took this down time as an opportunity to catch up. Michelle Erfurt recently shared some excellent tips for making lead sheets here.
  • Go shopping. And by this, I mean online shopping! I was able to buy almost all of my holiday gifts for friends, family and students over the weekend without stepping foot outside of my home. No traffic, no lines, no sales tax, and (in most cases) free shipping? It doesn’t get much better than that.
  • Clean out the ol’ email inbox. All those unanswered emails that piled up throughout the week have now been replied to, and that’s a great feeling. I may have been a little cross-eyed last night from all those hours staring at the computer screen, but they were worth it.
  • Tackle boring administrative tasks. There are many such items to do both on my computer and in my office that don’t require much thinking at all. I was suffering a bit from “sick brain” this weekend, so even when my head wasn’t so clear, I was able to cross a lot of these items off my list.
  • Above all else, REST! None of the things I did over the weekend were overexerting, but I made sure not to go overboard. I took plenty of naps, drank hot tea with honey and lemon, and used my voice as little as possible. Now here I am on Monday morning, feeling one hundred times better and ready to take on a brand new week.

Do you try to stay productive when you’re sick, or do you prefer to hibernate both physically and mentally? (There are most definitely times that I have done the latter.) Let’s raise our cups of tea and toast to a (hopefully) healthy holiday season!

6 Tips for Staying Healthy Around Kids

 8 Tips for Staying Healthy

Don’t worry; none of my tips involve wearing a face mask! This post was inspired by Linda, a fellow music therapist who sent the following question in an email yesterday:

I was wondering if you could write one day about how you stay healthy when working with so many students.  I began working with over a hundred kids this school year and have already been on antibiotics twice for upper respiratory infections and had the stomach flu.  I clean my instruments after each use with antibiotic wipes and wash my hands constantly.  Aside from wearing rubber gloves and a face mask, I’m not sure what to do.  Do you have any suggestions?

Oh boy, Linda. I have been there and done that! In fact, I spent my internship — the first time I’d been exposed to many children on a daily basis — sick as a dog. We’re talking flu, sinus infections, pink eye, bronchitis…you name it, I had it at one point during those nine months.

And since I came right out of my internship into a job at a school working with over 120 children every week, I knew I needed to come up with better methods of self-defense against all those germs. There’s no single guaranteed method for avoiding sickness when you work in such an environment, but here are a few I’ve come to swear by:

  1. Get a flu shot. This may seem like a “duh!” statement, but I wouldn’t be surprised if half the people reading this do not make a habit of getting a yearly flu shot. My former workplace provided flu shots to all of its employees, so I was always first in line to get one. This year I’m on my own, but planning to get my shot before the week is over. It can be unpleasant, but avoiding 4 days (or more) of pure misery is worth having a sore arm for a day.
  2. Emergen-C. I keep multiple boxes of this Vitamin C-packed drink mix stashed in my kitchen. Anytime I feel a cold coming on, I stir a packet into a glass of water and repeat throughout the next couple of days. It doesn’t taste amazing, but it is effective!
  3. Stock up on antibacterial gel. There are multiple pump bottles of this stuff throughout my studio — on my desk, next to my piano, in my instrument closet — because I dive for it anytime I see a student touch his or her nose or mouth. I also try to make a habit of having students rub their hands down before touching the piano or any other instrument.
  4. Cold-Eeze. This falls into the same category of Emergen-C as a necessity, especially during cold and flu season. This is a homeopathic cold remedy containing zinc, and although it leaves a funny aftertaste, it seems to do its job.
  5. Remind parents not to bring their children for music therapy sessions or lessons when they are sick, no matter how minor the illness. I send out emails reminding parents that even coughs and runny noses qualify as reasons to keep students at home, because they can lead to more severe illnesses that spread like wildfire. You may not have this luxury in a school setting; if a child is showing symptoms, be sure to take extra precautions.
  6. If you do fall prey to germs and end up sick, stay home. Music therapists are notorious for “working through” illnesses rather than canceling or rescheduling sessions. I am guilty of facilitating music therapy sessions with full-blown laryngitis in the past, but I’ve learned never to do that again. My voice is my livelihood, and it’s just not worth the risk!

Other no-brainers like eating healthy, drinking plenty of water, and not touching your mouth and nose before, during or after contact with children should be heeded as well. Now it’s your turn: help Linda and the rest of us out by providing your tips for staying healthy around kids.

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