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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Delia and her homemade shaker

This is what I love most! Children leaving my concerts going home inspired! Little Delia awakened before the rest of the family, and made this wonderful shaker "out of a toilet paper tube and remnants of preschool art projects with jingle bells inside and lots of scotch tape." How cool is that?

This brings back memories of my own childhood,and explains a lot about how I turned out!

My first best childhood friend was Penny Weller. Penny’s mother (she had seven children!) cleverly provided a “crafts” drawer in the bottom of the built-in’s at the top of their winding brass-railinged staircase.. She filled it with scraps of anything that would otherwise have been thrown away; bits of yarn and string, old bottle caps, used greeting cards, as well as crayons, glue, tape, and scissors. We never knew what might have been added since our last visit! Penny and I would sit on the floor in the dimly-lit hall with the open drawer between us, hiding our work from each other. We would make little gifts and then exchange them. Memory plays tricks, of course, but in my mind we spent hours there, cutting and pasting and creating our works of art which were proudly given and received. I realize now so many lessons were learned at that drawer of “stuff!” Creating something from nothing, how to give and receive, and the comfort and complete happiness of having a good friend. I had plenty of creativity going on at my own house,- to be sure, but there was something magical about that hallway and drawer, and my first best friend.

In a couple of years, when my grandchildren are older- I don’t dream of having a stack of DVD’s or computer games for them to use when they visit, but of stocking a big bottom drawer with all the magical ingredients they need to build their own memories and life lessons. Just like Delia!

Please share your own stories of creativity and childhood! We adults need a little reminder of the simple things in life...

Tuesday Tip! Egg Shaker Update

So... for nearly 30 years, I have been making shakers from plastic Easter eggs. They are inexpensive, brightly colored, washable, and easy for little hands to hold. Great for a variety of songs and activities. For almost as many years I have sealed them using hot glue, and the bond has been stronger than the egg! But over the last five years or so, I noticed they eggs have been coming apart- as if they weren't even glued! I also noticed the plastic is thinner (so bends when you squeeze it), and has an "oilier" surface. Hmmm. This has been a problem, as I use my shakers a lot and even at large concerts. So... after much experimentation and research, here is what I have found...

I finally took a plastic egg to Tap Plastics, as they specialize in fabricating all kinds of plastic things. They actually did a test on the egg, and determined that it is made from one of only a few un-glue-able surfaces! It can't be glued! How unthinkable is that?

So, I have have only two solutions for you and me. Easiest is to use tape. You have several choices. I don't use scotch tape, because it's the tackiest looking and gets brittle and grungy quickly. A better choice is "repair" tape, a heavier pliable plastic tape available at office supply stores. I noticed in researching for this post, that Staples now carries a line of VERY fun designer duct tape! It comes in zebra print, and a variety of tie die colors. So you could use zebra print for all of the eggs, or get a roll of each tie die color to match the plastic eggs. Since duct tape is so wide, you'll want to cut strips into one-inch pieces before sealing the eggs. You can place strips of duct tape on wax paper to back them, allowing you to easily cut strips without getting yourself into a big old sticky mess! Then just peel off each one-inch strip and apply it to the egg.

The other way to seal the eggs (which my wonderful artist friend Frank Sunseri came up with) is with a soldering iron. Be sure to do this in a well-ventilated space! Gently press the tip of the soldering iron just below the seam of the egg where it will melt together both halves (you'll end up with a tiny indentation). Do this at about 1-inch intervals around the egg. It also tends to firm up that middle of the egg making it harder for children to "pop" it open.

You many wonder at this point why you shouln't just purchased egg shakers from music stores and forget trying to make them. I personally have three reasons to keep making my own.

1. Homemade are way cheaper, and since I do so many concerts and always lose a few, it just makes more sense.

2. Easter egg colors are much brighter and more fun than the rather dull primary-colored purchased ones.

3.I had a purchased one open once, and saw it was filled with an unidentified substance that looked like some kind of hard plastic bead. When I make my own shakers, I know what's in them- rice. I don't want to risk having unidentified objects being ingested by little mouths.

So now that you have a bit more information, you can decide whether or not you want to make your own shaker eggs. Whichever way you go, plastic egg shakers are a must if you make music with young children! Visit my website for songs and activities to use.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tuesday Tip! Swimming Noodle Sand Blocks

Best Sand Blocks Ever!

These "sand blocks" are made from inexpensive "swimming noodles," which are available just about everywhere now for a couple of dollars. They are brightly-colored 6 ft long pieces of foam used for flotation. In my town they are even available at the supermarket and drug store! If you can't find these (because it's not summer where you are, or they just aren't available where you live), you can use the gray foam pipe insulation tubes available at hardware stores. Not as colorful, but fully functional and still inexpensive.

To cut the noodles, you can use anything from a saw to a utility knife. The best tool is an electric knife. It makes a clean cut and you can make 30 pairs of blocks in just a few minutes! Be aware that if you use a saw, you will have rough pill-y edges which will shed for a while as the children are playing them. So if you have a choice between a saw and a utility knife, a utility knife makes a cleaner cut. Just be very careful, and you might want to mark a circle around the noodle before cutting, since the knife won't go all the way through.

So, once you have selected your cutting tool...

Cut the noodles in about 4" pieces, then cut each piece in half lengthwise. When children rub them together they make a wonderful sand block sound. And when they "clap" them, as children will inevitably do, they will make a very nice (quiet!) muffled clap, unlike wooden sand blocks that are very hard on the ears! Also, they won't cause injury when thrown ( another inevitable occurrence when working with young children!). They are washable, inexpensive, colorful, and musical! What more could you want?! I use them with train songs and any song that has wheels, as you can rub them around in circles. When playing train songs, you can make a train and walk around the room while playing.

Another great activity, is to play a pattern with your blocks, and have the children copy it. Older children can take turns being the leader.Or sing nursery rhymes and keep a rhythm on the blocks. All of these activities are great for building early literacy skills!

See my website for more songs and ideas for using homemade instruments.

Have fun!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tuesday Tip! Water Bottle Rain Stick instrument

Starting today, I'll have a new tip every Tuesday. It will often be new ideas for past Songs of the Month, or homemade instruments. Today I'm posting an idea for a homemade rain stick. I used an empty plastic water bottle, aluminum foil, and rice.
Cut several strips of aluminum foil and loosely crumple them into ropes small enough to fit into the neck of the water bottle. kind of twirl them as you insert, so they wind around as they go in. The more "ropes" you put in the bottle, the more surfaces the rice will hit as it goes down. Add a couple of inches of rice, and replace cap on the bottle. Slowly tip the bottle, and you will hear the sound of rain as the rice makes it's way over the foil down to the bottom. If you leave the bottle un-decorated, as I have, children can see what's making the sound. Of course you (or better yet, the children), can decorate the bottle with anything from paper, colored tissue paper, ribbon, tape, string, stickers, or anything else you can find.I have left mine un-decorated so kids can see what's making the rain sound.
You can also use a stick or pencil and run it across the ribs of the water bottle and you have a guiro (Latin percussion instrument).