Whatever Happened To Carol Sings?

Doug Peterson is a favourite blogger of mine, and every Sunday, he writes a Whatever Happened To post. These posts bring back memories of the past and reflections on the present. Yesterday, he mentioned in his blog post that he would be writing a Christmas-themed one this Sunday. This reminded me of my own Christmas-themed throwback from the other day.

It was just after dinner, and I was going to take my dog on an evening walk. When I opened the front door, I was shocked to see a large group of carollers bringing joy (and music) to the neighbourhood. My parents were there, and they were soon out on the porch, with my mom even singing along to Jingle Bells. This made me wonder, when was the last time that I’ve seen and heard carollers? I feel like it might have been when I was a child.

My biggest Christmas carol memory is from elementary school. For the whole last week of school before the Winter Break, there was a group of carollers, who used to gather and sing in the front foyer each day. Some days, they even served hot chocolate to students as we walked by. We used to meet in the gym every morning to sing along to the carols posted on the wall — with an overhead projector of course. πŸ™‚ Many of the carols were Christmas ones, like Jingle Bells, Frosty The Snowman, Santa Clause Is Coming To Town, and Deck the Halls, but there were also some Hanukkah holiday songs, like Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel. As someone who is Jewish and didn’t celebrate Christmas at that time, I appreciated the Hanukkah songs, but I also knew and loved all of the Christmas ones. I blare many of them on the radio now for the month of December as I drive to school. Yes, these are technically Christmas carols (mind you, without any biblical references), but they seemed to provide a shared cultural tradition and community feel in school. Every child knew the words to every one of these songs. Every single child.

The backdrop for our assembly from years ago, which also included a carol sing.

About four years ago, the school that I was at had a holiday assembly, and we sang some of these same carols from my childhood. Few, if any, students knew the words though — particularly any words beyond the chorus.

  • I have to wonder, is there value in creating this shared tradition in schools and communities, and might there even be a way to make this more multi-cultural and representative of different school communities?

Please don’t get me wrong here.

  • Many schools have holiday assemblies, and often carolling is a part of this experience, but do students know enough of the words to sing along?
  • While many children might enjoy the music and happily move to the beat, is there something extra special about uniting in song?
  • What might be a way to make this happen again?

I would love to hear your carolling experiences of the past … or maybe even the present. These songs always bring me some holiday cheer, and as we all dig out from the Blizzard of 2022, maybe we can use a little extra joy in our lives.


Holiday Joy or Festive Crazy?

This year, the winter holidays begin really late in Ontario schools. Our last day of school before the winter holidays is December 23rd. We really can’t get any later than this. I will admit that I love the full week off after Christmas and New Year’s, but I don’t have large holiday gatherings or young children at home, so maybe this is easier for me to say than for some others. I completely understand that feeling of, “I need a holiday,” and maybe being sick this past week was my body’s way of saying, “I need some extra time to rest.” I also know how privileged I am to get two weeks off and to even be able to have this conversation in the first place. This past week or two at school, I would have said, “I think we all need a break.

  • Kids are spinning.
  • There are more tears than usual.
  • There is more fighting than usual.
  • There is more complaining than usual.
  • Voices are louder.
  • Students almost seem to be screaming at each other rather than talking to each other.

Yes, it might be easy to blame the crazy on the kids, but as adults, how dysregulated are we right now?

  • Routines and schedules are different with holiday concerts, upcoming parties, and even a dance or two.
  • Many of us are balancing additional home responsibilities with school events. When will we get those presents wrapped? How many people are we having over this holiday? Where will they all sit? What will they all eat? How will I ever get the house cleaned? You get the idea.
  • Report cards come up quickly in January, and there is always the concern of, have I taught everything that I need to teach and do I need to get additional data before I start writing anything?
  • With more educators off right now — for personal reasons or illnesses — having all jobs covered is always a concern. This is the time of the year when teachers really want and need their preps, and they sometimes need to be cancelled due to staff shortages.

Stress. Adult stress breeds child stress, and then things just circle from there.

The last two weeks were challenging, and we might be coming up on the most challenging week of all. What can we do? I wonder if this might need to be a week with …

  • some normal routines in between those times that cannot be normal (e.g., assemblies and dances).
  • some additional sensory play, especially in the younger grades, where this play is calming for so many kids.
  • some additional time outside to connect, to create, and to explore, knowing that fresh air and exercise can also be calming for so many kids.
  • some additional choices of options that you know are calming ones for your students (if that’s movement, sensory play, drawing, writing, reading, or something else altogether).

This week, in addition to the regular things that I do, I also hope that I can bring a sprinkling of calm to adults and kids alike. Connections are sure to matter most of all. By acknowledging the stress, are we then also able to better respond to it? May we all find moments of joy in between the dollops of crazy.


Musical Wagon Rides

As a reading specialist, I spend most of my day working with full classes or small groups of students, but occasionally, I spend some 1:1 time with kids. This past week, it was one of these moments that really got me thinking.

I was in a classroom for the day, and there is a child in the room with autism. The Educational Assistant who supports this child the most was working with another child at the time, and this child was becoming visibly upset. I tried some sensory play with her, but she walked over to the classroom door and was eager to go out. There’s a wagon nearby, and a walk in the wagon is calming for her. In many ways, her move to this door and to this wagon was her non-verbal way of demonstrating Self-Reg. As someone who’s passionate about Self-Reg, I had to respond to her request. I indicated to the teacher that I was going to take her for a walk in the wagon, and this is what I did.

Our school is built in a large rectangle, and while I always seem to take the longest route to get to wherever I’m going, you really can’t get lost. I thought that we would circle a time or two in the wagon. As an educator who’s taught kindergarten for years and often watched my previous teaching partner, Paula, interact with young students as well as children with autism, I couldn’t resist the urge to sing as we walked. In the classroom, I had recently observed this child on the iPad as she listened to The Wheels On The Bus and Six Little Ducks. The EA said that she loves music, and it seems to calm her. I’m far from a great vocalist, but the wonderful thing about 3-6 year olds is that they never complain about your lack of holding a tune. So in my quietest voice, I began singing.

  • I started with The Wheels on the Bus.
  • I moved to Six Little Ducks.
  • I added in The Alphabet Song, Old MacDonald Has A Farm, and a whole bunch of nursery rhymes.

I circled back to songs that I sang previously, and I tried not to get too embarrassed when I ran into our new principal in the hallway along with some other educators. The singing was not for them. It was for her, and it was what she needed at the time. Coupled with the wagon ride, you could see her visibly calming down, but you could also hear her starting to vocalize sounds and words. I’m sure that I heard her say, “mom.” I definitely heard all kind of babbling, and it caused me to really start to think about language development and different ways to support different kids.

While as reading specialists, we spend the majority of our day focused on Tier 1 intervention and building capacity in educators, sometimes we get these other special moments. They align so well with our Board’s Annual Plan, which targets those students who are “currently and historically underserved.” Students with various special needs are some of these students. Although I might not always have an opportunity to take this child on a wagon ride, I will be connecting with her in the classroom, and exploring ways that we can use music to support both her expressive and receptive language skills. This will be a group effort, but there could be some interesting possibilities here. Occasionally we need these 1:1 moments to form connections, learn more about various students, and explore different support options that we might not have considered otherwise. What are some of your small moment stories? How might music also be a way to support students beyond this child? The only concert that I perform might be a whispered one in the hallway, but it’s one that will stick in my mind for many years to come.


Is It Time For All Of Us To Find Our Inner Snails?

As a reading specialist, I support 11 different classes at our school. Since all educators and kids are different, my support looks slightly different in each of the classrooms. In some of the kindergarten classes, I support by entering play and providing direct and targeted literacy instruction as part of this play. This is not a case of coming with a game or activity already designed to play with students, but instead, trying to make some authentic literacy links to their play. As a former kindergarten educator — and one who has not been out of the classroom for very long — this is the kind of instruction that brings me joy, and I love having these moments where play and learning converge throughout the day.

One thing that I do notice though as part of my current position is that my time in each classroom is short. Usually, I’m only with one group of kids for between 20-30 minutes. While I know the value of settling into play and giving lots of time for kids to explore, my time limits make this harder. Sometimes I worry that I move too quickly to my instructional plan without necessarily honouring where the student is going with the play.

This morning, I was looking at a few of the Twitter stories, where I shared a little student learning with others.

These stories really got me thinking about documentation. Maybe I don’t always need to get to the point of instruction. If I come in, observe closely, listen closely, capture, and share with educator teams, could our conversations that evolve from this sharing, allow for the classroom educators to extend this learning with literacy links throughout the day? Could I then pick up and extend this play more the next day? Maybe this is a way for us to further team as part of our instructional practices. I’m beginning to wonder if documentation might be the key here to building capacity.

Recently, I saw this great Instagram post, which highlights the Pedagogy of the Snail.

I knew that I loved snails. πŸ™‚ In all seriousness though, as educators, we’re constantly looking at expectations, year-end-targets, and where we need to get kids to be next, but would slowing down allow us to ultimately go faster? Maybe the answer here is not speed, but time, reflection, teaming, and purpose. What do you think? I might need to find my inner snail a little more often.