Less is More + January

Welcome to the all-new Tuesday Toolbox! From strategy ideas and session planning tips, to clinical and organizational skills, Tuesday Toolbox is here to support and inspire you! For the rest of the school year, the focus will be: Less is More (psst! To get these delivered straight to your mailbox each Tuesday, make sure you're subscribed to the blog)!

Are you EXHAUSTED?? Are you WORKING HARDER, and want to work SMARTER? Are you OVERWHELMED by trying to keep up with pinterest and social media? Are you feeling ISOLATED? This series is for you!


Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow! + Materials:

Bag/Basket/Tub of Fake Snowflakes (paper, clearance decorations - whatever!)

Oversized scarf/parachute

+ Goals Addressed: Counting, One to One Correspondence, Name Recognition, Following Directions, Motor Skills, Language, Turn-Taking, Cooperation, Sensory Stimulation

+ Number of Strategies: 3

  1. Seat students in a circular/or semi-circular formation (at a table, in chairs, or on the floor)! Present the bag of snowflakes. Sing these lyrics to the tune of "10 Little Indians" (Please forgive the ethnically inaccurate title of the original tune): 1 little, 2 little, 3 little snowflakes 4 little, 5 little, 6 little snowflakes. 7 little, 8 little, 9 little snowflakes, 10 little snowflakes falling down. {Name} stand up and get 5 snowflakes, {Name} stand up and get 5 snowflakes, {Name} stand up and get 5 snowflakes, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Change the number of snowflakes for every student, providing an appropriate challenge and prompt level for each individual (goals: counting, one to one correspondence, name recognition, following directions). After all of the students have snowflakes...

  2. Spread a parachute or oversized scarf in the middle of the students (Now you see the reason for the seating arrangement!). Sing the song, "Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!" Each time you sing "let it snow," instruct a student to throw a snowflake onto the parachute. Encourage singing throughout! For students with less language, focus on singing the words "let it snow!" or simply "snow!" Continue the song until all of the snowflakes are on the parachute (goals: language, motor skills, turn-taking).

  3. Instruct the students to hold onto the parachute (encourage staff involvement)! Play a recording of Frozen's "Let it Go." Give directions throughout - try to keep the snowflakes on!, see how high we can get the snowflakes!, let's go FAST!, now shake SLOWLY - align your directions with musical cues in the song (goals: following directions, motor skills, sensory stimulation, cooperation)!

Add a greeting song at the beginning, and a transition song at the end, and you almost have a full session using only 2 materials!


In our pinterest-inundated, overstimulated culture, it is so easy to feel the pressure to do something new, new, new! As if each week has to be a thrill ride of the next creative wave. Hear me out - I LOVE pinterest, and I LOVE creativity and excitement! HOWEVER, you are setting yourself up for burnout, and may even be setting your students up for failure if you are constantly bringing something unexpected to the table.

In one of my favorite resources, from AMTA's Monograph series, "Early Childhood and School Age Educational Settings," discusses the importance of alternating familiar and novel instruments. The same can be applied to familiar and novel visuals, manipulatives and strategies. While it's great to have new and exciting things, we also need to present familiar strategies!

Let's say we are presenting a song with the goal of intraverbals (we want the students to verbalize sounds, words or phrases), so we sing through the song a couple of times in a session to prompt the language. Well, do you memorize a song after hearing it once or twice? A savant might! But most of us need to hear a song several times to be familiar enough with it to repeat or fill in phrases. Or even if we can fill in the phrases right away, can we repeat it after a week passes?

Maybe we are addressing following directions using a song and parachute. The first time we use this strategy, the students may need significant prompting. They are just beginning to understand the expectation. If we don't repeat the strategy, are we allowing them the opportunity to be successful? Repetition gives our students the opportunity to have more correct responses and to participate more fully.

BUT, Patina! I don't want to be boring and stuck in a rut and lose engagement! So, what is the balance? Here is a method I use!

  1. Prep your hello, goodbye and a couple social skills songs (asking/answering questions; shaking hands, etc.). Keep these similar throughout the year, but make simple changes to prevent rigidity (i.e. you may sing "hello" for the first semester, and change the lyric to "hi" or "good morning" for the second semester).

  2. Create a theme with 4-5 killer strategies - As you know, themes are common in schools and are a great way to tie together ideas and to help our students make connections! Use a balance moving and sitting, playing and waiting, fast and slow strategies (see 7 Must-Have Session Components for how to accomplish this balance).

  3. Repeat a combination of the strategies for a month or so! Maybe it would look like this:

Theme: Winter

Strategy 1: Counting Snowflakes {check out last week's Tuesday Toolbox for a description of strategies 1, 2 and 3!}

Strategy 2: Let it Snow (snowflake throw) Strategy 3: Let it Go + Parachute Strategy 4: The Mitten {click HERE for a FREE printable)!

Strategy 5: Walking In a Winter Wonderland + Jingle Bells

  • Week 1: Hello, social, strategies 1, 2, 3, goodbye

  • Week 2: Hello, social, strategies 2, 3, 4, goodbye

  • Week 3: Hello, social, strategies 1, 4, 5, goodbye

  • Week 4: Hello, social, strategies 2, 3, 5, goodbye

This is just an example! If you have 4-5 favorite strategies that you already love, use them and follow this pattern to simplify your planning AND maximize student learning!


In our profession, it is way too easy to live on an island. Here are some tips to avoid isolation!

1. Pick up the phone. Have you been in a sticky situation? Maybe an evaluation that falls in the "gray area," or a parent that you can't seem to please. Teachers who don't understand that you need their support, or supervisors that are so swamped that you haven't seen them all year? It's easy to just sigh and eat chocolate and pull-up-the-ol-bootstraps. But what if you just PICKED UP THE PHONE. Call another music therapist. You may be surprised that they could use the support too!

2. Put it on the calendar. At LEAST once a month, schedule a lunch or coffee with a music therapist in your area. You ARE allowed to take a lunch break. You DON'T have to eat lunch by yourself while speeding to your next class. If you don't schedule it, it won't happen.

3. Observe! Sometimes, you just need to watch someone else in action to inspire your practice! Or, to have someone give you feedback on one of your sessions! Maybe you each do an observation swap! Win-Win! Geography keeping you from observing? Ask your supervisor or a campus principal what permissions are required for you to record a session, to be shared for professional use only. Don't worry about a fancy video camera, just set up your smart phone or tablet!

Looking for a more in-depth mentor experience? Want to improve your clinical skills, grow your music therapy program, or simply have some support from another music therapist? Check out our new 6 CMTE course, Music Therapy Mentor! I am thrilled to offer a course that walks you through a self-evaluation tool, goal setting and action plan. The best part? It also includes 5 interactions where we can talk real-time about what's going on in your music therapy world! Learn more at musictherapyjoy.com/training. For a limited time it is 25% off on the site!

Whatever you choose - don't isolate, reach out! Do YOU need support? How do you use repetition in your sessions? Do you have a favorite winter strategy? Hit REPLY to let me know! I can't wait to hear from you!

<3, Patina Joy


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