There have been a few game-changers in my career as a music educator. Things like Pitch Hill, sub-tub technology devices, and integrating iPads have made my life easier and so much better in the classroom. Still, for the longest time, I struggled with teaching kindergarten. Beat buddies changed my entire approach to them.
Kindergarten (and to some extent 1st grade) is tough – these kids are often in school for the first time, they are wiggly, they often can’t read yet, and their attention span is about 5 minutes. I planned what I thought were engaging lessons, but I still felt like I was herding cats some days.
Then came beat buddies.
What are beat buddies?
Beat buddies are simply Beanie Babies repurposed with a musical name. I use the old Ty Beanie Babies because I had dozens stored in a closet from my childhood. I thought they would be worth millions one day (ha!). They aren’t worth any $$ now, but they are worth their weight in gold in the classroom. You can find them super cheap now on ebay, garage sales, thrift stores, etc. Honestly, if you asked for donations, I’m sure you would end up with more than enough for your class.
Why are they special?
I will go over a couple of musical ideas for beat buddies in a moment, but if nothing else, they helped my little ones with the wiggles. When you give a child something cuddly and soft to play with in their hands, it is a way to focus the need to move. Some days I pull them out and just let the kids hold them while we do our lesson. They don’t make any noise and kids were so much better when they have something physical to hold. It’s like a stress ball but for kids!
What do I teach with them?
The list is endless. I begin with them at the beginning of the year when my Ks are experiencing beat, and they are learning to echo. We use our buddies to bounce to the beat, dance to the beat, and watchen/listen to us perform the beat. Tell a kid he or she is performing for their beat buddy? 100% improvement on skill demonstration. You can read about some of our beat activities here.
One of my favorite things to do with beat buddies is use them to introduce playing instruments. My kindergarteners have been notoriously hard on my instruments in the past. Their instinct seems to be immediately bang just to make noise. Of course you can counteract this with instructions and classroom management, but beat buddies make this process so much easier.
I give students the usual instructions on proper playing technique, and then I add that we are performing for our buddies! If we play too loud or too hard, our beat buddies will cry! The care and precision that kindergartens use when performing for their beat buddies is astounding.
I have enough Beanie Babies that I ended up with a class set of teddy bears. As a special treat, I pull out the box of bears only. I start with this when we are working with the song “Teddy Bear.” I teach the song along with motions that match the lyrics (turn around, pretend to climb stairs, etc.). Then we get out the bear buddies and we teach them the movements! We follow this up with using our bear buddies to tap a beat chart while we sing the song.
Then we use our teddy bears to experience one sound and two sounds to a beat – “ted-dy” and “bear.” We bounce them, we use them to tap pictures of bears, we sing to them, we clap to them, and more. Students are super engaged and cannot get enough of them.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear
I have been teaching this lesson for years and have seen it presented many different ways. Every teacher implements it slightly different. The basic plan is to make a simple melody with the book. The teacher sings the first page “Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?” The class answer the next page “I see a red bird, looking at me.” I use the melody: “sm, sm, sslsm” for the teacher part and then “smm, sm, mmrd” for the student part. After we sing through the book as a class, I pass out beat buddies and we sit in a circle. I start with my brown bear beat buddy, and we sing the song again. This time I sing about the kid next to me (let’s say giraffe). Then the class sings “Giraffe, Giraffe, what do you see?” and the kid holding the giraffe sings “I see a __, looking at me.” The blank is filled in by whatever animal the kid next to him is holding.
We talk at the beginning about how we can use one word to describe the animal like “tall giraffe,” but it won’t fit if we use too many like, “tall, spotted, cute, little giraffe.” I don’t go into great detail with K about why it doesn’t fit the rhythm, but they get the foundation of the idea.