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4 Ways to Use Picture Books During Your First Week of School September 21, 2017

Contributed by Katherine Coughlan-Hobson, Cantata Learning General Manager

As summer break comes to a close, I wanted to share with you some thoughts on the value picture books can have in helping your students, or your own children, with adjusting to the new routines, new environments, and new social expectations the new school year brings.


1. Use picture books to find common interests amongst students.

Before you read Making New Friends have students write on a post-it note or small piece of paper something that is special about them. It could be something they did over the summer, something that they enjoy doing, or maybe their favorite book. Nothing too personal. Then let them have a “snowball fight” outside or in the library, classroom, or gymnasium. Students can throw their interest across the room to another student and learn something new about that person. This a great way to get to know each other and build community.


2. Ask students what they are feeling during the first week of school.

Remind students that we often feel several emotions at the same time. For example, we can be excited and nervous, happy and scared, etc. If a student shares that he is worried about how to find his locker or classroom or someone to sit by, this is an opportunity for other students to empathize and help each other. Students will also discover they are most likely not the only one feeling that way so they can help each other! Use the Cantata Learning series Me, My Friends, My Community: Songs About Emotions to help students identify their emotions and think of experiences where they feel different emotions. What makes Moose and his friends happy? Hint: reading is one activity!


3. Picture books can be a useful way to help students identify what we should and should NOT do in our school environments.

Cantata Learning has two series that are helpful in supporting positive behavior and classroom management throughout the day. School Time Songs offers catchy tunes to help encourage and remind students to help keep our spaces tidy, be kind to each other, and work together as a team. These are perfect for those transition times, too.

Library Skills reminds students to stay safe online and to treat others and our materials with respect. What are the rhythms and expectations of your school, classroom, and community? Create a shared document, whether it’s through one of your favorite notetaking/sharing apps or on the board of your library or classroom, and have students suggest ideas for maintaining a respectful atmosphere at school. Have students share their voice and be represented by participating in the creation of your classroom rights.

If you’re like us and love having dance parties, and believe music and movement support students in their learning, then make sure you express guidelines around that the first week of school. We can definitely have fun and be safe and respectful while we’re learning!


4. Quick assessments of where students are in their abilities to follow directions, writing skills, reading skills, and mathematics.

Make observations and quick notes to help you identify where students are and the skills that need practice. This is a great time to get to know your students, so try to take this all in without attaching to what you see. The first week is full of new experiences which can make students (and teachers!) nervous. Help students feel welcomed and comfortable while also noting their interests and abilities. Alphabet Safari offers students a chance to demonstrate and practice letter formation, shape recognition, and following directions. Plus, the music is sure to get students excited to practice over and over!


Public Library, School Library, Classroom Library—all of these places are great resources for you and your students. And by entering to win our Cantata Learning contest this fall, you could win FREE books for your library space! Follow our social media for details on this opportunity.

Using Music to Calm August 16, 2017


Contributed by Patricia Stockland, Publisher at Cantata Learning


The adage “music heals the soul” exists for good reason. Of its many uses and purposes, one of the most powerful things it can do is soothe us.



In this climate of unrest, especially as children might be hearing or seeing frightening headlines and struggling to make sense of the strife in our world, you can use music to create an atmosphere of calm. You can also turn to music to help teach, explain events, and to build bridges toward peace, humanity, and friendship.



What if we all saw the world through a lens of friendship? Of self-acceptance? Through live and let-live, love and be loved approaches to life? We are each individuals who need to learn to love ourselves, and we also need to learn how to get along with each other in spite of differences. Differences can—and should—be celebrated. If children can embrace this in their early developmental years, we will surely realize a brighter and better future.



If you find yourself in a position of trying to find ways to explain or show your students or your own children what words like community, citizenship, friendship, kindness, fairness, et al mean or should look like, we encourage you to turn to children’s literature and picture books. Specifically, we invite you to explore our new series Me, My Friends, My Community: Songs about Friendship.


Some might suggest this post is opportunistic, but we disagree. This series was create exactly for times such as these, to work to combat intolerance and encourage acceptance. To teach inclusivity and kindness.


This series offers readers, libraries, and classrooms a fun, safe, accessible, and timely set of books that strikes on all of these chords. Titles include: Happy To Be Me!, Making New Friends!, What Hands Can Do!, and We Can Be Friends! We also provide a FREE lesson plan (download coming soon) that can help you teach and engage students in these important discussions.


The songs in this series are positive, and the message is clear and simple: We may all look and act differently and come from different places, but We Can Be Friends!

Top 5 Lessons I’ve Learned As a School Librarian August 15, 2017

Contributed by April Wathen, M.Ed
Teacher Librarian, Pre-K—5th grade


Whether you are in an elementary, middle or high school library, a post-secondary library, or a public library, I believe my lessons learned over the years will resonate with you.


  1. We are customer service

Everything we do in the our libraries revolves around customer service. When we are partnering with local businesses, our county or building administration, acquiring books for our collection, interfacing with parents, assisting colleagues and most importantly, reaching our main audience – our students, we MUST have friendly, top-notch customer service! People around  us need to know we are there to serve them and their needs. Sometimes you may need to branch out of your comfort zone, find your patrons and let them know how you can help them. Surprisingly it seems that not all potential patrons realize we are eager and happy to assist them in their quest.


image from Fiction or Nonfiction (Library Skills)

  1. Our roles are still the same but ever-changing

Libraries have been around for about 5,000 years. When we look a short look back to the early 1900s and the work of Andrew Carnegie to build libraries or we look at the days of the traveling libraries, we know that the goal is still the same – to educate our patrons and promote intellectual freedom. Librarians have always been ones to curate and disseminate information. We still do this. However, our jobs have recently gotten a lot more exciting with the introduction of computer science, makerspaces, and alternative facts! While we still hold our basic goals we also have the privilege of guiding our patrons to information literacy in the purest form.


  1. Libraries will take as much as you can give and then some

Whether you are new to the library environment or have spent 25 years assisting people and watching them blossom, you have probably experienced FOMO (fear of missing out) on a stellar book or series for your collection, a learning opportunity, a new piece of technology that would make life more interesting for your patrons, etc. Something we need to recognize and accept is that libraries will take all we can give and then some. Writing goals down for the quarter/year and sticking to them may help one stay focused on not only what is best for his/her library but also for oneself. Perhaps sharing these goals will allow those around you to remind you to stay on your charted course – though flexibility is key to libraries!


  1. Networks are powerful

When I first started my journey as a Teacher Librarian, I knew I felt disconnected in my space. I adored my students and could not have been happier to be in a librarian but found myself looking for places to connect. One of the best choices I made was reaching out to my state organization for school libraries. There I found others who were as passionate about their libraries as I was mine; leadership opportunities and friendships! This was the start of my strong Professional Learning Network (PLN) that I truly would not feel complete without having. Another great networking tool is Twitter. Many are Twitter averse – even at tech conferences I attend but let me just share this, if you set up a Twitter account and make only professional connections – at any time night or day, you can read your Twitter feed and in 3 minutes or less, have many applicable ideas to take back to your building. Perhaps Instagram is better suited for your needs. I urge you to add one more resource to your PLN as a result of reading this (Facebook professional group, Twitter, AASL, ISTE, state organization, etc.). Being connected is never a bad thing.


  1. We must always lead from the library

No matter the type of library we are in, we must lead. In a time where our value is questioned on a regular basis, we know we are more necessary now than ever. Please advocate for libraries. Step out of your comfort zone to lead in a new and creative way. Perhaps you can Tweet the empowerment of students that is happening in your space. Consider offering professional development to staff on tools that will take student learning to the next level. Offer to host professional development for your district on pressing issues such as digital literacy and finding fake news. Make a connection with local businesses to enhance student achievement. There are endless possibilities to lead from the library.

I will leave you with Andrew Murphy’s words, “You are only confined by the walls you build yourself.” I challenge you to crash those walls and go forth confidently leading from the library. Your people deserve it.



April Wathen holds a Master’s Degree in Leadership in Teaching from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland and a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Clarion University of Pennsylvania. In 2016, she was selected as the representative from St. Mary’s County Public Schools for the Washington Post Teacher of the Year program. Ms. Wathen has been employed with St. Mary’s County Public Schools for seven years. She was a finalist competing against other teachers from public and private schools throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.

Music as a Tool for Storytelling August 11, 2017

Contributed by Elizabeth Draper, Music Director for Cantata Learning

Since the advent of humankind, in all corners of the world, people have told stories. Storytelling helps us to make sense of our world. It is a tool for teaching as well as a means of enjoyment and entertainment. Storytelling is a way to share and interpret experiences. It is used to document history and even explain our own creation and existence.

Music and storytelling go hand in hand in many cultures. Take for example the European Bards, or the Griots of Western Africa, Hawaiian Hula dancing, and folk musicians from around the world. Even American-born hip-hop incorporates storytelling. And, let’s not overlook that Bob Dylan just won the Noble prize in literature on account of his ability to tell stories through his song lyrics!

Music is an effective way to convey and recall ideas. When listeners are engaged in both listening and singing they are activating the whole left/right brain connection. Songs often make useful mnemonic devices, and musical memory is special because it is generally structured differently from other forms of recall.

One of the most common places in our culture to be immersed in storytelling is the library. Cantata Learning’s new Fall series topics include fire safety, holidays (including a song about Diwali—which is one of my favorites!), the water cycle, and even drawing.

However, a classroom favorite will surely be the Library Skills series. Well-loved librarian Shannon McClintock Miller teamed up with musician Emily Arrow to create a charming series of stories about the library. Adults and kids alike are sure to enjoy Emily’s Kindie-folk-pop sensibilities. A title that really stands out to me in this series is Fiction or NonFiction. Once you hear Emily’s catchy melody, you will never forget which is which!

Speaking of mnemonic devices…

Fiction or nonfiction,
how do you know which to choose?
Fiction is make-believe.
Nonfiction is true.

Let Cantata’s books guide you in incorporating music with your storytelling this season!

Music Videos and Interview with Kindie Musician Emily Arrow! August 1, 2017


What a summer it’s been!

Fall books are on sale (hooray!) and we’ve been working behind the scenes with one of our favorite people to bring you something extra special this season. Singer-songwriter Emily Arrow collaborated with us to create the music for two series this fall, Library Skills and Sing and Draw! And now, we’ve turned a song from each series into an Emily Arrow music video! Squee!



If you aren’t familiar with Emily Arrow yet, you need to be! With a background in music and education, she is now a rising star on the kindie rock scene. Kids love her music, of which she is most noted for her own genre she’s dubbed as “kid lit tunes,” in which she creates magical songs inspired by favorite children’s book titles. We’re beyond thrilled she agreed to work with us.


Check out her video for Find a Book right here:



And here’s the Alphabet Safari video:



Between projects, we took a few minutes to reflect with Emily on the importance of music, libraries, and the creative process. Enjoy:


Cantata Learning: Okay, so to start off, obviously we’re incredibly excited about collaborating with you on eight awesome Cantata Learning books, which are now, thanks to you, extra super awesome. However, the Library Skills and Sing & Draw series titles are a bit of a departure from the sort of titles you usually create songs for. Can you tell us a little bit about how that impacted your creative process?
Emily Arrow: Because of Cantata Learning’s unique format, every book already IS a song!! This project is so special to me because instead of writing lyrics and music about a fiction picture book, I got to create the music for lyrics that were already in song form! It was such a fresh way to approach the songwriting process and reminds me of how many composers of musical theater create their work as separate composers and lyricists.
CL: And what about what drew you to the project in the first place? Can you give our readers some insight into what it is that you appreciate about Cantata Learning?
EA: Cantata Learning shares my values of integrating music and literacy in the learning process. Their books help readers engage with the words in a way that sticks because all of the words are lyrics! I know music has power. I know books have power. And both Cantata Learning and I know that combining music and books is one of the most powerful tools we can use in education.
CL: We love that your background is not only in music but in education. Which means that you truly get what motivates students AND you understand the tools teachers need to get the job done. How does your experience as a teacher influence your current path as a singer/songwriter and performer?
EA: My experience as a teacher taught me to question what works in the classroom as well as what doesn’t. I learned to explore: exploring how to perform a song with 300 kids; why a 5th grader loved a song that a 2nd grader didn’t; which instruments I enjoyed teaching… and which books resonated with my students. Very often, being a teacher is as much a learning process as being a student. This exploratory approach to education has been the same one that guides me along my journey as a songwriter and performer.


CL: And, just for fun, what was your favorite thing about visiting the library as a kid? What do you think is the biggest difference in the libraries you see today compared to when you were a child?
EA: When I was a kid, I could ride my bike to the library beginning the summer of 5th grade. My favorite thing about visiting the library was bringing a friend along and comparing what we had and hadn’t read. We’d spend hours saying, “Have you read this?” and if we hadn’t, the book was promptly added to our pile. What I see in libraries today is the dream of my childhood: music, conversations, creativity, and an open space to make noise and build friendships.
–> Many thanks to Emily Arrow for her time and talent!
We hope everyone enjoys sharing these special videos with your students this year!