Music a la Cart: Limited Resource Edition

       Hello everyone! My name is Bethany Bassler and I’m a PK-8th music teacher in North Carolina. I am in my second year at my school and at the beginning of August I got a call from my administrator saying that my room, which was being transferred to a trailer, would not be ready at the beginning of the school year. Eek!  The result would be music on a cart to start the year, with an undefined open date to a trailer room.

Let the Great Organization Begin!

All items in my classroom had to be organized into three categories: what I wanted on the cart, what I eventually wanted in my classroom, and what was going into long-term storage. My window of cart-teaching was anywhere from 3-5 weeks, but even that was questionable, so my selection of materials had to be varied and cover all grade levels for that time frame of teaching. I didn’t know this at the time, but I also had very limited access to any other materials that were eventually going into the trailer, so switching out materials was near impossible.
The majority of my students are on a modified sequence, so I also had to consider what materials I used most frequently and had the most versatile uses across grade levels.

What I Took...

Here’s my top 5 items from my cart that I couldn’t have lived without:
1.       Rhythm sticks
               I use rhythm sticks in almost every class! My students fell in love with Acka Backa last year, so that was a must-have when I was choosing materials. I also use them as hammers for Cobbler, Cobbler and stirring spoons for Bate, Bate. Establishing the beat with kindergarten at the beginning of the year, I knew I would need them for Bee Bee Bumblebee. With my older students, I did a lot of stick passing games, like Deedle Deedle Dumpling and Bomberra.

2.       Stuffed animals/Puppets
               I had my Level II training with Amy Abbott, so I knew that I would not survive without some puppets! My preschool and kindergarten students form huge attachments to these silly creatures and I use them a lot when doing vocal exploration exercises. I also have a bin of beanie babies that I use for Plainsies Clapsies and for beat buddies.

3.       Flashcard games
               I had a couple sets of I Have…Who Has and King of the Mountain already printed from last year. These are a great, quick practice and assessment activity for my students. They didn’t take up much space on the cart and I organized them by a paper divider.

4.       Picture Books
               I have gotten so many tremendous recommendations for great picture books and I had a mini-library on the top of my cart. I have gold standard books for vocal exploration and I also find that I use several picture books at the beginning of the year with my preschool classes. I found lots of singing books at my public library last year, which is a great way to expose your classes to lots of great books even if you don’t have a budget to buy them.

5.       Interactive Computer Activities
               The majority of the rooms I went into had the ability to project, either regular projectors or SmartBoards. I have a number of interactive games that I have gotten from TpT freebies or paying for activities I know I’ll use again and again. I used Amy Abbott’s Summer Music Games activities for beginning of the year assessments and review.

Song Selection

My next step was to go through my song collection, American Methodology, and all other resources I had to find songs and activities that would work well for beginning of the year AND limited space to move. This led to lots of object passing games, hiding object games, and modifying old standards with a new twist so we could still use the songs. The beginning of the year is when I work with preschool and kindergarten on forming circles, so we did a lot of circle chase games as circle walking games. The kids didn’t know any differently and it also lets me “level up” with them once we got outside or somewhere else and we could add more movement.

Here are a couple of my favorites for each grade level:
                PK – Grizzly Bear, Hickety Pickety
                K – Good King Leopold, Froggie in the Meadow
                1st – Doggie Doggie, To Stop the Train
                2nd – Acka Backa, Oliver Twist
                3rd – Lucy Locket, Pizza Pizza
                4th – Shanghai Chicken, Car Song
                5th – Billy, Billy, Farmer’s Dairy Key, lots of rounds!

So…How’d it go?

I am very fortunate to have wonderful students who, for the most part, were very adaptable to this situation. I found that starting the year off with music class in their classrooms actually helped for the younger classes who were still getting used to school routines. I relied upon my older students to help change up the room configuration, especially when running rehearsals for ensembles in science and math classrooms.
Teaching in a classroom where they’re not used to having music class can present its own set of issues. While my students loved hearing my cart jingle and creak down the hall, I also tried to start each class with an exciting song bouquet and put up visuals so they would know it was music time.
This past summer during my Level III training, I heard that in Hungarian classrooms, the students learned music the same as any other class – sitting in desks with only some students acting out or playing each game. I noticed that some of my classes improved their behavior by having the option of sitting at their desks while we were doing writing or dictation activities. This has made me strongly consider Aileen’s approach to flexible seating in my classroom.
                I did try to schedule some classes to have outside time or reserved the larger, common-space room in our school for times when I wanted to play out chase games or folk dances. Since these activities can be difficult to transition students from inside to outside, to back inside, I would teach them several song games and then do multiple games in one class period outside. In general, I love doing outside classes every once in a while because I think it helps the students realize that music games belong on the playground and that they can also do them without me!
                Through the entire time of being on a cart, I tried to remain as positive and flexible as possible. Although I know this is a reality of teaching daily, monthly, yearly for many teachers, I was fortunate to know that I would eventually have an end date to my cart.

The Dark Side of a Cart

While I’m sure that every teacher can imagine what their deepest, darkest fears would be about teaching from a cart, here were my least favorite parts:

1.   Not having the space to set before classes came.
               While having the materials list and lesson plans ready to go ahead of time, not having the ability to set things out for classes was a challenge. Some of my classes had recess or other specials classes, so I could sneak in ahead of time to put some things together, but overall I had to be prepared to hit the ground singing as soon as I got in the room. My strategy for this was starting each class with an easy round or singing game the students could do all on their own to give me a few minutes to collect myself in their classroom.

2.       Lingering classroom teachers.
               I did express to several teachers that I would like to have the rooms to myself while I taught, however, some did linger in their classrooms. If I were going to be in this situation long-term, I would have pressed harder to have them leave the room. So many of them had good intentions and wanted to “help out” while I had music class, but it ultimately undermined my authority with the kids.

3.       Rules and boundaries of my own classroom.
               Once I was finally established in my new room, I was elated to be able to “reset” the school year by going over my own expectations and rules for using my space. For some classes this didn’t affect them much at all because they had previously had me in a music classroom, but I still have preschool students adjusting to walking into a room with drums, Orff instruments, and other tempting things and not touching all of them!

End it on a Positive Note!

               At the end of the day, my students were watching my behavior for their guide of how to feel about having music in their classrooms – I did not want to have any negative reactions to taint our beautiful time together by complaining in front of them! I had to daily remind myself that I was there to bring joy, fun, and a greater understanding of music each class.

Me with my cart!

Happy Musicing!

1 comment

  1. Hi! I am a first year teacher in a cart. I have K-4 in one building and 5-8 in another. Each building had a closet and a cart that I can use so I'm not pushing things in between buildings. I'm looking for some advice on what emails I should send to teachers before school starts; what their behavior plans are etc. also what type of things do you keep on your desk/workspace. Thank you so much. My email is I appreciate you help and advice in advance:)


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