Instrument Petting Zoo! Parent Teacher Conference Day Win!
Parent teacher conference days are always a struggle for me. I have 500 students and theoretically I could have 500 kiddos and their parents running into my room to ask about grades and standards and concerts. But that has never really happened. I’m usually lucky if 10 of those 500 come down to chat or check in or talk about anything. What to do to make those PT conference better for all involved!?
Parent contact is hard no matter where you are. You want to foster a good relationship with parents so that they trust you and believe that you know what you’re doing. You also want them to trust that you know how to teach their child and have their child’s best interest in mind. Building a relationship is hard when you see parents so infrequently. What makes things even more difficult is that almost all of the parents at my school speak Spanish as their primary language. With a language barrier like that, communication is difficult. Often the parents (and total honesty, me too) will avoid communication aside from a smile or “hello.” I only know broken Spanish and they know broken English and it’s scary for both of us to try and communicate. I knew that I needed some way to get parents in to the music room and make some good press. I wanted a solid positive experience on their minds so that they’re more apt to come to concerts, ask questions, and feel safe communicating with me.
So the instrument petting zoo was born! This is actually a take on something the Kansas City Symphony does here in our area. Symphony members will come out to elementary schools and bring 5-6 performers and instruments for the students to try out, hear, and learn about. It’s really cool to learn from an actual symphony musician about the instrument, how it works, and what it sounds like. Their passion for their instrument definitely translates into the interaction and students get a lot out of it. Read more about the KC Symphony’s petting zoo experience when you CLICK HERE. The only downside is that the symphony experience is expensive and doesn’t tell students about the instruments they use in class every day. I wanted to develop something like the petting zoo for our own school. I wanted students to get excited and involved and bring their parents into the room for an awesome, memorable experience.
Prep work — Figuring out the Logistics
I made some really awesome signs that I then got them translated into English and Spanish. The gist, “Come down to the petting zoo after your conferences and try out the instruments! What fun!” I posted them around the school and set out another one in front of my room with big arrows pointing towards the zoo!
I’d done this zoo before and it was really awesome, but not quite as structured and I wanted it to be. Last time, kids were in and out and having a good time but they didn’t have anything to take away and didn’t have a clear path once they got to my room. It was just sort of a free for all and required a lot of “in the moment” reaction and teaching from me. There was a lot of “how do you play this” and “BANG BANG BANG” and “what am I supposed to do” that first year. I needed to add more structure and experiences.
Petting Zoo Kit – The Resources I used!
Publicity Signs I made these signs in English and Spanish and customized them so that they can say “come down after your conference” or “come down during open house” for those folks who might want to include the petting zoo during an open house night. These printed off easily and were eye-catching so that parents knew where to go.
Zoo Map This part was soooooooo helpful! The students came in and were handed a “map of the zoo.” Each instrument subgroup is labeled on the map and then at each new station there’s a pop-up poster that tells students where they are and where to find that on the map, sort of like a “You Are Here!” sign. I told each kid that they should visit every spot on the map and to check the box once they were done there. That gave them a finality that they didn’t have the time before. They could easily figure out what was left and if they’d been to each location. Students got to try out instruments at every location and then (below the map) they could write in their favorite instrument at each place. This also gave them a task to do and required that they write (a big deal at our school). Then they got to take the map home! Double bonus is that there were follow-up questions and sentence stems on the back of the map for those kiddos who could/would work ahead or for all kids to ponder and think about when they went home.
Visiting the Zoo
Speaking of adding to the zoo ambiance, I piped some zoo sounds through the classroom speakers in the ceiling and definitely got some smiles. The lion roar was a hoot but what was even more fun was when the orca sounds came on. They had no idea what to think of that! The sounds not only added to the ambiance but made it less awkward when the room is empty and a new family walked in or if there’s only one family they won’t hear dead silence and think they need to rush through.
Were there cringeworthy moments? Absolutely. When little preschool brothers and sisters grab mallets and head for the xylophones my natural tendency is to swoop. However. These instruments were MADE to withstand the brutal onslaught of Kindergarten through 5th graders on a daily basis. One kiddo out to make marimba madness will not ruin an instrument past repair. Besides, the point is to get them interested and excited and let them explore. When do we ever have time for that in our daily classes? What a triumph when the preschool kiddo’s bigger brother or sister rushes over and grabs the mallets… to show their younger sibling how to hold them correctly. Or a moment later when they show the correct striking procedure, or how to play a bordun, or teach a quick melody. Moments like that outshine the moments of terror that my teacher heart feels. This petting zoo really helped me learn to relax and enjoy the exploration.
Favorite Moments from the Zoo: 2014
- Big grins at the xylophones, metallophones, glockenspiels and ESPECIALLY the contra bass bars!
- A mother telling me (as best she could) about seed pod rattles and how they were used/worn for dances in her home in Mexico during celebrations.
- Parents looking at the ceiling and trying to figure out where the bird sounds are coming from.
- Hundreds of smiling faces as they hit the gong!
- Students leaving with Zoo Maps flapping in their hands as they talk about their favorite instruments.
- Moms and Dads teaching “Twinkle Twinkle” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and other favorites on the pitched percussion.
- Old students (middle schoolers now) coming back and sheepishly asking if they could do the zoo too!
- A second grader teaching her 4 year old brother how to play the tubano (and him breaking into the biggest grin).
- Parents and students leaving and saying audibly, “That was so much fun!”