Does your child love performing? Are they constantly singing along with the radio or dreaming of life on the stage? Then this is the unit study for them! In this week-long unit, we’ll explore the history of some of the world’s most famous performers, try out some music and film science of our own, and even try our hand at singing, acting, and more! Click here to download your skills tracker, and then lights…camera…learn!
Note: Occasionally we include project modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings) and upgrades (for children ready for more). We’ll mark those with the minus (-) or plus (+) symbols.
What you need:
Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):
Start with one of these biographies of a famous singer, or read another story about a singer your child enjoys:
- RESPECT: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford (or listen to this read aloud)
- Elvis Is King! by Jonah Winter (or listen to this read aloud)
- Dolly!: The Story of Dolly Parton and Her Big Dream by Robyn McGrath (or listen to this read aloud)
- When Paul Met Artie: The Story of Simon & Garfunkel by G. Neri
- Sounds All Around by Wendy Pfeiffer (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
- Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe by Vivian Kirkfield (or listen to this read aloud)
- Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story by Paula Yoo (or listen to this read aloud)
- Backstage Cat by Harriet Ziefert (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
- Lights! Camera! Alice! by Mara Rockliff (or listen to this read aloud)
Optional additional books:
- (-) Good Night Broadway by Adam Gamble and Mark Jasper
- Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat by Nikki Giovanni (or read it here on OpenLibrary) – We don’t have Tea + Poetry built into this unit, but if it is a regular tradition for your family, this book would be a great option to include this week!
- Moses Sees a Play by Isaac Hillman (or read it here on OpenLibrary) – We love how this book highlights that theater is for everyone by sharing some of the efforts different organizations make to share performances with those with different abilities.
- A Is for Audra: Broadway’s Leading Ladies from A to Z by John Robert Allman (or read along with this piano version!)
Optional chapter book:
- Lulu the Broadway Mouse by Jenna Gavigan
Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):
- paper + access to a printer (don’t have one? we like this model)
- white cardstock
- popsicle sticks (regular and jumbo)
- wide rubber bands
- foam sheets
- index cards
- 2 size of spoons
- wooden clothespins
- paper plates
- black marker
- graph paper (you can print some for free here)
- colored pencils
- 1 medium-sized piece of cardboard or cardboard box (a cereal box would work perfectly)
- paint + paint brushes
- scrap fabric or felt
- shoe box
- magnifying glass
- masking tape
- craft knife
- hot glue gun + glue
- black foam board
- ingredients from this recipe
What to do:
We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!
We’ll begin our week in the world of singing! First, choose from one of our recommended biographies, or you can look for a book about one of your child’s favorite singers or use whatever you’re able to find at your library.
Activity 1: Let’s start with some singing basics! What is singing exactly? Singing is the act of producing musical sounds with the voice and augments regular speech by the use of sustained tonality, rhythm, and a variety of vocal techniques. (source) Think you can’t sing? Think again! Many experts agree that if you can speak, you can sing. One of the first steps to singing is differentiating your speaking voice from your singing voice.
Let’s do a quick activity to help your child learn the difference between both voices. First, print these pictures on white cardstock. Cut them out and glue or tape each bird onto a popsicle stick to create a puppet.
Introduce the parrot to your child first. Explain that this is your pet parrot
―and he LOVES to talk! He talks all day long in his talking voice. Explain that a talking voice is typically not too loud or too soft. As them to demonstrate how a parrot might tell a story about what he ate for breakfast, using the puppet to bring it to life.
Next, introduce the owl. Ask your child to tell you what an owl says. (“Hoo!”) Did saying what an owl says feel different from talking like the parrot? That’s because owls use their singing voice! Have you child sing some “hoos” using the owl puppet.
Now, have them try going back and forth between the two! First, make the parrot say something in talking voice, and then have the owl sing it in a singing voice! The actual notes or tune don’t matter
―you just want them to get comfortable with the two different types of sounds.
Activity 2: Next, let’s warm up those vocal cords with some vocal warm-ups for kids! Follow along with the exercises in this video, exploring some different singing sounds.
Activity 3: There is actually a lot of science involved in singing
―and in making any kind of sound! Let’s learn more about some of the science in the book Sounds All Around by Wendy Pfeiffer (or read it here on OpenLibrary). You can also listen to this song about the science of sound.
Next, bring to life how movement makes sound by making this DIY noisemaker.
Activity 4: Let’s learn more about how sound travels in waves. Watch this video to learn more about what sound is. Next, do this simple sound waves experiment.
(+) Feel like getting a little messy? This dancing ooblek experiment lets your child see sound!
Let’s learn about two iconic performers and how their worlds of singing and acting collided in history with the book Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (or listen to this read aloud).
Activity 1: Ella Fitzgerald was famous for her use of improvisation (or the art of playing an instrument or singing where the musician or musicians make up the music as they play) in jazz, and particularly her ability to scat, or using the voice to make sounds but not using any recognizable words. Watch this video to hear a professional musician discuss Ella’s abilities and how she influenced jazz music. Next, listen to Ella’s version of “Blue Skies” here.
When singing scat, performers often try to imitate the sounds of instruments with their voice. Let’s try it for ourselves! Play clips of some of the following musical instruments sounds for your child, and then see if they can imitate the sound with their voice. Which instruments are easy to imitate? Which are more challenging?
Need some more help? Watch this video for some tips on how to sing scat yourself!
Activity 2: An important part of being a singer is understanding the rhythm or beat of a song. We have discussed rhythm in past units (like our Level 2+: Nigeria Unit), but if you need a refresher, start by printing these pages and reviewing what these common rhythm notes mean.
Rhythm notes are also an excellent way to review fractions in a practical way! Let’s do some musical fraction work using 5 paper plates and a black marker. Use your marker to make each of your plates look like these:
One of the most common time registers in music is 4/4, which means each measure of music has four quarter note beats. Assuming you are trying to make up four beats for each measure of music, discuss with your child how many of each type of note could be used in each measure.
Finally, cut up your plates along the lines and let your child build full circles with different combinations of wedges. (For example, they might combine 4 eighth notes and 2 quarter notes.) After they have built their full circle, print this blank music staff (you may wish to laminate for repeated use or print several copies) and have them write out the rhythm notes on the staff.
Activity 3: Music is also an excellent way to practice patterns! Print this hands-on pattern activity, cutting out the notes on the second page. Have your child glue the correct next beat into the pattern strip
―you may want to have them tap out the pattern so they can hear what comes next!
Activity 4: Have you ever started singing a song, and then realized a little way into the melody that the notes were too high or too low for you to sing? If so, the song was outside of your vocal range. A person’s vocal range is the lowest and highest notes (along with all notes in between) that a person can comfortably sing.
To understand what might determine a person’s vocal range, it is important to first understand what is happening when a person sings. When air is expelled from a person’s lungs, it’s carried out of the body through a tube called the trachea (or windpipe) in the throat. In the trachea, the air passes through the larynx (or voice box), which contains folds of tissue, called the vocal cords. The vocal cords vibrate as air passes through them, and this vibration creates sound. If you place your fingers at the base of your throat and sing or talk, you might be able to faintly feel these vibrations.
The pitch of the sound a person makes is determined by several factors, including the size and tension of their vocal cords. By changing some factors, people can produce different pitches, or notes. (source)
Let’s work on a charting activity to determine the vocal range of a group of people! If you are learning in a coop, you can simply use all of the children learning. If not, let your child use their family members.
Begin with your child. Using this virtual piano (or a real one if you have it), play middle C (the red one on the virtual piano). Have your child sing the note back to you. If they can sing the note, it is in their vocal range. Moving slowly up the piano from middle C, play each note and have your child sing it back to you. When it gets too high for your child to sing back, you have reached the top of their range. To determine the bottom of their range, return to middle C and work your way down the piano until you hit a note that is too low for them to sing. Next, count all the keys that your child was able to sing and record this number on a separate piece of paper.
Repeat this exercise with 2-5 other people, depending on how many you have available. Once you have your data, create a chart on a piece of graph paper (you can print some for free here), putting the names along the x axis (horizontal) and the number of notes along the y axis (vertical). Who in your family has the largest vocal range?
For the rest of the week, we’ll look closer at the word of acting, both on stage and on screen. Begin by reading about a pioneer in the movie world who you may never have heard of in the book Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story (or listen to this read aloud).
Activity 1: To prepare for acting a scene, an actor will typically do several warm-up activities prior to performing. Not only do these warm-ups prepare their bodies and voices for the work they’re about to do, but many exercises also help them become better actors as they learn to convey a variety of emotions and roles. This activity forces kids to embody words, run with their instincts, and get comfortable doing something new in front of other people, while also working on parts of speech, specifically nouns, verbs, and adjectives. We’ve reviewed these parts of speech in a few of our units, but here’s a refresher on what each is:
- nouns: a person, place, or thing
- verb: a main part of speech that is often used to describe or indicate an action—sentences are not complete without a verb
- adjective: a word that describes an animal, person, thing, or thought
The game will be our own version of Charades. First, print these parts of speech cards on regular paper, cut them out, and drop them in an opaque bowl or bag. Have your child draw the word. They should first indicate to you if the word is a noun (have them make the sign of a fist in their other palm), a verb (have them make the sign of two fingers “running” across their other palm), or an adjective (have them make the sign of wiping one palm across the other). Once you are clear on which part of speech they are acting out, have them act out the word with no words or sounds. Once you correctly guess the word, trade roles so you can act out a word for them to guess.
Repeat until you have acted all the words or your child is ready to move on.
Activity 2: Would they like to try another acting exercise? Let’s play “The Greetings Game.” You will need two children, or you can play with your child.
To start, both actors should face each other. The first person has the line, “Hello, how are you today?” The second person will then respond, “Good, thank you.” Practice saying your lines in a way that feels natural first.
Next, provide a different setting that will affect how you deliver the lines. For example, you might say, “Now let’s say the lines like we are old friends.” You should both face each other again and deliver the lines “in character.”
The point of this game is to show how one line of dialogue can change dramatically, given different characters and situations.
Here are some examples of different settings you might suggest:
- as if on a sweltering hot day
- while giggling
- like robots
- after too much coffee
- like Martians
- like rock stars
- like long lost friends
- like people in a big hurry
- like very young children
- sadly, crying
- as if on a cold day
Activity 3: Improving in performing skills can benefit your child even if they never act in a play. Specifically, they can be extremely useful in public speaking. Let’s work on a public speaking activity to demonstrate the practical value of performance abilities. We will work on delivering a demonstration speech. A demonstration speech is a type of presentation in which the speaker’s goal is to teach the audience how to complete a task.
First, have your child think of something they think they could teach another person to do in less than 10 minutes (preferably closer to 5 minutes for our purposes). If they are having trouble thinking of something, use the example of teaching someone how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Each demo speech must possess the following four parts:
- an introduction
- listing of necessary supplies/materials
- steps of completion
- a conclusion
If desired, you can use this brainstorm printable to help your child record their ideas.
Once your child has gathered their thoughts and materials, let them practice a few times before having them perform their speech for you. Don’t forget to applaud! They may also wish to perform their demo speech for the family later that evening.
(+) Is your child ready for more improvements to their public speaking abilities? You can also add a layer of constructive critique after they’re deliver their speech. You may wish to discuss posture, eye contact, removing vocal clutter (like “um” or “like…”), volume, and pacing and how it can impact the effect of a speech. You can also try recording your child’s speech so they can watch it back as you discuss feedback.
Today, we’ll take a closer look at the world of stage plays, paying special attention to some of the behind-the-scenes elements. Begin by reading Backstage Cat (or read it here on OpenLibrary). As you read, take note of the different jobs that take place behind a performance and discuss why they are just as important as the actors on stage.
Activity 1: Let’s start our activities by learning a little theater vocabulary!
- drama: a story written to be performed in front of an audience, usually performed in a theater or on a stage
- script: the written words and directions of a play
- stage directions: what actors or actresses do, often written in parenthesis or italics in the script
- dialogue: a spoken conversation between two characters
- monologue: a speech given by a single character in a story
- costumes: the clothing and other items an actor wears to help him or her “become” the character
- scenery: curtains, backdrops, and platforms to communicate the environment
- props: objects used on stage by actors/ actresses during a performance
- actor/actress: a person who portrays a character in a performance
Next, fill out this crossword puzzle to help your child review the definitions.
Activity 2: Is your child ready to perform? First, create this cardboard puppet theater to house their next big show.
Activity 3: Finally, help them create their own story to perform. They can either take inspiration from another great story they love, or they can write an original production. Begin by brainstorming characters, setting, a problem to solve, and the conclusion of their story.
Next, prepare your actors, props, and/or scenery! Use wooden clothespins for your puppets and decorate them with markers, paint, and/or bits of fabric and paper. Make one for each character.
If desired, gather any props they will need to tell their story. They can even design backdrops to hang behind their stage, if desired.
Finally, dim the lights and use flashlights to create spotlights for them as they perform their show! (If you record and share online, we would LOVE to see what they come up with! Don’t forget to tag us @learnandliveletter!)
While stage performances are still an incredibly important part of entertainment today, your child is likely more familiar with actors in movies and TV shows. Let’s learn a bit of history about how movies (and even some special effects!) got their start in the book Lights! Camera! Alice! (or listen to this read aloud).
Activity 1: Did you know you can build your own projector out of a shoebox? Follow these simple steps to create your own!
Activity 2: An important step for any film maker to bring their stories to life in a movie is a storyboard! Let’s learn some of the basics of storyboarding in this video. Then, let’s try it ourselves! Using either the story from yesterday’s play or a new plot, print 1-3 of these template pages to let your child begin to sketch out their movie idea. They can add notes on the lines below each box, if desired.
Activity 3: If your child has caught the film making bug, introduce them to the idea of stop-motion movies! This style of production is popular with young movie makers because it is simple to do, but it takes a lot of time and patience. Here is an example of a LEGO stop-motion movie they might like. If they would like to create their own, you can use the steps and tips from this article to get started. This video also shares more tips.
Activity 4: We highly recommend ending your week with a family movie night! Give it a real theater feel by making this copycat movie theater popcorn to enjoy as you watch.
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