12 Ideas to Reimagine Teaching with Beanbags

Fresh ideas for using bean bags this fall in the music room or choral rehearsal.

As summer vacation draws to a close, it is always fun to get some fresh ideas for the beginning of the school year.  So go ahead and add some ways to use the bean bags from Bear Paw Creek to your repertoire! These activities will also bring giggles and smiles to teaching the potentially humdrum foundations of music making. 

This blog will share activities using beanbags not only the classroom, but also in choral rehearsal. In addition, at the end of the post is a game I developed exclusively for you, the fans of Bear Paw Creek’s Blog!  This game is open-ended, so with some poster board and markers, and of course, beanbags, you can make a delightful game that can address any skill your students need to work on.

I have been thinking about beanbags a lot lately. It is a shame for a prop that raises the spirits of students and teachers alike to be overlooked. Especially considering its durability and versatility. Why don’t we use them more?  And, if we don’t have them, why not? They are certainly one of the most affordable props out there.  In fact, www.bearpawcreek.com has bean bags for just $20 per dozen, and you can even choose the bright or muted color palette or texture that works best for your students’ needs.

If the obstacle is a lack of awareness of how to use this awesome prop, then let’s overcome it, with these 12 ideas that will help you to reimagine teaching with beanbags. These ideas include activities that I have developed, as well as some existing activities that I have adapted to beanbags, not to mention the exclusive game at the end of this blog.

Let’s get you excited for the new school year, and for using that underdog of props, beanbags!

Bean Bag Activities for the Classroom

1.Ostinato Bean Bags: Teach your ostinato, but in a kinesthetic way. Students toss the bean bag from hand-to-hand in rhythm with their singing.

2. Quick Sort: Looking for a fast way to divide students up for an activity?  If you have a variety of bean bag colors then you can hand out bean bags in a color-coded manner to designate groups/activities.  For example, if you wanted to have a sound ensemble activity, you could designate red=sung sounds, yellow=spoken sounds, orange=whisper sounds etc, and a next step would be holding up a red beanbag to start the sung group’s performances.

3. Bean Bag Engagement: Not that kind of engagement! I like to use props like the bean bags to call on students. It is an incredibly easy way to infuse more mundane tasks with fun.  I also like to have the students use this method to call on each other, which makes your existing activity even more entertaining.

4. Bean Bag SMART Notebooks: There are some great SMART notebooks available that allow students to randomly select a question or challenge by popping a bubble. Rather than walking up and popping it, you can safely have student underhand toss a bean bag at the board. My students love this method!  SMART Notebook exchange has “Candy Rhythms Koosh Ball Game” and Teachers Pay Teachers has several as well.

5. Bean Bag Shakers: If you are a new teacher that doesn’t have many props or an itinerant teacher trying to reduce how much equipment you move, consider using bean bags as a percussion instrument. You can shake or tap it, and the volume is low, so it may be just right if you have students with sound sensitivity.

6. Steady Beat Bags: When students are still learning to find the steady beat, a strategy is to have the student gently tap their chest. Putting a bean bag in that hand makes it more fun, and adds more sensation. 

Bean Bag Activities for the Classroom or Choral Rehearsal

7. Treble or Bass Clef Toss: Use masking tape to create a five line staff on the floor and have students toss a bean bag onto the staff. Then they name the note based on which line or space it lands on. Another option would be drawing the staff on poster board or other moveable surfaces to make a portable version if you are an itinerant teacher.

8. Bean Bag Rhythm: A variation on the ostinato bean bag activity above, requiring students that are struggling with a particular rhythm to toss the beanbag to the steady beat.  This could be up and down in one hand or hand-to-hand as they say rhythm syllables, chant the lyrics in rhythm, or sing the troublesome section.

9. Bean Bag Note Values: I was introduced to this activity with tennis balls, and it works great with bean bags too. Assign each note value a bean bag movement that will take an appropriate amount of time. For example: two eighth notes= fast hand-to-hand toss, quarter note= single hand toss, half note= go around body 1st beat in front of body 2nd beat in back, whole note= same as half but stopping in four points- 1 front, 2 side, 3 back, and 4 other side.  Students should verbalize the counts as another pathway to learning. Display the note value students are performing so that they can make the connections between the symbol, the movement and value.  Once the students are proficient, I turn on pop music and have the students perform various note values to the beat, continuing to display the note symbols and point to them throughout.


Bean Bag Activities for Choral Rehearsal

10. Part Throw: If singers are forgetting that they don’t sing in a particular section, play a game!  As that section begins, have the forgetful singers toss their beanbag to a chorus member who is supposed to sing that part.  It will be so memorable that they will probably not make that mistake again.

11. Projection Toss:  This thrilling activity was intended for adults using a football, but I have adapted it here for children using beanbags. If your chorus is not projecting their voices to the back of the rehearsal space, try having them send their sound out with the bean bag by tossing it forward (after you get out of the way!). Alternatively, singers could get into pairs and have them sing a phrase tossing to their partner and then their partner sings a phrase tossing it back.


Here it is… your exclusive open-ended game:

The Bullseye of Music!

As I was thinking about ways to use bean bags that would be fun and engaging for our students, I also factored in that we teachers don’t necessarily have much time to craft. So if I was going to create something, I wanted it to be a game that could be used for different units.  The result is a game that can be used throught the year, with any age and the only thing you’ll need to change is the Fact Sheet.  

The 12th activity, The Bullseye of Music! :

How it works:

  1. Have two children, or the whole class play.
  2. Child A throws the bean bag at the bullseye.
  3. Child B (the opponent or class representative) announces the color which their bean bag hit.
  4. Child A puts the tip of a pencil into a paper clip in the center of the spinner for that color and flicks it. The paper clip indicates a number.
  5. Child B gives Child A the task or question based on the color and number, and they have a blast performing it!                                                                                                                                                                 

I didn’t design this for keeping score so there isn’t a plan for that, but you could certainly develop one.  The game is so engaging because the target requires skill and the spinner is pure chance.  I put the arts Integration/extra fun activities in the center, on red, to make them harder to get. 

How to Make Bullseye of Music Game Pieces:

Materials: Foam poster board, For tracing- a frying pan & small bowl, Poster markers/paint, Pencil, Paper clip, Paper, Sheet protector/clipboard


  1. Target– Sketch the biggest possible circle you can on the poster board
  2.  Trace frying pan and small bowl creating the concentric circles of a target
  3.  Color each ring in a different color (I went the traditional route of red yellow and blue)
  4.  Spinner– On the paper, use the small bowl to trace three circles and coordinate the colors to match the circles on the target
  5.  Divide the circles into five sections (or more) and number them
  6.  Fact Sheet– create blue questions or activities of an easy level and number them 1-5 to match the spinner, and repeat for yellow   being medium level and red being difficult/super fun. Zoom in on the image above for an example Fact Sheet.
  7.  Print out Fact Sheet and slip into a sheet protector and plan to give to Child B or the Opponent described above.
  8.  Once the materials are done, grab your Bear Paw Creek bean bags, pencil and a paper clip and start having a fantastic time learning new concepts or reviewing!

Remember, all you have to do from here is create a new Fact Sheet to totally change the game!

Thanks: My appreciation to my music teacher colleagues in Anne Arundel County, MD for being such wonderful teachers and collaborators.

I hope you enjoy your bean bags in the classroom or rehearsal all the more for having some new ideas.

BPC has a great selection of bean bags right here on bearpawcreek.com.

Leah Murthy is a music educator, performer and military spouse. She is currently a Doctoral candidate in Music Education at Boston University, holds a Master’s in Music Education from The Boston Conservatory, has 15 years experience teaching music and recent contributions to professional journals such as The American Organist and The Chorister. When she is not teaching music in Maryland, or playing with her two little girls, she is in Washington D.C. conducting for The National Children’s Chorus.

One Dozen Back to School Game Ideas!

Back to school ideas for moving and learning.

I’m a home-schooling mom and a free-lancing writer. I don’t love to be in charge, but I have to be, so I step up to the plate (because I love my kids). I’m so thankful for teachers who step up to the plate and pour their lives out for children everyday. You inspire me.




Ready to get back to school? I’m sharing games that help kids learn.

We all know how important movement and play are in children’s development, but with so much to learn it’s easy for our children to spend too much time trying to sit still.

Why fight their need to squirm?

Learning facts: Make it fun!

When my boys were young they memorized a whole host of math facts by playing Math Adventures (which came with our new computer), then a Reader Rabbit game on the computer. The games were intriguing and each had a quest to be accomplished. They were colorful and filled with humor as well. That was years ago, now people use apps and online games.

Yet, with all of the apps and online educational games out there, I still haven’t found something for their younger sisters to enjoy which quite matches up to the fun and learning value. I’m sure it’s out there, but for now, I’m going with a different approach to help make memorizing facts fun.

I’m going with movement and active play as one of the tools in my box. 

I’ve made up some games we can do (inside or outside) and I’m sharing them with you. All you need are bean bags, some sidewalk chalk, and Bear Paw Creek’s wonderful Connect-a-Stretchy Bands.

[Tweet “All you need are bean bags, sidewalk chalk, & Bear Paw Creek’s Connect-a-Stretchy-Bands.”]

Here’s what you can do with the stretchy bands, bean bags & chalk!

Learn your facts with hopscotch.

Draw a hopscotch grid on your sidewalk and fill in the squares with facts that you’re memorizing together. As you hop on the squares recite the facts written on the square you’re hopping to. You can use this for:

  1. Skip counting to help with multiplication tables. For example 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18…
  2. Addition and subtraction (you could arrange the squares so that you have two squares (with addends) followed by one with the sum etc.
  3. Historical facts and names from one lesson. Alternatively, you could arrange events in a timeline on your grid giving two squares to major events and give pause and emphasis as you say those.
  4. A process such as the process of evaporation, rain, water flowing from springs and rivers etc.
  5. Creating grid for storytelling. In the first grid write, “beginning”, followed by “who/protagonist,” where,” “what”, then use two squares and write “problem/antagonist,” followed by, “struggle” then maybe “comic relief,” “climax,” and resolution. And let each of the kids take turns telling a story using your hopscotch storyboard. Let them be silly or serious, and you should take a turn as well. It’ll be good for you.

Learn Facts with Hopscotch


Bean bag math.

  1. Preschool: To help make counting fun, snap the Connect-a-Stretchy Bands into individual rings and toss bean bags into them. Now count together to see how many you were able to get into the rings. Now try tossing two in each ring and count all of those bags with them. Continue with other variations.
  2. Basic Addition and Subtraction: Set up two rings and let your students toss some in each ring. Have your students create an addition problem using the bags in the rings. This is a great way to reinforce the concept of which numbers add up together to make ten. You toss some in the first circle and let them decide how much they need in the next to make ten. To practice subtraction, remove the bean bags from one circle and ask them to use a math formula to describe what happened.
  3. Visual Multiplication and Division: Using the stretchy band rings, ask the students to toss 9 bean bags into three of the rings making sure to have an equal amount in each. Now explain that 9 divided into 3 is like saying 9 divided into 3 groups. Ask them to take turns making more examples and explaining them to you (4 rings with 12 bean bags). For a change put one ball in each of the rings with the bean bags and ask them if they can figure out a way to describe the fraction of items in the rings which are a ball and not a bean bag.
  4. The simplest, yet most enjoyable game:  Have the students team up in pairs and practice counting or skip counting while they toss the bean bags back and forth to each other. 


Stretchy band skip-counting and memory facts.

  1. Introduction to Skip-Counting: First, take Bear Paw Creek’s wonderful Connect-a-Stretchy Bands and join them into one large ring. Have the students arrange themselves equal distance around the ring. Explain that you are going to count while emphasizing certain numbers as you count by raising up the stretchy band above your head. Tell them to follow your lead and see if they can figure out the pattern. Now you can say, “1,2,3,4, [raise the stretchy band] 5, [back down] 6,7,8,9, [up] 10, [down] 11, 12,13,14, [up] 15.” Once they catch on to what you’re doing, ask them if they think they would be able to speed it up a bit. As they get the hang of that, try using other numbers to do the same thing.
  2. Skip-Counting Team Work: In this game, each person takes a turn saying the next number in skip counting (with the teachers coaching the first few times, if necessary). For Instance, the first student says 2 while raising up his portion of the stretchy band above his head, the next student says 4 and so on. A more complicated version (when they’re skip-counting with odd numbers) would be to raise it for the odd numbers and push it down for the even ones. Like this, “3 [up] 6 [down] 9 [up] 12 [down]. See whether your students can figure out why this works while skip counting with odd numbers but not even.
  3. Memorizing Facts: You can use this method for reciting grammar facts, historical dates or parts of a plant as well. Moving the body as you recite facts helps your brain retain the information, so it’s very useful to do even simple motion such as swinging your arms together to move the stretchy band as you recite. Also the is movement is such a relief to kids who have a hard time concentrating when the are still for too long a period.






I’ve gotten the props that I need to do any of these activities on hand from Bear Paw Creek and I’m ready to go this year.

I imagine you’ve got sidewalk chalk or can easily find that, but if you don’t have Bear Paw Creek’s colorful Bean Bags or Connect-a-Stretchy Bands, then now is a great time to get them! 

What are your favorite ways to use the stretchy band and bean bags to enhance learning? Do you have any tips to share as we celebrate going back to school?

The Wheels on the Tractor Song with Stretchy Band Movement

The Wheels on the Tractor with a Stretchy Band



Do you have a little boy in your life that loves tractors?  I do!

I actually made this video over a year ago, and due to a blooper in the middle that I intended to edit, I hadn’t shared it yet. 

Well, a year has passed, and the blooper seems more funny than one of those embarrassing mom moments.

Get ready for some great book suggestions and another fun song to use with the stretchy band.

The Wheels on the Tractor

The Song

One of my favorite things to do is take a well known song and create new lyrics to it. This is called a “piggyback” song.  Here I took “Wheels on the Bus” and we created a new version of driving our tractor. 

You can see how the kids helped out and how I struggled with getting it “right.” 

Plus the blooper?  Well, we all need a good laugh!

I also have fun taking the kids play barn, tractors, and animals out in the yard and set up miniature play area for them.  Making hay bales is a fun addition.

Added bonus:  use your toy tractors to create wheel art. Drive your tractors through some paint and make tracks!

[Tweet “Piggy Back Song Feature: The Wheels on the Tractor with stretchy band”]

Tractor Book Finds

I found a great book from the local library called “Tractor Mac Arrives at the Farm” for our tractor themed circle time.

Tractof Mac Arrives at the Farm for circle time activity

We then sang Old McDonald Had a Farm using the white board with magnet visuals I created almost 20 years ago!

Old McDonald Had a Farm Felt Board or Magnet Board Images

Old McDonald had a Farm







Recently Morgan Sparks introduced me to Barefoot Books and their great books and other educational resources.

I was excited to find this book and puzzles to give to our son for his fourth birthday.   (affiliate links included)








Janet Stephens is the founder and creator behind Bear Paw Creek’s creative movement props and bags. She is passionate about learning and sharing along the way.



Three Benefits of Using Stretchy Bands for Praise and Worship

Music, Memory and Movement

Do you plan activities for the elderly in nursing homes? Are you a Children’s Director at church?  Do you want a fun way to teach preschoolers some worship songs while satisfying their need for movement?

We’ll show you some ways to bring a sense of fun, focus, and community to your worship and praise time.

What Worship Songs are Stored in Your Memory?

Occasionally I hear my girls sing songs that take me back to my childhood. Some of them are silly, some are beautiful. Best of all, are the times that I hear a hymn or praise song that speaks to my struggles and encourages me. 

That happened with the song, Standing on the Promises of God. I was struggling with the faithfulness of God. That song helped me to ask myself, “What are God’s promises exactly?” And while some circumstances in my life seemed unbearable, I realized that none of them signified a broken promise on God’s part. 

Actually, His promises stood firm; I needed to remember that 

Where do we learn these songs and how do they stay with us? Many of the songs we know from childhood were learned at home or at church. These songs are etched in our brain because music is such a powerful aid to memory.

Do you realize that movement is also an aid to memory? Imagine then, how effective music and motion are for imprinting memories… I think some might even call this dancing…

Have you considered using a Stretchy Band to encourage movement:

  • For circle praise time with your kids at home?
  • In Children’s Church, during worship?
  • As part of your ministry of elder care in nursing homes?
[Tweet “Imagine then, how effective music and motion are for imprinting memories. Jenette Clay”]

Here are Three Benefits to Using Stretchy Bands with Praise and Worship

Satisfy the need to squirm and move. Little kids (and I believe adults) have a hard time sitting still for a long time. 

Imagine all of the sitting kids do between school, church services, and riding in a car. Using a stretchy band can organize the chaos a bit so that the non-wiggly kids don’t feel overwhelmed by the kids with the urge to spin around the room (while you sing Father Abraham for the 100th time.) Use the stretchy band as a big circle with the kids holding on all around; you can encourage them to sing and make waves and shapes while continuing to hold on to the stretchy band. This definitely helps manage the chaos while letting them move.

Awaken the brain and heighten learning. When we move, we wake up a bit. 

Ever sat in a service and found you were tired and sleepy, even during worship? Just being asked to stand up helps the blood flow. Getting the blood flowing is a good thing because it’s supplying more oxygen to the brain as well. Body movement increases our ability to take in and remember information. It’s the perfect partner to music in teaching because what we sing we remember; what we sing while we move, we remember better.

Want to have your children remember The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus? Have them sing while they make deep waves with the stretchy band. I bet they will remember how deep the love of Jesus is.

The power of music to wake up the brain was illustrated by Yvonne Russell, recreation therapist, in this video. When you go into a nursing home and provide a worship service full of favorite hymns and songs, eyes light up and smiles appear. Consider whether adding a stretchy band for appropriate songs might further awaken the spirit of those you are ministering to. 

Break down barriers of self-consciousness. This applies to children, and more so to adults.

Let’s be honest, sometimes we wish we had had an excuse to break out of our calm, self-composed selves. We just seem to need someone to give us an excuse to do so.

Take a look at the smiles on these faces at Eldergarden Adult Day Program. Using a stretchy band is a great way to get every single person involved as it visible connects them.

Rachelle Norman, of Soundscape Music Therapy, says, ” Rather than just hoping for people to “get into the music” and move spontaneously, as you might do in an entertainment-oriented program, I view movement as an important form of musical communication and consciously facilitate movement to music.”

[Tweet “I view movement as an important form of musical communication… Rachelle Norman”]

Ten Worship Songs to Sing with Your Stretchy Bands!

I would tell you that the first few are great for kids and the last part of the list are great for elder care, but I think bringing little ones into a Nursing Home and letting them mix it up a bit (with cautions to be gentle) seems like a lovely idea. In fact, I’m planning on doing that.

Just one last tip: don’t be intimidated by what to do with the stretchy band while you sing. You don’t have to make it complicated; let the kids help you decide how to move with them during the song. Loosen up and have fun. The first three songs on this list link to videos of us doing that (with lots of giggles thrown in.)

Here’s the list. What songs would you add to this? Any favorite memories tied to songs? Comment below and let us hear from you!

  1. Standing on the promises of God.
  2. I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N.
  3. Deep and Wide.
  4. The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.
  5. Do Not be Anxious.
  6. I’ll Fly Away
  7. Cast Your Cares.
  8. Amazing Grace
  9. It is Well with My Soul.
  10. He Will Listen to You.

The Airplane Song with the Connect-a-Stretchy Band

Using Props to Connect with Children

The longer I have worked as a music therapist, especially in the early childhood setting, the more I appreciate the value of movement props like those created by Bear Paw Creek! I feel like they have really added to the fun and learning and promoted positive social experiences in both my childcare and community-based early childhood music classes.

Both of these settings require that I find a way to engage children of a range of ages, personalities, and developmental levels. From a music therapist perspective and as an advocate for inclusion, I love that props do not require language skills to be used or enjoyed. Children who are very young or otherwise non-verbal can still successfully engage with the group without having to speak. You can promote choice by giving a child the option between different color scarves and encourage self-expression by recognizing how a child interacts with a scarf (Sarah is waving hers up high!).

Stretchy Band Airplane Ride

Since receptive language develops before expressive language, both verbal and non-verbal children can learn or practice directional words as the group leader or their caregiver asks them and models how to move their scarves up, down, in front, behind, etc. For the children who are verbal, it gives them a chance to tell you about what color they have, how they are moving it, or what body part it is covering.

Stretchy Bands Can Also Promote Social Interaction in a Low-Stress Way

A tool like the connect-a-band or stretchy band can also promote social interaction in a low-stress way.   During a classic favorite like Ring Around the Rosie, some children simply are not comfortable holding anyone’s hand other than their caregiver. A connect-a-band not only helps structure the movement by making a natural circle, it literally “connects” the group members with each other without the pressure of physical touch.

Stretchy Band Joy

For children with sensory issues, this is also a plus as it provides social interaction, interesting sensory input, and can be a pre-curser to physical contact like holding hands. I love the flexibility that the connect-a-band can be used in both large and small group settings. When used during the song Row Your Boat, I’ve seen it build interpersonal connections among the numerous participants of a family music and literacy event or simply the more intimate bond between a parent and child.

Row Your Boat Stretchy Band

[Tweet “Stretchy bands help structure the movement by making a natural circle, it “connects” the group without the pressure of physical touch.”]

“Rocket Ship Run” and “Airplane Song” Activity Suggestion

I find myself planning the use of movement props into almost every group, whether it be the connect-a-band, scarves, bean bags, streamers, parachute, or balloon ball. When children have something literally in their hand, it makes music an even more “hands-on” experience, and what better way to learn than through doing!

Most recently, I used scarves and the connect-a-band with some Laurie Berkner Band Songs during a transportation theme. The scarves were our rockets that went “blast off!” into the air during “Rocketship Run” and helped us creatively move during the dancing portion.

For “The Airplane Song,” the connect-a-band served as our airplane, as we went to see the world, practiced getting in and out, took turns leading, and moved in lots of fun ways!  You could use a big connect-a-band for a large group or single ones for “family planes.”

[Tweet “I want children/families to feel like an integral part of the group, not just an audience and props are an amazing way to facilitate that!”]

From Janet at Bear Paw Creek.  I hope you enjoyed this fabulous post from Sarah!  Leave a comment and show her some love  🙂  Also, I am looking for more wonderful people to share their creative genius.  Contact me below if you’re interested.

13 + 13 =

St. Patrick’s Day Music and Movement

St. Patrick’s Day Music and Movement Inspiration

For the last month I have been on the hunt for St. Patrick’s Day fabric.  For awhile I thought I was hunting the elusive four leaf clover, or even worse that rascally leprechaun!  I prevailed and finally found a fun print to turn into a balloon ball.  Building lessons and activities around a holiday is one of my favorite things to do with the kids.  So here’s some of what we are doing this year.

BONUS: leave a comment and you’ll be entered to win a St. Patrick’s Day Balloon Ball!

Music and Movement Fun

So many of Bear Paw Creek’s products are rainbow colored, so they fit right in with the rainbow and elusive pot of gold.  One of our favorites to use with the stretchy band or rainbow ribbon streamers is Miss Carole’s “Rainbow ‘Round Me.”  It’s particularly fun to be inside the stretchy band (rainbow) while listening to the verbal cues of raising your colored section up.

Here is a fun list of Celtic songs to get moving with. Use a balloon ball to play hot potato, dance, use movement props of scarves and streamers.

Linda from Rhythm Works Music Therapy shares her ideas and the fun song, “Macnamara’s Band” in this post

[Tweet “An Irish Proverb: May all your troubles be little ones and all your little ones be trouble free.”]

St. Patrick’s Day Art

I attempted to make finger paints for the kids, as it’s been awhile since we’ve finger painted, but either the recipe or the maker had issues!  Have a recipe to share you like?  Please do!

Instead, we used peppers and potatoes to make shamrock prints.

Potato and Pepper Shamrock Prints

Next week we will enjoy making rainbows and pots of gold.  Here is a link from Make and Takes that we will choose from.

Remember to leave a comment to have a chance to win!  Share your finger paint recipe or your favorite St. Patrick’s Day fun.

There are a few available for sale as well.


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