Monthly Archives: September 2009

School Music Programs

It’s not news that school music programs are some of the first affected by budget cuts in our public school systems. However, at times, we may not realize the vital role that these programs have in our children’s lives.

The Journal of Research in Music Education in 1998 stated that children between the ages of 3 and 5 who received songbell lessons had increased spatial-temporal scores. What does this mean? These children have a better ability to visualize and manipulate visual patterns. These are key thinking processes for professions such as engineering, architecture, science, artist, and mathematicians.

A recent Harris Poll (University of Kansas) stated that kids who were involved in great music programs tested 22 percent higher in English and 20 percent higher in math than there peers that did not have quality music programs. The testing was based on the No Child Left Behind standards.

The College Board in 2006 noted that students (with musical training) who took the SAT scored 52 percent high in the verbal portion and 43 percent higher in the math than peers who did get music programs. This is a huge difference and should be noted among all educators who ever try to get rid of school music programs.

A great quote from Dr. John Mahlmann says: “Research confirms that music education at an early age greatly increases the likelihood that a child will grow up to seek higher education and ultimately earn a higher salary. The sad irony is that ‘No Child Left Behind’ is intended to better prepare our children for the real world, yet it’s leaving music behind despite its proven benefits. While music clearly corresponds to higher performing students and adults, student access to music education had dropped about 20 percent in recent years, thanks in large part to the constraints of the No Child Left Behind Act.”

“If you want to be a CEO, college president or even a rock star, the message from this survey is: take music. As with reading, writing and arithmetic, music should be a core academic focus because it is so vital to a well rounded education and will pay dividends later in life, no matter the career path taken.”

* Statistics and quotes taken from The National Association of Music Education. These comments were made in response to the No Child Left Behind Act in 2007 in regards to the fact that the government program neglects music education in it’s standards.

School Accreditation

In today’s education world the options are without limits. There is something for everyone. With K-12 there are private schools, public schools, charter schools, homeschool and probably something else. Then there are boarding schools and military schools. For colleges and vocational schools you can go to a campus or you can get most of your education online.

While all of these options are fantastic for the general public it does raise some concerns. Parents with children in Kindergarten through high school need to be very careful that their child is going to get a high school diploma and credits from a source that is recognized as they enter college and/or the work force. The same goes with continuing education. You would hate to waste time getting a masters degree or other degree just to find out that no one would recognize your work.

Students cannot receive federal aid or other funding if the school that you choose is not accredited. The key is to make sure you ask smart questions when you are choosing a school. Make sure that you ask if the school is accredited and even if they say that they are make sure you ask who they are accredited with and do your homework on that organization.

Preschool Developmental Milestones

The preschool years are important for many reasons. There are crucial developmental milestones reached during this period.

Children from 3-5 (preschool age) need to develop the following skills:

Social skills:

  • At age 3 a child is starting to play cooperatively with other children. They can take part in structured games, remember rhymes and songs. They are learning to share and make real friends.
  • At 4 years old make believe begins to take the form of real life (play house, play store, restaurant play, school). 4 year olds will often choose a best friend and is strongly influenced by their friends. They are also learning about rules and understanding them.
  • For the five year old independence is the order of the day! They love having responsibility so chores and other activities are great. Positive reinforcement is a key factor for the self esteem of the five year old.

Motor Skills:

  • 3 year olds walk in an adult manner, quickly moves around obstacles, climbs ladders, uses slides alone, pedals. For fine motor skills the three year old does puzzles, finger paints, molds with clay, stacks blocks and makes shapes with a crayon or pencil.
  • 4 year olds have more controlled running and walking. They can easily hop on one foot and catch, throw and bounce a ball. They can also take care of simple self grooming.
  • 5 year olds fine tune their motor skills in almost everything they do. They are always climbing, jumping, skipping, playing in general and even balancing on curbs. They are growing fast and need many vitamins and minerals so they don’t become vitamin deficient.

Language and Thought Processes:

  • Three year olds speak sentences. They are usually about three to five words long. Can do puzzles that require matching pictures and shapes. Learns through hands on experience. Grasps time: now, later, before and soon. Put together the cause and effect of things.
  • Four year olds have increased sentence structure where they combine thoughts and ideas. They think literally and start thinking logically. A 4 year old understands that symbols and pictures relate to real things (or represent them). They begin to know the difference between real and “make believe”.
  • Five year olds are more analytical than ever. They love more complex and abstract problem solving. The five year old loves conversation and taking their turn to speak in group settings. The vocabulary is increasing at a rapid speed.

Keep in mind that the rate at which children develop in any category varies. These are basic and broad milestones and preschool age characteristics. If you have any doubts about your child’s development you should consult with your pediatrician.

School Teacher Pay

Here we will briefly discuss a teacher’s duties and school teacher pay as well as the job prospects and forecast. 
The Bureau of Labor Statistics states the following about public school teaching:

  • Public school teachers must be licensed with a bachelors degree and completion of a teaching program.
  • States offer alternative programs to draw people into the teaching field with a focus on positions that are typically hard to fill.
  • Job offers are out there but vary depending on demographic regions.

Teachers are to promote the education and social skills of children in their early years (K-12).  Teachers play a key role in the future of the child.  The tone they set in the classroom, the support they give and the knowledge they impart all shape the child’s future. 

In subjects as mathematics, science, and English among others teachers prepare presentations, assignments, demonstrations, and activities to teach different concepts and to increase critical thinking skills.  Teachers also assess, grade and evaluate students.  This helps a teacher build a curriculum that will fit the needs of their particular students in any given classroom.  Teachers may do this using various teaching methods.

Elementary school teachers play a key role in the development of children early on while middle or high school teachers go more in depth in the subjects presented earlier.  While an elementary teacher will typically stay in a room of students all day and teach various subjects, middle or high school teachers have a specialty. 

Training requirements may vary from state to state.  This can also depend on the type of school.  Whether it is a private school, college, charter school or public school makes a difference in what the requirements for training of the teacher are. A common thread in public schools is that teachers be licensed. 

In 2006 there were 4 million jobs in education (excluding special education) from Kindergarten to high school.  It is fore-casted that between 2006 and 2016 there will be a 12 percent increase for jobs in education. 

In May of 2006 it was reported that the average pay of teachers was between $43,000 and $48,000 per year.  In the lowest 10% of jobs the wages were as low as $28,000 to $33,000 per year.  According to AFT (the American Federation of Teachers) beginning teachers with a bachelor’s degree earned about $31,000 per year in the 2005-2006 school year. 

To add to their salary teachers can do a number of things.  Further certifications can often yield more pay, coaching sports, working in after school and extra curricular activities, or getting a master’s degree.  A teacher can also be paid more by becoming a mentor.

Your Child’s First Report Card

School is starting and naturally there will be those Kindergarten students who have their first day of school. With this can bring joy, exuberance, fun, fear, anxiety, and stress among other emotions. These emotions do not just belong to the children but also the parents. If a child went to preschool the child and parent may be in a better position to know what to expect because there will be similarities. However, if a child did not attend preschool they will be just fine. Your child will be getting their first report card and this should be considered a time for communication and growth, not as a negative thing. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has some ideas on how to help families with the benchmarks of the report cards.

  • Talk – ask your child about their day at school, what they learned, who they played with and what went on in detail. Your student will love telling you about their day typically and if they don’t love talking about it you may want to ask the teacher if something is not okay. While all children are not prone to conversation, most love to talk about themselves, this is just normal behavior. Use it to your advantage, it is part of being involved in the child’s education.
  • Talk more – but this time talk to the teacher. Ask if they are available by phone, email or if they have a class website to keep parents and the class connected. Whatever you do, make this a positive relationship if you possibly can. The parent/teacher relationship should be one of mutual respect with a goal of what is good for the child.
  • Be open with your child. Tell them what you discuss with the teacher. Tell them their strengths and bring up the things they are beginning to master. Be sure to keep positive wording in the conversation so the child feels like they can really conquer the subjects and tasks they are working on in school.
  • Besides staying positive, be sure to give much praise. Make a big deal out of work well done and skills that get mastered. This will build your child’s self esteem and help them throughout their whole lives.

It is important to talk to your child about report card time. Let them know that this is just a generalized report of how things are going overall in the eyes of their teacher. Be sure to let them know that if there are things that need to be worked on that you will be there to assist them and that they CAN master the skills necessary to have a positive report card.

Other things that can make all the difference on how your child views report cards and will also result in better grades or remarks are: stay involved in your child’s education (not just during the school year but all year), get to know the teachers, know the classroom and volunteer as much as you possibly can, read to your child everyday, set the example that education is important and that learning is a lifelong and enjoyable journey, be aware of the school calendar, help with field trips and be sure to know what is going on in the class from day to day, attend all parent teacher conferences and open houses that are held, oversee homework, help the child be prepared each day, look over their work that they are handing in, know what criteria the teacher is basing the grades on, limit video game and television time, and finally establishing routine is key to a child’s development. Kids do well when they know what the expectations are and what the consequences are as well as knowing the family schedule.

When you get involved in your child’s education everybody wins. You will be there first hand to watch your child blossom right before your eyes. There is not greater reward!

Toddlers, Preschoolers and Problem Solving

We have all observed a toddler or preschoolers ingenuity with solving problems. They may use a straw as a spoon, they may use any number of objects as a hammer. They realize that to get to something they want to reach they have to stack boxes and climb or open drawers on a dresser to use it as a ladder. While some of these may cause panic in parents and caregivers they are all great signs that the toddler is learning to solve problems on their own. Naturally caution needs to be observed so that the child’s safety is the priority.

It is crucial for parents and caregivers to realize that at times the best thing they can do when they see their child facing an obstacle is to stand back and let them find the solution. How else can they possibly gain the critical thinking skills necessary to do the task themselves. This critical thinking process is key as the child grows, matures and finally becomes an adult.

Certain toys are great for teaching children cause and effect. For instance a jack in the box. The child knows that if they crank the handle eventually Jack will pop out. Or a peg board with a hammer where the child learns that hammering down the different shaped pegs causes them to have to turn the board over to continue hammering. These are great toys and there are so many like them that teach cause and effect and don’t cost a lot of money.

Puzzles are great for kids for many reasons. This gives a child spatial reasoning as well as critical thinking and problem solving techniques. Just think of the steps a child goes through as they do a wooden puzzle that may have different animals that they have to match and put in the right spot. The child first identifies which picture looks like the puzzle piece they are holding, they then go to put the piece in the appropriate spot (motor skills), when it doesn’t work the child realizes that turning and twisting it will eventually make it fit. This is a great key for learning how to solve problems. It teaches the brain that you just keep working at something but keep trying different ways to solve the problem.

By providing interesting and stimulating (this does not mean high volume or high dollars) toys for your toddler and preschooler you will foster the ability to solve problems. Also, you will find yourself with a much more content toddler and a happier child overall. After all, these skills build self confidence and a child’s work is his play. Early childhood development is important. Remember that you can help your child gain further skills if needed by enrolling them in preschools (if old enough) and play or preschool groups with structured activities are great.

Direct Instruction

Direct Instruction is teacher led and is a very successful way to present information to students. It follows a definite pattern with steps to help students get to the desired outcome. Teachers are able to efficiently feed a lot of information to students and the greatest bonus is that because this teaching method is teacher led it can be tailored to the student’s specific developmental stages.

How it works is broken down into categories:

Introduction: The first issue is to gain the focus or attention of the students. Students are informed as to what they will be learning and what the goal is. If necessary the instructor can give a review of past information if the new information is a building block on the older information.

Development: In this step the teacher demonstrates the goal of the instruction. The instructor needs to be sure that there are clear expectations and that each student understands the goal. This can be done by asking key questions that will let the teacher hone in on any problems or misunderstanding that student’s may have. It is a good idea for teachers to use visual aids, or other methods of reinforcing the concept.

Guided practice: After the development phase is over the teacher can then present tasks and activities for the student’s to accomplish. The teacher needs to closely monitor these activities and make sure that the student’s are focused on the overall goal while completing the tasks. This is where teachers may give extra time and attention to students that appear to not grasp the overall concept or the end goal.

Closure: The instructor gives closure to a lesson or goal by recapping the information that was presented and discussing what was learned throughout the activities and tasks.

Independent Practice: This may be in the form of class time activities or homework. The student is given activities and tasks to reinforce what was learned in the guided practice portion of the lesson. The teacher needs to make sure that they only go to this step after it is clear that the student’s clearly grasp the concept in the guided practice. This is why the teacher needs to be so aware of the individuals in the class.

Evaluation: This may come in the form of review, tests, exams, essay questions or class discussion. The evaluation phase helps a teacher assess the needs of each individual student and to cater to their needs.

Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning is actually a broad spectrum term in regards to many educational approaches between instructors and students. The idea is that pupils are presented with situations where they will depend on and be accountable to each other. This is very much like cooperative learning and can take in things like writing, group discussions, group tasks, and more.

Collaborative learning does not just have to take in the pupils in any setting. It can also include the wonderful world of technology. Students can use computers to bring data, make graphs, and other tools to their learning experience. The wonderful thing about using computers and networking in this way is that we can and do have virtual classrooms. Where material is presented, students discuss via forum or discussion threads and e-mail groups. Ideas are shared and brainstorming happens. The end result is the same as if they were sitting in a room together but sometimes even greater because each student has the ability to bring technology into play. With online encyclopedias, publishing’s, statistics and more, the world is at a student’s fingertips and the information can be shared.

The basic idea behind collaborative learning is that the students know that they “sink or swim together”. For example, in Army boot camps they use this in some field training. They will send a group of soldiers into a situation that seems impossible and they know that they have to communicate, work together and become united to overcome the challenge. These can be great team building experiences. Not only for the K-12 student, but the military personnel or a Fortune 500 company. Basically all groups can benefit from such challenges, including families.

A key finding in studies done on collaborative learning is that not only does this strengthen groups of people and make them come together but it raises critical thinking skills. It has been identified that when a group uses collaborative learning skills they produce better results, are more creative and are more efficient than individuals going about the same task.

More benefits of collaborative learning are:

Builds student’s self esteem
Creates an environment conducive to exploratory learning
Develops high critical thinking skills and thought processes
Fosters good social skills
Helps student’s with self management skills
Students take responsibility for each other, not just themselves
Is great for interpersonal relationships
Student’s learn to not criticize people, but individual ideas and concepts
Promotes problem solving

The benefits of this learning method are endless, the above are just a few key points. No matter what learning environment you are in, there is a good chance that collaborative learning could be a great thing to implement.

Kindergarten History

Depending on your state’s board of education your Kindergarten history curriculum could vary from state to state. The basic concept is teaching children how to connect the child to their world.

The Core Knowledge Curriculum gives lessons to help the child with spacial reasoning. The child is introduced to maps and shows where they live on the map in relation to other people and places. The child is taught the continents and can point to them and name them by the end of the year. The history of Christopher Columbus is taught and when the child grasps where the continents are then they can more readily realize how our continent was “discovered”.

The history curriculum is often put in place with geography lessons. The introduction of Native Americans can be taught. It is easy to overlap these subject and to even include art in the process.

Some Kindergarten history curriculum only wants to focus on the child and not branch out to where the child is in relation to the rest of the world. Because children at this age are so much more aware than we give them credit for it is not recommended to simplify things so much.

Teaching history to Kindergarten children can be delightful. The child can learn that what we have today is not how it always was. This can create a feeling of appreciation for the luxuries that we enjoy today thanks to modern science and the great thinkers we benefit from. It is never too young to teach children these things.

History can also take the form of asking children where their ancestors are from. This may help them feel connected to the rest of the world. They can see that not so many years ago they had family on other continents. This is a fun project for the child and the family.