Social Benefits of Reading

A recent literature review commissioned by Britain’s Reading Agency sheds new light on some little-reported social benefits of reading.  Most people understand the educational implications of the ability to read fluently, but the benefits go well beyond education. 

The largely unseen benefits of reading include:

  • improvement in overall thinking skills
  • better understanding of the world
  • better understanding of emotions and development of emotional vocabulary
  • increased social conscience and empathy
  • entertainment and relaxation
  • escaping daily problems
  • increased social interaction
  • improvement in imagination
  • improvement in relaxation and mood regulation
  • improvement in communication abilities

And, by the way, these benefits apply to adults as well as to children.  One caveat of this research is that these benefits are developed more readily if the reading is happening for pleasure rather than simply because it is required.  So the question becomes how to get children reading for pleasure.  The research provided three recommendations. 

  • adequate access to books
  • parents taking a proactive role in encouraging reading for pleasure
  • teachers providing guidance and encouragement

Hopefully you are already doing all of these; if not, there is no time like the present to get started!


Did You Hear Me? (Auditory Memory in Young Children)

Auditory memory, the ability to remember things you hear, is a critical component of learning.  Often, it seems like children aren’t paying attention to what we said, or didn’t hear what we said, but it could also be that they can’t remember what we said.  Auditory memory problems are not uncommon and can be an indicator of future learning challenges.

Auditory memory involves taking in information that is presented orally, processing that information, storing the information in the brain, and recalling the information.   Children who struggle with auditory memory often have difficulties in:

  • Following oral directions
  • Reading
  • Spelling
  • Vocabulary
  • Copying text
  • Taking notes

One common, and simple, measure of auditory memory is digit span (how many digits a child can remember).  The standard for young children (up to 6 years of age) is one digit per year of age.  A 2-year-old should be able to remember 2 digits, a 3-year-old should be able to remember 3 digits, etc.

Because these difficulties are so easy to assess informally, and because the skill is so important to learning, an early childhood program is a great place to start overcoming any challenges in this area.  Besides that, activities to improve auditory memory can be a lot of fun!  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Beading Partners—two children (or one adult and one child) sit back-to-back.  Each one needs several stringing beads and a string.  One person strings some beads, then tells their partner what they strung.  The partner has to reproduce the string without looking at it.  When they are done, they compare strings to see if the child matched his partner’s string.
  • Great Calculations—prepare some cards printed with the number of digits you want a child to practice remembering.  Prepare a few cards with one more digit than your target and a few cards with one less digit.  Have one child draw a card from a basket and read the digits slowly to his partner.  The partner will input the digits on a calculator.  The children will compare the card to the calculator to see if the answer is correct.  
  • Group Memory Games—Go around a circle with each person adding to “I’m going on a trip and I need to pack…”  Each person recites each item that was already mentioned and adds one more item to the list.  For example, “I’m going on a trip and I need to pack a toothbrush.”  The next person might say, “I’m going on a trip and I need to pack a toothbrush and my shoes.” 

Enjoy improving a child’s auditory memory…and perhaps your own in the process!


Slow Reading

Generally, when I talk about reading, I’m talking about children and the importance of each child developing strong reading skills, which includes an adequate fluency rate.  So, when I saw a few articles about a relatively new movement called Slow Reading, I had to see what it’s all about.

The Pew Research Center surveyed Americans age 18 and older, and discovered that 1 in 4 have not read even one book in the past year.  We talk about how important it is for children to read 20-30 minutes every day, yet we, perhaps, forget that it’s important for us as well.  But exactly what DO adults gain from a regular reading habit?

  • Enriched vocabulary
  • Slowed memory loss in later years
  • Deepened empathy from reading about people who are unlike you or in circumstances that are different than yours
  • Increased concentration
  • Enhanced comprehension
  • Reduced stress
  • And, if for no other reason…it can bring you pleasure

Since time is often a premium for adults, here are some tips to help encourage you to set aside that time for yourself; kind of like setting aside time to exercise.

  • Go out somewhere to avoid distractions—local coffee shop, library, park, book store, etc. If necessary, set a regular time to meet with a group of friends to read.
  • Turn off your phone.
  • Select a printed book rather than an e-book so you will see it lying around and be reminded that you need to read it.
  • Give yourself at least 30-45 minutes of uninterrupted reading time so that you can really immerse yourself in the book.  Hence, the term, Slow Reading.

So, set aside some regular time for reading.  It’s good for you!


Enterovirus 68

We're used to our children getting sick in the Fall as they head back to school and the weather cools.  But, every once in a while, we are thrown a curve.  That’s what’s happening right now. 

As cold and flu season gets going, we now have Enterovirus 68 thrown into the mix.  You’ve probably seen it on television as it seems to be raging throughout the country right now with infections reported in 45 states.  Enterovirus 68 is a respiratory virus that is very similar to a common cold.  Mild symptoms may include fever, runny nose, sneezing, cough, and body and muscle aches. 

Children are most at-risk of becoming infected with this virus and the age group most commonly infected are children between the ages of 4 and 5.  The biggest problem with Enterovirus 68 is that it can quickly become quite serious, especially for children with asthma.  If you have a child with asthma, make sure that you have an appropriate care plans in place and share that plan with your child's school and child care providers.  Signs of distress in a child, such as difficulty talking, audible wheezing or bluish lip color call for immediate medical intervention. 

Since Enterovirus 68  is a respiratory virus, it is found in secretions such as saliva, nasal mucus, or sputum.  Other than watching for signs of illness in children, the best way to protect your children is to:

  • Wash hands frequently using soap and water.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick (keep your child home when he/she is sick).

With conscientious care, you can help keep your children healthy.  And, if your child becomes ill, you know how to identify when it may be becoming more serious and when to seek medical assistance.



International Mud Day 2014

Mud Day.  I’m not sure many people realize it exists.  But it does and it sounds like fun.  I spent my childhood puddle jumping, tree climbing, and playing in mud.  It seems like a lot of children today do not have that opportunity.  And, I must admit, that as I looked through suggestions for mud day, I was concerned about the dangers associated with some of the ideas.  Some of the mud puddles that I saw looked deep enough to be drowning hazards and, of course, mud is dirty.  But, with appropriate care and supervision, mud activities can be safe and fun.

Here are some possibilities for celebrating International Mud Day on June 29th (and perhaps all week).

  • Make muddy footprints.  Put a large piece of paper on the ground, get mud on the feet of plastic animals and ‘walk’ them across the paper, leaving a trail of footprints.
  • Make mud bricks in ice cube trays or muffin tins.  Bake in a 250 oven for about 15 minutes to dry the bricks (if you don’t want to wait for them to air dry).  Use additional mud or plaster of paris as mortar to build with the bricks.
  • Create mud sculptures.  Add sticks, leaves, rocks, etc.
  • Paint with mud.  Paintbrushes or fingers on canvas, cardboard, wood, or the side of your building or fence.
  • Build a mud puddle for some free play (make sure it’s not too deep and that children are well supervised).  If, like me, your local soil is clay, bring in a few bags of topsoil to make the mud.  If a full-on mud puddle is too much, you can do your mud play in a dishpan.

Have a hose ready for rinse-off, some clean clothes ready for the little adventurers, and enjoy your muddy day!


Summer Learning

Summer break!!  I think I was almost as excited as my sons were once school was finally out for the summer.  No more rushing them out the door every morning, no more struggling to get hours of homework done, and just being able to spend more time doing what we wanted to do instead of what we had to do.

For other parents, summer break is a new kind of struggle in figuring out how to keep their children properly cared for over the summer.  Regardless of what summer break means to you, one thing is a given.  Classroom teachers often spend the first month of each new school year reviewing information learned in the previous school year.  Summer “brain drain” or “summer slide” are real and happen every year.  Children lose, on average, 2 - 2 ½ months of grade equivalency in math reading during those 3 months or so of summer break. 

The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot to stop this drain from happening.  Regardless of whether parents are home with their children for the summer or working full-time throughout, they can set a plan to keep their children learning.

Suggestions for summer learning:

  • If a vacation is in your plan for the summer, see what kind of learning activities you can build into it. Going to Boston…walk the Freedom Trail. Going to San Francisco…check out the Exploratorium.
  • If you can’t get away for a full vacation, how about a day-trip to a local attraction? Check out a local zoo, aquarium, museum, or other fun place.
  • If your child doesn’t already have a library card, this is the time to get one and use it. Many libraries have free summer reading programs. (Make sure you have lots of reading materials available at home.)
  • Heading to a ball game? Find a book about that sport or an athlete that plays it or help your child keep stats during the game.
  • Write notes to family and friends. If you can get away, send a postcard from your destination. If you are staying home, just a note about what fun things you are doing will be enjoyed by the grandparents or a pen pal.
  • Let your child help you in the kitchen. Shopping and cooking provides a ton of learning activities, and can be a lot of fun.
  • Plant a garden…even if it’s just a window box with a couple of plants. Your child can help select what to plant and care for the garden.

Have a great summer finding fun ways to learn!


Beating H1N1 and Norovirus

Yup, it’s that time of year again.  Teachers and students are starting to drop like flies from the flu and, from what I’m hearing from colleagues, from norovirus as well.

While this is never a good time of year for trying to stay healthy, this year seems particularly bad with the H1N1 strain of the flu being a seriously unpleasant version and norovirus being even worse.  Not only do I want to keep the children in my care and my staff healthy, but quite frankly, I don’t want to bring either of these illnesses home to my family either.  That said, how do we keep everyone healthy? It boils down to two main strategies; cleanliness and avoiding infecting others by staying home if you do get sick.

Earlier today, I was reading an interesting article about a potential norovirus outbreak in an elder care facility.  One of the administrators observed that, while staff are diligent about handwashing, the residents are not always able to maintain the same level of attentiveness.  I see that problem as being extremely pertinent to us.  We can have the best  hand hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting, but if we don’t spend just as much time ensuring that the children wash their hands, it could all be for naught.  Not only do we need to make sure that they wash their hands at the appropriate times, we need to make sure that they wash them correctly.  (a friend used to threaten to record me saying “with soap” so that we could just play it back for my sons instead of me saying it over and over)

Good handwashing practices, properly covering coughs and sneezes, and diligent cleaning and sanitizing will go a long way in keeping everyone healthy this year. And, if you have chosen to not use bleach as a disinfectant, make sure that you check the FDA’s list of disinfectants that kill the norovirus.  This is one tough, nasty bug.


Dialogic Reading

We’ve known for a long time that reading to children is critical in their language development. However, we now know that the way in which we read to children is important also. Dialogic reading can be described as a conversation between an adult and a child (or children) about a book. It is a very powerful tool in language development, particularly vocabulary development.

The goal in dialogic reading is for the child to move from being an active listener to a storyteller. As with reading any book, start by having the child look at the cover and tell you what he thinks the book is about. Then read the book normally so that the child can become familiar with the story. In subsequent readings of the book, you can use dialogic reading. (Children enjoy repetition; repeated reading is another great technique to improve language skills.)

The method used in dialogic reading is known by the acronym PEER.

  • Prompt—ask the child a “what” question about the book.What did you see on that page?
  • Evaluate—either reinforce the child’s correct answer or guide the child to the correct answer.Yes, you saw a man on that page.
  • Expand—expand the child’s answer with additional details.(You can provide the details right away or ask the child to provide more details before you expand the answer even more.)That man is a fireman, standing next to his fire truck.
  • Repeat—have the child repeat your phrase or part of your phrase.Can you say “fireman”?

Try to ask a variety of questions instead of just asking “what happened” over and over again.

The acronym CROWD provides suggestions for types of questions to ask.

  • Completion—have the child complete your sentence about the story.The fireman is standing next to his _________.(truck)
  • Recall—ask the child to recall a detail from the story.What did the fireman do when he heard the alarm?
  • Open-ended—ask the child a question without a specific answer.What do you think the fireman is going to do next?
  • WH questions—who, what, where, when, why (and how).Where did the fireman go in his truck?
  • Distancing—ask the child to relate the story to something in his own life.Have you seen a fire truck?Where did you see it?What was it like?

And, of course, after reading and discussing the story, have the child give you an overview of it. This will help you to make sure that the child is comprehending what you are reading. Most importantly, read, read, read (and have fun with it).


Phonological Memory and Early Reading

Phonological memory refers to a person’s ability to retain phonological (sound) information for a short period of time.  Difficulties with phonological memory often signal future struggles with reading and vocabulary acquisition.  Phonological memory skills can be practiced with remembering lists of words, strings of digits, multi-syllable nonsense words, sentence or story details, or multi-step directions.  Helping children improve their phonological memories is one way to help them avoid future reading problems.  And, like most things, these skills can be developed in fun ways.

  • Going to New York—Tell the child, “I’m going to New York and I packed a …”.  Name something you packed.  The child then repeats the phrase, what you packed, then adds what they packed.  (“I’m going to New York and I packed a … and a …”)  Continue the game until the list gets too long to remember.
  • Repetition—Read a book with a repetitive phrase (like “Brown Bear, Brown Bear”) and have the child repeat the repetitive phrase at the appropriate time.
  • Rhythm Clapping—Clap out a rhythm and have the child repeat the rhythm.
  • Calculations—Read a string of digits from a prepared card (2-7 digits, depending upon the child’s ability) to a child.  Have the child repeat the digits to himself over and over while walking across the room to a calculator.  The child presses the buttons on the calculator in the order in which they were read.  Compare the number on the calculator to the prepared card so the child can see if he remembered the digits correctly.
  • Play Mother May I
  • Stringing Beads—Give a child a direction of what 2 colors of beads to put on a string, in order.  Increase the number of beads as the child’s ability increases.

To help children develop their phonological memories, teachers or parents can also teach the children strategies for remembering.  For example, a 7-digit phone number is chunked into 3 digits followed by 4 digits.  Repetition, like in the Calculations game, helps to keep those digits in memory until the task can be completed.  Tapping along with “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” can provide a needed reminder.  Some children will pick up these strategies on their own and some will need to be explicitly taught the strategies.


5 Numbers to Know

The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University has a new, interactive multi-media presentation entitled “Five Numbers to RememberAbout Early Child Development”.

The numbers are:

  • 700 Per Second—In a young child’s brain, new neural connections are formed at the rate of 700 per second.Reciprocal interactions with adults are one of the primary methods through which these neurons develop.
  • 18 Months—By the age of 18 months, disparities in vocabulary, based upon the education level of the child’s parents, begin to appear.By the age of 3 years, children of college-educated parents may have a vocabulary 2-3 times that of children whose parents have not completed high school.
  • 90-100%—Children who are faced with 6-7 risk factors (poverty, parent/caregiver mental illness, maltreatment, etc.) in the first 3 years of life have a 90-100% chance of developmental delays.
  • 3:1 Odds—Similarly, children who are faced with 7-8 risk factors are 3 times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease as adults.
  • 4-9 Dollars—Several longitudinal studies on the impact of high-quality early childhood education programs have demonstrated that every dollar invested yields $4-9 in future returns.

So, what does this research tell us?

  • Early childhood education is extraordinarily important and well worth the investment.
  • A relatively small investment early in a child’s life can prevent lifelong problems. Children in difficult home environments may need more extensive interventions.
  • Quality early childhood education benefits not just the child and parents, but all of society.


International Mud Day Activities

Until recently, I never realized there was an international mud day. But, it sure sounds like fun. I spent my childhood puddle jumping, tree climbing, and playing in mud. It seems like a lot of children today do not have that opportunity.

With appropriate care and supervision, mud activities can be safe and fun. Here are some possibilities for celebrating International Mud Day on June 29th (and perhaps all week).

  • Make mud bricks in ice cube trays or muffin tins.Bake in a 250 oven for about 15 minutes to dry the bricks (if you don’t want to wait for them to air dry).Use additional mud or plaster of paris as mortar to build with the bricks.
  • Create mud sculptures.Add sticks, leaves, rocks, etc.
  • Paint with mud.Paintbrushes or fingers on canvas, cardboard, wood, or the side of your building or fence.
  • Build a mud puddle for some free play (make sure it’s not too deep and that children are well supervised).If, like me, your local soil is clay, bring in a few bags of topsoil to make the mud.If a full-on mud puddle is too much, you can do your mud play in a dishpan.

Have a hose ready for rinse-off, some clean clothes ready for the young adventurers, and enjoy your muddy day!


Stop the Summer Brain Drain

Every year, students experience a phenomenon known as the “brain drain” or “Summer slide”. During summer vacation, the average child loses 2.6 months of grade level equivalency in math and reading. Because children’s brains develop at such a rapid pace, taking 3 months off from learning over the summer can be quite detrimental.

The first thing we can do to stop this brain drain is to teach and show children that learning does not just occur in a classroom. There are things to be learned everywhere if we can just help them to see the opportunities.

Of course most children enjoy a break during the summer, but they don’t need a break from learning. An ideal summer will blend rest and relaxation with fun, hands-on learning.

We have compiled a few ideas of how to keep children having fun and learning throughout the summer.

  • Cook together—cooking provides opportunities for learning about sequencing, cause and effect, fractions, and calculations like how to double a recipe.
  • Keep a lot of reading material around—books, magazines, comic books—and read to and with the children.
  • Check out your library’s summer reading program.
  • Before heading to the beach or a baseball game, pick out a book that discusses the activity.
  • Make a comic strip—it’s really easy to make a template on Excel.
  • Write postcards to friends, family, or pen pals.
  • Go on a tour—there are many free ones around—jellybean or chocolate factories, sporting venues, police and fire departments, etc.
  • Plant a garden.
  • Learn a new art technique or style.

Have a great summer!


Do You Know the Signs of Drowning?

I read an article on FaceBook the other day that still has me shaking my head and sharing it with everyone I possibly can. It’s one of the most surprising and possibly most important things I have ever read. It is from Mario Vittone and is entitled “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning”.

My two sons are pretty well grown now, but, having a pool in my backyard and practically living in it every summer, I always thought I would know what it would look like if one of them or one of their friends was drowning in our pool. After all, how do you miss a child that is gasping and flailing in the water? I always assumed that, when someone drowns, it is because the pool, lake, whatever, was too busy, too loud, too big, etc. for the victim’s thrashing to be seen before it was too late.

Turns out I was wrong. Vittone calls the type of drowning I envisioned to be “Hollywood drowning”. Or, to be more kind, “aquatic distress”; the person is in trouble in the water, but has not yet started the actual process of drowning.  Vittone describes a “Instinctive Drowning Response” as:

  • The victim cannot call for help.As speech is a secondary function of the respiratory system, in distress, the primary function of breathing overwhelms the ability to speak.
  • The victim cannot wave for help.The victim instinctively extends his or her arms horizontally across the surface of the water to push down on it in an attempt to lift his or her mouth out of the water.Again, waving for help would be a secondary function.Similarly, a person who is drowning cannot aid in their own rescue by swimming toward a potential rescuer or reaching for a life ring, etc.
  • The victim will remain upright in the water rather than rolling over and kicking.

In these situations, a potential rescuer usually has from 20-60 seconds to reach the victim before he or she is submerged. 

The Centers for Disease Control list drowning as the second most common cause of death in children under the age of 15 (behind vehicle accidents).  Vittone cautions that, just like many things with a child, if the child is being quiet, that is the time to be worried. Please share this information with anyone you can. If they already know it, great. If they don’t already know it, the info may just save a life.


Allergies Rising

The Centers for Disease Control recently released a report on “Trends in Allergic Conditions Among Children”. This report analyzes data gathered on children in the US from 1997–2011.Their key findings are:

Food and skin allergies increased in children throughout the 14-year period.

  • Food allergies increased 1.7% from 3.4% to 5.1%.
  • Skin allergies increased 5.1% from 7.4% to 12.5%.
  • The incidence of respiratory allergies did not change significantly.However, respiratory allergy, found in 17% of children, is still the most common type of allergy in children.

Skin allergies decreased with age while respiratory allergies increased with age.

  • Food allergies did not change with the age of the children.
  • Skin allergies decreased with age; 14.2% in the youngest children and 10.9% in the older children.
  • Respiratory allergies increased with age; 10.8% in the younger children and 20.8% in the older children.

Implications of race (identified as Hispanic, non-Hispanic black, and non-Hispanic white):

  • Hispanic children had lower rates of food (3.6%), skin (10.1%) and respiratory allergies (13.0%).
  • Black children were 5.4% more likely to have skin allergies than white children (17.4% vs 12.0%).
  • White children were 3.5% more likely to have respiratory allergies than black children (19.1% vs 15.6%).

Implications of family income level (identified as less than 100% of the poverty level, between 100% and 200% of the poverty level, and above 200% of the poverty level):

  • The incidence of skin allergies did not change significantly as family income level changed.
  • The incidence of food and respiratory allergies increased as family income level increased.

Increasing allergy rates equate to increasing risks for children and those who work with them. We must all make sure that we understand children's known allergies, detail how to respond to an allergic emergency with these children, and to handle situations in which a child has their first allergic response while with us.


Jackson KD, Howie LD, Akinbami LJ. Trends in allergic conditions among children: United States, 1997–2011. NCHS data brief, no 121. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2013.

Math Manipulatives—Help or Hindrance?

As early educators, we have been taught the value of concrete, hands-on learning experiences. Children learn best by doing. In math, one of the most frequently used methods of providing concrete, hands-on experience is through manipulatives.  Especially for one-to-one correspondence and addition and subtraction, simple counters are some of the most-used manipulatives. I think, at one time or another, I have used about every kind of counter made—discs, bears in three sizes, cars, etc., etc., etc.

I read an article today about the down side of manipulatives (McNeil and Jarvin, 2007). The authors contend that there are two reasons that use of manipulatives can be harmful in math education. The first reason, which I don’t believe is an issue in Early Childhood Education, is that teachers hold on to a belief that math should be explained to children rather than discovered. The teacher will guide a student step-by-step through the problem, allowing the child practice the procedures, and providing feedback as necessary. The authors quoted one teacher as saying “Sometimes I think that they are just having fun, but I don’t mind because eventually we’ll get to the real math part.” That does not sound like an early educator to me.

However, the authors’ second concern regarding manipulatives was interesting to me. They contend that “poorly chosen” manipulatives can pose problems. They state that it is confusing for children when everyday items are used as manipulatives…you know, like when I used little cars. The authors’ research found that familiar manipulatives, especially those that are very perceptually detailed, can be distracting as the student may spend more time thinking about the objects and their known purposes than about the math concepts being presented (ScienceDaily, 2013). Yet that same perceptual detail can help a student’s understanding of the concept if the manipulative is not a well-known item. McNeil summarized this finding as "…it is easier for children to use objects in mathematical tasks when those objects have maximum 'bling' (they are bright and shiny) and minimum recognizability".

Food for thought when you are planning your next math activity.  (Just be sure that your new manipulatives are appropriate-sized so that they do not present choking hazards.)


“When Theories Don’t Add Up: Disentangling the Manipulatives Debate” by Nicole McNeil and Linda Jarvin in Theory Into Practice, Fall 2007 (Vol. 46, #4, p. 309-316).

University of Notre Dame. "Child's counting comprehension may depend on objects counted, study shows." ScienceDaily, 18 Apr. 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2013.

Cultivating Creativity

I’ve seen various lists on the internet recently about “Ways to Stay Creative”; some with 29 ways, some with 33, etc.

They all have good suggestions, but it seems to me that some of them are a bit of a stretch and some could be changed up just a bit.

  • Write it down.The old saying “If it’s not on paper, it’s vapor” is very true for me.I have the occasional good idea (mostly at night), but if I don’t write it down right away, I’ll never remember it.
  • Bloom where you’re planted.As a former military brat who moved, on average annually, I’ve seen people thrive in less-than-perfect places and people struggle in beautiful places.It’s all about accepting where you are (geographically or otherwise) and making the best of it.
  • Don’t just think outside the box, but realize that there is no box.“The way we’ve always done it” might just not be the best way to keep doing it.But, at the same time, don’t just change for the sake of changing; make sure that the change is well thought out.
  • Try something different—read a book from a different genre than what you normally read, listen to a different type of music, watch a foreign or independent film.
  • Surround yourself with smart, creative people….and listen to them.The best ideas usually come through collaboration.
  • Give yourself permission to make mistakes.It’s hard to be innovative if you are constantly afraid of doing something wrong.Don’t look at mistakes as failures, but as opportunities to learn.
  • And, my favorite one (which probably explains why it was common to each of the lists that I found) is to stop trying to be someone else’s idea of perfect.Don’t be an incomplete copy of someone else, but be the absolute best version of you.

Have fun and let your creative juices flow!


Music Education and Reading

I have spent the past 3 weeks preparing a program for students who do not yet have the foundational skills that they need to be successful in a reading program.  The program that we are about to start will help our students to distinguish between words and syllables and to change sounds within words, such as changing "cat" to "bat".  In this program, children will clap, chant, and play percussion instruments to the rhythm of the words.

Along with this, the reading certificate program that I recently completed had me thinking about prosody in reading; reading with good tone, phrasing, emphasis, etc.  Basically, reading like you are reading in the same way as you would have a conversation. Prosody is sometimes called "the music of the language".

As I thought about these components of early reading education, a clear connection between the skills that children learn in music education and pre-reading and reading skills began to come to light. 

  • In teaching children how to identify syllables, we show them to put their hand under their chin while they say a word and count how many times their chin drops; once per syllable.  In music education, children are taught to be very aware of the movement of specific parts of their bodies; hand position on a drumstick or bow, mouth position on a mouthpiece, etc.
  • Once children can identify syllables, we tap them out in rhythm, to help them see the difference between syllables and words.  In music, students develop a solid sense of rhythm.
  • We teach children how to hear all of the sounds in a word, instead of seeing the word as one, unchangeable piece.  (Children who can't do this often have a hard time with vowel sounds and blends; they simply can't hear those sounds in the middle.)  In music, children are taught to listen for slight differences in sounds.
  • We teach children how to read with good tone, phrasing and emphasis.  As this prosody is known as "the music of the language" this relationship pretty well sums it all up.  This is when it all comes together.

As I think about all of these aspects, I'm thinking (mostly seriously) that all children should have music education.  The benefits are so far-reaching.  At the very least, all children should be provided with high-quality early education that includes a music and movement component.  Just my two cents!


"Green Eggs and Ham" Activities for Multiple Intelligences

Dr. Seuss’s birthday is coming up next week. To honor his birthday (and to celebrate “Read Across America Day” on March 1), I decided to put together a series of activities based on his classic “Green Eggs and Ham”. The activities are designed for multiple intelligences to provide something that will, hopefully, appeal to any student.

So, back to “Green Eggs and Ham”. It’s such a great book. It appeals to everyone from pre-readers to young readers and even old folks like me. It is written with only 50 different words (so that Dr. Seuss could win a bet with his publisher). The language is simple and its rhyming, repetitive format makes it very predictable.

While I have long extolled the virtues of this book, I forgot about the most important aspect of it. It’s just a blast to read out loud. Last week, I sat down and read the book with a student. The rhyme, the rhythm, the repetition; it just flows. We read back and forth, me reading most of it and my student providing the logical rhyming words. It was quite simply, a thoroughly enjoyable experience for both of us.

Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss and, thank you.


Get the "Green Eggs and Ham" activities free by clicking for the Preschool version 

or the School-Age version

“Children's reading and children's thinking are the rock-bottom base upon which this country will rise. Or not rise. In these days of tension and confusion, writers are beginning to realize that books for children have a greater potential for good or evil than any other form of literature on earth.” ―

Dr. Seuss

Vocabulary Development in Young Children

Researchers have found that children from low-income families may start Kindergarten with 10,000 fewer words in their vocabularies than their classmates. Children with low vocabularies have been found to be at-risk of reading difficulties. Because of the large quantity of words children need to have in their vocabularies to be effective communicators, parents and teachers must work together to give children a good head start.

Here are some vocabulary activities that can be done at home or in a group setting:

  • Wide reading—read a wide variety of books to the child.
  • Deep reading— pre-select no more than 2 or 3 words to discuss with the child while reading the story.The words should be meaningful to the child.Try to use the word throughout the day and review in the future.
  • Play “I Spy”—my sons and I used to do this in the car; a great way to pass the time.
  • Name things for the child--not just nouns, don’t forget verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.“Wow, that is a really big tree; it is gigantic.”
  • Describe sensory activities—how does it feel?
  • Child explains pictures he/she draws—help the child with the proper vocabulary; don’t let him or her say “that thing”, name it.
  • Sorting and classifying activities—what characteristic did the child use in sorting the items?
  • Cooking activities—talk about what you are using and doing.
  • Nature walks—talk about what you see.
  • Poetry—provides condensed, concise language
  • Describe emotional vocabulary—how do you feel?
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Don’t use baby language; stretch vocabulary with big words when possible and appropriate; explain the words you use.

Working together, parents and teachers can do a lot in improving children’s vocabularies.


Beating the Flu

So far, this year’s flu season is looking pretty unpleasant. It started 5 weeks earlier than anticipated and, as rough as it is so far, has not yet peaked. News reports are filled with stories of the worst flu season in a decade, including the news that there have been 18 flu-related pediatric deaths so far this season.

So, with such grim reports, how do we protect ourselves and our children? Although I realize vaccinations are controversial, that is the Centers for Disease Control’s first recommendation.  The one bit of good news from this year’s flu season is that the vaccine developed for this season is so far proving to be effective for the strains of flu reported in the vast majority of cases.

The next piece of protection is staying home when you don't feel well. Simply stated, sick people make others sick. Anyone with a fever should remain isolated for 24 hours after the fever breaks without the use of medication. 

The final piece is just following simple health guidelines and ensuring that children do the same. Wash your hands regularly, cover coughs and sneezes, keep your hands away from your mouth, nose, and eyes, promptly dispose of tissues, and keep your desk, etc. clean and sanitary.

These simple steps will go far in keeping you and your children healthy.