11 Nov

The Benefits of Music Education

I am an elementary school teacher and I have seen the benefits of music education first hand. When I worked in California, music education programs were being eliminated and I was appalled. I made sure that my own children were exposed to music education, so that they would not miss out. I then moved to Nevada where it is required that all students participate in music classes. I can not tell you how happy I was to learn this. Music education is incredibly beneficial. If your child doesn’t learn it in school, I would recommend supplementing their education.

piano keys


Research has shown a link between music instruction and higher scores in both reading and math.

It has an impact on memory, language, and listening skills.

Research has shown that it can also improve second language learning. 

Children who grow up exposed to music demonstrate more advanced language development, than children who don’t.

The fingering and gestures involved in playing n instrument  improves hand-eye coordination and nuanced muscle control. This is very helpful for improving skills such as cutting and handwriting.

Spatial-temporal relationships are enhanced; improving math skills.

Problem solving skills are improved.

Kids who study music and the arts are more likely to graduate from high school and are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.

Social & Study Skills

Children learn how to work together by working in pairs or groups.

Having a regular practice schedule teaches diligence and discipline.

The ability to focus is enhanced.

Children gain confidence, improve self-esteem, and learn to conquer stage fright.

07 Nov

How to Raise Children to Love Reading

Girl Reading

I love to read, and I always wanted to teach my children to love reading as well.  It seems strange to me, but my husband hated to read growing up, what a strange concept! How could you hate reading? It occurred to me then that the love of reading does not occur naturally in all children. But, how could I help my own children to love to read as they grow older and start reading for themselves?  Here is a simple method on how to raise children to love reading.I’m currently reading Educating Esmé,written by Esmé Raji Codell. It’s the story of a fifth grade teacher’s turbulent first year’s experience teaching in the classroom. As a teacher, Esmé is everything we hope our children’s teachers will be: she is passionate, creative, and fiercely loyal to her students. The book is written in journal form as she gives a day-by-day chronicle of her experiences.

            Throughout the book, Esmé explains a few of her specific teaching ideas, Many of these ideas  are enlightening and applicable, not only in the classroom, but in a home setting as well. One that stood out for me was her description of a reading program she started partway through the year, where she created 5 unique ‘reading roles’ her students:

I am really liking how we are doing reading now. The kids are arranged in groups, and each child is assigned a role: [1]The “discussion director” makes up questions about the book, [2] the “literary luminary” reads aloud notable parts, [3]the “language lover” defines what she determines to be the hardest words in the section, [4]the “practical predictor” predicts what will happen next, and finally [5]the “process checker” sums it up, keeps track of everyone’s participation, and decides how many pages they must read that night. They keep notebooks documenting their work. (Educating Esmé, Page 118)

What a fascinating idea! Reading can be an intimidating task for young minds. These ‘reading roles’ are essentially breaking down the difficult “layers” of thought that experienced readers are engaged in and can do automatically. By allowing the children to focus on one “layer” of the material at a time, and making it a fun, team activity, Esmé was able to generate excitement and interest in reading, and that—above all else—is the key to a powerful literacy program, in the home and at school

At home, you can use these same ideas to help your own reader understand and love the material.  Here’s how:


– Get each child his or her own simple notebook, and use sticky tabs to label sections for each of the reading roles.

– At the start of each reading session, have each child roll a dice to assign their reading role for the session.

– As you read together, the kids interpret the book’s text according to their role, and take notes in their notebook.

– At the end of each section/chapter/page (as appropriate), have each child present their notes according to their role.

– Award “Stars” to the child for achievements for things like: Filling a page of notes, presenting well, making an especially good point, learning and applying a vocabulary word, etc.  Each time the child gets five Stars in one role, she/he “levels up”. You could have your child choose a small inexpensive prize, or other reward, each time they advance a level or a designated amount of levels 

– Mom and Dad could also have a notebook, draw a role each time, and level up along with the kids!


            Esmé saw that this type of progress tracking created  excitement for reading time, and motivated the children in her classroom to be invested in their work. How much better would it sound to hear your son or daughter  begging for “one more level” of reading rather than begging for more video games? We can accomplish this by making what was once “boring reading time” into a fun game! I hope this simple method on how to raise children to love reading through Reading Roles has helped you!

07 Nov

Childhood Enrichment Activity: Sorts of Sorts

Toddler Sorting Games

Here’s an educational childhood enrichment activity that works for children all ages.  It’s a “sort.”  A sort is simply this:  a child looks through different objects and places them into bins based on different characteristics.  Kids love it, and it keeps their busy hands busy while challenging them.  You may be wondering how sorts help childhood development.  Sorting items help develop decision making skills. Children learn to categorize items by comparing and contrasting them based on the items features.  By starting to develop these critical thinking skills, sorting activities will help lay the foundation for math.  Sounds pretty great, huh!

What is the age range for sorts?   This childhood enrichment game can be done at any age:  you can use different materials for different ages, making it appropriate for your child’s developmental needs.

What do you need?   Sorting containers like:  Tupperware, empty food containers (like oatmeal cans), ice cube trays work well for smaller items, paper bags work great too.   Sorting objects- see below.

How do I start it?  For most ages, just place the materials in front of the child and let them make all of the decisions.  If they are a younger toddler they may need guidance as to how to sort i.e. picking the items up, looking at them, and placing them in a container.  When they are done it is always fun to ask them how they created the groups.

Here are some example sorts by age group:

Sorting Games for Toddlers

Photo Sort- Cut out pictures of things they are starting to recognize.  For my son the categories would be dogs, cars, and fruit!!!   Don’t use too many pictures at first.  Try 6-8 pictures.  Get plastic bins or baskets that have the same pictures on the front bin.  Encourage them, and see what happens.

Plastic Animals- You can find these at the dollar store or in the party section at grocery stores.  Kids this age are just learning about animals and are very excited about them.   Include a wide variety of them in different colors.

Shapes and Colors-  Use pictures or blocks of different shapes in a wide variety of colors.  The child may only recognize the colors first, but after doing this sort a few times, they may start to sort by shape.

Sorting Games for Preschool

Noodles- There is such a wide variety of noodles out there, noodle sorting is great fun and they last a long time.  An ice cube tray might be good to sort in for this activity.

Texture- Find items that have similar textures:  fuzzy, smooth, rough

Letters and/or Numbers-  Use the letter magnets or cutouts of the letters and/or numbers.  This is fun at this age because they are starting to recognize their letters.

Sorting Games for School Age

Marbles, Beads, Photos, Postcards, Noodles (everyone loves the noodles),

 Beans, Words, Books (or just book titles), phonics groups like-  tr, br, ch, th, bl, gl….

 Random household items (band aids, toothbrush, hair clip, cup, magnet etc.).


The most important thing is to have fun with your kids; if you child does not enjoy this activity, he/she will not want to do it again. Remember, practice makes perfect so it may take a few times before your child, especially younger children, get the hang of it. Sorting as an early childhood enrichment activity will help you and your child have fun and  develop skills that will last a lifetime!

07 Nov

Teaching Your Child to Read: The Broken Reading Record

Have you ever had trouble teaching your child to read? How many times a day do you hear one or more of the following:  “ I don’t like to read.”  “There aren’t any books I like.”  “I am bad at reading.”  “I’m not going to reeeeeeeeeeaaaad it.” And every time those grating words send you right on a trip to mommy Shamedom.  Why can’t you get them to read?  If they can’t read well they will have a hard time in school for the rest of their life!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  And it’s all my fault. This is too stressful.  Can it ever get better?

The answer is yes, you can teach your child to read! the solution is not so easy and needs to be an individual approach. What may work for one child will not work for the another.  First, go to their teacher at school and get their advice. Children act differently when they are not with their parents, their teacher may have some new insights.

Here are some questions to ask yourself in the meantime:

When it is time to read at home does my child have a quiet comfy place free from distraction?

Does my child spend too much time engaging in activities that require minimal effort, that are mindless?

Is my child embarrassed to read in front of others?

Do other siblings/ adults tease them about their reading?  Or give them a hard time about it?

Do I or others constantly correct my child when they read out loud?

Now that you’ve thought about those things, not that you haven’t before, you may find the sections below helpful.

Teaching your child to read at Home

Make sure your child reads to you out loud every day.  This can be for as little as ten minutes.  As they read aloud, resist the urge to correct their words; over-correcting creates anxiety.  New readers need the opportunity to practice their sounding out strategies.  Us moms and dads can be pretty quick to just jump in and tell them the word.  If they start to struggle with a word, give them encouragement to keep trying, rather than jumping in right away.  Tell them to “sound it out”,  “stretch it out”, “break it up into chunks”,  and then wait calmly while they do it.  Count to 20 in your head if you need to.  When they get part of the word right, praise them, “ Yes, you got that part, now what is the rest? Let’s put it together.”

If your child really struggles to read out loud this may be a sign that when they usually read in their head they skip words, and just try to gather the meaning of the page by looking at the pictures.  Time to break old habits!  In the beginning you may take turns reading pages.  When it is your turn to read, request that they follow the words you say with your finger.  This helps their eyes get better at one to one matching.  Completely refuse to read aloud?  Try echo reading.  Tell them what an echo is, say a funny word and have them “echo” you.  Then say that is what you are going to do with their book, for fun.  Encourage them to have their eyes watch the words, read the sentence and have them repeat it, on every page!  When you are done, praise that “good little echoer”!  After the 10-15 minutes of reading time with mom or dad, the child can finish reading in their special reading spot.  You can ask a few questions when they finish.  Always be positive.  Phrases like,  “You don’t remember what you just read?”  “I don’t think you were even reading.”  “You won’t get better like that.” ,  can be damaging even though our intentions are to simply help them recognize the importance of practicing reading. Avoid yes or no questions.  Try asking questions like- “What character reminds you of you?”,  “What was the most exciting part?”  “What happened in the end?”.  Most importantly don’t beat yourself up if you have had upsetting reading times in the past.  Start new and notice every tiny change for the better.

Keep these tips in mind the next time you site down to teach your child how to read, and the reading experience will be more positive and more productive!

Stay Tuned for Part 2

07 Nov

How to Teach Critical Thinking Skills to Children

Majoring in Philosophy during my undergraduate studies turned a lot of heads. “What are you going to do with that?” people would ask.  Sure, philosophy doesn’t funnel you into a specific career path as cleanly as do majors like electrical engineering and computer science, but my time studying philosophy helped me develop in uniquely simple and essential ways that have had a great impact on me, and could have a great impact on young minds.  Understanding why philosophy for kids is so important can help you  teach critical thinking skills for children! It takes a lot of practice and development to be able to reason effectively, and this development is best if started young. A question that I think is asked far too rarely is, “Why do I think that?” and that’s pure philosophy.

Much of philosophical inquiry involves forming arguments. I can hear many of you now: “Trust me, my child knows how to argue with me.” But critical thinking skills aren’t simple requests or protests; they’re carefully constructed sets of arguments that support that position.  For example, when I tell my son that its bath time, he often counters with “I don’t want to take a bath.” I respond with, “Well honey, why don’t you want to?” He is only 3 and is not far along in his critical thinking abilities so he usually answers with, “Because I don’t want to”.  It requires the participant to think about the issue, understand the different components and perspectives on it, and question his or her own thinking.  An informed answer would be, “Because I am not dirty, I need more time to finish what I am doing, I choose to be dirty instead of clean.” My goal is to help teach critical thinking skills  while he grows up so that he can respond with an informed answer; not just with bath time, but with every aspect of life.

  Teaching philosophy to children is not my own invention; many schools are beginning to incorporate critical thinking skills for children by promoting philosophical stories, games, and discussions into their curriculum to begin the cultivation of the ability to process and synthesize information, form and synthesize opinions about it, and effectively reason through word and writing. Furthermore, many graduate programs are training teachers to lead philosophical activities in the classroom.

So what can you do to incorporate philosophy into your at-home curriculum? There are many resources online (I’ve linked to a few favorites at the bottom), but here are some  tips to get your little Platos and Aristotles thinking philosophically.


  • Have ethical discussions with your children. Pose a question, hear their answer, then gently challenge their thinking.  For example, ask something like, “If you needed medicine to save your pet’s life, but couldn’t afford it, would it be right to steal it?” After they give their answer, add another dimension to it: “What if the owner of the medicine needed to sell it to pay to save his pet’s life?” or “What if it was your mom who needed the medicine, instead of the pet?” (Be sure to tailor the questions to the emotional maturity of the children so as not to upset them).
  • Philosophy is often concerned with semantics, or the meaning of words. Challenge the child to distinguish between synonyms: beautiful vs. pretty, happy vs. joyful, angry vs. bothered. These distinctions help develop the child’s vocabulary and strengthen expression.
  • Ask philosophical questions about the books you read with your child. Ask the child about possible motivations for characters’ actions. Ask why certain choices were right or wrong. This also strengthens reading skills.


Resources: Maybe change the names of each resource into hyperlinks to the URLs?

  • The P4C Co-Operative (Philosophy for Children/Philosophy in the Curriculum) has a great website. Much of the material is pay-for-access, but the free samples are great as well. Look on the left side under Public Area. Explore the “Sample Resources” for lots of activity ideas, materials, and lesson plans.  (www.p4c.com)
  • The University of Washington Center for Philosophy for Children has a thorough “About” section, as well as lesson plans and an extensive literature list. (http://depts.washington.edu/nwcenter/index.html)
  • Teaching Children Philosophy is an award-winning page focused on teaching philosophy through children’s literature. There are “Book Modules” (guides) available for a wide range of popular children’s literature, categorized by philosophical subject matter. (http://www.teachingchildrenphilosophy.org/wiki/Main_Page)


Submitted by Leona Dines