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Posted by on in Early Childhood

Teachers, do you know the Mozart Rondo in A minor? Bach’s Cello Suite no. 1? Perhaps you, like many Americans, prefer to stick with what you know when you play music for children. It is certainly understandable. When I started teaching, I mostly played this music in my classroom because my undergraduate degree was in music. I knew “classical” music through and through. I was trained to identify Beethoven in two bars. I still can! So why should you, as a teacher, use music you are less familiar with? After all, the children won’t like it, will they? Not so, of course. Young children love music, and do not discriminate, as adults do, on the basis of genre. Just as they do not on the basis of race or culture. Music penetrates their undefended hearts.

Let me say that I myself had a learning curve once I began teaching young children. Multi-cultural classrooms enticed me into multi-cultural musical genres. Other genres caught my attention on iTunes and I introduced those as well. In my years of teaching preschool, I played all of these musical gems in the background during centers. Placing instruments or scarves near my boom box, children could participate in the artists’ music making. During Vivaldi’s concerto, Summer, the storm sequence (presto), two little boys spontaneously invented a partner dance that reflected the energy of the piece. Jittering their bodies in place, making claws with their hands as they looked at each other, they expressed the feelings of the music as they experienced it. This is called creative movement and meets a national dance standard for pre-k. The way the children danced was play-based because it was spontaneously chosen. They started and stopped at will. So using classical music created an opportunity for play-based learning. 

I have taught college students that there is no end to the possibilities of playing music for young children, and they have proved my point by bringing in anecdotes such as this one, involving behavior management: A teacher was substituting in a classroom of threes. The children were “off the wall”.  I had taught her about how music from the Baroque period, especially, created a more purposeful and balanced atmosphere for children during play due to its steady beat (Baroque composers believed in keeping the beat steady in each movement. The beat is called the tactus). So, at her wit’s end, she put on Vivaldi. The mood in her classroom shifted to one of calm, and the children stayed longer at their chosen activities.

This, of course, is anecdotal information, but there is ample research available to prove the point. For me, no proof is needed. When I played the opening from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana for a class of teachers, and told them children could benefit from this music, they looked at me in horror. “It will scare them!”, they said. So I took it to the voters, my preschoolers, as an experiment. I played the opening of the piece and they, sitting in a circle on the floor, began pounding their heels into the carpet, ecstatic smiles on their faces. I gave them feeling words to choose from to express their response. Only two words resonated: Happy, and excited. Needless to say, they wanted to stand and dance.

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Posted by on in Literacy

Play-Doh

October is one of my favorite months of the year. Halloween with my kids is one of the reasons despite the loads of candy they receive. This is why I love Costco and the small containers of Play-Doh they offer so parents have an alternative to candy and what they offer to trick-or-treaters. There is another reason I love those small containers of Play-Doh....

Reading nonfiction texts may not be the most exciting task for middle school students. Add to this task long periods of silently seated work and repetitive highlighting and annotating, and teachers will find students at all levels of reading fleeing away from reading engagement. Of course, there are times when reading silently is necessary. And, there are times when highlighting and annotations are important. In fact, I have led several workshops on close reading and effective highlighting reading strategies. However, if the process becomes stagnant, readers, especially reluctant readers, will become complacent and reading gains may be limited.

I recently shared a reading strategy that involves tactile movement performed during reading of a nonfiction text. Adding movement activities to lessons does not always entail having students get out of their seats. Some teachers shy away from having students stand and move due to time constraints or interruptions to the flow of a lesson.

For this activity, I chose a nonfiction text that could be easily chunked. Since this text was meant to involve close reading strategies, the text was limited to two pages. The text features included subheadings, which were clearly marked and placed for a natural stopping point for students. I handed out Play-Doh to each participant and gave them specific instructions as to what to do and what not to do with it. Since this was the first time using Play-Doh, class routines had to be set and taught. The amount of emphasis needed for routine instruction depends on the needs of the students .

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Posted by on in Studentcentricity
Children engaged with computersI’ve been waiting for the “revolution” in education, in terms of an understanding that children need to move, pretty much for as long as I’ve focused on early childhood physical activity – which is to say, about 35 years.

When Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, which included the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, became well known and so many educators gravitated toward it, I thought the revolution was upon us. Didn’t happen.

Then came a whole lot of wonderful new brain research with, among other things, significant information about the value of physical activity to learning. Again I thought the revolution was upon us. Didn’t happen.

But once people began hearing about a childhood obesity crisis and all of its horrifying statistics (40% of children ages five to eight showing at least one heart disease risk factor; one in three American children at risk for type 2 diabetes; etc.), surely the revolution would come. How could it not? Well, as you know…it didn’t happen.

In fact, things have only gotten worse! Recess and physical education are going the way of the dodo bird and there’s more and more sitting required in classrooms, as our society places greater and greater value on the “head” – and fails to realize how critical exercising the body is to exercising the brain.

As I’ve beaten my own head against this metaphorical wall for over three decades, I’ve come to realize that part of the problem, when pleading for kids to have more movement, is the mistaken belief that children, just by virtue of being children, move enough. That hit me again when I saw the USA Today piece titled “Preschool kids starved for exercise” and its U.S. News & World Reportcounterpart, “Preschoolers Get Too Little Physical Activity in Child Care.” Both were reporting on a new study, just published in the journal Pediatrics, in which the researchers found that children spent only 33 minutes a day playing outside and logged only about 48 minutes per day overall in active play.

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