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Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Wink of Approval and A Song for Everything - Visiting My Son's Classroom

Sebastien's first grade class invited the parents to attend a Valentine's Day Activity on Friday.  I was happy to attend.  It gave me an opportunity to see just how stressed a first grade teacher can get when the school district assigns extra projects to be completed prior to the President's Day holiday.  I arrived right before the bell rang.  The children came into the classroom following outdoor recess.  I knew they were probably happy they could go outside since it was a warm, sunny day.  Too many preceding snow days had prevented them from enjoying this opportunity to burn off some pent up energy.  So I watched as each smiling face emerged. 
Many of the children recognized me from previous visits and came up to me, "You're Sebastien's mom, right?"  I answered, "Yes, I am."  The teacher quickly reminded everyone that they still had a lot to do before their Valentine's Day party, and she immediately charged the room with nervous energy.  She explained to the parents who had arrived that the children had to complete a writing assignment before they could do anything else.  The school district had asked them to do an additional written paper - as if she didn't have enough to do already.  She was very curt, to the point, and focused on the task that needed to be done.
Sebastien saw me as he entered the classroom.  He sat in his seat, turned to me with a smirk of a smile, and winked at me.  I have to admit that my heart skipped a beat that he had acknowledged me.  My sweet little boy was not too old to be embarrassed by his mother's presence.  I helped his table finish their projects then started to help the next table.  Finally it was time for the children to enjoy their Valentine's Day treats and pass out Valentine's to each other.  I gave each one a few napkins then started to hand out some cookies while another parent passed out a different treat. 
There's a few ways you can give out cookies.  My way was to sing a song and allow each child to pick the cookie design he or she wanted.  The children smiled and were surprised that I came up with a musical technique for an otherwise mundane task.  Sebastien didn't even seem to mind.  I made up another song to encourage quick clean up when the teacher pushed the kids to finish up so they could go to their "specials" class.  I began to feel sad that the teacher and the children had to feel so rushed that they couldn't even enjoy a simple holiday treat without being stressed. 
When did first grade become this way?  I understand that we want our children to be prepared for academic challenges.  However, if we keep adding stressors to teachers and their classrooms we are going to raise a generation of kids who are not going to appreciate or enjoy education.  I loved going to school and was excited to continue my education by attending college.  I worry that my children are going to be burned out with all the pressures that surround them.  Since there are so many new things that children are expected to accomplish at a young age, I believe we should make the requirements interesting, fun, and memorable.
Musical anchoring techniques are a huge favorite of mine.  It can be used at any age across the curriculum.  Yet I have not found it used on a regular basis in the classroom.  My daughter's fourth grade teacher was successful in applying this method and my daughter still remembers how much fun she had that year.  I offered to assist my son's first grade teacher if she needed someone to make up a few songs to accompany a lesson.  She said she has tried to use music before but just doesn't have enough time to apply it on a regular basis.  I hope she takes me up on my offer. Writing lyrics to go with tunes the kids already know is one of my quirky talents. 
My kids often say, "Mom, does there have to be a song for everything?"  I reply, "Why not?  Especially if it helps you remember a lesson or a concept.
To read more about using music in the classroom:
Reflections Beneath The Poetz Tree: Music Across the ..
Sep 22, 2011 · I recently attended Open House for my children and was impressed by the creative teaching techniques that are employed in the classroom. As one …

The Benefits of Incorporating Music in the Classroom · PDF file
4 classroom, regardless of the grade level. Classroom management is the most difficult skill to master and it is also the area that teachers worry about the most.

Tip:  There are many articles of interest if you type in the key phrase: Music is the Classroom