Playing Piano and the Brain

When I taught piano, I noticed something about my students’ learning.  The first two years were easy and a student got satisfaction quickly from playing recognizable melodies.

Year three, however, separated the long-term gain students from the others.Piano and the Brain Pieces are more difficult at this point and practice time is lengthier than 15 or 20 minutes a day. The student begins to learn more serious piano literature.  Practice sessions involve more technique with exercises to improve the fingers and the ear.

Most parents can tell the difference between their child suffering through learning an instrument they dislike, and one going through growing pains. If  you think it’s growing pains, encourage your child and help them to stick with it.  Here’s why.

A child engages both sides of the brain when they study piano. Both hands and all fingers learn to operate independently. They problem solve, they learn creative interpretation, they develop listening skills, and they learn tenacity.  Research reported in National Geographic calls piano study a “cognitive training program” that later on benefits aging brains.

After the year three difficulties, there’s smoother sailing, and your child learns that effort and stick-to-it-tive-ness pays off.

 

 

Oldest Marathon in the World

Today over thirty thousand runners run the 120th Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest and most prestigious marathon. It’s also the 50th official year that women have been running. If you live in Massachusetts, you might have watched along the route some years for hours as you screamed support, urged runners on, shouted encouragement, and yelled “Keep going! You can do it! You’re almost there!”

The first American winner today was Tatyana McFadden, a racer in the women’s wheelchair division.

I’m listening to our national anthem played now in her honor.

My father began taking me to watch the Boston Marathon when I was very young, so young that he had to squat down to be at my level. We’d stand across from Tasty Treat in Ashland on Route 135, and he’d tell me which runners to watch for.

Attending large sporting events is fun and teaches us lessons.  At the very least, we reflect on our own achievements and reinforce the goals we hope to reach.

How to Discipline Kids: Moving ON, Part III

In the last post, I gave you a good framework to use when addressing back talk with your child.  The last step to take is moving on, bringing her back into the family’s tasks and rhythms.

Of course, neither you nor your daughter may feel like falling into each other’s arms at this point.

That’s okay.  By moving on, you demonstrate a powerful love and respect for her. I know you will do better the next time.  I love you and will stick by you no matter what. I am here to help you even when the going’s tough.

A child’s development is rarely linear.  There are not neat stages through which children pass, with infallible instructions for each. Growth is arduous and messy, trial and error, and many times the path is bumpy and rough.

Be proud of how you are raising your children to be thoughtful, thinkers in our world.

 

How to Discipline Kids: Managing Lip, Part II

Your child is in her room, device free, cooling off during a time out.

Choose a reasonable amount of time to leave her alone. Don’t make it too long. You want to make a point without ruining the whole day.VG.two-women-crossing-the-fields

The biggest lesson you’re about to show her is that in your family, you recognize bad behavior, address it, and then move on.

Because you are the adult, you must teach her how to do this. It is difficult but healthy, from both an educational and a developmental perspective. It demonstrates respect for your child and the consistency shows her that you love her and commit to helping her.

  1. Choose a reasonable amount of time to let her cool off. About twenty minutes is right for most children this age.
  2. Find a quiet corner and ask her to return and talk.
  3. Revisit the issue of lip and what it means to your family. Avoid arguing about what happened. Focus instead on the behavior–giving lip, back talk—and speak calmly.
  • Olivia, do you remember the rule about back talk we have in our family?
  • Why do we have that rule?
  •  You seemed angry about —-. Let her give a short explanation. There’s no need to argue over details.
  •  I know that you can think about a better way to handle your feelings.
  •  What will you do the next time you get angry?

4. End with a hug and move on.

I’ll write more about the importance of moving on in Part III.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Discipline Kids: Giving Lip, Part I

There isn’t a child on earth who hasn’t given lip. Or back talked and made nasty remarks at you, their parent.

Developmentally speaking, children mostly use this language (or the accompanying tone of voice) as part of their separation from you.VanGogh_Bedroom_Arles1 At the time, they have a strong reaction to something, or feel peevish or mean–and punching a pillow isn’t going to make them feel better. They lash out at someone close to them and usually it’s someone they trust.

It’s important to understand as much as possible about your child’s context when she gives lip. However, effective discipline means that you must follow through every single time.

Imagine that your fifth grader daughter talks back when you ask her to help with something:

“No! That’s stupid. You can’t make me! I hate you!” Her nasty sneer gives way to angry belligerence.

What do you say and do? Don’t let it pass. Drop everything and address it calmly whether you’re in public or private.

“That talk and tone is unacceptable in our family. You know that. Leave your [phone or electronic device] on the table here and go to your room.” Let her stomp away and slam her door.

Addressing lip in this concrete way does several things:

  1. You address it immediately and calmly. There are no exceptions.
  2. You take away something of value immediately, like electronic devices. This is better than “no TV for a week,” or ”You’re not going with your friends to…” because you are dealing with it right away, and moving on.
  3. You direct her to a place where she can cool down and so you can calm down. Let her stomp and slam to get some of the anger out.

On Kindergarten Skills for Children

Did you know that today’s kindergartens look like yesterday’s first grades? A kinder garten is supposed to be a “child’s garden,” which means that a kindergarten curriculum centers on child development rather than gulping chunks of academics.  Education policy makers and politicians started pushing this change years ago, with the result that everything is now driven by standardized test scores.

The case is made that children must do more, earlier, and that we must get on with delivering content.Two Children by Van Gogh  In many districts, if your kindergarten child isn’t reading by October, you can expect your child to receive endless assessments until he learns to read.

I call for the return of kindergarten to the social, emotional, behavioral, and developmental needs of children, learned through play. Skills for children to develop should center on the following:

Learn to listen. Wait your turn. Be kind. Do your work. Help others. Share. Take turns. Don’t hurt people. Play well with others. Speak nicely to all.

Children with a solid grounding in these skills will help to make the world a better place, because these skills matter in life.  Can you think of any relationship or career that doesn’t benefit from these strengths?

 

 

 

Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity

When I teach science, I look for opportunities to integrate the arts because the arts are means of expression for everyone. To me, it doesn’t matter if you know much about classical music. It’s more important to use music and help others to enjoy it by making direct connections with other disciplines.

You can do this, too.

For example, The Planets, composed in 1914-1915 by British composer Gustav Holst, is a suite of pieces inspired by his understanding of astronomy and astrology. My favorite piece is “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” because its musical themes are recognizable to many.

After learning about the solar system, I’ve asked children to listen to “Jupiter,” had them evaluate what they hear in the piece, and then determine if it expands or deepens their understanding of the planet. This is quite sophisticated for children of any age, but I’ve been astonished at the insights of even young students.

You can follow the lead by listening to the great Leonard Bernstein speak about The Planets. “Jupiter” begins at about 24:58.

Inspiration and Perspiration

I’m reminded of inventor Thomas Edison’s words:

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.*

For some time, educators have discussed how students need to develop “grit,” that quality of tenacity, stick-to-it-tive-ness, and “perspiration.” VG.StarryNight The term has a particular edge to it that means to encourage students to work through difficulties–say, in following through with a big project, or puzzling out a complex math problem.

Grit is good.  But what about inspiration? I think there’s more to inspiration than one percent.

When you surround your family with music, art, books, travel, being outdoors, and opportunities to play, you help inspire children.  For example, if you watch and listen when children play dress up or Legos, you might hear bits of stories and experiences woven in to their play.  Those bits are inspiration that feed your child’s creative imagination.

Some children become so inspired to continue this kind of play that they stick to it until they feel finished.  That’s grit or perspiration.  And it always begins with inspiration.

 

 

 

Bartlett, J. (1968). Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. 14th Edition. Boston: Little, Brown.

 

Haydn for Happiness

Introduce a little classical music that washes your children with happiness. One piece from Franz Joseph Haydn’s  “Surprise Symphony” (No. 94 in G) may sound familiar to you and your children, which makes listening to it even more fun.

Part of the happiness comes from Haydn’s surprise sounds written in this piece. Some of it is that music from the classical era, which includes Haydn, Mozart, and some Beethoven, is easy listening.  Its symmetrical structure feels comfortable, the harmonies agree with the ear, and the rhythm feels as regular as a pulse.

Symmetrical, harmony, rhythmic–all good elements for happy parents and children.

 

 

Folk Wisdom

Part of enjoying your kids’ childhood is talking and making friends with their parents at school, games, or parties. You’re all in the same stage of parenting, so it’s a fun network to be in. VG.first stepsYour kids belong and are happy, parents connect, and it doesn’t take long to realize there are many shared beliefs and suppositions that most everyone agrees with.

Educational and cultural psychologist Jerome Bruner used the term folk wisdom to define these beliefs. Some folk wisdom is harmless. Other folk wisdom is just plain wrong. Why would we want to raise our children with inaccurate science?

Here are two examples:

If you go outside in cold weather without a jacket, you’ll get sick.

  • Scientists state that people get sick from viruses, not because they didn’t wear a jacket.

If you give kids too much candy, they get hyperactive.

  • No science confirms this. In fact, study after study has disproved this belief.

There are always parents–and even teachers–who claim that for their child / class, they’ve personally witnessed it. That’s all the proof they need to stick to their folk wisdom. But why promulgate something inaccurate?

When we teach our children to look at science, they learn to question, examine, think, and draw conclusions.  Showing a child how to be a critical thinker is some of the best teaching parents can do.