Great Ideas for Making Music Outdoors

Music has the power to lift us- body, mind and spirit. This is especially true for young children. Making and moving to music promotes all areas of development:

  • physical– coordination, muscle tone, fine and gross motor skills develop as children play instruments or dance to music
  • cognitive– creating and listening to music includes problem solving, logical thinking, patterning, counting, cause and effect, scientific discoveries, imagination and creativity
  • language– vocabulary, phonemic awareness, and rhyming can all be developed through songs
  • social– cooperation, turn-taking, give and take and the creation of shared experiences are all a part of the music making process
  • emotional– self-expression, personal reflection and the exploration of moods and feelings

When we take music outdoors all of these wonderful qualities are enhanced. Outdoors children (and teachers) have a heightened sense of freedom. Outdoors we feel more comfortable to let go and explore. We can sing loud, we can play loud, we can get silly and experimental.

So consider creating a music corner in your outdoor space. Every-day items can make wonderful instruments.

  • Plastic flower pots or 5 gallon tubs make great drums
  • a variety of old spoons hanging on a coat hanger can be chimes
  • PVC pipes of various lengths can be tapped with an old flip-flop to create all kinds of cool sounds
  • Pea gravel makes a neat sound when poured over an old washboard
  • Put a little water into a metal bowl and tap it with a stick to hear more funky sounds

Let the Children Play is another blog full of all kids of photos and ideas for musical fun outdoors. Check it out! And if you want even more info on how to create fun and inexpensive musical experiences to your children check out our Music with Little Ones binder for Infants and Toddlers, or our Making Music binder for ages 3-8.

Can a Standardized Test Measure Skills in Preschool?

Standardized tests and young children are not a good mix. Head Start tried it for five years (from 2002 until 2007) and the results were not good. According to Samuel Meisels, president of the Chicago-based Erikson Institute, items were timed, had cultural bias and were only given in English and Spanish when 98 other languages were documented as being the home languages of children enrolled in Head Start across the country. All of this was in direct contrast to what we know is important for early learning, namely children’s need to feel safe and supported, to work at their own pace and the importance of the development of the home language. The format and values of standardized test  are not a good fit if our goal is to have a clear picture of what our children are capable of.

But with more and more states looking for ways to trim the budget, early childhood programs are feeling pressure to find a way to measure the progress of very young children. What is the answer? In a recent article in Tulsa World, Meisels points to observational assessments.

“As you work with kids in a sandbox or in other parts of the classroom, you can learn their abilities,” he said. “In observing, you have to learn how to do it – observe without bias, while in action with a child and how to take yourself away from a child for observation.”

To do this well takes some training, support from staff or even parent volunteers so that teachers can be freed up to do these observations. Teachers also need a process for documentation and a program that supports hands-on, experiential activities that allow children to learn, grow and show off all they can do. Young children cannot be successful in a one-size-fits-all evaluation structure, but, as any adult who has looked up when a young child shouts, “Watch me!” all children can show us what they can do through play.

Secrets for Preventing Behavior Issues in Preschool

Managing a classroom of 20+ preschoolers is not easy! If a “good day” is a day when no one gets hurt, and a day without tears seems all but impossible, you are not alone! Here are some ideas that will go a long way in preventing many behavior issues:

  • Take a look at how your room is set up– young children see large open spaces as an invitation to run. Move low shelves or other furniture to create cozy nooks, quiet work spaces and defined play areas like a block play or dramatic play space.
  • Create classroom rules and give daily reminders– A few positively stated rules can be extremely effective in guiding children’s behavior. Rules like “we are kind to our friends”, “we walk in the classroom” and “we are gentle with our materials”, give children specific behavior expectations and create a positive atmosphere. Make a visual poster reminding children of your rules and reinforce the rules daily through songs, conversations or simple reminders.
  • Get to know children as individuals– most behavior issues come from a child’s need to feel important, to feel included/accepted or to feel respected. If you make a point of spending a little one-on-one time with each child and teach and encourage children to practice social skills  and always treat children with respect, you will be creating a community where everyone feels important, included and respected.
  • Plan activities for different learning styles– we all learn in different ways, yet many traditional school activities are designed for children who learn through listening and writing. Activities that include movement, visual support, songs, teamwork, the natural world or personal reflection will give children with these strengths or learning styles a chance to shine.

With these basic guiding principles in place, you should notice big improvements in the behavior of the children in your class. Of course, some behavior issues require more specific interventions, but only about 10-15% of the children in a typical classroom will fall into this category. For these children, you may need to seek out the advice of others, including teacher mentors, consultants or other professionals.

For all kinds of activity ideas that are engaging to different learning styles or “intelligences” visit

5 Ways to Help Children Love Learning

With so much focus on accountability and test scores, much of a child’s time at school is spent focusing on his or her weaknesses. If a kindergartner is having trouble learning letter sounds, teachers make sure extra time is spent practicing letter sounds. Makes sense, right? The trouble is that even very young children begin to see school and learning as an experience that makes them feel frustrated and bad about themselves. So what can teachers and parents do to help build important skills without turning children off to learning? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Make sure your expectations are developmentally appropriate– Remember, all children develop at their own rate. Some preschoolers may be ready to sound out simple words, while others are still working on matching the correct sound to a letter. These developmental differences exist into early elementary school. Know the child you are working with and don’t push a skill that the child isn’t ready for!
  2. Build a positive relationship with each child– children are more willing to take risks and persist with challenging tasks if they feel safe and comfortable with you. Get to know children as individuals and let them know as often as you can that you appreciate them for who they are.
  3. Teach a weakness through a strength– If a child is having a hard time learning letters, but loves to move about, create a hide-and-seek letter game or scavenger hunt. Look for letters already out there in signs when you walk around the neighborhood, school or classroom, or hide letter cards around the room or playground.
  4. Create opportunities for positive experiences– Pair a struggling first grade reader with a preschool or kindergarten child who is learning letters and sounds. Give them a chance to be an expert in an area where they struggle. Encourage a child struggling with number identification help you with counting jobs around the room (Can you help me make sure I have 10 pencils in my pencil box?)
  5. Let children take the lead– if you notice that a child is really interested in dinosaurs (or any other topic), let the child lead the learning. Find out what he might want to learn about these creatures and help him to explore. As you do, encourage him to count the teeth in the T-Rex skeleton or identify the first letter sound in that big dinosaur word. The child can take the lead with the topic and you can insert skill development.

WoWKit Activity Binders can help you to reach and teach every child. Each binder is full of skill building teaching ideas for preschool and kindergarten that enable you to teach children through their strengths and interests and tap into their natural curiosity.

Secrets of a Well Run Early Childhood Classroom

Young children are wonderful, energetic little beings full of enthusiasm and a zest for life. In a well-run classroom, children are like little bees, their energy a quiet buzz. It is a joy to be these classrooms and watch young minds at work- engaged, curious, making discoveries. But in other classrooms, the bees are like hornets! Their energy stirs up the air around them and makes for pure chaos. In these classrooms teachers are stressed, children are wild, toys are breaking and survival instincts kick in. So, how can you make sure you are the teacher listening to the quiet buzz of good energy? Here is what I’ve found in well run classrooms:

  • Furniture is thoughtfully arranged– avoid wide open spaces. Create cozy nooks and protected areas for special activities like block building or looking at books. Use low shelves or lofts to separate different learning areas.
  • Rules are simple and clear– Create just a few, simple and clear rules and then post them (with simple pictures to support the text). An example might be “We are kind to our friends, We take care of our toys, We listen to our teachers.”
  • Expectations are clear– yes, children need to know the rules, but they also need to know what you expect from them in terms of behavior and productivity. Just as important is that they know what to expect from you. Consistency is key!
  • Teachers get to know individuals– With a friendly greeting each morning and some one-on-one time scattered throughout the day or week, effective teachers know the likes, dislikes, fears and interests of each child.
  • Transitions are structured– Through the use of transition activities like songs, rituals or routines, children know what is expected of them and are guided through moments of transition.
  • Teachers encourage reflective thinking– Instead of praising or scolding, teachers encourage children to think about their recent actions or experiences, to notice how their behavior effected others and how they might do things differently next time.
  • Teachers give students jobs and responsibilities– Children feel important when they have a “teacher job” to do. Successful teachers invite children take over simple tasks like setting the table, watering plants, sweeping the floor, setting out papers, etc.
  • Teachers act as role models– Teachers are proactive instead of reactive and always speak calmly and respectfully to children. Remember, children learn by watching what you do, not so much by listening to what you say.
  • Children have choices– In a well run classroom, children are respected, and while rules need to be followed, children are able to choose activities that interest them, and they have the option to not participate if they are not interested or feel emotionally unable to participate. This means optional activities need to be available, even if it’s just looking at a book quietly.

Developing the secrets of effective classroom management is a skill. To some people it comes more naturally than to others, but every one can learn and develop their management skills. If you can trade the chaos for a quiet buzz, and look forward to the enthusiasm of your children every day,  isn’t it worth it?!

Do you have your own management secretes to share? We’d love to hear them!


New Data Supports “Old-Style” Kindergarten

Today, kindergarten looks a lot like any other elementary school classroom. Dramatic play and block building have been replaced by desks and writing assignments. Supporters of this academic focus in kindergarten say that today’s kindergarteners are smarter then previous generations of 5 and 6 year olds. They are ready for these challenges and we need to prepare them to be competitive in first grade.

A recent study put out by the Gisselle Institute at Yale University challenges this idea. Researchers looked at the developmental and cognitive abilities of over 1,200 children ages 3-6 in 56 public and private schools across the country. They found that children have not gotten smarter. A child today follows the same path of learning and development as their parents and grandparents did. Developmental milestones continue to be reached at roughly the same time.

So why do today’s young children seem so smart? It may be a question of training vs. learning. A three year old can be trained to write her name, but it is unlikely that she understands the sounds that the letters make and how these sounds blend together to form words. Marcy Guddemi, executive director of the Gisselle Institute provides this example:

children must be able to see and understand the oblique line in a triangle to recognize some letters in the alphabet. Until children can draw a triangle they cannot perceive angled lines in, say, the letter “K,” nor can they write it, or recognize it when printed in different fonts.

Drawing a triangle is a developmental milestone usually attained by children around age 5 and a half.  Just like you can’t make an infant walk before he is ready, you can’t make a child read, understand numbers or add before she is ready. The result is a frustrated teacher and a child with a lessened sense of self-worth.

What children need is time. Time to manipulate objects to further their understanding of numbers and shapes, time to engage in meaningful conversations that expand their awareness of language. And because every child develops at his or her own pace, they need time to explore concepts at their level of development. Schools need to be well-versed in healthy child development, support children at their unique level and communicate this information to parents.

This study is a wonderful resource for those looking for data to support a more play-based kindergarten curriculum. Learn more about it, and the insights of others in the field, in this article from the Harvard Education Letter.

Staff Collaboration: Every School’s Secret Treasure

In schools across the country there are educators full of wisdom, experience, new ideas and unique personal skills. We all have wonderful ideas and information to share. We all love helping and we’re pretty good at being supportive (that’s a big reason why we chose this field). Yet most teachers are very isolated in their classrooms or only have opportunities to communicate with the other teachers or support staff within the same age-level group.

How well is your school using the resources you have in your own teachers? Many schools encourage mentor relationships between new and experienced teachers, but do teachers have an opportunity to come together as a school and share issues and ideas? Do you have a forum for group brainstorming to solve problems? How comfortable does your staff feel when it comes to sharing their ideas or insights?

Today’s schools and child care centers are facing increasingly difficult  issues. Children with complex cognitive, social, developmental or emotional problems. Families under great stress. Programs under financial stress or struggling with the burdens of unfunded mandates. Staff professional development is important, and can be very helpful, but you may be amazed at how much information is locked away in the minds of your teachers.

Complex issues require collaborative problem solving, and when teachers and administrators come together in a collaborative environment, effective solutions can be only a brainstorm away! Think about implementing weekly or monthly staff meetings. If you already do this, make sure you set aside time at the meetings for open discussions and opportunities for collaboration. A team approach to problem solving encourages everyone to become invested in the solution and can raise the quality of teaching across your school.