Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Transitioning to a New School Year

Lynette Russell is an Early Childhood Special Education Instructional Specialist in Prince George’s County Public Schools. This week we interviewed Lynette about ways that parents can help their young children adjust to the new school year.

What can parents do to help their preschool children adjust to the new school year?

A successful start to the new school year always starts from home. One critical tip would be to solidify your child’s sleeping and eating schedule. Over the summer families often get relaxed with children’s bedtimes, mealtimes, and snack times, but now is the time to get back into a regular routine. Be aware of your child’s eating habits. If your child is used to snacking on demand or grazing on food throughout the day, she may have a difficult time adjusting to the more structured meal and snack times at school. And children who are tired and/or hungry will have a hard time focusing in school. Bottom line- make sure that your child gets plenty of sleep and eats a full breakfast every morning.

What if your child has special needs?

Transitions are often a sensitive issue for children with special needs, but there are things that you can do to make the transition to a new school year easier:

  1. Attend any preschool orientations or before school events. Meet all of the adults that your child will be interacting with- not just the teacher. For instance, if your child has any medical concerns it’s a great idea to meet the school nurse. If you can’t make these introductions before school starts, try to find a time during the first month of school to come in for a visit. It’s important for your child to see you interacting with these adults and learn that these adults can be trusted and relied on for support.
  2. When you visit your child’s preschool for the first time, bring a camera (or cell phone) and take photos of the different rooms. Use these photos to make a booklet to review with your child. Show your child- this is where you hang your backpack, this is where you will eat lunch, this is where you will go to the bathroom, etc. Seeing photos of the environment will help familiarize your child with her new routine.
  3. Teach early advocacy.  Help your child identify who at school he can turn to for help. For instance, when you are helping your child put on his shoes, you can say “At home Mommy is helping you with your shoes, but at school you can ask Ms. Thomas to help you.” These kinds of discussions will help your child learn which adults are “safe” (they have earned mom’s and dad’s seal of approval), and will teach your child to ask for help when assistance is needed.

What information about the child should parents share with their child’s teacher?

Start by talking with your child’s teacher about your child’s strengths- what is he able to do, where does he shine? Talk about any areas of concern that you have. Remember, many IEPs are completed in April, and during the summer your child may have acquired new strength skills. Be sure to update the teacher on any new developments. Finally, talk about your goals for the school year. What does a successful school year look like to you (as the parent)?

What questions should parents be asking their children at the end of a school day?

Some good prompts are:

  1. Who did you play with today?
  2. What did you eat?
  3. What book did you read?

Make sure you ask your child’s teacher what a typical school day looks like, so that you can ask your child questions related to her routine. For instance, what did you play with in centers today?

If you child is starting preschool for the first time, what are some behaviors that might be typical of the first few weeks of school?

Anticipate some separation anxiety. Your child may need some extra one-on-one time with you during the first couple weeks of school. Anticipate that your child may come home hungry and tired, and that this combination may lead to more tantrums. To alleviate these issues you might adjust your evening routine to include an after-school snack, some snuggle time, and an earlier bedtime.

What if your child is having a difficult time adjusting?

If your child is still coming home unhappy after two weeks, and you’ve tried all of the above tips, talk to your child’s teacher about your observations. Ask if your child seems to be happy most of the time at school, and ask the teacher to tell you about any times that your child does not appear to be happy. Then together, you can work on coming up with a solution. If separation anxiety is a concern, perhaps your child can bring a favorite family photo or stuffed animal to school. If hunger is a problem, perhaps your child can bring an extra snack.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Back to School Tips for Parents

Starting the new school year is a time of great excitement and change. Help smooth the transition for your preschooler with these back to school tips.

Talk and Read about School

Tell stories about when you went to school and share how you felt about it. Find childhood pictures of yourself and other adults in your child’s life and talk about the photos. Listen to your preschooler and answer any questions she might have. Read books about school with your child – it’s a wonderful way to bond, and the books will often spark a great discussion. Fantastic Fun and Learning has a list of books about the first day of school. Buggy and Buddy has a list of her favorite school books as well.

Familiarize your Child with the New Environment

Even if your child has already attended preschool, he’ll have a new teacher and a new classroom.  Try your best to bring him to any preschool orientations at the school.  If you’re not able to, see if a grandparent or a family friend can take him. Knowing his classroom and teacher ahead of time will ease some of the beginning of the year anxieties.

Establish a Routine

Switching from a summer schedule to a school schedule can be stressful for everyone in the household. Establish a routine of "early to bed" and "school wake-up time" several days before school begins so your child has time to adjust to the new schedule. Set the alarm clock, go through your morning rituals, and get in the car or to the bus stop on time. Routines help children feel comfortable, and establishing a solid school routine will help make the first day of school feel less chaotic.

Prepare for Separation Anxiety
When it's time to go back to school, young children (and parents too!) sometimes experience separation anxiety. These feelings are totally normal. Many of the above tips will help ease back to school anxieties, but you may also consider reading up on separation anxiety and how to ease it.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Role of Music in Early Childhood Classrooms

We recently wrote about the importance of Music in Early Childhood. This week, we interviewed Nancy Nuttle, Director of Music Together Montgomery in Montgomery County, Maryland. Ms. Nuttle has a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education, completed 15 successful years of general music instruction in Montgomery County Public Schools, and has sung professionally. We asked Ms. Nuttle to help us think about how Early Childhood educators can bring music into their classrooms. 

Can you describe the Music Together teaching philosophy?

Nancy Nuttle, Director, Music Together Montgomery
The Music Together® philosophy is based on research that indicates all children are musical, meaning we are all born with some level of music aptitude just as we are all born with the aptitude for language acquisition. Our goal is to empower parents and primary caregivers to support a child's music development as they journey towards basic music competency in a playful, non-performance-oriented environment that is developmentally appropriate for children birth through 5.

Why do you think music is an important part of early childhood education?

Research indicates young children are wired for music-learning.  Music-making is one of the human attributes that reside at the core of what makes us human. For this reason, we believe that the inclusion of music, for music's sake, is a birthright and should be an integral part of early learning.

What are some ways that early childhood general and special educators can bring music to their classrooms/weave music throughout the day?

Singing and music-making can easily be incorporated into a child's daily routine. Beginning and ending the day with ritual songs help children transition through their day. Providing opportunities for children to experiment with singing and instrument-play and exposing children to listening experiences that involve large movement respects a child's need to move and supports the spiral of exposure and experimentation that is so essential to the early childhood learning process.

Any specific activities you would recommend?

Music-learning, as with language-learning, in early childhood is all about adults modeling with children having the freedom to choose to participate. Singing songs without words allows children to have musical experiences without the distraction of language. Providing opportunities for older children to volunteer verse ideas during a song helps children feel invested in music-making and their ideas appreciated. Music-making experiences where adults model playing simple instruments, such as egg shakers, drums, and other child-friendly instruments, allow children to participate at whatever level is developmentally appropriate without performance expectations.

Music Together has developed a curriculum I feel is the gold standard regarding the inclusion of the entire school community, especially parents. 

Any tips for creating music centers in early childhood classrooms?

Most preschools are set up with a block area, kitchen area, art area, and reading area. For children to have opportunities to discover, create, and explore music themselves they need a similar “music area” in their classrooms. A music area should contain equipment and manipulatives that support such explorations: simple age-appropriate instruments like rhythm sticks, egg shakers, small drums, and scarves, along with a recording device so music can be played. Recordings of different genres of music give children lots of "musical vitamins." Classical, jazz, folk music, world music, etc. are all great choices; don’t limit yourself to "kids" recordings! Songbooks that provide a visual representation of music allow children exposure to musical notation and serve as pre-literacy tools. Just as a child might "read" a book before they can actually read the words, they also "read" music, thus beginning the process of connecting notation to sound.

Where can educators find affordable materials?

Our voices and bodies should be the number-one source for music-making for young children. Kitchen utensils, recycled, child-friendly containers are a good source. Homemade instruments are the most affordable, of course! Music Together’s online store also sells a number of child-friendly instruments and materials, all tested and high quality. There are other online resources like West Music, Rhythm Band, Remo Inc. as well. When purchasing instruments for your classroom, investing in quality, kid-friendly instruments is worth it!

Any other resources you would recommend?

The Music Together website contains a wealth of information on music in a school setting. The three-day Music Together teacher training is accredited by many institutions for CEUs (continuing education units) towards teaching certificates in many states. We focus on how children develop musically and what adults need to do to support this natural process.

Any other points you would like to touch on?

Preschool teachers often feel unqualified to "teach" music. Quite simply, the joy of music-making should be modeled by all educational professionals working on a daily basis with young children regardless of the adult's skill level.


Read more about Music Together For Schools 

Read more about the role of music in Early Childhood in this Position Statement  from NAFME

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Importance of Music in Early Childhood

Music is a natural part of life for young children. From dancing to nursery rhymes to turning everyday objects into musical instruments, children love to engage in musical activities. And like all the best learning experiences in early childhood, exposure to music simultaneously promotes development across multiple domains. Read on for an overview of some of the different ways that music can benefit child development.

Social Emotional Development

Connecting with your baby in a musical way comes naturally, even if you can’t carry a tune! When parents all over the world speak to their little ones, they adjust their voices to make them more lyrical, more rhythmic-- in essence, more musical. And babies love listening to the sound of a parent’s voice. Researchers have found that singing-- more than talking-- keeps babies calm and can lead to stronger social bonds with parents, improved health, and even greater language fluency (Corbeil, Trehub, & Peretz, 2015). The experience of being soothed also helps babies learn to soothe themselves, supporting the development of self-regulation. Music also provides opportunities for young children to interact with their peers and caregivers in collaborative ways when each participant is encouraged to add their sound or voice to the mix. It can also encourage turn taking through call-and-response songs or, when children are very young, through caregivers simply repeating the sounds a baby makes with his voice.

Cognitive Development

A sensory environment rich in a variety of tastes, smells, textures, colors, and sounds is beneficial to early brain development. Music is one many forms of sensory input which can promote cognitive development. Almost every piece of music has a pattern or sequence built into its melody or lyrics, and learning to anticipate patterns and place objects or events in sequence helps build critical early math and early reading skills (Parlakian & Lerner, 2010).  Music also introduces children to the sounds and meanings of new words. A recent study found that exposure to music sharpened infants’ brain responses to music and speech in both the auditory cortex and prefrontal cortex, which manages cognitive skills such as controlling attention and detecting patterns (Zhao & Kuhl, 2016). In addition, the rhythm and repetition of songs helps to strengthen memory skills. The link between music and memory is why you can probably still sing along, word for word, to many of your favorite childhood songs!

Motor Development

Music is a physical activity, supporting both fine and gross motor skills. Playing musical instruments or fingerplay songs, such as "Open Shut Them," can help support the development of small muscles in children's’ hands. Dancing to fast and slow music can help children build the muscles in their arms, legs, and trunk. Moving their bodies to music can help children gain body awareness, balance, and coordination.

Tip: Look for opportunities to get your child moving to the beat. Share songs that go along with simple hand motions or dance moves, such as "The Itsy Bitsy Spider," "The Wheels on the Bus," or the "Hokey Pokey." Children will have fun singing and moving!

Cultural Transmission

Music is a unique and powerful way for children to connect to their roots. It transmits culture and is an avenue through which beloved songs, rhymes, and dances can be passed down from one generation to another. Lullabies and folk songs can introduce your baby to your family’s heritage in a way that goes beyond words or pictures. And connecting to their roots is another way to make children feel safer and more secure.

Music has the power to support young children in all of their growing capacities, and best of all, music is a wonderful way to connect with your child.  So enjoy music- playing, singing, or dancing- in any way that feels comfortable to you! And check out the resources below for some great ideas for how you can share music with your child.


Read tips on Playing with Music at Home from NAEYC.

Learn about how to Create Your Own Lullaby with this tutorial from Too Small Too Fail.


Corbeil, M., Trehub, S., & Peretz, I. (2015). Singing delays the onset of infant distress. Infancy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1111/infa.12114.

Parlakian, R., & Lerner, C. (2010). Beyond twinkle, twinkle: Using music with infants and toddlers. Young Children, 65(2), 14-19. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file/201003/ParlakianWeb0310.pdf

Zhao, T.C. & Kuhl, P.K. (2016). Musical intervention enhances infants’ neural processing of temporal structure in music and speech.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Published online before print April 25, 2016, doi:10.1073/pnas.1603984113