Is it Magic? Or is it Music?

October 16th, 2014

So do you ever wonder why when you tell a 3 year old to “clean up”, they completely ignore you, but once you start singing that oh so popular “Clean Up Song”, that same 3 year old happily and energetically starts cleaning up? Is it magic or is it music? That’s the question we asked guest blogger Elizabeth Stegemöller, PhD and Board Certified Music Therapist from the ISU Kinesology Department.

Join in on our conversation with Elizabeth below.

..”Well, of course it is the music. Believe it or not being involved with music, be it music listening, instrumental playing, singing, or dancing has many benefits for a child’s physical, mental, emotional, and social development. Children learn to coordinate fine motor movements of the hands when learning an instrument. In fact most instruments require you to do completely opposite actions with each hand. Yeah, you remember how hard it was to get that left hand to do anything productive on the piano. Dancing includes the coordination of larger muscle groups of the whole body. Then there is the mental/cognitive aspects that include reading and pairing symbols with letters and meanings, leaning a whole new language (I mean what does forte really mean, how about adagio), and then somehow translate all of this into a motor command for your fingers or voice. Now, what about the emotional responses to music. Music is a mechanism to appropriately express feelings. I mean give a teenager some headphones and if you dare a drum set, and watch out! Finally, making music together teaches children how to work together to produce a final masterpiece. Really, there is no part of the human brain that isn’t involved with music.”

But what is it specifically about music that holds this power over human behavior? How can music encourage a toddler to clean up or help them learn their ABCs and why does this even matter?

“Interestingly, it starts with the rhythmic and harmonic structure of music and how the brain processes this signal. First, by nature music is a “cleaner” signal. There is less noise in a music signal than in a speech signal. And the brain likes a “clean” signal, especially a developing brain. Second, precise temporal stimulation of neural structures leads to plasticity (making new connections in the brain). Basically, if the brain (neurons) fires together, it wires together. Music is a highly organized rhythmic structure that allows for synchronization of multiple brain areas. Most importantly, music listening increases dopamine in the brain. Guess what, in order to learn anything, you need dopamine! So, stimulating the brain with a clear and synchronized signal along with the increase in dopamine is precisely what is needed for neural plasticity (i.e. learning).”

Now, back to that 3 year old cleaning up. Why did music work?

“Well, singing was a clear signal that was easier for the child to process and make the neural connection and or association that the signal meant to “clean up” regardless if they processed the meaning of the actual words or just the musical tune. But what about the ABC’s? Well, music synchronized neural activity along with increased dopamine and established new connections for alphabet order. Now just imagine how many neural connections are being made by playing an instrument, dancing, and making music as a group! Music is magic – brain magic!”

 

Share with us how you have used music in a way that seemed magical!

Lori Hayungs

miscellaneous

Do I Have to Practice?

October 13th, 2014

pianoThose old upright pianos – you’ve seen them in church basements, gathering dust at the back of stages, sitting unclaimed at auctions. While they’ve been replaced by smaller pianos and keyboards, these music instruments provided the setting for early music lessons for many kids. I remember staying in town after school a couple of times a month to walk to a home for music lessons. Then there was the daily practice in an unheated room pounding away on an old piano donated by a great aunt and uncle. My great aunt was the church organist and maybe she thought I might be her replacement someday. Each year I learned my pieces for the recital and managed not to humiliate myself.

So did I become an accomplished pianist? Nope – quit the lessons in high school. Were the lessons worth the time and money? I like to think so. Did I ever wish I’d continued lessons? Well, many years later as an adult I took lessons again for a year. The funny thing is I found I still wasn’t very good at playing and I still didn’t like to practice.

The point of my story is that I did learn a couple of important life skills. I found out quickly that it took a lot of patience on my part (and the teacher’s) to learn to play an instrument. It did not come easy; it was not always fun; and no matter how much I practiced, I still made mistakes. Learning to play a piano was my introduction to perseverance. The list is long of all my life experiences where it was not easy or fun and I made mistakes. But I kept working and practicing and did my best.

Want to know the rest of my story? In the living room, I have an old player piano that belonged to my grandmother. I taught the 3 daughters how to read music and they all played it to varying degrees. The grandchildren took their turns. And on a quiet afternoon or evening I am sometimes drawn to the keyboard where I play for my own enjoyment. Patience and perseverance and now relaxation – that’s a pretty good return on the investment.

Donna Donald

music

The Beat Goes On

October 2nd, 2014

Attending school concerts, paying for instruments and supervising practice sessions, parents might wonder: Is it worth their time, money and nagging for their children to be involved with music?

Sometimes those beginning piano lessons – and those teenage garage bands – can be difficult to listen to, but music helps children build skills and develop their brains it also helps children improve their concentration, coordination and self-confidence, as they take pride in their achievements.

 

Join us in October as we delve deeper into the skills learned in music and how those skills transfer into other learning. We’ll also talk about what parents can do to share their own love of music.

 

 

podcast , , , ,

That Wasn’t the Smartest Choice

September 26th, 2014

“Why in the world did you do that?” “Didn’t you think about what you were doing?” Ok, I’ve heard these words and I’ve said these words. Sometimes kids make bad choices and sometimes parents and adults don’t make the best decisions.

If we ask kids why they make some of the choices they do, responses might be:

  • It seemed like the thing to do at the time.
  • I just did it. I didn’t think about any consequences.
  • Who takes time to think?
  • I wanted to be cool with my friends.
  • We just wanted to have a little fun.
  • I don’t need my parents telling me what to do all the time.

These aren’t exactly what parents want to hear, but let’s face it. Kids will do unwise (even stupid) things as they grow up. That is one way they learn. It is important for parents to help ensure that kids do indeed learn and don’t repeat bad choices.

So how does this work? Well, one important piece is to let kids be held accountable and bear the consequences. Turned in homework late - lost points on the grade. Didn’t do assigned chores – have to miss favorite TV show to catch up. Broke curfew for football team – sit on the bench for a game.

If a child’s safety isn’t compromised, most of the time parents can allow the consequences to teach the lessons of making decisions. How have you responded when your child makes a bad choice?

Donna Donald

 

decision making, parenting, raising teens , ,

Revisiting January 2013 – Corporal Punishment revisited

September 18th, 2014

In light of all the recent publicity around corporal punishment and children, I thought it might be appropriate to revisit our January 2013 podcast and subsequent blogs.

Click below to read about alternatives to physical punishment of children and how you can guide and discipline them in a more loving way.

Corporal punishment and alternative methods of discipline

or our January 2014 topic Anger and parenting

Look back through some of our other topics while you’re there. We would love to talk again about some of them!

 

Lori Hayungs

conflict, corporal punishment, discipline , , ,

When Do I Start?

September 12th, 2014

Sure we want our kids to be able to make good decisions. But how do we get from point A to point B? The simple answer is – slowly but methodically. The process begins early, as early as when our kids begin to assert themselves.

In the podcast Lori talked about how children between 4 and 10 often find it hard to make decisions. So, here are some ideas to slowly help young children make decisions.

  • Offer a choice only when there is a choice. Don’t say “what do you want for supper?” when you’ve already got the tater tot casserole in the oven.
  • Offer just a few choices. Too many choices are overwhelming and confusing. Ask, “do you want an apple or string cheese for a snack”” rather than “what do you want to wear today?” and then throw open the closet door.
  • Offer safe choices. Young children don’t have the knowledge or experience to always know what is right or wrong, what is safe or unsafe. An example of a safe choice is, “do you want to hold Daddy’s hand or Mommy’s hand while we cross the street?” Asking “do you want to hold my hand to cross the street?” is not a safe choice to give a young child.
  • Offer your support. As a parent you can help your child think things through before she or he makes a decision. Chelsey is at the store with you and wants to send $5.00 she has been saving. But she can’t decide whether to buy a dress for her doll or some sparkly markers. Talk to Chelsey about what she will use the most, how long the items might last, etc. You are teaching her how to think things through and each time the decision will come a bit easier.

What have you done to help a young child begin to make decisions?

Donna Donald

decision making, miscellaneous

I Can’t Decide

September 8th, 2014

kid-thinking280From the preschooler who can’t decide what to eat, to the high school student who can’t decide what to wear, sometimes children have a hard time making decisions.  Children, and adults too, have many decisions to make each day. Sometimes we make wise decisions and sometimes, we make not-so-wise decisions. A child’s age, confidence, experience and knowledge are all factors in his or her ability to make decisions. Decision-making is one of the important life skills that parents can teach their children.

Join us this month as we blog about how to turn a child’s “I can’t decide” into “This is my decision.”

 

decision making, podcast

Cell Phones as Learning Tools or There’s an App for That!

August 29th, 2014

Child and phone at schoolI just read an interesting report titled “Living and Learning with Mobile Devices.” The report from Grunwald Associates LLC focuses on what parents think about mobile devices for early childhood and K-12 learning. Many parents see the potential and value for mobile devices (smartphone, tablets) and apps as learning tools.

Some of the learning benefits are: promote curiosity, foster creativity, teach problem solving, teach reading, teach math, teach science, and teach foreign languages. Early in the “mobile era”, schools often fought the battle of keeping cell phones out of the classroom. Now it appears, teachers are beginning to embrace smartphones as a teaching tool.

Occasionally I think about the evolution of tools and techniques. I learned to type on a manual typewriter and take shorthand. Now I type on a smartphone and use shortened words or initials to communicate a message. Different times – different ways – but still communicating and learning.

The kids are coming home from school with assignments so how about one for you parents? Check with your child’s teachers about use of mobile devices in the classroom. Are they permitted? Are they encouraged? Are they used for learning or communication? If mobile devices are used for learning, what provision is made for students who do not have these devices?

Go ahead and share what’s happening in your school with others reading this blog.

Donna Donald

media and kids, school , ,

I Need Access

August 22nd, 2014

This was an easy one for me. I need access. This little phrase means several things.

Maybe you thought it was the child saying “I need a phone because I need access”. Actually, when I typed the phrase it meant “I need access to your phone.”  Those are the rules. Like Donna talked about, phones need to come with rules. Access is an important one. As the adult, it is our responsibility to monitor what happens with the phone. We need access to it. Social media on smart phones and texting on other phones can be exciting and dangerous at the same time. We need to monitor and have access. It’s not really a negotiable issue. Having a phone is a big responsibility and a privilege. Parental access to it is a must.

What are some negotiable and non-negotiable rules with your kids’ cell phones? Share them with us.

Lori Hayungs

discipline, media and kids , , ,

Put that phone away!

August 15th, 2014

It’s decided; your child has a cell phone. So what happens next? My suggestion is this – time for a family meeting to set ground rules. Sit down together and go over how and when the phone will be used. Will there be some whining? Maybe. Will it make a difference? Yes.

Limits are a good place to start. Depending upon your family phone plan, the minutes may be set or unlimited. And even if you have unlimited minutes, do you want your child on the phone all the time? Talk about what happens when he exceeds the set number of minutes or texts. Who will pay for it? Does she know how to keep track? Are there times and places the phone needs to be turned off? Examples might be: classroom, meals, bedtime, restaurants, worship services, while driving (teens).

Now here’s the kicker – you need to follow the same limits. Kids see how their parents use cell phones and will mimic the behavior.

  • If I want my grandchildren to carry on a conversation during a meal, I have to silence my phone when I ask them to do the same.
  • When I’m driving and my children or grandchildren are with me, I must ignore calls and texts or pull off the road to respond.
  • I can’t send texts or post messages after bedtime if I support a rule of “no after hours” phone use.

Think role model! Teaching your child how to use a cell phone is now as basic as teaching him how to make a bed. Perhaps not too exciting but ground rules will help prevent continuous conflict.

What are some of the rules you have in your family around cell phones?

Donna Donald

 

media and kids, miscellaneous, parenting

I need a phone

August 7th, 2014

Getting ready for school in the fall used to mean buying new clothes, some basic school supplies and maybe a new backpack. Today a new cell phone often is at the top of the back-to-school list, but do kids really need cell phones?  We know that many kids want cell phones, but not all kids need them. A child should be mature enough to understand how to use the phone safely and be responsible for taking care of it. And whether your child is asking for a first phone or wants to upgrade to the newest version, talk about his or her motivation. Why exactly does he or she need this particular phone?”

Join us this month as we work through the pro’s and con’s of cell phones and children.

media and kids, parenting, podcast ,

Making a difference….. Strong Families

July 31st, 2014

Reading Donna’s post last week about the word ‘no’, reminded me of a fabulous program that we have all over the United States (and even internationally)..

Created right here at Iowa State the Strengthening Families Program: For Parents and Youth 10-14 has made a difference in thousands of families in all 50 states and in over 25 countries.

I want to share this quote from the website:

“Parents want to protect their children, but it’s challenging. Youth need skills to help them resist the peer pressure that leads to risky behaviors. Research shows that protective parenting improves family relationships and decreases the level of family conflict, contributing to lower levels of substance use. ”

Sometimes taking the time as a family to participate in programs like SFP 10-14 seems daunting… but if we knew that by participating we could help our teens gain skills that might help them make good decisions when we weren’t around, wouldn’t it be worth it?

Find out more about the Strengthening Families Program: For Parents and Youth 10-14 here .

If you have been able to take part in an SFP 10-14 program we would love to hear from you!

 

Lori Hayungs

miscellaneous, parenting, peer pressure

“No” is Such a Simple Word

July 24th, 2014

Think about it. “No” is a two letter word, one syllable, easy to pronounce. Easy – to use, that’s another matter. Remember last week when you got a call to do something you really didn’t want to do but you did it anyway because you thought you should. You didn’t want the rest of the parents or your friends to think you badly of you. You gave in to peer pressure even though you wanted to say no.

It works the same way for our kids. One or more friends (or maybe just acquaintances) will ask your child to do something she doesn’t want to, but the “no” gets stuck in her throat. A little practice can help children and teens feel more confident in belting out the two letter word or using refusal tactics.

Role play just what to say and how to do it. “No, I don’t want to.” “No, my parents won’t let me.” “No, you go ahead without me.” “No, that’s not me.” Other ideas are things like: start another activity, change the subject, leave the situation, and find new friends.

Let’s go back to that phone call I mentioned earlier and my favorite mantra of parents as role models. Does your child hear you saying “no”? Does he see you giving in and doing things you really don’t want to do? Show by example how to stand up for yourself and not get pressured.

Do you have ideas on how to teach a child to say “no” or even how you’ve learned to say “no” yourself?

Donna Donald

conflict, peer pressure, social-emotional

It Has To Do With Friends

July 18th, 2014

Peer pressure and friends – it’s a combination that can be good or bad. I remember my best friend from those elementary grade years. We played together, sat by each other at school, rode the school bus, and had a great time at sleepovers. If one of us wanted to do something, so did the other. Fortunately we both grew up in families with similar values. Our parents knew eahappy-childrench other and saw that us kids had fun – but within their guidance and supervision.

Parents, get to know your kids’ friends. Make your house the inviting place for everyone to hang out. Then be visible and interact with the kids. Note how your own child responds to others. Is he a leader or is she a follower? Do the kids seems to get along well or are there troublemakers?  Talk to the other kids’ parents whenever you get a chance.

You can gently steer your child to friends you see as positive influences. Arrange play dates or have the whole family over for a BBQ. Enroll your child in clubs or activities with children who you think could be good friends. As children grow, parents have less and less influence over this part of their child’s life. Be cautious about pushing too hard on getting rid of friends you think are a bad influence. Kids will often rebel and do just the opposite of what you want.

That good friend from my early years – well, as we entered high school, our interests changed and so did our friendship. I found new friends and new experiences. Happily these friends never pressured me into doing anything I didn’t want to.

So parents, keep tabs on your kids’ friends. Know what is going on. It’s a key piece of peer pressure.

Donna Donald

friendship, peer pressure

Peer pressure. It’s not a ‘teen’ thing.

July 14th, 2014

A University of Maryland article called “Peer Pressure Starts in Childhood” caught my attention last week.  A study in the May/June 2013 issue of Child Development shared that as soon as children enter elementary school and begin forming friendships their peers begin to influence their decisions.  A couple of quotes that I have been pondering on include:

“… Children begin to figure out the costs and consequences of resisting peer group pressure early. By adolescence, they find it only gets more complicated.”

and

“Children may need help from adults when they face conflicts between loyalty to the group and fairness to outsiders. They may be struggling to ‘do the right thing’ and still stay on good terms with friends in the group, but not know how. ”

As parents it’s important for us not to take early elementary friendships lightly.  Talk with children about the games they are playing at school. Ask who else participates. Find out the conversations that are occurring. Share stories about games and groups that you participated in and the feelings you had during those experiences. You may be surprised at how long your child will talk with you about their own peer group interactions and the insights they are having.

Share with us some insights you may have had after talking with your elementary aged child about their friends.

Lori Hayungs

 

miscellaneous, peer pressure