Tag Archives: Early Learning

Reading: Make it DRAMATIC!

Take advantage of sound possibilities as you read with children. Pump up the drama in your voice to make the words exciting. Children will imitate your example.  As adults, we find that readers who speak dramatically on commercially produced “books on CD” draw us into the story in very compelling ways. At home or in school, our own dramatic reading does the same thing. Research shows that children who read expressively have greater understanding of what they read and are more interested in independent reading. Your expressive reading is a model for children to emulate.

Here are some ideas to help you get started.

With its repeated (and short) refrains, Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb by Al Perkins with illustrations by Eric Gurney, has many possibilities for engagement and bringing words to life for the younger set. Written with a strong beat, the story easily lends itself to rhythmic reading. The repeated refrain     “Dum ditty     Dum ditty     Dum dum dum”   as well as multiple rhyming couplets (thumb-drum; hum-drum) invite participation. As the millions of monkeys gather to play their drums, the reader escalates the tempo as well as the volume to reflect the changing scene.

Hand Hand Fingers Thumb

In the Wild with stunning poetry by David Elliott and gorgeous woodcut and watercolor illustrations by Holly Meade can build interest in poetry as a means of describing the world. We especially like the analogies suggested in the poetry. For example, did you ever think about likenesses between an elephant and a cloud? By reading the poetry with expression and perhaps even a touch of drama, you help to elevate the power of the words and the illustrations. We’ve found that that this book resonates with teachers and students alike.

In the Wild

For older students, the Carl Sandburg poem Jazz Fantasia (http://allpoetry.com/Jazz-Fantasia) offers a great link to reading with a recording of jazz music. Listen to a variety of music to find something that “works” with the feeling of the poem.

Adding Sound Effects is another great way to “up” the interest in reading. For example, as you read a train story, create the sounds of the train. Repeat in an almost whisper voice: “Chug-a, Chug-a”; add a “Whoo-oo” for the train whistle; how about a “Shhh—ooo” for letting off some steam in an old-fashioned train? Putting these sounds together creates a Soundscape that gives us a “sound picture” of a train.  Try creating a story and adding sounds to  Train in Snow,  by Claude Monet, 1875.

Monet, Train in Snow, 1875

Playing instruments to “tell” a nursery rhyme, song, or story is a great way to help children focus on the essence of the rhyme. Click here for a video of Mary and Susan performing a “mystery” nursery rhyme. Can you identify it from the sounds only? Keeping the steady beat of this rhyme allows children to “think” the rhyme as they play the sounds to accompany the words that they are hearing inside of their heads. Talk about brain development!

The Napping House by Audrey Wood with illustrations by Don Wood allows readers to choose sounds to represent the action in the story. When these representative sounds are played together, children are creating a Soundscape, or collage of sounds, that helps to advance the mood of the story. Select instruments to represent the characters in the Napping House: snoring granny (softly play the guiro or other notched instrument); dreaming child (gently “swish” wind chimes); dozing dog (scrape fingers over a drum head); snoozing cat (lightly twirl maracas); slumbering mouse (tap the rim of a tambourine); and that wakeful flea who changes the scene (crashing of finger cymbals.) As characters are introduced in the story, sounds are added until all sounds are playing together. Things get frantic (louder and faster) when the wakeful flea arrives! No instruments? Try using “found sounds” (things in the environment such as paper flapping, crumpling, or tearing) or “vocal sounds” (such as snoring, whistling, heavy breathing.) You’ll be greeted with “Let’s read it again.” Truly music to a parent’s or teacher’s ears!

Imagine going to the movies and hearing no sounds other than the voices on the screen. The result probably wouldn’t draw you into the story. To remedy this, enter the Foley artists (who create and record natural, everyday sound effects in a film), the sound designer (who produces the special audio effects), and sound producers (who put it all together in a professional soundtrack for the movie.) An added bonus: adding sound effects and soundscapes to reading can provide a unique career exploration opportunity!

Whether reading at home or at school, try videoing a reading with your own sound effects and soundscape to heighten the interest. Click here to hear a Soundscape created by teachers at a recent workshop presented by Mary and Susan. This Soundscape brings Van Gogh’s Farmhouse in Provence to life.

Sounds really do bring a story, rhyme, poem, or dramatization to life. Often children’s interest in books and reading is ignited by the opportunity to experiment with sounds to help tell the stories.

We hope that you’ll share some of your favorite dramatic reading materials with us.  Through the ARTS… read on!

Mary and Susan

Let’s Go to the Art Museum!

An art museum can provide an interactive journey into fun and imaginative play rather than an day of drudgery.  Here are five easy ways to make visiting an art museum fun and filled with new ways of looking at art.

  1. Play Eye Spy.   If you can go to the museum ahead of time (or check out the exhibit online), pre-plan your visit by selecting some art with details that will be fun to explore with your child. E11167.jpg      Edward Hicks, Peaceable Kingdom, ca. 1834

With your little ones, you might want to read a little about the museum before visiting.  A delightful children’s book, You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman and Robin Glasser, provides an important tip as well as a glimpse of the inside of one of America’s famous museums.


2. Strike a Pose.  Pretend to become the person you see in the portrait. Imitate his pose in a portrait. Pay attention to details as you re-create the person.

  • Where are his eyes looking?
  • How are his feet placed?
  • What mood is he showing?

E10562.jpgGilbert Stuart, The Skater (Portrait of William Grant), 1782

3.  Step into a landscape.  If you could walk into this landscape, what route would you take?  What would you be doing?

??????????????????????????????John Constable, Wivenhoe Park, Essex, 1816

 4.  Create a story.

Pretend that this painting tells the middle of your story.  What happened before the scene that you see?  What will happen after the scene that you see?  Who are the characters?  What might they say?

A18254.jpg     Claude-Joseph Vernet, The Shipwreck, 1772


5.  Don’t stay too long.   Everybody gets tired feet !   Plan a return visit for another day.

????????????????????????????????????????????????Detail, Horatio Greenough, George Washington, 1840

Make Museum-going a part of your child’s life experience.  Interacting with what is exhibited helps to build attention span, attention to detail, ability to empathize, ability to see life throughout history, and lots more.  We hope that you’ll plan your first or next visit soon.  Remember that Museum exhibits change frequently, so repeat visits yield new opportunities.

Mary and Susan















Discovering Nature on a Summer Walk

photo_1[1]  Photos by Julie Blackwell, Winter Park, FL

Almost every summer there are reports about how important it is to get kids outside for a healthy life. http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/2014/07/06/doctors-ordering-kids-get-outside/fzY3ieaysvNCC9JI7TW9aP/story.html

Unstructured free play time is essential, but a summer walk can turn into an artful experience. We normally ZOOM through our daily life, but taking a little time to notice small details can enhance our awareness of the beauty around us. Have you ever noticed the pattern of cracks in the sidewalk make? Stripes in the road? Have you noticed how many different colors of green there are in the lawn? We often identify trees by their shape; how would you describe the shape of a weeping willow, a palm tree, an oak? What shapes do shadows on buildings make? Think of all the ways you can use your body to become these shapes.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s goal in her flower paintings was to make them so large that even busy New Yorkers would stop and look at them. That meant she really had to notice details like the shape of the petals. How many petals were there? Were there any contrasting colors? She had to notice all these things before she painted. Chances are your digital phone has a camera in it and that your child knows how to use it. Susan walked around the neighborhood and took close up photographs of flowers. Even the drops of water were visible in the photograph, and she had not noticed those when she was “just looking.” Blackwell

Grandparents would love to receive the kind of thank-you card that Julie Blackwell makes. She takes close-up shots of flowers and other interesting things she finds on her walks and then turns them into note cards.  The contrast of the strong vertical line of the railing and the horizontal lines of the steps really grab you. What shapes will you find that captivate you?

Blackwell stairs

Look at trees from a new perspective. We usually see them straight on as we drive by. Think about looking from a bird’s eye or worm’s eye view. Georgia O’Keeffe painted The Lawrence Tree as if she were lying underneath a starry sky looking up at it. http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/okeeffes-the-lawrence-tree.html Robert Berlind paints the crooks of trees and maybe only a few branches. http://robertberlind.net/recentwork.html His point of view is more like what a bird sitting on a branch would see.

Many adults have done bark and leaf rubbings or pressed flowers between waxed paper, but have your children? You can make cool bookmarks by putting pressed flowers or drawings between two sheets of laminating paper. Collect a few things from the yard and make a nature collage.

Leaves and blossom            Plant collage

Take a collecting basket with you and toss in things like rocks, shells, or even simple sticks.  (These were courtesy of an active squirrel that was fun to watch).

mirror image sticks

Jasper Johns explored ideas of mirroring in Corpse and Mirror, 1976 (Museum of Modern Art, New York) and the sticks seemed to be begging to be used in a similar way.   A little thinking is involved here!(http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=70717)

Pause on your nature walk and be super sensitive to your senses. For one minute focus on all the sounds you hear and then write them down. For another minute, become aware of texture, then colors, etc. You’ll be amazed at how powers of observation sharpen awhile you help to make sure that summer days don’t turn into a bored summer daze.

Mary and Susan

P.S.  You might want to have your camera handy.  Photos of what you see on your walk are a great reminder of the whole experience.  Gather your photos in a journal to help your child remember and talk about what you have experienced.

SOUNDS of SUMMER – especially for the younger set

It’s summer! Time to enjoy being outside and taking in the sights and sounds of our world. An early morning walk through the neighborhood provides a great opportunity to expand appreciation of sound. The intermingling songs of the birds are the background music for the walk. Careful listening reveals the variety of unique songs sung by birds. Listen for the back and forth conversations. Does a woodpecker always make a burst of seven sounds? As the rest of the world awakens, other sounds join the chorus. Listen for voices, dogs barking, cats meowing. Find other sounds of nature such as water running and man-made sounds such as passing cars or trucks. Walk near a lake and listen for insects, frogs, fish jumping, and ducking quacking. A busy farmer’s market or even a shopping mall provide completely different sound experiences. The sounds around us are often just a backdrop; a Sound Walk provides a time to zoom in on sounds of our environment.

E-000966-20111017.jpg American 19th century artist, Village by the River, late 19th century, National Gallery, Washington, D.C.     Suggestion: Talk about sounds that might  be heard if you could step into this painting.  Compare these with what you heard on your Sound Walk.

Take time to listen, discuss, and perhaps locate the sources of sounds that you hear. Use your voices to imitate sounds. Extend this exploration of sound by creating simple sound-makers. Place a small handful of dried beans, rice, or pennies into small plastic containers (old-fashioned film canisters are perfect) with tight-fitting (or glued shut) lids to eliminate a chocking hazard. Talk about the sounds. What makes louder sounds? What is causing the sound? How are they different from each other? For younger children, make two of each type of sound-maker so that children can “match” the sounds. This game focuses and develops listening skills. Get out the pots, pans and various strikers, such as a wooden spoon and a metal spoon. How does the choice of a striker affect the sound? How long can you hear the sound after striking the pan lid? Such questions not only promote conversation, they help children attend to what they are hearing.

Hannah imitating cat sounds

Suggestion:  Encourage your child to imitate the sounds made animals, cars, rain, thunder…

If possible, share some traditional instruments with your children. Play instruments to accompany singing or to play a beat for marching. Try having the children shut their eyes while you play a sound on one of the instruments. A child then selects the instrument heard. Connecting sounds to their sources becomes a game. A variation on this is to have the children shut their eyes while you play a sound from different locations in the room. Listeners point to the location from which the sound was made. This engagement with sounds deepens interest in sound sources and sound production.

In many communities, summer is a time for free, outdoor concerts. This is a great opportunity for the whole family. Younger children are free to dance, move or even conduct the ensemble with or without a parent/grandparent’s help. Recently, Mary’s 21 month-old grandson was absolutely spellbound by street performers; he was glued to the scene for 45 minutes. When he got home, he “converted” his toy guitar into a violin in order to continue his new choice in music! Keep the interest building by playing more violin music to build those listening skills. Yes, music helps to increase children’s attention spans and expand their horizons.

Henry Violin July 2014

Early experiences with music and sound build a love of music that can contribute to expanded brain development. Through Boston Children’s Hospital, Nadine Gaab and her team of Harvard University researchers have just released results of a preliminary study of musicians and non-musicians (ages 9-12 and ages18-35) related to their development of “executive skills,” especially cognitive flexibility, working memory and processing speed. Neurological mapping of their brains showed that the musicians won.  Continue reading