How to Find the Right Music Teacher for Your Kid

If your kid is passionate about music, how do you find a music teacher who will bring out the best in them?

Your child is passionate about music, has a great sense of rhythm, and begs to learn an instrument. How do you find a music teacher who will bring out the best in your child?

Parents of musically-inquisitive children rarely know where to start. Many have little direction, and typically seek music instruction locally, through word-of-mouth referral, and where it is affordable and convenient. Some teachers may be accomplished musicians, some may be retired music educators, some may have been teaching privately for years, and some may be just getting started.

However, what works for one child may not work another. Just as some classroom teachers follow a structured curriculum and have difficulty accommodating each child’s unique needs, some music teachers adhere to rigid views of what is acceptable pedagogy. They insist on a strict format of study and don’t know when to hold back or when a talented child needs more encouragement.

Recent articles have highlighted the emotional and cognitive benefits of music instruction and the long-term effects of musical training on the brain, but finding the right teacher for your child can be a challenge. Specific qualities seen among excellent music teachers are outlined here, but what’s also critical is the teacher’s understanding of your child’s developmental, emotional, and motivational needs.

Here is one example of what can go wrong:   

Jake’s parents responded to their five-year-old’s sense of rhythm and interest in piano by seeking lessons at a large, well-known music school. The school had fairly rigid expectations – for example, requesting payment up front for an entire nine months of lessons. Before agreeing to this, Jake’s mom requested a trial lesson first. Jake was assigned to a young teacher, who initially told his mom to wait in the hallway along with a group of other parents. She insisted on attending the lesson, though, so she could assess the teacher’s approach and see how Jake responded.

The teacher asked Jake to play something, since he had some rudimentary understanding of musical notation that he’d acquired from his parents (both had studied music in the past). When he could not follow additional written instructions on the page, the teacher appeared frustrated and asked him the meaning of a particular word. Jake became quiet and said nothing. His mom had to remind the teacher that Jake was only five, and could not read words like that yet.

When asked how future lessons might proceed, Jake’s mom was informed that she would not be permitted to stay in the room despite Jake’s wish to have her present. After they left, Jake told his mom that he did not like the teacher. The entire experience was a disappointment, and they did not return. Jake’s mom kept searching, and eventually found a lovely, experienced private teacher, who was highly attuned to the developmental needs of young children.

Situations like those that occurred with Jake’s family happen frequently. While Jake’s first teacher may have been an accomplished musician, she seemed unfamiliar with how to engage with Jake and what was appropriate for a five-year-old. Many parents without a musical background may be afraid to assert their concerns, and tolerate a stale, uninspired, and often developmentally-inappropriate approach to learning.

What should you consider when searching for a music teacher for your child?

1 | Recognize your child’s temperament and developmental needs

Each child is unique. A six-year-old clearly requires a different approach than a teen, and a good teacher will appreciate this. Wise teachers know how to capture your child’s interest, instill motivation to practice, and help her set reasonable goals. Anything too demanding will result in resistance. Anything too simplistic and rudimentary will be viewed by your child with skepticism. Even a young child can sense when a teacher’s expectations are out of sync with her abilities.

2 | Stay attuned to what is happening during lessons

Music lessons are different from classroom instruction. Don’t let a teacher keep you out of the room. While you must respect the teacher’s authority and should not interfere during the lesson, you also need to know what’s working, what your child is expected to learn, and how he responds. Find out how you can (or should not) help in between lessons to encourage him with motivation and practice. Older children and teens may be more comfortable without you present; however, some contact with your child’s teacher will keep you informed about you child’s progress and aware of areas that need improvement.

3 | Notice signs of resistance in your child

Your child will convey signs of resistance, such as boredom, frustration, and disinterest in her music instruction, just as she might with schoolwork. This can be expressed through lethargy, avoidance, anxiety, and even melt-downs when practice becomes too overwhelming. Be alert to any signs that your child worries excessively about disappointing her teacher, or feels ashamed of a poor performance. Some resistance may be due to normal avoidance of hard work, but it also may signal that she is not getting what she needs from her lessons.

4 | Keep expectations in check

Watching a child’s musical development can fill any parent with pride. How you respond to this, though, can impact your child’s motivation, drive, self-confidence and even his potential to rebel. Excessive boasting about his successes, overt or even subtle pressure to achieve, or dejection if he performs poorly at an audition can have an impact. It may be confusing for him to distinguish his passion and drive from the needs of his family.

It’s just as essential to find a teacher who understands the emotional impact of his or her words, and who refrains from any coercion, pressure, excessive criticism, or shaming. Instruction and critique must be offered in a respectful, upbeat, and encouraging manner, reinforcing that mistakes are a necessary part of learning.

Children who feel excessive pressure to excel or are shamed for their mistakes, even if these messages are not overt, may develop perfectionistic standards or low self-esteem. They may push themselves relentlessly and become increasingly anxious, or may slow their progress, refusing to take on challenging new assignments where they might struggle or fail. Some may give up completely. Older children and teens who are confident in their abilities may be more receptive to a challenging and rigorous approach; however, your child’s temperament is a better predictor of whether this would be beneficial than her age or talent.

Supporting, encouraging, and nurturing a musically talented child can be a challenge. There are few resources and no clear roadmaps for parents. Finding the right teacher takes time and effort. Don’t necessarily settle for the first teacher your meet, or the one your neighbor recommends. Keep searching until you find the right fit.

Trust your instincts – after all, you know your child best! Keep in mind that your child’s needs may change over time as he matures both developmentally and as a musician. Sometimes a new teacher may provide just the right motivational boost to reignite that spark. Most of all, enjoy this wonderful journey with your child!

Winning the Battle, and the War

I never pictured that love would entail holding her body immobile so we could help her by hurting her. It was an act of faith and determination to endure.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!

When Marigold was two months old, Pat Benatar became my own personal manifestation of determination.

It had nothing to do with Pat Benatar herself. I still don’t even know what she looks like, frankly. But in the dead of night, sobbing over my child who could not, would not latch onto my breast properly, body aching, feeling like a catastrophic failure, her words came to me like they were divinely decreed: Love is a battlefield.

A Pat Benatar single from 1983 doesn’t seem like a likely parenthood mantra, I know.

My father, shaped by raising two daughters, told me, “Once you have a child, you’ll wear your heart on the outside for the rest of your life.”

Pat said it in a catchier way, “I’m trapped by your love/And I’m chained to your side.”

If my unarmored heart resided on my exterior, then I was bashing it into everything in hopes that eventually it would hit something soft. I loved that hungry, angry baby. I loved her so much that I felt smothered and trapped, trying to come to the correct decision about how to feed her through the pain and frustration. Giving up on breastfeeding wouldn’t be loving her less, I knew, but I felt chained to her in our battle and I did not want to be the one to lay down arms.

Things started well. She swiftly latched on in the operating room after being pulled from my body and handed over the blue surgical drape. I will always remember the anesthesiologist, posted dutifully at my head, delighting in seeing a baby breastfeeding in the OR for the first time.

Within weeks it had turned into a cascade of problems – her weight chart was a rocky drop-off instead of a climbing mountain, and our medicine cabinet held a veritable apothecary of lotions, salves, and prescriptions aimed at soothing my pain. I missed being able to comfort her. I missed her happiness, snuggled next to me, safe and warm and nourished. I hated that I felt dread when she woke up, bleating her hungry cry. It seemed ever-present.

It often took so long to try to feed her, between nipple shields and latching and re-latching and positioning, that by the time I thought we were done she was hungry again. I’d fumble with plastic and pillows while she cried, pulling her on and off, on and off, seeking a good fit that never seemed to come.The two of us were covered in tears and sweat and ointments and milk. At what point do you break? When does it become too much?

The diagnoses varied: high palate, disorganized suck, shallow latch. Then, finally, on the mandate of my own desperate research and dogged insistence: tongue tie. Not the obvious kind, but tongue tie nonetheless.

I pinned down her arms while the doctor wielded his scissors. Later I hid in the bathroom, hands over my ears like a petulant child, while my husband forced his fingers under her tongue and stretched it three times a day, intentionally interfering with the wound so it would not heal too quickly to make a difference, on doctor’s orders. Marigold is almost four, and Matt is still convinced she’s holding a grudge against him because of it.

Is that love? When I imagined her, as she kicked and rolled in my belly, I never pictured that love would entail holding her body immobile so we could help her by hurting her. It was an act of faith and determination to endure. Love is a battlefield.

Now she eats crackers of undetermined age that she finds in my bag. She loves ham, fruit snacks, string cheese, and popcorn. Our second child combats sleep, not the breast, and so I laid down that particular sword when Marigold finally picked up a good latch, and I’ve never lifted it again.

Still, the words of Pat, Patron Saint of Exhausted Mothers, come to me when I am struggling with motherhood and its pains. Love is a battlefield and that means I will put my heart on the line. I will armor myself with purpose and courage, every day.

Play This Spooktacular Orchestral Soundtrack for Your Kids This Halloween

There’s a wide selection of symphonic music that is beautiful and powerful as well as spooky for Halloween.

Every Halloween, my Dad would play this spooky piece of music while we were busy carving pumpkins. I never knew the name of this piece until I was older and studying music history at university. Turns out, it’s an orchestral piece called “In the Hall of the Mountain King” composed by Edvard Grieg in 1875. It’s dreamy fantasy music that evokes images of marching goblins and trolls and my sisters and I would dance around in our devil costumes with our jack-o-lanterns.
Years later, I inherited my Dad’s LP record collection and I now play Halloween music for my kids as well as other orchestral pieces found in his extensive collection. There’s a wide selection of symphonic music that is beautiful and powerful as well as spooky for Halloween. Make this Halloween extra fun and spooky by including symphonic music selections as well as the popular Halloween standards when trick-or-treaters arrive on your doorstep. Here is a list of orchestral pieces to get you spooked:

1 | “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Paul Dukas

Paul Dukas was a French composer who composed this dazzling orchestral work in 1897. It became popular through its inclusion in the 1940 Walt Disney animated film Fantasia, in which Mickey Mouse plays the role of the apprentice. The music conjures up images of magic spells, wizardry, and dancing brooms. The pizzicato broomstick theme on the clarinets gives the music a marching rhythm. The final bars of the piece finish with a calm and mysterious tempo before the rush to the cadence and the final loud chord. Encourage your kids to draw or paint a picture while they are listening to this imaginative music.

2 | “Danse Macabre, Op. 40” by Camille Saint-Saens

Danse Macabre is a tone poem for orchestra, written in 1874 by the French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns. The composition is based upon a poem about an ancient superstition wherein the Grim Reaper appears at midnight on Halloween night. He calls forth the dead from their graves to dance for him while he plays his fiddle. The skeletons dance until the break of dawn, when they must return to their graves. The piece opens with a harp playing a single note 12 times to signify the clock striking midnight, accompanied by soft chords from the string section. This then leads to the eerie melody played by a solo violin, representing death on his fiddle. The piece is energetic with strong dynamics. The final section, a pianissimo, represents the dawn breaking and the skeletons returning to their graves. The piece makes particular use of the xylophone to imitate the sounds of rattling bones. Lots of fun at a Halloween dance party!

3 | “Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint-Saens

Camille Saint-Saens also wrote a humorous orchestral suite, which is wonderful music to play at Halloween for young children. “Carnival of the Animals” is a suite of 14 movements and each movement represents an animal. For example, there is the “Royal March of the Lion,” “The Kangaroo,” “The Elephant,” and “The Swan.” The most famous movement is “The Aquarium,” which is musically rich with a mysterious and ominous melody. Encourage your trick-or-treaters to wear animal costumes and move and dance to the music, pretending to be the animals.

4 | “Totentanz” by Franz Listz

Liszt loved to flirt with death. The great Romantic was obsessed with all things macabre and diabolical, themes he explored in many of his works. Totentanz (Dance of the Dead) is a symphonic piece composed in 1849 for solo piano and orchestra and it is one of his most thrilling pieces. The piece opens with menacing and sweeping chords and the solo pianist must play repeated notes with diabolic and percussive intensity. There are also special sound effects in the orchestra in the “col legno battuto” section where the strings play with the wooden part of the bow and sound like rattling or clanking bones. Give your kids wooden rhythm sticks to tap to the beat at the “col legno” section.
Symphonic music is an enjoyable and wonderful way to spend time with your family at Halloween or at any time of the year. By taking the time to explore symphonic music, you will be expanding your child’s imagination and inner sense of creativity. Happy Halloween!

Recent Study Says These 3 Things Can Raise Kids' IQ

Many factors affect kid’s IQ, including their genetics and environment. But a 2017 analysis identified a number of things that can help raise it.

Most parents think their kids are pretty smart. We watch with delight as our kids learn to engage us with their curious baby eyes and expressions. We marvel in their ability to learn new skills. Sure, other people’s kids learn these skills, too, but we can’t help thinking our baby is the cleverest and maybe the most beautiful to boot.
By school age, though, the differences in children’s abilities begin to show. We get feedback about our child’s abilities when we are exposed to a larger pool of children. Maybe, like me, your little Einstein didn’t get selected for the special enrichment class for gifted children. Or perhaps your child’s class report comes back with grades in the average range and not above average.
There are many factors that affect children’s IQ, including their genetics and environment. A 2017 analysis identified a number of things that can help raise children’s IQ. The analysis was extensive and only included high quality research trials of typically developing children aged from preschool to pre-adolescence. Thirty-six studies met the stringent criteria for the analysis, of which 18 had significant research outcomes.
Studies included in the analysis targeted five potential methods of increasing children’s IQ. These methods were multivitamin supplements, iron supplements, iodine supplements, learning to play a musical instrument, and training. Executive function training helps develop skills such as memory, impulse control, and flexible thinking.
The analysis determined that only three of the methods targeting IQ actually raised children’s IQ. These were:

Multivitamin supplements

The analysis found that multivitamins can help improve IQ, but only when given to children who are vitamin deficient. There were no benefits for children who showed no signs of deficiency.

Iodine supplements

Iodine was also successful in helping raise IQ, but only when given to children deficient in iodine. Again, there was no benefit to children with adequate levels of iodine.

Learning to play a musical instrument

Learning to play musical instruments has been repeatedly shown to develop executive function skills (memory, impulse control, and flexible thinking). The analysis found that learning to play a musical instrument raised children’s IQ.
Iron supplements and executive functioning did not show consistent and reliable results in the analysis. This means they cannot currently be considered to help raise IQ.

What does this mean for parents?

If you are concerned about your child’s IQ or you notice inconsistencies in your child’s academic performance, it’s important to remember that IQ continues to develop over time and can fluctuate due to a variety of factors.
In an interview with the BBC Professor Joan Freeman, a developmental psychologist who specializes in gifted children, said, “Given different environments and opportunities, IQ can develop and grow. Something as simple as a bad cold can make IQ go down temporarily.”
Also, IQ is not the only factor in success or personal earnings. The tests only measure a person’s cognitive ability, and being successful is about much more, says Freeman:
“IQ tests don’t measure other qualities, such as personality, talent, persistence, and application. You might not have a high IQ, but if you have a gung-ho personality, then you may use what you have more effectively than someone with a high IQ…. I regard IQ like a muscle. You may be born with the muscles of an Olympiad, but if you don’t use them, they will diminish.”
If you would like to help your child increase their IQ through supplements, examine your child’s diet as a first option. It can be hard to get children to eat a wide variety of food. If you decide to check you child’s iodine and vitamin levels, consider whether the stress of those tests is worth it.
Iodine can be measured with a urine test, but vitamin levels often require a blood test. Many children find blood tests distressing and even traumatizing. As a parent and a mental health professional, I would prefer to give my child a multivitamin tablet and see if it helps rather than have them undergo a blood test. Always discuss the pros and cons with your doctor.
Learning a musical instrument is a natural option for many families who enjoy music. If music has not been a part of your life, you may not know where to start. There are many ways to immerse your child in music. Schools offer music programs with instrumental lessons. Consider enrolling your child in a school that has a robust music program or, if you can afford it, private lessons.
Children under the age of five can have difficulty learning an instrument due to a range of factors, including their size and developmental capacity for regular practice. Consider instead exposing them through playing different types of music in the home, experimenting playfully with musical instruments, or attending an early learning music group with other young children as an entry point.
Your child has many qualities of which their IQ is only one part. Remember that IQ alone will not determine how successful your child is. Qualities such as persistence, parental support, encouragement, and age-appropriate opportunities will also raise IQ and support future success.
These things also happen to lie at the heart of good parenting.

How to Keep Kids Calm During Shots (and a Bonus Reason For Doing so)

How do we possibly overcome what seems like an impossible task to keep our kids happy and calm before they get pricked? Here are some ideas.

It’s that time of year again when I have to keep a huge secret from my kids. Last time I took them they started crying, screaming, and demanding that we go home. No, I’m not talking about going to a haunted mansion for Halloween. I am referring to the dreaded flu shot at the pediatrician’s office.

Children are certainly not in a good mood when they know they have to get a flu shot. This could be more of problem than we ever realized. A new study at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom found a link between our mood when we get a flu shot and the effectiveness of the vaccine.

For years, researchers have been studying a range of factors that can affect our immune response to vaccines, such as sleep, stress, physical activity, and nutrition. This new research specifically looked at patients’ psychological well-being. The study began two weeks before the vaccine was administered when individuals took a blood test to check antibody levels. They were also asked to fill out diaries detailing food and drink intake, physical activity, stress levels, sleep, and mood patterns. For four weeks after the shot, they continued to record in their diary and had additional blood tests on weeks four and 16. Finally, the research team assessed the data and found that positive mood was the only factor that predicted higher flu antibody levels in the blood samples. In fact, the influence of the positive mood was especially strong on the day the participants received the shot.

Given this vital discovery, how do we possibly overcome what seems like an impossible task to keep our kids happy and calm before they get pricked? Here are some ideas.

Mindful breathing

Mindful breathing has been scientifically proven to minimize stress and anxiety. It’s times like these when we need to rely on the breath to get us through the stress. Try an easy tactic with your kids called Heart Hands in which you create a heart shape with your hands. Ask your child to breathe in as you expand your hands to a heart shape. As she breathes out, collapse your hands into two fists side by side. If you don’t have a free hand, then ask her to take a deep breath in and to pretend she is blowing out a candle or blowing bubbles. Repeat this exercise several times.

Music

Music is a magical mood shifter. It helps take our attention from fear to something more pleasing. Sing a song or play one on your phone as your child is about to have the shot. Consider putting together a special playlist for your kids to listen to when they’re stressed so you have it on hand in case they need it. Although slow, quiet classical music is known to have calming effects, it’s really a personal choice to discover which music your children find most soothing. Upbeat party music may actually be a more effective distraction than slow orchestral music.

Soothing imagery

Another option is to bring along some beautiful pictures of nature to look at. Research shows that viewing pictures of nature scenes can reduce stress because our parasympathetic nervous system (which helps us to calm down) is activated. To calm your child down, read a book with calming nature pictures or pull up some photos on your phone or iPad. Keep your children’s focus by asking questions about what they see even while the shot is being administered.

Laughter

Your child will think you’re crazy that you are telling jokes while he’s facing a traumatic event like getting a shot, but don’t let that stop you. The best way to help him is to try to get him to forget where he is – laughing can certainly help with that.

According to the Mayo Clinic, laughing improves our body and mind and is one of the simplest tools we have for reducing stress and anxiety. You can bring a joke book, tell a silly story, or make silly faces in the doctor’s office.

Texture game

Finally, children can find some comfort using their sense of touch. Sometimes doctor’s offices will provide a stress ball for your child to hold. You can also bring along a cozy stuffed animal or a soft toy like a rabbit’s foot. Another trick is to have her feel different textures one after another using a touch-and-feel book or cards.

Karaoke Therapy is the Family Bonding You've Been Missing

Besides improving our mood, singing karaoke offers many physical, emotional, social, and educational benefits.

A few weeks ago on a Friday night, I was feeling grumpy and unmotivated. The kids were bored and I didn’t have the energy to deal with it. I was about to head upstairs to my bedroom and hide from my family, but then something shockingly spectacular happened. My husband turned on our karaoke machine and our house became a happening spot. All of our moods transformed almost immediately as we sang one upbeat song after another. We became obsessed with trying to come up with the next best song to pull up on our karaoke machine. I think two hours flew by before our voices started getting scratchy and we went to bed.

Singing has always been one of my favorite go-to stress busters. When I’m alone in the car, I love to blast the radio and sing along to my favorite tunes. My children love music and singing as well. They are always walking around the house belting out a song they heard in movies like “Trolls” or “Sing,” and sometimes they even make up their own songs. We’ve also caught my son singing in the shower on several occasions.

We happen to be somewhat of a musical family: I sang in the school choir growing up and now my kids and I take piano lessons. However, the beauty of karaoke is that you can be a total amateur and have a terrible voice, but you can still reap the numerous benefits that singing provides.

As pointed out in a previous Parent.Co article, scientific research has found that the act of singing (as opposed to just listening to music) can naturally boost our mood because we release endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals in our body. Besides improving our mood, singing karaoke offers many physical, emotional, social, and educational benefits.

Physical

  • Breath better: Singing helps slow our heart rate and improve our breathing pattern. In addition, when we sing karaoke, we are usually standing up and using our whole body to get into the song. This forces us to breath more efficiently and easily because the muscles from our diaphragm and lungs become fully expanded and our abdominal muscles more relaxed. Finally, our lungs get a workout when we use proper singing techniques and vocal projections.
  • Strengthen immune system: A study at the University of Frankfurt found that singing can improve our immune system. Professional choir members had their blood analyzed before and after an hour-long rehearsal. The results showed that the amount of proteins in the immune system that function as antibodies, known as Immunoglobulin A, were much higher right after the rehearsal in most cases.
  • Improve posture: To be a successful singer, we need to stand up straight with our shoulders and back properly aligned. Therefore, karaoke is a fantastic way to show our children how to develop good posture.

Emotional

  • Express feelings and emotions: When we belt out a song that has meaning to us or inspires us, we trigger an emotional response within ourselves. Singing, therefore, helps us express our feelings and emotions in a creative way. Karaoke also gives us the opportunity to express a specific song and its meaning using our own style and personality. When we do that, we communicate in an emotional way to ourselves and our audience.
  • Increase happiness: When we sing a happy, upbeat tune, our overall mood improves because it is enjoyable and distracts us from our daily commitments and worries. In addition to releasing endorphins, we have a tiny organ in our ear called the sacculus that creates a sense of pleasure when we sing.
  • Reduce stress and anxiety: Karaoke does wonders for reducing stress and anxiety, so much so that it has been used as a type of therapy to help people get over their fears or phobias. One study out of Japan analyzed over 19,000 men ages 40 to 69 and discovered that karaoke reduced their stress levels and lowered their risk of stroke and heart disease. First of all, singing releases muscle tension and decreases the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in our body. Singing also provides a sense of relaxation to let us enjoy the present moment to the fullest.

Social

  • Build confidence: Singing in front of a crowd takes a ton of confidence, so karaoke gives your kids that special experience that will help them grow and develop. At first, they may feel shy and awkward, but with some practice, karaoke will help build their self-esteem. Public speaking is considered most people’s top fear, so your children will have a leg up by practicing with karaoke. This hobby is sure to help your kids overcome their fears and challenges – lessons that they can take with them throughout their lives.
  • Practice team work: When we do karaoke with others, we have to work together to coordinate that we are singing either in unison or at the appropriate alternating times. This creates a type of teamwork approach. Our kids can learn how to encourage their singing mates so that everyone is successful and has a good time.
  • Bond with family: Karaoke is an amazing way to bring your family together to do something creative, meaningful, and fun. You will enjoy introducing your kids to the “oldies” that you grew up with. What a wonderful way to create some lasting memories for your family!

Educational

  • Stimulate the brain: Singing can be complex. It requires a lot of brain power to follow along with the rhythm, melody, and lyrics. This challenge causes activity in the neurons of our brain that bring together emotional, physical, and psychological changes.
  • Improve reading. Karaoke is no simple task. The lyrics flash up on the screen and we need to react quickly by reading accurately and then singing them. Once your children are pretty comfortable with reading, karaoke can help them master their skills. Karaoke makes learning reading fun since it’s set to music that they enjoy. It also provides a change of pace from the typical reading hour before bedtime. Karaoke tends to be ideal for visual learners who learn by seeing and doing. Start off by practicing singing along with your children to one of their favorite songs – nothing too vocally challenging. After some practice, let them sing without the backup vocals. Eventually, they will be able to sing using only the instrumental track.
  • Sharpen memory: Singing along to a song requires us to use the memory section of our brain. Even though the lyrics are in front of us on the screen, we still access the memories we have in our brain about the song if we have heard it before. This helps to stimulate our brain and improve our memory muscle.

The next time you are looking for an entertaining activity for your family, head for the karaoke machine. Your children will grow in so many tremendous ways, all while having a blast singing their favorite songs.

Celebrate World Space Week With Space-Themed Music

World Space Week 2017 is an ideal time to introduce your family to space-themed orchestral music and the magic of astronomy. 

I remember being mesmerized by the music in the 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The soundtrack in the movie is known for its use of many classical and orchestral pieces by composers such as Johann Strauss II, Richard Strauss, and Gyorgy Ligeti. The beauty of the night sky has been a source of fascination and an inspiration for many composers. World Space Week 2017 is an ideal time to introduce your family to space-themed orchestral music and the magic of astronomy. 

Since its United Nations declaration in 1999, World Space Week has become the largest public space event on Earth. This year, World Space Week is held between October fourth and October 10th, and the theme for 2017 is “Exploring New Worlds in Space.” 

There are many events planned for World Space Week such as planetarium shows, astronaut appearances, exhibits of space-related art, films about space, educational outreach, and telescope viewings. Inspire your children to search the night sky for “new worlds in space” while listening to space-themed music.

Also Sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 by Richard Strauss

Richard Strauss composed this tone poem in 1896 and it became the initial “sunrise” fanfare for the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. It begins with a sustained low note on the double basses, contrabassoon, and organ. This is followed by the 22-bar epic brass fanfare known as the “dawn” motif. Even though his music was composed long before the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, this one still remains a music gem of the 21st century.

Night Ride and Sunrise, Op. 55 by Jean Sibelius

Another piece of music with a “dawn” theme is Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’s Night Ride and Sunrise. Get up early one morning with your kids and enjoy the sunrise while listening to this mystical work. This can lead to discussions about horizon astronomy as well as sunrise and sunset positions. Composed in 1908, the music has a nocturnal ambiance and captures the soft light of a northern sunrise, and the magical and changing colors of the sky.

The Planets: Suite for Large Orchestra, Op. 32 by Gustav Holst

This well-known orchestral piece will make your kids to want to learn more about the planets. Written by the English composer Gustav Holst in 1914, The Planets is a suite with seven movements and each movement is named after a planet of the solar system. The most mystical movement is “No. 7 Neptune,” which features a mystical choir, intertwined with a diaphanous veil of orchestral sound. Observe the night sky while listening to this evocative music. Keep an astro journal or logbook to record observations of the planets and any other night explorations such as meteor showers or shooting stars.

Atmospheres by Gyorgy Ligeti

Puzzle over the diverse shapes of galaxies and deep space while listening to Gyorgy Ligeti’s Atmospheres. Composed in 1961 for orchestra without percussion, Atmospheres is an exploration in timbral effects and drifting tone clusters. This innovative piece displays micro-polyphonic textures and evokes a sense of mystery and timelessness. If you’re lucky enough to have a backyard telescope or even a pair of binoculars, Ligeti’s music is ideal for listening to while stargazing.

Vishnu Symphony No.19, Op. 217 by Alan Hovhaness

Composed in 1966, the musical textures and free rhythms in this supercharged symphony suggest swirling galaxies and constellations. Vishnu was used on the soundtrack to astronomer Carl Sagan’s PBS television series “Cosmos.” Encourage your kids to listen to the music and then go outside to sketch their observations in a night sky journal. All they need is a pencil, a notebook or artist’s sketch book, and they’re ready to go. Encourage them to sketch planets, comets, and even the Milky Way. Perhaps introduce color pencils for further enhancement.

By exploring the world of space-themed music, your child will receive an enriching experience that will enhance their appreciation for music as well as stimulating their imagination about science and space. Check out worldspaceweek.org to find hundreds of events in North America and abroad and download some space-themed music to get your family started.

The Secret to Lin-Manuel Miranda's Success? Standing Ovations From His Parents

The pieces of his life that struck me most, though, weren’t the obvious. It was watching a video of him holding court as a little boy.

I came to my obsession with Lin-Manuel Miranda much later than most people. I didn’t discover him until well after tickets to “Hamilton” had reached mortgage payment levels. So I tried my best to catch up without actually ever seeing the play. I searched news stories and YouTube videos about him, and – if I do say so myself – I did pretty well at becoming a fan of the first order without, you know, being a complete stalker.
The pieces of his life that struck me most, though, weren’t the obvious. Not the trips to the White House, or the interviews where he told about his dismal days as a DJ at Bar Mitzvahs in Queens, or how his bus driver taught him old-school rap on his long rides to and from school in New York City. It was watching a video of him holding court as a little boy.
My favorite is when he is about eight years old. He is doing a video book report on “The Pushcart War.” As narrator, he’s dressed in a little boy suit and tie, reading from copy. He changes into costume several times as the plot progresses. His father is behind the camera, his sister in charge of cue cards. In one extended scene, his mother, his abuela, and his great-grandmother play the parts of striking teachers, marching around the room, holding signs and chanting. Convincingly.
When I was eight, book reports were relegated to pencils and lined paper. But I recall with great clarity, the times I got it into my head that I could sing or dance (usually at the same time) with the likes of Doris Day or Peggy Lee. I would prance down the stairs into the living room, where my parents would already be seated on the couch, waiting for my rendition of a song I’d heard on the radio. Standing ovations every time. It never once occurred to me I was mediocre at best. Never once. That realization came to me much later, slowly, when I had moved on to my next potential occupation. I decided I’d be a writer instead. My parents changed course accordingly.
These days I spend lots of my time with a little boy who’s four. He is partial to acting out fairy tales in great detail, with voices and inflection we marvel at. He’s not shy about giving out (or abruptly rescinding) speaking parts to the adults in the room. We’re all thrown into the narrative, whatever it is at that moment. We have no idea if he will still be loving this so much in another year, or if we’ll be riding another train with him by then.
Broadway was a long way off on the day of Lin’s video book report. But everyone in the room knew their parts by heart and played them with relish anyway. They circled around him, holding their props, reciting their lines, and saying – without saying it directly – “This is the most terrific kid ever.”
I turned out to be a pretty pitiful singer and dancer. On the other end of the spectrum, Lin-Manuel Miranda is finding the world crazy in love with his talent. Isn’t it funny, then, that he and I have something in common. Those moments when you remember their beaming faces, taking a bow, hearing the applause: We both came from a home of standing ovations.
This article was originally published in Huffington Post.

My Kid Sabotaged My Dreams of Making Friends With the Cool Dad

From across the room, I saw I him. He was wearing a Stone Temple Pilots’ T-shirt – and not just any STP tee. It was an authentic early tour shirt.

Emma squeezed my hand tightly, moved closer, and used her free hand to wrap herself around my leg.
I know how my one-year-old daughter felt. If there was a giant, friendly man standing next to me at that moment, I probably would have wrapped my spare arm around his thigh just like Emma.
Emma and I were standing in the library waiting for story time to begin. All around us were little groups of moms and little groups of children, and neither of these groups appeared to be welcoming any new members.
All the moms were dressed casually, but meticulously, in new, top-of-the line workout gear, and they all wore yoga pants. Did this story time have a dress code? Was I supposed to wear yoga pants? Did they even make yoga pants for men? Should I have just taken Emma to the park again?
These were some of the questions I was pondering when he walked in.
He was a late-30s/early-40s dad with a toddler boy attached to his loosely dangling arm. From across the room, I saw he was wearing a Stone Temple Pilots’ T-shirt – and not just any STP tee. He was wearing an authentic tour shirt, one from an early tour the boys did with the Meat Puppets and Jawbox. This dude was a legitimate fan. If he was even a quarter as passionate about the music of Scott Weiland, Robert and Dean DeLeo, and Eric Kretz as I was, I’d knew we’d wind up being best friends.
A brief note about my obsession with the criminally underrated 90s rock band the Stone Temple Pilots (aka, STP) and my beautiful wife Liz: My intense love for STP is beyond annoying to my wife, and it’s a big part of the reason Liz hates the band, a band she probably would’ve only mildly disliked if she hadn’t met me. This comes into play later.
“I’m so glad I didn’t take Emma to the park,” I thought, as I subtly tried to get STP Dad’s attention. When our eyes eventually met, I gestured for him to come over with all the subtly of an air traffic controller inviting a commercial aircraft to enter the runway.
After the necessary info was exchanged (His name was James, his kid’s name was Jeremy, and he and his wife were new to the area), I got down to it.
“So, I gotta ask … the shirt, are you actually a fan or did you get it at a thrift store or something?”
“Are you kidding me?” James asked, incredulous. “STP is my favorite band.”
“You’re fucking with me, right?” I exclaimed, loud enough for a couple of moms nearby to stop their conversation and stare disapprovingly at me. “I’ve seen STP more than 20 times.”
“27 for me!” James said. “I actually used to date this photographer who worked with the band. She broke up with because she thought I was more in love with Scott Weiland than her. I even played bass in an STP cover band called ‘Sour Guys.’ I know, the name was supposed to be stupid.”
“I play guitar!” I practically screamed. “This is so crazy. Sometimes when I drink too much red wine, I’ll watch old YouTube videos of their Rolling Rock Town Fair show and pause it to try and find myself in the crowd so I can see what I looked like on the happiest day of my life.”
“That’s actually really sad, dude,” James said, but in a joking, good-natured kind of way.
“And this dude is funny, too! I have to get his number,” I thought.
Just then, STP Dad’s little one looked at me and waved.
I waved back. “Hey buddy, those are some cool shoes you have on,” I said to the kid.
“They’re Chuck Taylor Slip Ons,” James answered. “I was gonna get him Crocs, but I just couldn’t bring myself to actually pay for a pair of those hideous, hideous shoes. Know what I’m saying?”
I nodded while desperately trying to use my leg to shield my own daughter’s pink Crocs from James’ view. I made a mental note to take off her shoes during story time, and put them in the diaper bag.
Emma and I sat next to James and Jeremy during story time.
While the grouchy volunteer reader with the smoker’s cough rushed through the standards and fantasized about her next cigarette, I envisioned my future with James. I pictured us jamming in James’ basement on Friday evenings, or waving goodbye to our concerned wives and children as we embarked on a mini-road trip to Cincinnati to see the preeminent Stone Temple Pilots cover band of our generation, STP2, or even jamming with the DeLeos, after Rob, the sensitive brother, responded to my impassioned letter about my serendipitous meeting with James.
When story time was over, James and I continued our interrupted conversation while our kids played with the hodge-podge of toys that were spread out around the children’s section.
I was trying to think of the best way to ask for James’ number, when he broached the subject himself.
“Hey man, we should hang out some time,” he started.
What happened next took place in slow motion. Emma and Jeremy had been playing tug of war with a toy school bus when Jeremy gained the upper hand and ripped the bus right from Emma’s grasp. In a fit of rage, Emma picked up a sizeable toy fire truck to her right, launched it at Jeremy and connected squarely with his face.
Both kids immediately started screaming, and James and I rushed to tend to our inconsolable toddlers. For his part, James wasn’t pissed, but I could tell the opportunity to exchange numbers had passed. On his way out, I saw him catch a glance at Emma’s Crocs (How did I forget to take them off!) and knew James and I wouldn’t be taking any road trips to see STP2 together.
Even at such a young age, I can already see parts of my wife and parts of myself in little Emma. The part that sabotaged my shot at having a lifelong friendship with a dude who’s arguably as into STP as I am by smashing a toy truck into his son’s face, well, there’s no doubt that part came from my wife.

Math and Rhymes

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Some teach math with flashcards, some with videos, but this group of teachers uses rap and hip hop to teach math and other subjects.

Special thanks to Music Notes, a group of teachers and educators whose music and videos help students learn content in engaging and fun ways. Learn more at http://www.musicnotesonline.com and check out their latest video: https://youtu.be/eDZ_pgJZcWk