Music to spark a better life for older adults and preschoolers

Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Bringing Australia to Kansas through Music


Image via Wikipedia

I currently provide visits to two Brookdale Living facilities. This corporation has a Celebration calendar with a theme for each month. Where possible, I try to incorporate aspects of the theme into at least one session. This month that means bringing Australia to northern Kansas.  Here are a few of the songs I will be including in my upcoming session with older adults:

To you have more simple song ideas? Please share them in the comments below.

If you are signed up for the SPARKS newsletter, you will receive more ideas and resources this morning for use with preschoolers, older adults, and intergenerational groups. If you aren’t on my newsletter list, sign-up  for future issues by June 14th and I’ll email you this newsletter.

Reductions in Music Ed for USD 489?

are these not the craziest scissors you have e...

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This post is a radical departure from my usual posts. Just as I am an advocate for music therapy, I try to be an advocate for other issues related to my life. One of those areas is education. This is an open letter regarding the state of music education in the Hays, KS public schools (USD 489). It will be (or has been) shared with members of the School Board and Administration. Highlights from this letter will be (have been) shared with the “Hays Daily News” and parents of in the district. These opinions are my own.

Dear Hays community members,

The quality of teaching in U.S.D. 489 has been consistently high as evidenced in part by outstanding student performance on State assessments and achievements which have resulted in our students’ recognition as National Merit finalists.  This is partially attributable to qualified, well trained teachers at all levels and areas of academia whose positions are now at risk with the State of Kansas funding decrease to the school districts.

Our School Board and administrators have to make difficult decisions to address a budgetary shortfall of $1.8 million. One way they have elected to meet this decline is not to replace those teachers retiring or resigning from their employment.  As a community member and parent of a Hays High student, I see the board’s strategy as one that will negatively impact our students, particularly in the area of music.

Decreasing the number of teachers through attrition allows for employment stability for many. However, it creates inconsistent increases in class size across the district between schools and across programs. An increase in class size results in less personal attention to students, heightens the potential for declining test scores, especially with at-risk students, and places a burden on faculty contemplating retirement as to the impact on students and on remaining staff.  At the elementary level, loss through attrition of elective faculty (music, PE, art, computer and library specialists) will result in students no longer receiving the quality and quantity provided by these staff members. In addition, it will directly impact student instructional time when classroom teachers are planning.

The quality of the music faculty in U.S.D. 489 has been evident in the number of students who choose to participate in music activities in their respective schools, perform in District and State ensembles, receive high ratings at State Festivals, and accept invitations to perform at various venues.   Music education, like education in every academic area, begins at the elementary level; concepts and skills are introduced and understanding and appreciation are nurtured and developed as the student matures.  Quality attracts student participation, particularly in the arts. When students are exposed to quality instruction and are receptive to it, they will work with both great discipline and great care to share together the achievements of the individual and group.

The issue of staffing through attrition is particularly evident within the music department. Last year a middle school band director retired. The remaining two directors were asked to shoulder the added load for one year.  One of them now has less than the allocated 300 minutes planning time per week – this is after the combining of seventh and eighth grade bands at Felten. Now, both a full-time and a part-time elementary music teacher have announced their retirement at the end of the current year. This will result in the need for twenty-eight classes to be covered by the remaining music faculty in the district assuming there are no further losses.  In the course of two years, there will 14% less qualified people providing music instruction to approximately 62% of the district’s students.

Each week, twenty of the district’s total fourth and fifth grade strings classes (10 hours) meet outside the regular school day. Cutting of the fourth grade string program has been proposed so instructional time could transfer to the elementary schools general music classes. This would result in only five additional hours for general music assuming the teacher schedules could be restructured for availability during the school day. And, the loss of a year of training will decrease the level of string student musicianship unless contact can be increased in frequency beginning at fifth grade.

To put this in perspective, the retiring Roosevelt music teacher sees nineteen classes for 30 minutes each twice a week. An extra chorus is offered before school for 25 minutes twice each week.  Annual performances include three major programs each year along with performances by the chorus each semester.  The retiring O’Loughlin teacher has twenty-seven half hour classes each week and assists with the first grade musical. Under the current proposal, elementary music instructional time will be reduced within the district a minimum of 25%. The elementary choirs and annual programs will greatly decrease or cease.

Increasing the student numbers in elementary and middle school general music classes is not feasible as this could exceed most classroom capacities while also decreasing effective teaching. For example, the music room at Felten has a fire safety allotment for approximately 50 students. I imagine there are similar issues in most of the elementary music classrooms. Moving such classes to gyms or other large spaces is not educationally sound for the same reasons you wouldn’t hold reading or math classes in mass in those spaces. Again, lower level ability to provide quality instruction directly affects the quality of upper level groups.

To see how other districts have responded to previous cuts in music, we need only look to our neighbor districts of Russell and Ellis. Both districts elected to decrease positions and increase loads on their music teachers. The quality and number of students participating in music classes and ensembles declined. Russell returned to separate vocal and instrumental instruction three years ago. Ellis is in the process of adding back their half-time vocal position.

Some might propose having teachers teach out of field or level of certification.  A teaching certificate or license enables the teacher to enter the field; it does not guarantee quality instruction.  Quality teaching is not ensured by successfully completing an undergraduate degree, fulfilling an endorsement requirement, passing a content area test score, or taking additional coursework in the summer. Quality teaching occurs when a teacher is able to: identify appropriate learning goals; assess the student needs; identify instructional objectives, analyze materials; select teaching/learning strategies that are shown to be effective; and implement an appropriately-designed learning environment.  A qualified teacher who is also a quality teacher is the one devoted to the student and the subject, realizing that both require much devotion and dedication.  Quality takes time.  Any retiring educator, who has provided quality instruction to countless numbers of children and youth, is professionally acknowledged and personally affirmed when their teaching position is maintained and the search for a candidate capable of providing their students with the necessary expertise, devotion, and dedication is of paramount importance in hiring decisions.

Some might propose cutting programs from our offerings, a risk that no longer affords children an opportunity to fully explore and learn about their world and themselves. Such a decision causes those with strong career aspirations or interest in areas cut to question whether they are receiving an appropriate education. Those children without financial means to further their interests outside of school may be most at risk with such cuts.

The students of USD 489 deserve and require the best quality education we can provide. As adults, it is our duty to discern how to do this in a fair and equitable manner while meeting the national and state requirements and considering the interests and needs of our students.

Given the need for a quick resolution, I respectfully request that the school board and Superintendent Roth:

  • Charge the district principals with reporting staff needs for appropriate educational scheduling using current enrollment projects for the 2011-12 school year. This should include identifying the number of FTE required per area and level.
  • Remove the duties outside instructional time from the music faculty so time can be allocated strictly for music education.
  • Staff our classrooms according to these needs keeping teachers within their areas of training and certification.
  • Create a task force representative of grade levels and interests when moving forward with restructuring of our classrooms amongst facilities.

Of the community, I request that you:

  • Attend the music programs being presented by the schools throughout our community. This allows you to experience the quality of our programs while acknowledging the efforts put forth by the students.  Thank our music teachers for their efforts.
  • Support our Principals, School Board, and Superintendent in their efforts to appropriately meet our student needs.
  • Work with our legislators and governor to provide sources of adequate funding for our schools.
  • Offer to serve on committees, councils, and booster groups within our school. Consider volunteering within our schools.
  • Ask children you know about their educational experiences.  Be an informed voter and taxpayer.

Education is everyone’s business. We are preparing our youth to be creative, productive members of a world society.  Let’s all step up and offer our best to our youth.


JoAnn Jordan

Resources for Children

Funny Chinese Child Playing Boy

Image by via Flickr

I am always looking for great resources for music and information.  Whether you are a parent, preschool teacher, or a music therapist, we all need fresh ideas from time to time.  There are those resources that provide information, those that inspire my imagination, and those which provide wonderful music ideas.  Today I want to share two wonderful music therapy sites which I find helpful in my work with preschool children.

Listen and Learn Music: Rachel has great songs available for download at very low prices.  Children respond well to her songs.  They are easy to learn while providing teaching opportunities. Often she provides visual aids.  From time to time she also has free downloads.  Check her out!

Developing Melodies:  This is a site I just started following.  Meryl has some pretty inspiring ideas which she shares in photos and descriptions.  While some are music based, others are not.  Creative resource is my best description of this site.  Be sure and visit her blog.

What are your favorite resources for children’s music?  I’d love to hear.

Related articles:

Pancake Day

Colorful World for Children

Toddler Music Resource Review

And the child grew

children at play By Michael T

Image by nist6ss via Flickr

“And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.” ~ Luke 2:40

This Bible verse has been running through my head and along with a portion of lyrics “Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, and Nash.  For me, there is a joy in watching children busy with play, with learning, with exploring, at rest. Watching my daughter, now a teen, is still a source of joy.  Maybe I don’t stand & watch her breath while she sleeps like I did when I first brought her home, yet I watch.  I watch her perform, do her homework, and interact with peers.  I watch her cook experimenting with recipes.

What does all this have to do with the “Slow, children at play picture” and with my music therapy business?  A lot.

First, we tend to be a society that works on a schedule that is often packed with activities.  When we slow down and provide them (and ourselves for that matter) time to play, observe, and explore many doors can open.  And, we need to let them be our teachers, too.  Looking at the lyrics of “Teach Your Children” includes the importance of teaching happening both directions – adult teaches child; child teaches adult. For that to happen we have to slow down and allow time.

Second, research is supporting the importance of play in learning.  There is much all of us can learn through play.  Teachers have created wonderful educational tools that are games.  So, play!  Last night, I watched them make a homemade bottle rocket launcher sending bottles high into the sky on “Ask This  Old House“.  The adults were having as much fun as the kids.  Science, plumbing, measuring, turn taking – lots of neat skills were shared.

Next, I grew up with creative play.  I made up songs, put on plays with my siblings for our parents, created art work, we wrote our own rules for games like kickball so it would be fun for the whole family.  Much of that came directly from my parents.  They encouraged us to try our hands in the arts.  They encouraged family games.  I was blessed with a musical family and I am a musical being.  If I had been a dancer or a tennis player, I know they would have supported that.

This is why I chose to offer early childhood music groups. It can be a supportive place for parents to offer these opportunities to their child.  And, I find the family do walk away with a few new songs in their repertoire.  I want children to have permission to try their hand at singing, playing, and moving with music.  I promote social skills like turn taking, greeting others, and sharing.  This is why offering intergenerational groups is so important to me  – so the two groups can learn from each other.

If music groups aren’t an option, consider adding songs as part of family events,  My daughter accuses me of having a song for every topic.  That’s only partially correct, but I have always added songs to activities.  Whether its “Tip Toe Through the Tulips” while planting bulbs, “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” during a odiferous trip, I find it adds a little levity.  When she was little, it often served as a cue for what we were doing or a time-keeper for quickly completing a task (like picking up toys).  Whether you sing or play a recording, this is a simple way to add a little playfulness and music to your life.

Children learn through play, observation and exploring.  We need to provide them permission, space, and safe opportunity to be children.  Children don’t need to have every moment of every day scheduled.  We need to slow down and let the children play.  And, through their play, we hope they grow and become strong teaching us along the way.

Celebrate “Inspire Your Heart with Art Day”

An artist's palette

Image via Wikipedia

January 31st is Inspire Your Heart With Art Day.  It celebrates art and the effect it can have on your heart. No matter your age, art (in all its forms) can be valued and appreciated for all sorts of reasons. Even if your finances are tight, there are ways to access the arts and to find inspiration.

Look at a piece of art  or listen to a piece of music and ask yourself:

  • What is it telling me?
  • How does it make me feel?
  • What emotions is it evoking (if any) within me?
  • If I were to title this work of art, it would be called ___________.
  • Is there another work of art, piece of music, literary work, etc.  that expresses a similar idea?

Enjoy “Inspire Your Heart with Art Day”.  I look forward to learning what inspired you!

Me & My Teddy, Part 2

Teddy bear, born in Germany about 1954

Image via Wikipedia

As promised in an earlier post, here are some of my favorite teddy bear books for use with preschoolers in no particular order:

I am so looking forward to sharing “Me & My Teddy” as a Music Sparks Exploration theme.  If you live in the Hays, KS area and have a preschooler, click on the Preschool classes main link above to learn more.

Joy in Learning

IRIS XV • learning to fly

My parents were/are life long learners.  They set an example of reading, sharing information, taking continuing education, visiting museums, …the list goes on.  That love of learning lives on in me.  The number of books waiting on my shelf as well as on wish lists is fairly long and varied in content.  There are lots of continuing education opportunities I’d like to afford myself during the next several years.  And, next week I will be attending the American Music Therapy Conference in Cleveland, Ohio.  There are three continuing education sessions are on my list along with a few pre-picked sessions to attend.  The opportunity to walk through booths filled with instruments, resources, and books along with visiting with other music therapist excites me.  I always come away from conferences amazed by the knowledge I’ve gained and the people I’ve met.

But, it isn’t just conferences where I learn.  This fall I started taking guitar lessons for the first time since methods class in college.  Doing so increased my finger strength and taught me many new chords. The best part is the joy I have when I complete a practice session.  I had forgotten how it feels to learn something new vs. working out music for sessions or community groups.  It is a totally different feel.  The best part is having a teacher who encourages noodling (improvisation) time.

Our daughter is a freshman in high school.  She is already talking about pursuing a master’s degree.    She too loves to read.  And, she is always voicing a desire to learn to play a new instrument.  So, I think the learning bug has been passed on to her.

The fact is learning can be fun. I’ve had a few friends share memories of dinner time conversations centered around a new fact each family member learned during the day.  (Often this required running to the encyclopedia or dictionary immediately before the meal.)  The amazing part is how many of these facts those people still share while wearing a smile.

Here’s an example of my fun find of the day: using Blackbird Pie!

Challenging myself and those with whom I work is often important.  I like sharing facts about places and things as we share songs.  Learning information about events from the participants is another joy I try to include in my sessions.

Ask/complete the following items of yourself and those around you in the next few days seeing what you discover:

  • I get excited when I learn about ________.
  • What fascinating fact have you learned today?
  • What would you like to know more about?

Until next time, happy learning!

Drum Circle Explained

Its drum circle week at Sterling House of Hays.  Here’s a wonderful video to explain the why while giving you insights as to what might be included.

So, keep the beat!  Have some fun expressing and relating “as you create sacred space”.

Colors in Life

Colouring pencils

Image via Wikipedia

Next week, I will share songs centered on the theme our “Colorful World”.  In doing so, I am struck by three thoughts.  The first an appreciation of colors. Next, the number of songs that comment on colors.  And lastly, how wonderful is the gift of sight.

In appreciating colors, take a moment to look at the space around you.  Focus on the colors and the many shades. My, what variety!  How amazing to have a vocabulary to express the essence of each.  How does one develop that understand & vocabulary?  Start listing songs to go with each color.  Some are easy (there seem to be a ton of blue songs) while others are more difficult (magenta?).  Then there are songs that just describe the world and it’s wonders.  Consider this:

Yet I also realize that sight is a gift.  How amazing our eyes are at providing a range of information.  It is something many take for granted.  Yet, everyday I encounter people with low or no vision.  Some have experienced “normal” sight while others don’t have that history.  They may see with other senses.  What considerations go into raising a child with low vision? How does one accommodate an aging family members loss of sight?  Do I make appropriate accommodations during my music sessions for all the varying issues with sight?   I encourage you to follow along on a journey of a family member as they look at accessibility for the blind and visually impaired at

In the mean time, take a moment to say a word of gratitude for your sight and the colors around you.

The Love of Toddlers (& Older Adults)


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Some people are surprised by my love of working with older adults and young children.  I find both groups to often have a concentrated playfulness with musical activities.  Both groups require me to plan yet to be flexible and work in the moment.  Both groups enjoy routine but also enjoy novelty in moderation.

Working with the two ages at the same time brings amazing interactions.  Hugs, smiles and laughter are common in these groups.  The older adults reminisce about their children as I set-up and clean up our groups.  Their range of motion observably increases as they play instruments along with the children.  The preschoolers seem to thrive on the positive attention they are receiving from the adults in the group.  Efforts to clearly verbalize names, ideas, and objects seems increased when compared to my preschool music groups. That is why I enjoy offering Intergenerational Classes at Cedarview.  For those in the Hays area with preschoolers, check out this Monday morning class.

Parents of preschoolers all know play is important both for the child to learn and for the parent to have some sanity.  Recently I found an easy to read article on the importance of games: “Toddlers Invent the Silliest Games”.    Author Janet Lansbury shares what can be learned from self-directed play.  As a music therapist, I would encourage making child safe instruments available for self-directed and parent directed play times.  Instruments can be played traditionally as well as allowing for exploration of alternative methods.  Think of all the different sounds you can produce on a hand drum!  As a parent, I often would overhear my daughter singing songs or melodies she had learned at preschool and from me.  My childhood memories include changing song lyrics to meet my moods.

So, be playful as you make music.  Explore the child (and the older adult) within yourself.

* Here are some previous blogs that relate to this children and music:

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